Sunday, November 8, 2009

Maid of Aran

While we were raking leaves yesterday, I kept stealing glances at the compost bin. I really should empty that thing, I thought. What a failure it was. We bought the bin a year or two ago--it's plain and rectangular, made of black plastic. (You can see it in the background in the picture above. It's between the bush and the garage.) It came with instructions, which were fairly simple, but which were, of course, beyond me: you need green (fresh clippings) and brown (dead leaves) to make dirt. Also, oxygen, heat and water. Layer in the clippings, brown, green, brown. Keep it moist. Don't pack it too full. Turn the compost from time to time, to give it air. Try to place it in a sunny part of the yard, for extra warmth. When it's working, you'll know: the whole thing will heat up.

So of course I did none of those things.

I hid the bin under a bush in a dark chilly part of the yard, and then I stuffed it full. Jam-packed full. Weeds from the garden, dead leaves, twigs and small branches, more weeds. I tried to turn it a few times, but it was too heavy and dense. And because it's deeper than it is wide, there wasn't room for my pitchfork to do much; I kept scraping my knuckles against the sides. I did squirt the hose into it a few times, but eventually I just slammed the lid shut and forgot about it, except for every now and then when I opened it up to cram in more leaves.


What a disaster. I'm such a gardening loser I can't even make dirt, for cripe's sake.

It sat all summer, something for Riley to hide behind and that's about it. Every now and then I'd glance at it and see the sticks and twigs and leaves poking out the side and from under the lid, and I'd just roll my eyes at myself. (Which is fairly hard to do.)

Years ago when Doug and I were on the Aran Islands, we went to the visitor center and watched the movie "Man of Aran," which showed what a hard life the early settlers had there. How the land was so rocky they had to make their own dirt in order to grow a few taties. They'd haul baskets of seaweed up from the shore and spread it in the fields with sand, and wait for it to break down. Such patience and diligence. And then there's me, can't even make dirt with a modern contraption that was invented to do just that.

I decided to put the whole thing out of my mind and just keep raking. But then Doug spoke up: "Shouldn't we empty out that compost bin and haul some of those old leaves with these?" He was thinking like me; if the thing weren't so jam-packed, it might actually do what it's supposed to do.


So I went over and lifted the lid. There was black dirt on top; probably from some flower pots I'd emptied last year. I dug down. More dirt. Dug down farther. More dirt. It was dirt! It was dirt all the way down!



I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I was at this, how overjoyed. It worked! It actually worked! I did it all wrong, and yet nature prevailed and did what I had been promised that nature would do: It took leaves and clippings and twigs and grass and it turned it all into lovely black dirt. Oh, yes, there were a few small twigs and some leaves still mixed in, but dammit it really was dirt, glorious thick black dirt.

I leaped around the yard a few times in exultation. And then I got out the wheelbarrow, and I started digging the dirt out of the bin, and I trundled it across the yard and dumped it on my garden. I left the compost bin about a third full of still-composting mass. Then I gathered up a few armfuls of newly-raked leaves and tossed them in. Ran to the garden and pulled up some still-green-but-dying flowers and tossed them in as well. Brown, green. Poured in a big watering can full of water. And shut the lid.

I'll open it again in the spring, when all things are new--including, hopefully, the dirt.

28 comments:

Amy said...

Wow, that's so cool! I've always put off doing a compost bin for the same reason--I was sure I'd do it wrong, or just not do it at all. Maybe I'll have to rethink that.

Kim said...

That's fantastic, Laurie! What a big grin that is on your face.

Wisewebwoman said...

Take a bow, my friend. You are justifiably proud....
Now we're going to look for your vegetable stand on the sidewalk next year...
XO
WWW

laurie said...

amy, if i can do it, anybody can. go for it. but i think you might want one of the drum-shaped ones, that you can turn in order to mix the compost. the kind i have is so tall (and i'm so short) that it's very difficult to move stuff around.

though clearly one doesn't actually have to...

Benny and Lily said...

Be careful paw doesn't put maw in the compose bin. She is blending in with those leaves in her hair
BOL
Benny & Lily

Cait O'Connor said...

I loved reading this as I am a compost making addict. I just have a heap in the garden.

Gail said...

