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From the Composting Pit

As Thomas Friedman dourly notes in Hot, Flat and Crowded, the eco/green movement is less a movement than it is a block party.

Karen and I (Jeannette) drifted into the party a few years ago when we dipped our toes into composting. We went to a Department of Public Works composting workshop at Griffith Park, which was a hilarious presentation with an interesting audience.

Thinking that it was better to give it a try before we sunk a lot of money into an official composter, we purchased two black garbage cans and spare utility knife blades. We cut the bottoms out of the cans and cut triangular holes all around the sides (triangles were the easiest shape to cut).  We dug two holes in her yard utility area and put the open ended cans into the dirt. Voila, a duet of composting.

Composting is challenging when it's fed from from the kitchens of two single women. Karen can walk her compost out the back door. I collect mine in a lovely can with charcoal filters in its lid on my kitchen counter.  When life is good, I hand Karen a bag of garbage to take home when she comes to visit. When life is chaotic, as it has been lately, I becomes the Queen of Anaerobic Decay, a dark and stinky art.  (Once I froze my compost pail, thinking I could dump it odorlessly. The bull-nosed base base held the frozen compost in the pail until it thawed back into an oozy, stinky mass.)

For awhile, the compost pile was going beautifully.  It heated up the way a well-functioning compost pile should.  The bugs multiplied.  It was a wonder to lift the lid every week and see what had changed. Then it got recalcitrant.  It cooled down and stalled. Perhaps we didn't feed it on a regular enough schedule.  Perhaps it didn't get enough to eat.  Perhaps the chemistry (aka the brown-to-green matter ratio) got out of balance. Maybe it dried up. Maybe it got too much water.  Maybe we didn't turn it often enough. We added ventilation pipes through the center of the lids into the centers of the piles. That helped -- a little.

Karen says the problem is too many big chunks are being thrown in (by me -- hangs silently in the air).  I say there's no point in having bugs and bacteria in your backyard if they can't manage chunky garbage -- besides, I'm not pulling out the food processor to make bacteria happy enough to jiggle their protoplasm.  Life is hard.  It takes work!!!!

For several weeks last year, we collected coffee grounds from Starbucks and scattered them both over the garden and into the compost bins.  It smelled like a double expresso every time you pushed open the garden gate.  The odor seemed to discourage pests.  It definitely kept the cats from doing their business among the plants.

With planting time coming up, Kate and I recently turned the contents of one compost can into the other until we reached finished compost.  We then hauled the rick, black, odorless compost and scattered it over the portion of the garden we'd cleared for rototilling.  Then we repeated it with the other can.

Seeing the black compost against the yellowish brown clay soil of the garden plot was a joy. It's magic to turn something as worthless as food garbage into something as productive as compost. Huge white grubs tried to wallow out of the sunlight.  Red worms twisted and danced. A cat crouched on the cinder block wall and eyed us all with skeptical yellow eyes.

Life is good.

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