Loving that new dirt smell

I have been itching to write.  I am finally snatching a few moments before sleep to scratch that itch.

I carried food scraps to the compost pile today.  I turned the grass clippings that I spread on the edges of the pile to dry, aerated the center of the pile, and I felt delighted to find dirt, real beautiful dark dirt, forming in the middle of my compost pile.  It is working!

Much has happened since the last post I wrote about starting a compost pile.  One of the few things I have written about here was Mom’s death, but another big event was our move a little over a year ago.  We now own our first house, in a quiet neighborhood, with a fenced backyard and several established trees.  Behind one of these trees, a stout evergreen, we have a secret compost pile tucked away.  It started sort of by accident.  In fact, my sweet husband started it for me without meaning to.  He’s not the biggest fan of compost, and would not have started a compost pile on purpose.  After abandoning my last attempt at a compost pile after only a few weeks, I kept meaning to start a new one.  Every time I threw away food scraps, I felt guilty and sad.  I apologized to the banana peels and onion scraps as I dropped them into the trash, “Soon I’ll start a pile, soon…”  I murmured.  Eventually, I realized that guilt wasn’t moving me toward my goal, so I tried more positive thinking.  Any time I found myself thinking about what a shame it was to toss such lovely organic material, I pictured a thriving compost pile and beautiful rich composted soil, and imagined how delighted I would be with such results.  I did my best to actually feel the joyful emotions my lovely pile would bring, then said a little prayer for help moving toward my dream.

Early in the season, my husband switched from an old mulching mower, which was exacerbating the dead spots in our lawn, to a bagging mower.  We had several bags of grass clippings in our garage while we tried to figure out how to dispose of them–it’s not legal to put them in the trash here.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to pay a compost service to take our clippings and turn them into dirt that we would then have to buy back, so the bags sat in our garage and stunk.  I had no idea decomposing grass could smell so awful.

One day, my husband came in from mowing and informed me that he had finally just dumped the bags behind the tree.  I seized the opportunity!  Before long, I spread out the green grass to dry.  Soon after, I started taking little containers of food scraps out to the pile and carefully stirring them in, remembering that compost should always have a lot of air, and a mixture of “green” and “brown” material to help prevent the proliferation of smelly bacteria.

I keep my food scraps in the fridge until I am ready to take them out, so I don’t have stinky, fly-ridden containers of scraps cluttering my counters.  Every few days, I march out to the pile with shovel in hand to stir in the latest additions.  Though I do sometimes get behind, I have kept at it, just adding and stirring a little at a time.  And I am amazed that my gradual, steady efforts are actually having results!  I am thankful for this proof of the ideas that small and simple things bring about great things, that “slow and steady wins the race”  that continuous small efforts multiply and become something greater.  I have had so little experience with this in my life: steadiness is not my strong suit, and I don’t like to think of all the projects I have abandoned before seeing the fruits of my effort.

I turn over a shovelful of this dark, rich earth and mix in the leaves and grass and food scraps.  I see the slimy place where the pile has gone anaerobic and stir carefully, mixing the good dry grass and the fresh air into the slimy spot, helping it breathe.  I’m like the pile’s diaphragm, I think, drawing in the air to keep it alive.  It’s a quirky thought, and I like the odd shape of it in my mind.  Cicadas sing in the trees above me, the sun plays over the grass, the breeze dances toward me bearing the sweet smell of new dirt.  I think of Mom and smile.  I’m doing this, Mom.  It’s really working!  I pick up my shovel and bucket and head back to the house.

Baby steps…

One of my friends once told me that I would be happier if I started with doing just one percent of something I wanted to do, instead of feeling like I have to do it one hundred percent right off the bat.  That way, I actually start chipping away at my goals instead of allowing them to loom over me until I feel I have time to “do it right.”  I have thought about that for a long time, chewing on it, and taking baby steps into various projects.  This blog for one.  I wanted to get it all set up and beautiful, replete with gorgeous photos and the perfect theme to set off my thoughts just right.  But I wanted to begin more than I wanted make it perfect.  Barely.  Maybe someday my blog will be beautiful, but for today, at least I am creating and sharing something.  Yesterday, I started something else that I have wanted to do for a long time.  I started a compost pile!

Every time I throw away food scraps–banana and orange peels, egg shells, carrot peelings and the like–I feel sad.  I think that those scraps have the potential to morph into rich, life-giving soil for new vegetables, and I feel sick thinking of that rich natural resource remaining trapped in a landfill where it does no good.

I have waited years to compost because I knew I didn’t want it to smell awful, and it seemed complicated to balance the ratio of “brown” and “green” components in the pile to ensure proper decomposition and preclude stench.  Hey, I can’t even keep straight what stuff is considered brown and what is considered green, let alone mix it right!  However, when my lovely family came to visit me last weekend and see my–relatively–new home, my “tiny bird mother,” who has had a compost pile for years, explained something that made composting seem suddenly simple.  She said that the green components are like a fire and the brown components are like the fuel, and both must be balanced for the compost to break down well.  I extrapolated that without the fuel, the “fire” “smolders” and that’s when the stench happens.

To return to where I began, feeling encouraged by the epiphany that I felt at mom’s simplified explanation of the process, I started my compost pile on Thursday.  I chopped up fruit and veggie peels to hopefully speed decomposition and carried them carefully to my selected spot, covered them with the leaves which have sat on the ground waiting for me to get up the guts to finally start composting, and smiled in satisfaction as I walked back to the house.

Friday afternoon, Big Sister helped me carry the scraps to the pile and raced about the yard gathering leaves to spread over them.  Before eagerly enlisting as my helper, she came into the kitchen and saw me chopping.  When she asked what I was doing, I told her about food scraps and leaves turning into new dirt to grow new food.  Seeming to catch the wonder I felt about the process, she said, “It’s like magic!”  Indeed it is.  True, divine magic.

This post on organic farming also inspired me to take my first baby step into composting.