Wrestling the Composter

I began composting because I could not bear the waste of grass clippings, spoiling lettuce, and expired foodstuffs in my refrigerator.  To compost seemed like an important part of managing one’s home and caring for a family.  After all, a family is a community.  In some large urban areas composting is mandatory.  I have visited city office buildings where food stuffs, newspaper, coffee grounds and some cardboard is composted.  The interiors of these offices were designed with this in mind.  Attractive, labeled compartments are built-in for each category of item.

What became quickly apparent, when I set to work composting, was that it would require dedication.  My first efforts were met with complaints.  Each family member had a different opinion.  At the time, home consisted of two children, my husband and myself. Still the amount of garbage one family produced for the landfill rankled me.  Surely with a little effort I could make a difference. Perhaps I could even reduce the amount by half just by embracing the art of composting.  What could be more satisfying than making soil?

I began by putting left over scraps of food into a bowl in my kitchen sink after meals.  My husband promptly threw the contents in the trash receptacle when I wasn’t looking.  After dinner I tried getting my son or daughter to carry the food scraps out to the composter.  It was in the backyard, near the fence, behind some shrubs. Traipsing down the garden path on a hot day, they complained of walking through a cloud of gnats and flies. My children considered this an unfavorable chore.  All of the composters we went through, in those years, were imported and made of plastic.  They quickly became misshapen and dilapidated, with lids that no longer fit, allowing neighborhood dogs, raccoons and coyotes to find tasty morsels. I remember feeling undermined, as if my family was fighting me every step of the way until one miraculous day.

We were on composter number twelve. My husband was determined to purchase a nice looking new composter to replace the one we had, something in keeping with his particular design aesthetic for the garden. Making the purchase at a local hardware store, he brought a humongous box home and began putting the pieces together…no small feat.  He has never considered himself to be a “handyman”, but he was determined concerning this project. Finally, he was ready to remove the old one, which came apart in broken sections.  I could hear his grunting as he struggled, wrestling with the contraption and pulling broken sections from the grasp of the earth as if they were rooted to the ground.  But as he lifted them away he marveled at what he saw.  Rushing into the house he breathlessly told me, in an excited voice, that beautiful warm black soil came pouring out of the bottom, overflowing in heaps and mounds.  “Guess what?” he shrieked.  “It really works!” From that moment on he became a staunch supporter.  On Mother’s Day I received a bright shiny stainless steel bucket to hold food scraps in the sink.  Every time he pruned or string line trimmed, in the garden, he collected all the green cuttings, proudly tucking them in along the sides of the composter, as if he were tucking his child into bed at night.  He gleaned containers from the refrigerator…happy to clean out what he called my “science experiments”…an almost empty jar of moldy jam, or bag of spoiled parsley, so that he could march them to the composter…..empty the contents…and stir.

After our children left home there were fewer food scraps, but the garden had grown so there were more clippings.  We enlisted the help of a local artisan who builds furniture utilizing reclaimed wood, paint and nails, to build a composter that was a larger homemade version.  He took measurements of the space and drew pictures until we had a model we liked.  A month later the new composter arrived on a trailer hitched to his vehicle.  He moved it into place in pieces and assembled it near a very old oak tree in our backyard.  That was 2005.

After leaving home our adult son and daughter became avid chefs. They love to cook and bake and shop at farmers markets.  When they are home with us they try new recipes using every pot, pan, and dish in my house.  This past summer my daughter planted a garden with her father.  Not only does she seem deeply comforted when gathering the fruits of their labor…she is giddy.  Of course there are more food scraps to compost….leaves, stalks, vines and such.  We are in awe of the chemistry we witness each day.  No matter how much we put in or how many clippings we pile on top, the mound keeps going down as new soil is curated.   I did not realize when I started years ago that my entire family would become composting enthusiasts.  But here we are in 2020 soon to enter 2021.  If my son and daughter are home for the holidays I wonder if they will bicker over who gets to “feed” the composter.  One thing I know.  There are two large wooden lids on the composter intended for closure after each use.  Since its first day we have used it so often, the lids have remained open.  I just realized the other day the lid nearest the oak, against the tree, has “grown” into the bark.  I think they are attached until both become earth again.

Rainie Fross