Here in Wisconsin we have a law for just about everything. Our elected representatives, in their drive to make our state the world’s first utopia, have determined that laws make perfection. Paradise, therefore, is just another legislative session away, or so we dream. In the meantime the future residents of this proposed Nirvana ignore stop signs, run through red lights, put their trash in recycle bins, jaywalk, speed, and hold grudges of various dimensions against their neighbors despite their neighbors’ protected status. Laws pretend to make us civilized. Being human, we pretend to obey them.
One law we have on the books, which affects our gardening habits, is that leaves, grass clippings, brush, twigs and small branches cannot be dumped in our landfills (aka garbage dumps). This is not a problem for me. As a landowner of even modest proportions, I have a use for such things to help me replenish the earth that I make use of in establishing my own Eden. What doesn’t warm my passive sense of well-being of an evening by being consumed in my homemade fire pit is stored in a compost pile for future use as rich, organic material to amend the composition of the dirt I wrote about last week.
The current lesson in my pursuit of becoming a master gardener, as defined by legislative fiat, is about composting. It is something I have been doing all along. But having read the latest assigned chapter, I can now do it better by virtue of being better educated; a certificate in composting will be in order if I pass the exam as I expect to do.
Putting those leaves, grass clippings, and small twigs as well as food scraps (non-meat or dairy), coffee grounds, paper and manure in a heap and letting it all percolate for a while provides multiple benefits. Besides maintaining our status as law-abiding citizens by not putting such things in the landfill, our creation and use of compost saves us money since we do not need to buy expensive fertilizers, improves our lawn and garden soil structure, promotes plant growth through the provision of added nutrients, and helps the soil’s cation exchange capacity. That last item, or CEC, refers to dirt’s ability to hold nutrients for future use. And just knowing that such a function exists makes me feel smarter about my own gardening knowledge exchange capacity, or GKEC, which is an accolade I just made up.
My compost piles are just that, heaps I create in a suitable location without the benefit of any formal structure to confine the various ingredients which comprise my compost composition. But people of more affluent sensibilities invest in constructing or buying compost bins in order to show off their decomposing wealth. Bins can be constructed from wood or plastic frames and wire mesh, although the extremely committed go so far as to erect a block structure as their monument to composting. I prefer space. It comes cheap and I have sufficient quantities of it to meet my gardening needs.
Composting is as simple as what passes for cooking these days. Just add water to whatever ingredients you have on hand, stir, and wait. The only drawback is instead of the usual six minutes it takes to cook or microwave, a meal, good composting takes about six to twelve months in order to achieve the ultimate in composting flavor. And just like good food, good compost will have the right appetizing color, aroma and texture to appease the palate of every lawn and garden of every size, shape and density.
One added feature of composting is that you never do it alone. Worms, beetles, mites, centipedes and various other creatures of diminishing size will help you in your labors. You will be feeding them and their gratitude will be amply expressed in their castings – a polite way to indicate the waste products they will create in their pursuit of gluttony – which will add nutritional value for the ultimate benefit of plant and lawn life. This makes composting a charitable endeavor, which is far better than any act of any legislative body.