9 Months – 11 Buckets of Dirt
There are many things in life that require patience: the growth of an embryo into a full-term baby, the long slog through a school year, the development of seedlings into luscious tomatoes … and the turning of garbage into rich, healthy soil.
In July of 2009, Joe built a compost bin in our backyard. It was a relatively simple structure that cost less than $100 (it could have been nearly free, if I hadn’t Freecycled the “extra” cinder blocks we thought we wouldn’t need again). We started dumping our food and garden waste — along with contributions from close neighbors — and didn’t give it too much thought.
When the pile grew to the top of the bin, we kept throwing in food. Mysteriously, all summer and into the fall, the pile never grew higher than the lid. We never stopped adding food and leaves and such — even paper towels and toilet paper rolls. We were careful, though, not to add newsprint or any paper with ink on it. Ours is an organic garden.
It wasn’t until winter set in solidly that we had to add more cinder blocks. That’s when the mass froze, and the pile stopped sinking down. (Thank you, Freecycle, for providing more blocks for the extra height.)
Spring finally rolled around, and, as our thoughts turned to gardening, Joe decided to dig out the pile.
Wow! When he took off the front stack of blocks, we were thrilled. To us, it was as momentous an occasion as getting that first harvest from a summer garden. (Well, even more momentous to us, though it may sound silly to you.)
What we saw was amazing. The very top layer was recent plant debris we had cleaned from our yard, such as the dried stems from plants that had died with the first frost last fall. This was totally intact and recognizable.
Next was a thick layer of rotting, but largely intact, garbage: food scraps, eggshells, bits of branches — all recognizable as what they’d been when we deposited them.
The third layer was an oozing mass of rotting gunk. It was impossible to distinguish one sloppy mess from another. A watery goo dripped over the edge of the pile, along the side where the block wall had been.
But the wonder of all wonders was the bottom layer — DIRT! There was no mistaking this thick, rich, black soil as garbage. It was fully transformed — magically, it appeared to me — as healthy soil ready for our garden.
Less than an hour from start to finish, Joe had shoveled most of 11 buckets of thick, rich dirt onto the ground we’re preparing for our trellis garden. He had enough left over to cover a portion of a flowerbed, too. You can see the difference in the photos: The tired, gray dirt contrasts starkly against the yummy (for worms, plants, and seeds) dark soil that’s ready for our garden.
The next step was to stir the remaining compost and put it back in the bin. Half the bin is now full of this old compost, but already, it’s sinking.
Our DIY efforts from last year took 9 months, from an empty bin to 11 buckets of dirt. We may have to add another bin, now that this one has made so much progress. Or, perhaps we’ll just dig it up in the fall and see how far it’s come.
This may end up a twice-yearly “chore,” in some respects. But I hope we never lose the magic we experienced this spring, as we viewed the transformation from food to garbage to healthy soil.
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