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National Editor’s Page The Great Debate By Stephen Morris

Environmental decisions are never quite as cut and dried as they initially appear. “Paper or plastic” can still generate a lot of murkiness, especially when considered in the context of a third option “reusable.” My neighbor, Sam, and I agree on politics, religion, and government. We have the same outlooks on the economy and the innate nature of the human species. We even root for the same baseball team and are card-carrying members of the Red Sox Nation. Where we part ways is on pea fences. This can be an emotion charged subject and discussions can get ugly. Turn the page if you do not have the stomach for a bare-fisted discussion of pea fences. Sam’s pea fence is meant for the ages. Each spring he pulls out the metal fence posts and drives them into the just-thawed earth with a sledgehammer. Then he rolls out the chicken wire that has been in storage since last summer. He lays it out straight and true, and when he finally steps back to admire his work, he sees a fence that will let his peas grow skyward, straight and true. He sees a thing of beauty. I see the prison camp at Stalag 17. The advantages of Sam’s pea fence are (in his view) economy, aesthetics, and yield. He gets about six years out of his chicken wire and ten from his posts. I don’t know that he tracks his costs methodically, but his claim that it costs “only a few dollars a year” is probably safe. He loves the neatness of his fence, the angularity. The peas are cooperative, growing straight up at right angles to the earth. As for the yield, Sam claims that the vertical configuration maximizes the harvest of solar energy and, therefore, his harvest. It’s hard to argue with his logic, but it’s also the logic that guides factory farming. Now, let’s talk about my pea fence. My pea fence is a study in “just enough.” Unlike Sam, who installs his pea fence before he’s planted his peas, my pea fence goes in when the plants have just reached the height where they are just about to topple over. This happens around Memorial Day. My pea fence does not come from the local lumber supply or Home Depot, but is clipped from the extremities of saplings that a neighbor has allowed me to thin from his land. Twigs. That’s what they are. 12 “ to 36” inches in height; I press them into the soft soil, creating a spider work of wood tendrils above the peas. It doesn’t take long for the peas to catch on, especially since I plant in pods rather than rows. My reasoning is that my peas are a community, not an army like Sam’s, and they like having their roots intertwined with their brethren. I have no idea what I’m talking about. There’s not a lot of science to this. I am largely a self-taught gardener.


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My peas grow, maybe I should say sprawl, because they move out as well as up. I have to stick in remedial twigs where things seem to be breaking down. Occasionally, I have to create little superstructures out of garden twine to give an errant pea something to cling to. When the harvest is complete, Sam’s fence stands straight and tall, ready to withstand the next earthquake. Mine is on the brink of collapse, its purpose served. The spent pea plants will go into the compost. The twigs will be employed to prop up sagging beans, and the garden twine (no dye) will find new life trussing tomatoes to their stakes. I like using the twine from the peas for the tomatoes. I like the fact that my pea fence costs me next to nothing. I like that when the garden is mostly over, the twigs of

A Practial Journal for Friends of the Environment c d Summer 2010

Green Living Journal Summer 2010 # 9  

"A Practical Journal for Friends of the Environment" Articles: Power Plants of the Future, Recycling Books, Locavore Basics, Clean Diesel, E...

Green Living Journal Summer 2010 # 9  

"A Practical Journal for Friends of the Environment" Articles: Power Plants of the Future, Recycling Books, Locavore Basics, Clean Diesel, E...