“Do you have a compost pile?” the man on the phone asked me. I thought this was odd—a survey about composting? Buying time, I responded, “Excuse me?” The disembodied voice repeated the question, then, for clarification explained, “It’s your neighbor.” Ah, the man who lived behind the wall, next door to me, who I hadn’t seen the past two years since he’d feuded with my other neighbor over her compost pile.
I responded noncommittally. “Is there a problem?” With that question the torrent began. I heard about our mutual neighbor’s horrible compost pile, the one with chicken bones in it. “The raccoons think it’s great fun to chew the chicken bones, then throw them into my yard. Don’t you care about your children? These compost piles are dangerous; compost piles attract wild animals—your children could get bitten.” Taking a breath, he stated, “You should get rid of your compost pile, if you love your kids.”
I thanked my neighbor for his concern for my children’s welfare. I assured him that I never put chicken, or their bones, in the compost, and that I would be watchful of my children. Seemingly satisfied, he thanked me and hung up. I haven’t heard anything since about my dangerous compost.
I have to admit that I really like compost, especially my own little pile of it. Deer visit to see if there are any new and tasty tidbits, but they are actually more interested in my bushes than the dinner leavings from my kitchen, nestled inside the compost box. The turkeys are intrigued by the scraps at the corner of my yard, but they are also drawn by the acorns that litter my yard. The turkey parents lead their children through the yard, snipping grass and poking amongst the acorns along the way. When they hit the mother lode, my compost pile, their nonchalance is abandoned and they dig into my kitchen scraps with resolve.
One day I noticed some movement in the decaying scraps. I studied the orange peels, grapefruit rinds and carrot peelings for a short time until the source of the disturbance revealed itself as a star-nosed mole, emerging from his burrow in the midst of the banana peels and lettuce leaves. He scooted from his hole, grasped a mango seed, dragged the flat, oval seed over the decaying corn cobs, then backed down into his burrow. I watched with amusement as the mole continued his work. Once below ground, he maneuvered his prize straight up, then dragged the ungainly seed with great care down the hole behind him like a descending elevator. The operation finished, I left a new deposit of future compost over the hole to give him some privacy.
The day after Thanksgiving, I looked outside my kitchen window, started, then looked back again. The bright orange circles of butternut squash peels, which had filled my kitchen compost bucket just the day before, were now strewn through the trees like early Christmas decorations. The squirrels had raided the compost, then draped the orange rinds throughout the woods. The festive garlands remained in the trees for a week or so until a storm jarred them from their perches.
In summer we often eat corn and salad for dinner, light fare of local farm produce. The corn is often wonderfully sweet, but the corn I bought for one meal must have been picked late, and was rather tough. I’d planned to feed company coming for a cookout but decided, after trying a few ears, not to bother cooking the rest. The leftover, uncooked ears took their place in my compost pile. On a “compost drop” a few days later, something green caught my eye.
The tough ears of corn, uncooked, had decided to do what they were truly intended to do, which was to grow. Straight through the husks, twenty or so green sprouts of corn had emerged in two or three rows along the corn cob and were making the best of their lot. They joined the tomato seedlings that had also sprouted, thriving in a rich environment, but begun much too late to bear fruit as summer came to a close.
These days I nurture a six-foot peach tree, a volunteer that started its life in my compost pile. This past spring I spied eight peach blossoms gracing its branches—gorgeous pink flowers that promised summer delights. As in life, there is much promise that never comes to fruition. The fruits that set did not last, and so I must wait to see what happens next year. But for now, I water this gallant volunteer, hoping it will survive the hot New England summer, the bitter cold of winter, and then try, try again in the spring.
On the whole, the corner of my yard that receives my kitchen scraps is a place of solitude where worms work diligently, turning my cooking waste into wonderful soil. In the spring it will be ready to enrich my garden space and help grow juicy tomatoes, bright green and purple peppers and a multitude of cooking herbs. When the vegetables have grown and are harvested the cycle continues as the scraps return from whence they came.
But every now and then my compost surprises me, in a quietly decomposing sort of way. Dangerous? Not that I’ve noticed. But with compost, you just never know.
Martha, if you look at the top of this page you'll see a 'share this" button right above the title of the piece. You can email it directly to your friend. Nice to hear someone either shares my sense of humor, or is passionate about compost, or perhaps... shares both traits!
Thanks for reading Melanie. It is the season to think about compost, and getting gardens ready. It's been along winter for many of us...