Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Joy of Compost

Perhaps "joy" is too strong a word to describe the quiet pleasure one derives from a low mound of rotting leaves and vegetable scraps. Then again, must all our joys be feverish and exhausting?

The beauty of compost lies in the connections between the carrot peels we stuff into a clear plastic container by the sink, the leaves that enjoy a brief moment of glory before dropping every fall, and the rich dark organic matter that develops over time in the wire-enclosed bin in the far corner of the back yard. We live in the midst of these connections, which operate on several levels of time. The vegetable scraps get carried out maybe three times a week. The leaves fall once a year. (You knew that.) I dig deep into the pile perhaps once every three years.

We water the pile occasionally in dry weather, but almost never climb inside the wire enclosure, which might be six feet in diameter, to "turn" the leaves and scraps. Mostly the pile takes care of itself, overfull by the time the snow falls, but sunken again soon enough after warm days return. 

The lovely weather this fall made it easy to delay raking the leaves, and that presented an opportunity to extract the mature compost over several days, a few wheel barrel's full at a time. I dumped some on the tomato patch in the front yard by the driveway, and another good pile on the wedge-shaped plot of annuals near the front door.
A few days later I brought some compost over to the terraced beds under the bedroom window, and I also spread some out around the turtleheads and the black-eyes susans.

None of this could really be called work.  I spent a lot of time pondering garden strategy—far longer than I needed to. 

One of the pleasures of the composting  process is that it gets you out into the further reaches of the yard, places you wouldn't otherwise visit so often, thus giving you a fresh perspective on things 
you've looked at many times before. These are the moments when you begin to dimly comprehend how beautiful and precious life is, or can be, when things are going well and the weather's nice and you've got the time to zone out, attentive to the moss and the clouds and other things that mean nothing to you or anyone else--things quietly proceeding on their own path.

Is compost really worth anything to the plants? Evidently it can improve soil structure, add nutrients, attract earthworms, and reduce problems with pests.

I simply like the look of it. At this stage it's almost fluffy, but by next spring it will have flattened out and basically disappeared. Perhaps I'll even have forgotten I ever messed with it, as the violets and bleeding-heart emerge and a new pile of leaves, compressed by the snow, sinks down ever further in its wire bin.

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