With all the terrible things happening in the world, I take comfort in my compost. We have one of those large black plastic beehives that the regional waste and transportation authority provides. In the past few years it’s migrated around our yard a bit, but now it sits next to my vegetable beds, half filled with uprooted weeds, egg shells, pasta that the children didn’t finish, sauteed kale that the children didn’t finish, pancakes the children didn’t finish… you get the idea.
This year was the first time I’ve actually grown a garden. I was always too busy having babies, trying cases or trying to make partner at my firm. Sometimes I was doing all three. (Not recommended). But this January and February I poured some stubby, slumping concrete walls into to two uneven rectangular beds and dumped last year’s compost into them. There were quite a few coconut shells that hadn’t fallen to bits because my son likes young coconuts, but mostly it was black, muddy and stinky. I covered it with more dirt and the cold spring rain fell on it for a while. Then I put in a few seeds, and the kids put in a few seeds. Some of them came up, some didn’t. I put in kale and collards, cucumber and beets, as well as a number of pumpkin plants that I now see was excessive. As soon as it was warm enough I put in tomato starts from the little hippy farm store up the hill.
On the lid of the compost bin are instructions that say, “do not add fat, meat or oils”. We ignore that. If it comes off our plates or out of the forgotten plastic containers from the back of the fridge, it goes in the compost. I get a peculiar mad scientist satisfaction from emptying in jars of preserves or mummified stirfry that have grown technicolor mold. Early in the spring we put in a bunch of salmon skeletons and rendered chicken stuff. The smell was an abomination and I emptied a pan of ash from my fire pit on top of it. That helped quite a bit.
At one point I bought a bag of overpriced red worms from the same farm store and the nice young man said just dump them in and they’d eat all the greens, but not the meat stuff. They promptly got out-competed by the nightmarish segmented grubs swarming around in the bin. At least I haven’t seen them in a while. But I turn the compost and now I’ve noticed that it is starting to pack down on its own. And it stopped having any smell at all hardly. Once or twice a day one of us empties the bowl from our kitchen window sill into it: coffee grounds, stems from the kale that we picked for dinner, strawberry tops and prune pits.
There’s more kale then we need now, growing up like Doctor Seuss’s trees. I like to picture the molecules of last year’s Easter brunch and bites of uneaten birthday cake incorporated in the blue curly leaves. I feel less guilty about all the veggies the kids refuse to eat, because I can put it right back into the compost a few feet from where it grew, to feed next year’s tomatoes. This year’s tomatoes are six feet tall: yellow pear, green zebra, red Roma and purple Robeson. The Robesons are awesome. I got them because my parents had a Paul Robson concert tape I used to listen to a lot as a kid.
When I water the yard I look at the enormous leaves and swarming stems and think about the peculiar magic of photosynthesis: carbon dioxide sucked out of the air and magically glued together with the compost and out of nowhere becoming a sunflower stem as thick as my wrist. It makes me feel like things will be okay.