Sunday, September 25, 2005

Composting 101 - You Don't Have to Be Perfect to Let Things Rot

On one of our visits to Missoula, MaGreen’s Uncle Stephen and Aunt Patricia walked us out back behind their fence to show us their compost piles. They were neatly organized in a series of wooden boxes. Three or four of them, perfectly constructed, each one holding a mix of yard waste and food scraps in varying states of decomposition. Stephen described the system, but I couldn’t really follow it. He has that kind of voice you would expect from an respected doctor who sees cancer patients every day. Each of his words is enunciated and weighted at the end, inflected with erudition and wisdom. Like their cooking, their exercise regimen, and their communes with nature at Glacier National Park, I found their compost piles to be impossibly perfect. MaGreen and I could never do that. Their rotting waste was neater than our office desks.

And yet, when we got back to Houston, our guilt about throwing away massive amounts of organic matter grew, burdened us with the weight of all the clippings that we’ve ever thrown away. Everyday it seemed we learned something new about how bad it is to throw away your food scraps and yard waste. When organic matter decomposes in big city dumps, it combines with the surrounding garbage to make all kinds of toxic stink that seeps into the ground and the water supply. And there isn’t much space left in dumps as it is. And if you haven’t figured it out already, MaGreen and I have overactive consciences. Knowing we are hurting the world out of carelessness and inaction bothers us.

We were trapped by our feelings of inadequacy and our guilt. Did I mention our fears? What if we started our compost wrong? Would it attract cockroaches and rats? What exactly can you put in it? Should it be closed and made of plastic? Do we need the kind of compost that has red worms? If you make a hot compost, can it explode? It seemed there were so many ways of composting, we would need to take a class to figure out how to start. Ultimately, we got over our fears. As with our other greening attempts, MaGreen’s being pregnant has gotten us motivated. In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about composting. Before I get to the specifics, I wanted to acknowledge that the first hurdle, if you are like us, is to realize that composting is not rocket science. You don’t have to be perfect to let things rot.

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