Compost Happens

“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. I love compost and I believe that composting can save not the entire world, but a good portion of it.” –Bette Midler, in a Los Angeles Times interview

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I have been busy filling my compost bins for winter. I have one of those three bin structures where the idea is to always have one finished, one cooking and one being filled. Unfortunately, the bins were situated far from the house and neglected. In the fall I would fill them with garden waste and in the spring I would lift the lid and discover…dried up garden waste. To make matters worse, the bins faced west and the wicked winter winds were forever blowing the lids open with such force it was wrecking the hinges. This despite using three concrete blocks—the kind people often couple with planks to make shelving—plunked one on top of each bin. One of the bins wasn’t used for compost at all, but a pseudo garden shed. Plant pots, buckets and stakes and all manner of garden paraphernalia were routinely shoved inside. All in all, it was a very sorry and unproductive state of affairs.

This fall we hauled the bin up to the new garden closer to the house and almost overnight I became a compost queen. Instead of tossing potato tops and pea vines into the bins willy-nilly, I actually followed instructions. I carefully built my layers of browns and greens. I scurried back and forth collecting straw, manure, sheep bedding, leaves, old grain and anything else that came to mind. I buzzed about with my loaded wheelbarrow like a worker bee, muttering fascinating things such as “Aha! Some greens! More browns, I need more browns.”

Creating compost is often likened to making a cake. If you were baking a cake you wouldn’t dump in a cup of flour, wait a month before adding an egg, and then leave the bowl on the counter for another few weeks before pouring in some milk and expect to get something edible. It’s the same thing with cooking compost. If you want the compost to “cook” so it will kill off any pathogens or weed seed you need to gather your ingredients together and layer them all at once being sure to sprinkle each layer with water as you go. When you’re done you close the lid and leave it to cook. I walked away from the pile in the same way I walk away from a cake in the oven; with a dollop of doubt that it will actually turn out.

Three days after filling the first bin the magic began. The mixture actually began to heat up. Lifting the lid one cool morning I was greeted by drops of moisture raining down from the inside of the lid and a faceful of rising steam. I shoved my hand into the mix and felt the building heat with the kind of giddy excitement most women reserve for a shoe sale.

When Darcy arrived home from work I pounced on him and said, “I don’t suppose you want to come out to the garden with me and feel my compost pile?”

As the long suffering husband of a rabid gardener, Darcy is used to being dragged out to the garden to look at freshly hatched flowers, unique seed heads or a loaded berry bush. This, however, was the first time he had been asked to share my enthusiasm over manure and apple cores. To his credit, Darcy set down his lunch kit, postponed supper and the ball game on TV and followed me out to the compost bin. He bravely plunged his hand through the layers into the depths and agreed that things were definitely heating up. A few days later he even bought me a leaf sucker for my birthday. What a guy!

Now my bins are full and steaming and I have moved on to open piles. The whole idea of bins is to disguise what would otherwise be viewed as an ugly sight. With no neighbours nearby I have gone a different route. I have carefully positioned my compost pile so I can see it from the house. The idea of sipping my morning tea while watching steam rising off the compost thrills me. That’s weird, I know. Last week I even bought a compost thermometer and a moisture meter. I am now officially a garden geek. The thermometer is just like one you use for testing a turkey only longer. As I check my compost, prepare more batches and vacuum the forest for leaves it’s as if I am nature’s housewife getting ready for a banquet. And in a way I am. A banquet of plants that will arrive with hungry roots come spring. I can’t wait. In the meantime I really should be vacuuming the house and doing some cooking for Thanksgiving and the human company it brings. Just one more bag of leaves…

Side note…

I picked up a copy of Composting for Canada by Suzanne Lewis at Dunvegan Gardens in Grande Prairie and it has quickly become my compost bible. It covers everything from hot and cold composting to vermicomposting, bokashi buckets and more with simple easy instructions and lots of pictures. Jam packed with great ideas for making your own compost and fertilizers over winter in your own home. It even convinced me to start a worm bin (vermicomposting) of my own…but I’ll save that story for another post!

Here’s what the compost book looks like in case you’re interested in grabbing a copy of your own…

http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/155105843X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=15121&creative=330641&creativeASIN=155105843X&linkCode=as2&tag=wwwshannonm0e-20

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