My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap. ~ Bette Midler
I hope the new next-door neighbors didn’t hear me talking to my compost pile.
My old neighbors would have understood, but I’m not sure yet if the family that replaced them would ask the authorities to pick up the crazy person across the fence.
Like everything else in my garden, my compost pile had been neglected since my mastectomy in 2009. The recovery process does not lend itself well to either turning compost or planting with it.
Fully healed now–not only my body, but also my mind and spirit (the latter two taking a good deal longer, I might add)–I’ve finally gotten my gardening groove back.
So when my first shipment of new plants was on its way, I headed out to the hidden corner in my side yard where my compost bins are tucked away. I had no idea what I’d find there, it had been so long since I’d visited.
I removed the lid from the 4′ X 4′ square container and stabbed my pitchfork through the crusty top layer.
I could have sworn I heard an “Ahhhh….” released from the gorgeous, wormy, black compost lifted in that first forkful.
As I harvested the decomposed soil amendment and started to build a new pile, the conversation really got going…
Reminders, Advice, and Other Whispered Wisdom From My Compost Pile
1) Breathe: For compost piles, this means turning or otherwise aerating the mixture if you want to speed up the decomposition process. For us humans, three conscious breaths will break down the chatter in our heads on the spot; mindful attention to the breath throughout the day leads to a calmer, clearer, more contented life experience.
2) Hydrate: Compost piles should be kept as moist as a squeezed out sponge to provide a cozy environment for microorganisms, insects, and earthworms. Roughly 60% of the human body is comprised of water (some estimates are as high as 70%). The Mayo Clinic recommends that we drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day, with all fluids counting toward the daily total (though caffeine reduces a fluid’s efficiency in the body). Fun fact: by the time a person feels thirsty, their body has lost over 1% of its total water amount.
3) You don’t need a lot of space: Most people assume they need a large plot to maintain a compost pile. Composting can happen in a garbage can, or even a simple plastic lidded container in a storage room (or classroom) if you dump some worms into the mix. Heck, you don’t even “need” a container at all for garden composting if tidiness isn’t a priority. People’s assumptions about how much living space they “need” have also gotten to be totally out of whack. I was therefore happy to read that the McMansion trend may be switching course. A recent study showed house sizes have declined over the past five years as economic conditions have shifted and sustainability awareness has risen. (Yay!)
4) Layer it: When starting a compost pile, it’s best to layer brown material (dried leaves, dried grass and other “dead” stuff) with green material (fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and other “living” stuff). For people, as the saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life.” Diversifying our lives with a mix of activities and an assortment of experiences keeps the journey exciting and fulfilling. Blending old influences with new perspectives makes the adventure even richer.
5) Stir it up from time to time: While composting will happen on its own if you give it enough time, you can speed up the process by stirring the pot now and then. Same goes for life. An occasional jolt out of our normal routines helps us see the world with fresh eyes, keeps us growing as people, and keeps boredom at bay.
6) No need to micromanage: Ambitious composters can get caught up in the minutia of how to speed up the decomposition process. Various ratios of carbon (from brown, dead stuff) and nitrogen (from green, fresh stuff) in the mix will determine how hot a pile becomes (hot piles decompose faster). But none of this is necessary if you’re not in a hurry. Nature will figure it out, even if you aren’t there fussing over every detail. It’s a good lesson for other aspects of our lives (parenting, in particular).
7) There’s no single “right” way: Compost bins come in all shapes and sizes. You can build your own structure with boards and chicken wire, or buy a stackable system or rotating tumbler. You don’t even need a formal system at all (see #3). Just dump a pile of leaves or grass in a corner and come back to it in a few months. The point is, many roads lead to the same end point. As an old Chinese proverb says, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”
8) Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty: Gardeners love the feel of rich, homemade compost in their hands. It might look gooky to someone else, but the gardener knows that it’s just leaves, grass, and kitchen bits magically transformed into a natural fertilizer for their plants. Here’s how an online idiom dictionary defines get your hands dirty: “to involve yourself in all parts of a job, including the parts that are unpleasant, or involve hard, practical work.” And isn’t it true that the dirtier our hands get, the more rewarding the task feels at the end of the day?
9) Draw from the past to grow in the present: This is pretty self-explanatory when it comes to composting. You’re putting old stuff to work to nourish new growth. Our life journey works the same way. Each past experience is its own lesson for the future, as long as we’re conscious enough to look for the kernels of wisdom at the bottom of the heap.
10) With time, beauty can arise from the muck. I have a barrel composter that I use just for kitchen scraps (safe from my always hungry dog). If you looked inside that barrel halfway through the composting process, you’d see a seething mess of slime, coffee grounds, unidentifiable food chunks, and worms. It’s hard to imagine that anything beautiful could come of that. But it does. Eventually, it all breaks down into a loamy soil that gardeners like to call “black gold.” When added to holes for new plantings or simply spread around the garden, that black gold feeds a new flush of flowers and foliage. It’s a good lesson to remember when we’re in the midst of a dark time in our lives. You might be knee deep in slime, but with time, patience, and self-reflection, positive transformation awaits you.
“There is no way to fail with composting. It just may take a little longer, because–ultimately–compost happens.” ~ Backyard Composting