I love happy endings! I was gearing up to tell you how we never spend that much time on compost, we just make a pile and you discovered that on your own.

Wonderful black gold. Congratulations on your first batch.

Sandy said...

Good on you....sometimes procrastination (or just plain avoidance) is a virtue!

Rudee said...

Awesome! Next year, I'm going to buy one of those bins that has a crank handle. I may be more motivated to actually turn the handle to make dirt. Do you put food waste in it, too? My sister disposes of all her non-protein food waste, like onion skins, coffee and tea grounds, fruit and vegetable peels into hers. Works like a charm.

MJ Krech said...

Bravo, Laurie! Very impressive. We bought something similar this year but the sides kept squooshing open spilling stuff out onto the sidewalk, so we gave up and chucked it in the trash. Maybe I'll try again next year. You've really inspired me! At least our town's finally moved to single-stream curb recycling! That's a step in the right direction! :)

laurie said...

rudee, i did not put food waste in the compost bin, but i am going to now. i ordered a ceramic compost pail for the kitchen, and will start tossing in veggie peelings and coffee grounds. but not meat. that, apparently, attracts rodents.

Pamela said...

good job!
we have two - and have gotten some wonderful rich soil to spread.
BUT.. I learned to be careful about some of the "seeds" that get in there.

I've grown some squash and tomatoes in places that I really didn't mean to do so.

tiogatime said...

oh for heaven sakes! of course it worked! now you need to get a second one! ;-)

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Magic !!!

Babaloo said...

Well done! We've got one of those that has openings to the side, at the bottom, so you just need to open those hatches and, voila, you have your own compost to shovel out. It does work even though we're not very diligent with it either. I put in mostly vegetable scraps, egg shells and similar kitchen waste. Don't put cooked things, though (you've already mentioned the rodents)!

And then I bought a few boxes of some organic stuff that speeds up the composting process. Apparently you just dump it on top of whatever you've got in your bin already and in a day or so it'll all be finest compost. I'll try that in a couple of days, we'll see how that turns out.

Indigo Bunting said...

Fantastic! Congratulations! (And I could really relate to this point until the point at which things had gone RIGHT!)

Eulalia (Lali) said...

Those complicated composting directions drive me insane. I have always ignored them. Isn't it great that, for once, the easy way works so well? You can also put in all your food leftovers (except meat), including egg shells. I never even turn my bin--too hard.

DogLover said...

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Er - lady.

Like you, I met with initial failure, but conquered it by emptying the bin out and buying top grade compost from my local garden centre. I put it into the bin and closed the lid.

And do you know what? When I take it out, it's beautiful compost. And, like you, I did it all by myself. Well, not quite like you, perhaps..

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I love a happy ending! Good for you!

elizabethm said...

Oh laurie how great! I love compost, total black gold and comes from stuff you would otherwise throw away! Put it on your garden and your plants love you, just marvellous. So glad it worked for you.

Far Side of Fifty said...

You did it without really trying..fantastic! This was a great story.. It made me smile:)

Aden Meyler said...

Yeah! I'm so happy for you. I'm really good at making dirt in the house by neglect LOL!

My wonderful hubby gave us a compost bin for our wedding anniversary in January about 4 years ago. He sent me flowers and then told me that a surprise was being delivered. I wracked my brain trying to think of what it could possibly be....diamonds?....no (i've seen the bank balance).....a puppy...no....then I guessed it...a compost bin!!! because we had been talking about it around Christmas and he had remembered. I was so pleased you can't imagine. I think it is so sweet that he knows me so well.

Jim said...

Who knew that being green could be so easy?

Brina said...

Just amazing, Laurie!

Congrats!

Black Dog's Photographer said...

Isn't it neat what nature does?
Happy to have found your blog - from another Minnesotan living with 3 dogs. ;)

Ralph said...

I very occasionally turn my compost. And I toss in moldy bread, fossilized banana peels, etc and - tah dah - it all comes out dirt if you wait long enough.

One of nature's miracles. Glad you stuck with it long enough to see that laziness works great for making compost.

Canine Crusader said...

You did make dirt! I'm leaving the dirt making to you, I'm just too lazy to carry my scraps out these days.

The Pixy Princess said...

Way to go! Now, can't wait for Spring and hear all about how youve used up that lovely dirt in garden beds and pots and planters.