Single poppy in wheat field

The Zen of compost

In Business and Environment, Environment, Ethical and Eco Agriculture by LivingNowLeave a Comment

“Composting?” you ask. As an activity, composting and the contemplation of it, can be as spiritually profound as prayer or meditation. Allow me to elaborate…

First of all, composting is just the creation of soil from the breakdown of organic matter, and is what Nature has been doing for millions of years. (So unless you get cremated, it’s what will happen to your body when it dies.) Trees lose their leaves, the leaves rot, eventually the tree itself falls and becomes part of the earth. Other trees and plants spring up and so it goes on – an endless process of death feeding life, of interdependence and energy transformation, as well as a sombre, yet liberating reminder that nothing lasts. Actually, if you take the view that the moment we’re born we begin to die, right now you are being composted!

Okay, maybe that’s a tad morbid. To move on then, let us consider the backyard compost bin. A black, Dalek-looking upside-down eyesore at the bottom of the garden. It stands there, neglected and empty, but for numerous daddy long leg spiders and a rat. You probably bought it intending to put your kitchen scraps and grass clippings in it, you even read up on the ratios of this and that, but in the end – well, old habits hey? Who would imagine that using this device could be so beneficial?

Every day we throw away tonnes of food scraps, from grocery stores, cafes, supermarkets, and home kitchens – what a huge waste! People talk about the feng shui of leaving the toilet lid up – what about all that organic matter being tossed out? Major energy drain. Such unconscious inefficiency surely overflows into all aspects of our lives. Cap it, I say, get a Dalek.

Then you can earn valuable brownie points from the Earth Mother. She must get depressed seeing her fruits being spoiled and wasted, and not returned to her. Decades of unsustainable farming means that right now across the planet that very thin layer of topsoil upon which we so depend is alarmingly depleted, with the situation worsening every day. Yet previously starving communities in Africa and the Middle East have employed composting systems, and are now flourishing. Just because our situation is (for the moment) better and we don’t need to (yet), doesn’t mean we shouldn’t conscientiously compost our enormous daily yield of organic scraps.

Next are the personal benefits of being outside in the fresh air, hands dirty, squinting in the sun, digging and sweating, using muscles you never knew existed… Am I selling it? Well, it’s not that bad, really. It’s the micro-organisms that do most of the work, while you can just observe.

Of course, after making compost you need to create a garden to spread it round in, which means more rigorous healthiness. Once you have a garden, you can eat from it. Food –guaranteed free from pesticides, preservatives, fertilisers, and whatever else, made even more delicious by that deeply satisfying knowledge that you provided it yourself. Despite your nails being full of dirt, people will marvel at how good you look. You’ll meet your neighbours for the first time, when you give away excess vegetables.

Gardens are really the point of compost. Having a garden, that is, a vegie garden, is the most empowering thing a person can do somebody said once. I could think of lots of reasons that make this true, but one of them is that it brings you back to simple truths, your organic self, and your own nature. Originally, we worshipped Nature in her various forms. In giving thanks for her bounty, our spirituality was earth-centred, and rightly so. When did we start gazing at the sky? Things began to go awry when the earthiness went missing from religion. Not that ancient paganism was the perfect ideal and it’s all gone downhill from there, but how can we have a genuine life without Nature? Without Nature, how can we reconnect to our own nature? In short, how can we do without a compost bin?

So – how to compost. (If you’re still not interested, you can stop reading now.) It’s easy. People say Daleks don’t work well, but they’re the cheapest and simplest, and all it takes is a little stirring every couple of days, with a pitchfork. Keep the ratio of grass to scraps about ten to one. There are books galore on composting and the internet is brimming with information, but a few don’ts worth mentioning now are onion skin and citrus peel – best avoided. Also meat, unless you can shove it right into the hot centre of the compost, otherwise it will attract maggots and dogs.


Ben Cornfoot is a writer with an abiding interest in words, as opposed to reality. He lives in Brisbane and gardens, writes, gardens, eats, goes to bed.

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