The Heat of Life in Hideous Places

There's nothing pretty about compost piles, but what they do for a garden is beautiful

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By David Hammond

Elsewhere on, there’s a very active discussion, about gardening in general, and front yard gardening specifically, but also aesthetics, fertilizers…and compost.

For  three years now, we’ve been composting kitchen and yard waste in a big black box I bought from Green Home Experts on Oak Park Ave.

Vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, dry leaves, anything that is not animal in origin goes into the compost bin.

Opening our compost bin, I’m sometimes amazed by the amount of crawling, flying and hopping life in there: worms, flies, and insects of unknown determination have made a home in the mess of stuff we didn’t eat…and they’re turning it into compost that we use in our garden. It ain’t pretty; sometimes it’s a nightmarish tableau of rotting food and spiders, but it’s a highly productive way to dispose of waste and there’s no doubt, composting does beautiful things for a garden.

You don’t need a composter to create compost. You can, if you like, simply start collecting kitchen waste in a hole in the ground. The black composter has a number of advantages: it’s easy to empty, and it holds the heat, though there’s already a lot of thermal energy generated by billions of creatures eating, digesting and expelling organic matter that turns into fertilizer for our garden.

There’s a lot of heat there.

A few years ago, our neighbors had a compost pile butted up against the wooden fence that divides our properties. Over the course of several days, I started smelling wood burning. I figured it was a neighbor with a heat gun burning varnish off a door or something like that. Turns out, the compost pile itself was creating so much heat it actually charred the wood fence.

Life in the bin dies down in the winter, of course, but it amazes me how much stuff we can pour into there. We used compost from the bin in May of 2010, and I’ve been adding all our organic kitchen waste since then. Last autumn I even added a foot of dried leaves (composting chemistry demands carbon as well as nitrogen fuel). The level of compost in the bin has hardly gone down at all: everything I’ve put in is being thoroughly processed by insect and microbial life.

Next spring, 2012, I intend to use whatever is in the bin as fertilizer in my garden. This fertilizer, made of stuff that we’d otherwise throw away, cost me nothing, it reduces the waste in landfills and disposal-related expenses, and it will be a most excellent way to help my garden grow lush and fruitful.


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