Composting: A Love Story
I love compost - it is one of my favorite parts of gardening. One of those little things about my father (whom I greatly love) that irritates me no end is that wheneverI talk about compost his first reaction is to say "Yuck!" He is, of course, not alone in his negative assessment of compost. The truth is that there is absolutely nothing disgusting about a good composting system. On the other hand a poorly maintained anaerobic compost pile will definitely be smelly and slimy but that is the lazy gardener's fault, not the compost's.
I have occasionally found a great sensual pleasure in compost when I would go outside barefoot on a chilly morning and wiggle my toes down into the active layer of my compost. Steam rises from the pile and the material is so warm that my feet can tolerate it for only a few seconds.
Another great pleasure in compost is when I dig into a mature pile. First I push aside the outer layer of raw material then I plunge my shovel down into the active layers. What comes out is an amazing mix of material, some undecomposed material, great mounds of fluffy black humus, a million little roly-poly bugs, almost as many worms, maybe even a mole -- enveloped in a sweet musty aroma like the smell of rising bread dough.
Currently, I don't have much of a garden so my composting system is rather modest, merely a means of disposing kitchen scrap. I use a planter pot, the twenty-gallon nursery size, and just throw stuff into it to decompose. What is fascinating to me is that I have been using it for more than a year and a half and it refuses to fill up more than about 80% of the way. I assume that as the material decomposes it compresses from the weight of the material above, that some material seeps through the drain holes, and that these processes occur at a rate equal to the rate of material input.
When gardening, I sometimes practice what I called precomposting. This is where I take material, especially twiggy stuff, chop it up into 1/4" - 3/4" lengths with my clippers and then scatter it around in the mulch. Diligently practiced this technique can greatly reduce the volume of debris a garden generates and recycles organic material directly back into the topsoil.
©2000, James B. Mielke. Reprinted with permission.