Northern Advocate Column

Composting and the ways of the force

13 January 2018

The compost bin should be the centre of any good garden. Coffee grounds, tea bags, carrot ends and peel, cabbage left too long in the fridge, lettuce that’s brown at the edges, grass clippings, tree prunings and raked autumn leaves—all into the compost bin. Where a few million critters, living bacteria, annelids and arthropods (worms and bugs), will do their work. You can think of the critters in your compost bin as your pets, or perhaps more accurately your working livestock. You’re a rancher of worms, a farmer of bacteria.

A compost bin needs to be moist but not sodden. Getting this right comes from experience. A good guide, if you’re going for a slow-burning composting process, is plenty of worms. A beginners mistake is to overload your compost with grass clippings, which if green will have lots of nitrogen, potentially upsetting the balance of your bin, producing a soggy, ammonia smelling goo. To maintain a balance, add lots of carbon, dried leaves, wood chip, or shredded paper even. If you want to get fancy, you can arrange green and brown in layers. 

With your compost bin filled with decaying organic material and what’s come out the rear end of various organisms, you’re dealing with the icky realities of the cosmos: death, decay and new life. Perhaps, as you enjoy the warm rays of the thermodynamic dispenser in the sky, following a morning spent working in the garden, you can meditate on your compost bin. Close your eyes, imagine all the crawlies, slitherers and multipliers doing their work. See if you can hear them with your mind’s ear. 

If you wish to reach further towards gardening nirvana, imagine yourself as part of this process, one day taking all your bodily bacteria with you into the compost universe, breaking down into constituent parts, fed on and giving birth to new life.

In composting, as in all else in life and gardening, you’ll only learn (and understand) by doing. Seek advice, but use your own brain to observe what’s happening. And one day you’ll have built up so much intuitive knowledge that you’ll be a Jedi of the backyard, understanding the ways of the force. 

While you might not be able to lift a wheelbarrow off the ground and spin it around using the power of your mind, you’ll be well on the way to growing food for yourself organically. In turn, you, a compost master, will be able to dispense gardening knowledge like a Yoda, “Turn the compost with a fork you do, much aeration that way, good results you’ll see.”