When we lived in Zimbabwe, I grew vegetables in four large garden plots behind our home. I planted tomatoes, carrots, onions, aubergine, peppers and various types of lettuce, so we always had a consistent supply of fresh produce. I also cultivated a small garden plot below our guava trees for herbs and strawberries.

Before moving to Zimbabwe, I knew nothing about gardening. Thankfully one of our friends, M, had studied agriculture in university when he lived in Congo Brazzaville, and he took great interest in teaching me. M showed me how to till the soil in our backyard and how to plant vegetables from seeds and seedlings. In order to promote growth, we also burned some maize husks and scattered and stirred the ash into the soil.

In addition to the ash, M told me I needed to acquire some cow manure to enrich the soil. One of my neighbours, C, often travelled around the country to visit farms and agricultural projects, so I asked if he could get me some manure.

A week later, I came home and found two large bags of cow manure in my backyard. I went to work right away, breaking up the cow pats with my hands over the garden plots and then mixing the manure into the soil with a rake. This took me almost two hours, but I was excited to have completed the task myself. I was becoming a real farmer.

When C came by later, he asked about the manure. I said thanks and told him I’d put it in the garden already. He looked at me incredulously and asked, “All of it?” It turns out that there was enough manure in the two bags for all of our neighbours.

That day I learned that sometimes shit is a valuable resource that promotes vibrant growth, and that a little bit of it goes a long way. You don’t need (or want) too much of it in your life or in your garden. I was also reminded of how easily westerners like me can waste resources that could benefit a whole neighbourhood.

I did, however, grow some spectacular tomatoes and onions after I added the manure to the garden, so perhaps a big dump of it is a good thing from time to time.