• Holy Compost, Gramma!

    “Bury me in my compost pile,” was one of my mom's mom's mantras for as long as I can remember. Whether we were digging into the pile for bait, loading a wheelbarrow bound for her exquisite flower garden, scraping food scraps into the half-gallon milk carton next to the kitchen sink, or chatting at sunset on one of the longest days of the year, Gramma’s reverence for dark, wet compost resembled nothing if not sacrament. Fortunately, the holy significance of homegrown soil food rubbed off on me, but this winter I have to admit, I’ve had difficulty motivating to turn my pile. We’ve had so much snow that the pile is simply hard to access, and it’s been so cold that...let's just say I've been distracted. BUT with two looming week-long trips out of town, I really MUST turn and water that pile this week!

    The good news is that I really could use some upper-body exercise, so if I can just remember this fact when I have a few spare moments of daylight, I’d get her done. Along with fixing up the chicken-coop roof, pruning our dozen fruit trees, and cleaning out the bunny hutch, that would be a healthy chunk of burned calories before hitting the beach!

    Oh blessed compost pile, please lure me to your sacred altar ASAP--if not for me than for Adelaide B. Adams who would have turned 100 yesterday.


  1. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of a great Michael Pollan article in Harpers called "Cultivating Virtue" (from 1987) about how compost is actually, and not just symbolically, the cycle of life -- how energy is reprocessed and taken up in new life forms. He talks about this composter living in West Virginia who zealously creates this super highly nutritious compost that provides the vegetables he grows with so many more vitamins and minerals. I guess not all carrots and apples and chickens are created equal -- some are more nutritious then others - and it all starts with what goes into the soil... an interesting read or you can just watch Avatar...

  1. ryefish says:

    It seems like there should be a more fun way to get the compost turned. Such as jumping up and down on a spring loaded platform which transfers the energy to a platform under the compost, tossing it around and aerating it. Or hook a stationary bike to gears that are spread throughout the compost to turn it. I took a quick look online and found automated large scale solutions and small in-home automated composters (all electric or oil), but I didn't see anything to address the typical backyard needs.

    I find if I can redesign and reapproach a 'task' as a fun activity then its easy to build the habit of getting it done. And years spend flipping the compost pile when I was kid definitely puts this in the task category for me.

    Thinking back also reminds me how heavy the pile can be, so my above ideas would not work as is. Maybe the whole family needs to get out and jump on the platform or peddle?

    Anyone else have ideas on how to make turning the compost pile easier and/or more fun?

  1. Nate Downey says:

    Actually, Ryefish, in my upcoming book there's a short section about an alternative compost turner that my friend Tom invented. You build a pile around a vertical piece of perforated durable plastic that has rebar sticking through the pipe perpendicularly. You churn the pile by turning the topmost piece of rebar.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am grateful most of the time to live in California. Posts like these make me doubly grateful. We are worshipers of the holy compost piles ourselves - and we never have to fight the snow to turn them. Thanks for keeping the standards high out in Santa Fe!

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