A couple of months ago I decided to start keeping up with my waste paper at work and to start bringing it home to be mulched. The office as a whole gets a newspaper every day so I decided to toss those into the pile once a week or so too. I have a shredder at work so I figured there would be a spike in the amount of paper I was trying to compost but I had no idea how big of a spike that would be until the weather cooled off some.
In the Summer when the triple digit heat lasts for more than twelve hours a day it isn’t hard to keep up with the mulch pile at all. Paper products dissolve into mush quite quickly and because the fireants have moved into the mulch pile they tear things up with their usual terroristic abandon. But I got busy towards the later part of the Summer, which in Georgia is late September, and I just started digging a hole in the pile, dumping in whatever I had to compost, and covering it back up again. I didn’t take the time to turn the pile like it needs, or to water it down on occasion, so when I went out there today it was a mess. That’s an apt description at any rate for a pile of waste paper and leaves but that’s beside the point.
Anyway, I decided to expand the operation because the pile was getting tall. I had some extra fencing and made the mulch area half again as large as it was. Then I began the real labor. For this to work properly I have to take a pitchfork and dig around and rearrange the various parts of the pile so the fresh stuff gets buried, the old stuff gets some air, and all of it gets mixed together. When I started this morning it was like an archeological dig of the last four months of my life or so. Oh look! There are some egg shells! And there are some paper towels! And there’s newspaper! And there is… Wait, it’s all the same. Hmmmm. No excitement here, folks, please move on. No one ever said saving the environment would be suspenseful, okay? But there was a lot of stuff that had gotten buried deep and so it was preserved, more or less. I had tossed in a small pile of newspapers and they had turned into a solid mass of slimy paper. There was a rich vein of leaves from last year that were still dry. But there were also all manner of critters in there. Thick rolling legged centipedes slowly got out of my way, earthworms snaked around me, beetles of various degrees scurried about, and there is a colony of termites who like the cardboard boxes and the newspaper. There are spiders of all kinds in the pile and I have watched the toads rush in when I water the pile to pick off the insects that come to the surface to get away from the water. When I turn the pile in warm weather the toads are always there, waiting to see what treasure I will unearth for them. They love the termites, and will sit there and pick them off as quickly as I can unearth them.
There’s also some education here; those paper cartons that soy milk comes in are not actually paper but paper wrapped in plastic. I stopped composting them a while back but I can still find the plastic wrapping of those cartons from the past. I also find packing tape that has survived where cardboard boxes have totally disappeared. It’s amazing how a very large cardboard box can simply vanish into the dirt leaving long strips of tape holding nothing together anymore. Believe it or not, blue jeans take forever to decompose. There are two pairs of old jeans in the pile and they’ve both been in there for nearly a year now. They’re in rough shape but you can still tell they were once jeans. I see now why mobsters strip their victims before they bury the bodies. There are a couple of tee shirts in there but I think they’re gone already.
I hit a vein of rich black dirt and it’s like finding gold. This is what my garden will be made of when Spring arrives. This will grow tomatoes and peppers. This is dirt the way it is supposed to be, all dark and full of things organic. I take some of the newspaper and wet it down, pile black dirt on it, wet it down, put more paper on it, put more dirt in between, and then the last part will be when I rake up some leaves and cover the entire pile again. All of this is going on while I’m pitchforking the pile over to the new area, and all the while I am being eaten alive by fireants. Fireants are tiny but mighty stinging creatures who hate all living things. They attack en masse and there is no escape. I hose them down to slow them down, but I keep getting stung. I have to get the pile turned and rearranged into the new area. It was like Green Acres meets some cheap B grade movie where the monsters are actually fireants. Pitchfork for a while, pull fireants off of me for a while, pitchfork for a while, and curse fireants all the while, that was how the morning went, yes.
There is something fundamental about gardening, farming, or mulching. I am returning to the earth that which belongs there. In return, I am given black dirt suitable for more life, and if things were made right on this planet, I too would be buried in a pile such as this, and allowed to return. I would like that, in fact, if I knew that somewhere out there what remained of me was sitting underneath some tomato plant, or perhaps some peppers. I would nourish the next generation of mulchers and fireants haters, and life would be good.