Black Gold: The Feel Good Gold

Home compost pile by Circespeaks

Home compost pile by Circespeaks


Black gold. Lovely, rich, dark, valuable stuff. Apparently Mayor Michael Bloomberg agrees with me.

Black diamonds are also beautiful and a product of the earth. The calculus about whether or not to purchase and wear black or yellow diamonds is not as complex as the calculus that goes into many decisions. It is not as though I pop into Tiffany’s on a regular basis. Tiffany’s is probably the last place I’d go, even if I were tempted to make a purchase for my next red carpet experience. No, the thought of little Congolese children and larger Congolese adults crawling around in mines has put me off diamonds that I can’t even afford. So my claim is a mere rationalization? I haven’t been sorely tempted.

Today I am not going to dwell on concerns, but on a specific joy. Unitarians might recognize the oblique reference to “joys and concerns.” I have listened to many at the “side microphone,” most of which were meandering as this blog, but I won’t know, and you won’t feel rude, if you walk away in the midst of my digression. Back to compost.

Compost is simply organic matter–uncooked plant matter in the case of home composting–that is mixed and turned, with a shovel or pitchfork, or implement of some kind. In time–not long if you turn it daily–the compost turns back into earth from which the plants grew. Compost is the ultimate in reuse: earth to earth, as all carbon-based life goes. Earth to landfill is a perversion of the natural order of life.

Earth from compost is suitable for potting plants, filling garden boxes, and borders. Depending on how sophisticated a gardener, other amendments can be added to the soil. Some soil amendments mixes contain oyster and other shells for calcium. We purchased some this year, but probably won’t do so again unless we radically expand our garden. I wondered whether this would be safe around people with shellfish allergies and concluded that it probably would not, but maybe the plants grown in it would be. Normally, rather than purchasing soil amendment for our compost pile, we just rinse out our egg shells in dirty dish water, let them dry on the counter, & grind them up with a mortar and pestle, and toss on our otherwise vegan home compost. Eggs can also be an allergen, so skip that if you have any concerns. This sounds like far more work & mess than it is. The shells dry quickly, are ground easily, & transported to the pile a few steps from our front door.

To be honest, now that we have a community compost program, such as the one now being implemented by Mayor Bloomberg of New York, and a small, convenient pail under the sink, egg shells sometimes land there. So does any spoiled food, cooked food, and bones or other organic material not of plant origin. We are, we think, exceptionally careful not to waste food, but surprisingly enough, fill the pail often. Orange peels and banana peels, for instance, do not compost well outdoors in New Jersey, nor do large pits of stone fruits, and more. Corn cobs do eventually, but are quite a challenge that I am willing to forgo.

People are often concerned that compost under the sink is smelly. Our compost bucket has a lid on it, & contains stuff that would otherwise end up under the same sink in a trash can. Does your trash smell good after a few days in the heat of summer? Not mine!

On top of the simple elegance of returning nitrogen to the earth in the form of organic materials instead of chemical fertilizers, composting saves communities money, as land fill fees grow exorbitant. This is the only possible way of the future, so embrace it if you are able.

One other benefit of the imperfect home compost pile is that volunteer plants will spring up from it. Those most likely to do so in our experience have been tomatoes, butternut & acorn squashes, pumpkins, & potatoes. We used most of our compost this year, but I include a photo of the formerly glorious pile. You might notice the wood pile next to it, or the squash plant bursting into bloom behind it. Lots of trees came down this year, taking part of the simple structure with them, so it is simple in the extreme. The compost pile does not need to be contained, but can be, if that might be more pleasing to your neighbors. I think it is better-looking than a big plastic trash can.

You can compost at home under the sink, or in a garage, or basement, even if you do not have a community compost program. Vermicomposting, composting with the help of red worms, takes place in a small bin, and is ideal for those with smaller properties. This I have not tried, though it is most efficient. Those worms love banana peels and even the newspaper with which you might attempt to line your bin!

Happy Composting! This and all future generations thank you.

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