Outdoors

I Love the Smell of Decomp in the Morning

9 Sep , 2018  

Beats napalm.

When I was a kid, we had a neighbor who gave the children tours of her gardens out back. She had a primrose path, a little wooded section, and far to the back, a compost heap that she turned regularly with a pitchfork. It smelled of earth and death and life, and it made rich soil for her wildflowers. She taught us not to waste things, but we were kids and we forgot. Lately, I remembered, and mentioned to my husband that it seemed a shame to waste the coffee grounds, banana peels, cardboard bits, corn husks, dried leaves, and other organic scraps. He bought an Aerobin 400 Composter.

He’s subtly coaxing me back out into the yard. The yard I wanted to run barefoot in, and climb trees in, until he killed the second copperhead. One might’ve been a fluke. Two, though – that was a nest of vipers. I’d rather think the alligators and snapping turtles ate them, but I’m convinced it’s the other way around. Anyway, he made me an herb garden, and then he built this gigantic composter. I don’t even have to turn it with a pitchfork.

Whenever there’s an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, like we had in France this summer, and I find myself wishing I could take the trimmings home to feed the garden. I took leftover celery home in a doggy bag, last night – if I don’t eat it, and I probably won’t, it’ll go into the compost. It seems a shame to scrape leftovers, odds, and ends into the trash bin, now, after months of composting. Never mind mere “recycling,” we are turning cardboard, leaves, hedge trimmings, and organic waste into rich soil. This little brown patch in the yard is swampy and baked, by turns. But now, at least, it serves a purpose.

Aerobin 400 Composter

I try to be happy that there are creepy crawlers in the bin. I grit my teeth each time I open it, because it’s a given, now, that something will leap or fly out. Spiders love it. There are bees and snails, flies and maggots. A roach the size of a mouse scuttled under the banana peels. God only knows what lives in there and thrives on death and decomp, but it’s helping to make the soil that will enrich the herb garden in the spring, so I grit my teeth and feed the beast in the bin. I want to take a pitchfork to it, turn it, make sure that nothing down there lets out an unearthly howl…

Of course it wouldn’t. I’m just indulging my overactive imagination.

It doesn’t smell bad at all. Earthy. Like the lawn after a good, soaking, summer rain, when the hot sun hits it and steam starts to rise from the pavement.

It’s my husband that has the green thumb, but come spring, I might manage a thing or two. I haven’t killed everything in the herb garden, yet. Except the mint – and that’s odd, because mint is nearly unkillable. Maybe it’ll be back in the spring. If not, I’ll plant more. We’ll have mojitos, yet.

There are other things in the yard, after the summer rains. Birds – a family of blue jays in the trees near the fence. A sundial that doesn’t understand Daylight Savings Time. I fixed that; now, I’ll have to fix it back, soon. There are flowers, both cultivated and wild. I wonder why we call some “weeds.” I found out, today, that these pretty little fuzzy flowers are Diodia virginiana, or Virginia Button Weed, an invasive little groundling that’s hard to kill and likes to take over a yard when the soil’s packed and the rains are intermittent. It’s pretty, but the grass probably sees it the way I do the copperheads.

There are crepe myrtles, white, hot pink, and peppermint striped.

Even the spiders are in bloom. Not the scary ones that spin their webs across the corners of the Aerobin, mind you, but the ones that have spread from under the neighbor’s fence to choke my pequin pepper to death and now provide ground cover around the crepe myrtles. I like spider plants, but if they decide you’re the enemy, you won’t win. They’re as unkillable as mint.

Innocent looking, aren’t they?

There are three plants even I can’t kill: Asparagus aethiopicus “Sprengeri” (directly above), spider plants, and “Wandering Jew.” The latter is purple Tradescantia zebrina; I asked my husband to look for some, last time he went to Lowe’s. He came home with an overgrown hanging basket full of it – and I proceeded to dismantle the root-bound thing. One thing about Tradescantia zebrina: it’s easy to grow from cuttings. I have an overabundance of Mason jars and cheap paper towels – the perfect growth medium for cuttings. At least for these.

Oh, yes, he’s a sneaky one… showing me, bit by bit, that I don’t just kill plants. And that even if I do, they’ll become part of the circle of life, and go back into the Aerobin.

 

 

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7 Responses

  1. BellyBytes says:

    I could smell the compost too in your lyrical description of your garden in the making. How I envy those who have the luxury of a piece of land that they can cultivate the way they want in abundant foliage or delicate blooms. Alas I have managed just two flowering pot and look at them with almost the same fear as you do for vipers – for mosquito eggs that spawn the malaria carrying pests. Here’s hoping your garden does yield the mint for mojitos and refreshing teas.

    • Our mosquitoes don’t carry malaria, but they do spread West Nile virus and other nasties. Fortunately for us (and to the great chagrin of the chemtrail conspiracy theorists), they spray mosquito killing chemicals in our neighborhood regularly. After Harvey, and all the rains and flooding last year, they sprayed with large military planes, I think (normally it’s just little trucks – you can hear them come ’round the neighborhood late at night). They do a fair job of keeping these pests under control. Bats also help, as do an abundance of dragonflies.

  2. The concept of a composter has negative images of bad smells etc in my mind but the truth is those are probably my misconceptions more than anything. The benefits technically outweigh the rest by a long mile
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    • Right! Nothing but vegetarian waste (and maybe shells, but I use only rinsed and crushed eggshells, no shellfish) goes into the composter, so the smell is just pleasantly earthy. Manure from animals that are vegetarian is also okay, but other than a little bird poop clinging to twigs, there’s not any of that in mine, either. You want the right mix of nitrogen rich greens and dry browns, so if it starts smelling “off” you adjust, because you probably have an imbalance or too much water or acid. Google: compost greens browns

  3. Damyanti says:

    I’ve converted one of the pots in my balcony into a compost bin— I realise I need to put a tray beneath it: it rained yesterday, and brown fluid came out the bottom this morning.

    But like you, I’m hoping for rich brown soil in a few months, so I shall persist.

  4. That’s a beautiful and dare I say ecological post. Holly, I have been toying with the idea of home composting for quite some years now, but I can’t get myself to, simply because the idea of seeing creepy crawlies deters me. Kudos to you and I love the way your garden has shaped thanks to black gold from your composting bin.

    • I think it’s actually getting me over my loathing of the creepy crawlies. I’m feeding them; they’ll help to feed the garden; the garden will help to feed us. I harvested a bunch of lovely oregano today, and started some cuttings from the excess. Cleaned up my little herb garden out there. The plants that thrive (and have thrived through Hurricane Harvey and a hard freeze, summer sun and near drought, are the ones I least expected to: rosemary, a crysanthemum, oregano, a little basil, and mint. The peppers kept getting dug up by the obnoxious peanut-farming squirrels, and the tomatoes did nothing but vanish on me. The squirrels also ate the radishes, long before they were more than mere sprouts. But something grew, and survived, and no one is more surprised by this than I am!

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