The compost also rises

At the weekend my second compost heap was cold and dry. Having gutted it for the new vegetable patch, I then overwhelmed it with pizza boxes that I hadn’t torn up carefully.  I just wanted to get them out of the way.

So I spent a session turning it, which was hard.  Banged knuckles and regret.  Then I got some of the pizza box pieces back out and retore them into smaller pieces, thinking that actually it’s a bit hard to ask a dormant heap to take on such large items.

Yesterday in the cold and drizzle I shuffled out to empty the kitchen scraps, and as I broke open the heap to bury them a bit, steam rose from the cooking middle.  This compost magic gets me every time.  It’s like a party trick.  I made everyone come out and put their hands in the heap to feel the heat, but really I was just astonished and grateful at the way compost forgives so quickly and gets back to work.

I sometimes feel slightly awkward about the fact that I love the compost so much, and that in the up and down of academic life, compost makes me feel so competent and sorted out.  So I was really delighted to read that The Dirty Lady has given her compost a name, as it shows that there’s someone much further out on the ledge than me.  Here’s what she says about “the beloved heap”:

The compost heap is a place of worship for me, the living metaphor, the nucleus of transformation in the garden: garbage and clippings and slime turn into to dark, sweet soil, which in turn becomes leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Increasingly I think the secret to compost is just to respect the heap, and to try not to stuff it up.

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3 Comments

Filed under Compost, Gardening

3 responses to “The compost also rises

  1. Oh, I KNOW what you mean about that warmth! It’s like bread baking on the comfort scale. Once or twice on chilly November afternoons of garden clean-up, I’ve actually turned the top layer over and warmed my hands over the heap, still cooking a month after the first hard frost!.

    The trick is having the right tools. After years of making do with a generic spading fork, I FINALLY popped for an actual hay fork, and the difference is revelatory. Of course, the other necessity is a good pair of leather gloves to protect against mashed fingers, unrepentant rose thorns, blisters from the rake, and the like. I drape an old pair over a rail out there and just treat them a couple of times each growing season with plain old petroleum jelly to keep them supple and waterproof.

    Those gloves really came in handy, too, the night I had to rescue a hissing, spitting possum from my two homicidal fox terriers. She’d come to raid the bin for melon rinds and found herself besieged within the wood pallets that make up the walls of my bin. Unfortunately, the release catch was INSIDE the bin and well down the side. It was a leap of faith, once I got the dogs penned, to reach down into the dark with a terrified ball of furry vengeance snarling in one corner. Heavy leather gauntlet gloves are what you want in such a case, assuming chain mail is unavailable.

    The real lesson in this case? I now have a “pre-heap” bin at the back door, a lidded galvanized mini-trashcan, wherein really delicious smelling fruits, egg shells, corn cobs, oyster husks, and such can stew a bit and lose the top notes of their intoxicating attractivity before becoming “Margery’s” top layer. Saves a world of grief for the neighborhood mammals, myself among them, though my dogs never fail to cruise the heap for interlopers first thing when I let them out after dark. A terrier never forgets.

    • I think I’m both lazy and scared of gloves, as I’m always expecting a spider to be stuffed into the fingertips, and it’s been impressed upon me that the smallest spiders are the ones most likely to do some real damage. But I know what you mean about tools: I use my old digging fork, which lost a tine in the great vegetable patch renewal. In this partially toothless state it’s the perfect compost turning fork, and what I love about this is that the tool itself seems to be following the principle of compost: a discarded thing becoming something else. That’s a great possum story. The worst I’ve had to deal with a mouse flying out when I turned the heap, which caused me also to become briefly airborne.

  2. YIKES! I had a mouse hurl from the mouth of a spitting lionhead fountain when I turned it on for the first time this year. Poor thing catapulted right into my lap, did an OHMYGOD-OHMYGOD-OHMYGOD lapndance, and then wisely took to the hills. I have a whole colony of pet rats, but that one little hydro-propelled rodent had me up on a chair squealing like a deranged banshee in a split second. It’s the surprise factor that does it, what storytellers call ‘the jump effect.” I jumped, alright.

    Rodent surprises are right up there with reptile and, admittedly, arachnid surprises among my least favorite things, though I fear none of these creatures if you place one in my hand. I think these responses may be genetically hard-wired.

    Whatever: that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I repeat: YIKES!

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