Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Elegant compost

My recent broodings on mortality have reminded me of one of my best reads of 2006: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadaversby Mary Roach.

Roach provides a fascinating and upbeat treatment of the topic of dead bodies from historical, political, religious, economic and scientific perspectives. I listened to it (it was an unabridged download) and was captivated.

When I think about what I want to happen to my own body when I go, my favorite option is from Roach’s book: in Sweden, an effort is underway to allow families to compost their loved ones. It involves freeze drying, sonic shattering (producing very small particles) and then composting (which is super-speedy because of the drying and shattering process), with the planting of a memorial bush or tree or garden as an end result.

Think of it: we could all be gardens. Isn’t that better than cluttering up the planet with graveyards or urns?

And that thought leads me to the topic of composting.

I am a semi-successful but passionate composer. Despite living in a climate where gardening is difficult due to low (or no) rainfall and sever water restrictions, I still use my compost to enrich the soil around my home every spring.

Why bother? In improving the soil, I am also reducing the amount of smelly, heavy, wet garbage I have to haul away in trash bags. The idea of getting something useful out of what was useless is very pleasing.

I compost nearly everything (even dryer lint), and this has been made easier and more elegant by two pieces of equipment.

I recently replaced the grungy and smelly green plastic bowl that used to collect my kitchen compost with a snazzy stoneware crock. It holds WAY more compost than my old plastic bowl, and the lid has a charcoal filter tucked inside, so the compost no longer smells funky while it awaits transfer to the outdoor composter. (I waited ages to get one but finally splurged on the most affordable one that I could find (I bought mine from Greenfeet). I also got one for my great friend Anne, who generously and gracefully accepts my un-fun, very practical gifts to her.)

Once the huge indoor crock is full, it gets dumped into my ancient Envirocycle, a green plastic drum that can be spun to accelerate decomposition and aeration.
I have loved my Envirocycle; it is durable, and, were it not for the bear who rolled it all the way around the house, punched additional aeration holes in it and then ripped its door off, it would be perfectly functional. As it is, the lid falls off whenever I spin it, causing some compost to spill out.

No biggie. I am not a purist.

Since I am constantly adding to it, the compost never seems to reach a fully composted state, but I dig it into the flower beds once a year anyway, usually with the result of something unexpected growing from not-yet-composted seeds.

Last year, I had pumpkins and squash plants coming up in the flowerbed. I also have a peach tree (now producing 3-4 peaches a year!) which was the product of a bit of semi-compost dumped in a corner of the yard.

Gifts from garbage--how cool is that?


Stephanie said...

We have one of those kitchen composter cans with a charcoal filter, but I really need the spinning thingy for outside.

Elizabeth said...

Weird follow-up: You know my neighbor? The one that died (see January 9 post)? His wife said that she was going to put his ashes in their pretty compost crock with the charcoal filter. And she doesn't read this blog.

Stephanie said...

I think you know a lot of people who are serious composters. :)