Fish For Fertilizer

They work great. But…

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY DENA SEIFERLING

As a parent of five children, I have become accustomed to settling arguments. Teaching Carla (13), Michelle (12), Christopher (10), Shawn (8), and Norma (5) how to work out disputes has been an ongoing battle. Every time I hear one of them shriek, “Mo-mmm!,” I mentally prepare myself for another round of conflict resolution.

I was just stepping out of the shower when I heard all three girls shriek, “MO-MM!”

But there was one day that even I, Super Mom of five kids, was unprepared for. And it had to do with our family garden.

Growing a large vegetable garden helps us cut corners on the food budget. It also gives me the chance to teach my children the art and benefits of gardening—something I felt proud of. And it is a great way for us to spend time together as an entire family. Even Norma, the five-year-old, likes to help. Actually, all three girls are helpful. The boys, in truth, prefer to search for strange insects to scare the girls with.

The trouble started when I decided to save money on fertilizer by incorporating a technique my husband taught me long ago (before he died in an accident). We both love to fish, and one year, after cleaning our catch, he took the bones and fish heads and buried them in the garden. The year we did that, the garden produced better than ever before. Now it was time for me to teach this lesson to the children.

One day after the kids and I caught several catfish and trout, I took them and all the leftover fish parts out to the garden. I showed them how to bury the scraps near our plants.

“This will help our garden grow and give us a lot more to eat,” I explained cheerfully.

“I ain’t touching that stuff!” said Norma. “That fish head is looking at me!”

“Me, neither!” said Michelle.

“Me, too!” said Carla.

The three girls started heading back to the house.

“Okay, girls,” I admonished them, “but you are missing a valuable lesson.”

“You two are just scaredy cats!” yelled Christopher. Little brother Shawn just laughed.

The boys seemed genuinely interested. They did a fantastic job helping me with our all-natural fertilizer. When we were done, I headed inside for a quick shower before I started dinner.

I was just stepping out of the shower when I heard all three girls shriek, “MO-MM!”

“What?” I yelled back, throwing on my bathrobe and opening the door.

“All the fish are gone!” cried Carla.

“They’re not here,” said Michelle. “None of them!”

“They dis-dapeared, Mommy,” explained my five-year-old.

Sure enough, all the fish in our aquarium were nowhere to be found: the neons, the guppies, the zebras, and the black-and-speckled mollies. I moved a few of the aquarium decorations around. Still no fish.

“What happened to the fish?” I demanded.

It was Christopher, the ten-year-old who spoke. He seemed quite proud of himself.

“I took them outside.”

“Why in the world did you do that?” I demanded. “Where are they now?”

“In the garden.”

“What?!”

And he meant in the garden. Christopher really had absorbed my lesson about the benefits of burying fish to fertilize a backyard garden. I was shocked, but I didn’t have time to think about that. I was too busy trying to get my girls to stop crying, trying to get Shawn to stop laughing, and trying to get Christopher to understand what he had done wrong. It must’ve been a half hour before I finally got things calmed back down. Even then, I could tell the girls wanted to bury Christopher in the garden!

Yes, I thought I was going to teach my children a good lesson when I decided to use fish to fertilize our garden.

But I think the person who really learned a lesson was me.


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