The night shift project, actually two of them, lasted about a year or so, and then I retired. Then came surgery that flattened me out for a couple of months, and god dammit it, then a plague hit, and I started working again. There really wasn’t for a garden two years ago, or last year, or this year, and I didn’t worry about it. The compost pile, subject of many an essay on life, death, decay and rebirth, fell into disuse. I maintained the fenceline, and that was all I had time or energy to do, and for a while, that was enough.
A month or so ago, I finally bought a riding mower, and I told myself if I ever bought one of those things, I could go into composting in a big way. Today was the day I went big. The last couple of mowings produced a lot of clippings, and I did dump all of it on the old compost pile, which is now the new compost pile.
It took five rounds, at six bushels apiece to mow the lawn today, and now I have to expand. But I also needed new logs, rotting logs, to use to delineate the compost pile. Rotting logs are one of the keys to a great pile. They already have all the bacteria and bugs a compost pile needs. Old logs retain moisture and they’re good starter stuff for decay. I dragged a few out of the woods, and I’ll add a few more next weekend. I also started the process of turning old compost in with the new stuff, and making sure there’s enough moisture in it all.
I realized that I miss that sort of work, and I miss the process.
The clippings from two weeks ago, which didn’t amount to very much, were already dried out and powdery. The grass catcher’s chute clogged up many time during the first mowing because the grass was so high. There’s a couple of cardboard boxes, no colored ink, underneath the powder so it all gets some time with the water hose. I spread it out, mix it in, water it, and repeat.
Soon, in a matter of days, the grass and leaves will begin to decay. The bacteria and bugs in the logs will move out and begin to feed. Other insects will move in to feed on the bugs that are feeding on the decay. Frogs and toads will move in to feed on those. Termites will make a home here, and the toads love that. Birds will drop in to check out the buffet, and the dogs will slip in to dig up any rodents that show.
Eventually, not any time soon, and certainly not even this year, a layer of organic matter will begin to form at the bottom of the pile. Decayed vegetation, the waste of a billion microbes, the dead bodies of countless insects, and much more, will begin to accumulate. That’s soil. It’s what makes vegetables grow. It’s the purpose of composting, other than repurposing the stuff usually discarded. For not only grass clippings and leaves, but the remains of any organic matter from the kitchen, from orange peels to eggshells, to the ends of peppers unused, will be tossed into the pile, and be turned into dirt.
It’s been a while since I did any work in the woods. The paths need help. I broke my bush hook today, cutting the branches of a downed tree. I got worn out by hacking on the tree, and almost overheated.
There’s honest sweat here. There’s hard work and I’ve always said yardwork was the best gym in the world. The bush hook busted on a tree I should have moved six months ago, but now that I started on it, the realization returns of why I miss doing this so much. Skill, determination, muscle, and sweat will turn part of the tree into a bonfire, and the rest into compost pile boundaries. But it’s a damn good workout. Back muscles, arms and shoulders, and all the body is used to pull a heavy branch towards the burn pit.
I miss this work. I miss turning waste into soil, and therefore food. I miss being outside in the woods, even with the insects getting their fair share of blood, and I miss making my heart pump hard to get things done in the yard.
It’s time to return.