The Idiot Gardener

Punk Rock Gardening? It’s nothing new!

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I like to pride myself on finding a use for most things. The garden is littered with structures for growing food that have been fashioned out of junk, cast-offs and the no longer needed. Even Hot Shed Action has come about due to redundant assets. However, despite thinking that it represents a newish approach to horticulture, it’s actually nothing new. Do you know who are past masters at it? I’ll tell you who: the Hmong!

Clearing out the stuff from the shed to prepare it for Hot Shed Action, I came across some old photographs, and I was quite pleased that I did.

Now, we did a bit of science this week already, so let’s do a very potted modern history lesson. Laos, sandwiched between Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and China, is one of the loveliest countries I have ever visited. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to see something special.

Sadly, Laos has an ever bigger claim to fame than me liking it. It is also the most bombed country, per capita, in the world. During the American War (the one that most of the Western world knows as the Viet Nam war), the Pathet Lao were sympathetic to the NVA. As such, they allowed the border areas to be used for supply links between the NVA and the Viet Cong.

Despite not being at war with America, the US air force dropped more ordanance on Laos than was dropped in the entire second world war. Much of this included cluster bombs. A report in a British newspaper estimated that over 260 million bombs were dropped, and over one third of them failed to explode. Many of them are still there, in the grass and rivers and in the mud.

Get your head around those numbers for a minute. 250 million bombs dropped. Someone calculated it was a B52 load every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for over 9 years.

It wasn’t only bombs, though. The country is green and lush in most areas, but we had a few spare days and drove up to Xiangkhouang Province. There the earth is a red infertile dust caused by excessive use of defoliants such as Agent Orange, and the soil is adulterated with harmful chemicals and toxins.

Laos has – to this day – a high death rate due to this unexploded ordanance. It also has a high population of amputees and people with defects due to the chemicals dropped. After the American war they had their own civil war, which involved a hell of a lot of land mines. Many iof those still remain to this day. They are being cleared, as is the unexploded ordanance, but it will take 900 years to clear it all, at the current rate.

So, what the hell has this got to do with punk rock gardening? Well, the Hmong people in Xiangkhouang Province have very few resources. Trees don’t grow too readily because of the chemicals in the soil, and the area is pretty much a huge plain, so stone is scarce. However, what they do have is one hell of a lot of unexploded bombs, as well as some tanks, old B52s, Hueys and the like. The place is pretty much a war scrapyard.

The Government has clamped down on Vietnamese and Chinese scrap metal dealers carting everything off, and it’s actually illegal for a non-native to remove war junk. So the Hmong have access to a lot of old bombs. They find them, carefully take them apart (sometimes not carefully enough – there are still hundreds of reported deaths each year, and many in the remoter areas go unreported), remove any powder they might contain for hunting, and use the casings as infrastructure.

Tired of the rainy season flooding your house? Then you’ll be needing a set of these…

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Need a new fence? Say no more…

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Tired of the counter at your Sausage and Egg shop falling over? Prop it up with one of these beauties…

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Question: Why do you think this pig is wearing a wooden necklace?

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Answer: You’ve seen the fences. They often have gaps, awaiting the next load of bomb casings. The pigs will try to get through the gaps. With the neck piece having the lower cross-strut wider than the gap, the farmers can ensure their pigs don’t go wandering off to meet a sticky end from landmines!

Punk rock gardeneing; we haven’t got a bloody clue about it really! We’re not even at the races. Tonight, I want you all to raise a glass to the punk rock attitude exhibited by the Hmong.

Cheers!

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14 thoughts on “Punk Rock Gardening? It’s nothing new!

  1. Is the Wiz

    A people after my own heart, talk about turning swords into ploughshares!
    On the Light Fantastic – Old Hippy wisdom held that you should use different coloured light for leafy growth or for fruiting. However, coloured light is created by placing a filter in front of a white light source so you’re still paying for the full spectrum. LED are much cheaper to run and have been the subject of trials by commercial growers( see The Commercial Greenhouse Grower Magazine, April 2010).
    Also, you have to allow for the heat given off by lights; the usual practice is to suspend striplights 12″ above the crop on chains which are shortened as the plants grow. If it was me, I’d look into LED powered by solar panels on the shed roof.

  2. Sharon Longworth

    Fantastic post – an education and an entertainment – not an easy balance to get right, but you really did. I shall start to view some of our own allotment creations ( including my hand-knitted netting) with a little more pride.

  3. Damo

    Very creative people, there’s a fair amount of that stuff on Salisbury Plain but I’m not about to go dismantling any of it! Hats off to them!!

  4. Bub

    Until I took a closer look, I harboured suspicions you’d been taking photos in my garden. It was the pig and the Sausage and Egg shop that gave it away – I don’t have either.

    I will raise my glass this evening, more than once I suspect.

  5. The Whimsical Gardener

    Great history lesson. I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog, you never fail to impart some wisdom and thoroughly entertain. Our throw it away society could learn a thing or two from these resourceful people.

  6. Edith Hope

    Dear IG, The Hmong certainly need a glass or two or several raised to them for their resilience and ability to make something from nothing. In today’s ‘disposable’ world, they are inspirational role models for us all.

  7. Kyna

    My university degree was in Anthropology, which was awesome because I got to read many ethnographies that I probably would never have picked up otherwise. My Medical Anthropology professor assigned us a book called “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures” by Anne Fadiman. The book focused on a Hmong child’s struggle with mysterious seizures in the US, but it provided a lot of background about the people and their culture. Great book. Sad and interesting at the same time.

    That pig made me laugh. Practical idea though!

  8. Liz

    We certainly are spoiled in the western world. In our little corner, we’re trying to live more sustainably but, in the grand scheme, we’re not even close. Thanks for the geography and history lessons, IG. Now, I’ve gotta go and hand-wash dishes. Can you imagine? Stupid dishwasher’s broken. ;~)

  9. jodi (bloomingwriter)

    The post is great, of course, but what’s really fun is that many of your commenters are as entertaining and snarky as you are!(not me, I hasten to add-there are some gems above. I am but an egg.

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