According to numerous agricultural studies, the Earth’s topsoil is diminishing at an alarming rate. Where does this topsoil go? It’s swept away by either wind or water, and most of it eventually settles to the bottom of the sea. The only way for new topsoil to end up on land is for things to die and decompose, becoming fertile soil from which Life may spring forth once again. Or, tens of thousands of years could pass, major Earth climate changes could occur, and we could inhabit newly dried up sea floors in the case of an ice-age, or newly melted mountain tops should the icecaps melt and force us to higher ground. It is much faster for things to die and decompose.
So, about my coffee grounds. I’ve been composting them for years now, along with my banana peels, long-stem roses, tea bags, left over rice and apple cores. I’ve created buckets of compost at each place I’ve lived in the last couple of decades, and as a gardener I experience the slight giddiness that accompanies each time I dig into a sleeping compost pile and receive a shovel-full of the fragrant, black earth with which I generously nourish the soul, I mean soil of my garden. Somehow it fills me with belonging and deep satisfaction – some type of tangible connection to this Mother from whence we come.
So I was taken by the pen this morning in order that I might help educate the Earth’s current human inhabitants of our ability to actually create fertile topsoil from the vegetable part of our garbage instead of sealing it off in landfills along with billions of tons of non-biodegradable items such as of disposable diapers and pads. I wanted to teach the world that every handful counts.
Then I started writing, and I realized that it doesn’t really matter – once I considered geological time. This dire emergency we’re experiencing in the form of diminishing topsoil and famine is just one of the Earth’s big breaths. We might slowly and painfully annihilate ourselves, but the Earth will keep on breathing, and moving, and exploding, and eroding and having her own winters and summers, and every little handful of compost I created will be scattered and resurrected an infinite number of times.
I’ll just call that my “It’s all just gonna end anyway” argument, which despite its truth, is beside the point, and I’ll go back to why it would be good for you and for everybody else too to start composting a certain percentage of your garbage. First of all, global consciousness of waste production would just not be a bad thing. Second, when you have your own compost pile, you get to create Earth and actually witness it. You give birth to that which gave birth to you. It’s cool. It doesn’t matter if you’re renting or if you don’t have a garden. This is about your relationship to the Earth. You give to Her. She gives to you. It’s very simple. Farmers are working on techniques to reduce the erosion of the precious topsoil that we already have, and one thing we can do as civilians and gardeners is help to create more.
How to Compost
All you have to have is a back yard. I say backyard, because to some people, oranges, broccoli stems and grass clippings are unsightly. Some folks make big compost bins out of wooden pallets. They’re great for containing compost, and it’s easier to “turn” the compost if they’re three-sided instead of four. Of course, if you have dogs or small children, you’re better off with four sides. Also, at gardening shops, you can purchase compost makers. They’re big, black cylinders with handles that allow you to easily turn the compost, and they make compost relatively quickly. Or, if you’re lazy and no one minds looking at it, you can just throw your left over veggie material in a particular spot against the fence, turn it every few months, and voila. Keep a little compost receptacle inside the kitchen to collect your peels, pits, slightly forgotten produce, etc., and when it’s full, make the trek out to the real compost heap.
Compost likes wetness, worms, and dirt, which you can add occasionally. The enzymes in dirt help to break down the organic matter. Worms and water do too, but letting the heap dry out won’t hurt anything. Once my pile really gets going – in like six months to a year, I turn it, let it sleep, and start a new one beside it because I don’t want newly composting material in my well-composted, garden-ready goodness. Then, when it looks like dirt, you’ve got superdirt. It’s like candy to your plants.
In-house composting machines
Some new “green” homes are incorporating composting machines into the kitchen itself. It’s kind of like a trash compactor for your food leftovers. The machine heats the compost and you get the dirt in about a week, as opposed to the year I described earlier. The green argument is that our leftover food takes up a lot of landfill space when it could be turned into nutritious dirt. They’re composting in Manhattan not because they have garden space, but because they’re green.
The lovely scent of decomposing veggies
A great misconception that I must dispel is that compost stinks. For the most part, this is false. Clean compost has a rich, fragrant, earthy smell. Rotting things stink – especially meat. Shellfish shells and egg shells are great in compost. Meat is not. When you dig into composting material, you feel the warmth from all of the energy released by the decomposing matter, and it smells fabulous. Of course if you toss gnarly rotten cabbage into your pile, it might smell until it starts composting. It’s not a bad idea to have the compost out of sniffing distance if you tend to throw pretty rank things into it.
So, even with the knowledge that everything is infinitely meaningful and infinitely absurd at the same time, I’ll just stick with that gut feeling I get each time I dig in my compost – that deep, connected, one-with-my-Creator feeling, and honor the illusion that it matters.