Sunday, November 30, 2014

Frost Composting

The last time I added anything with any real mass to the compost pile someone had given me some really large cardboard boxes and a stack of newspapers. I keep telling people that I don’t compost the slick stuff but they keep giving me newspapers with the slick stuff in it anyway. Today is one of those days I turn the entire pile and I will see what’s dissolved and what hasn’t. What does and what doesn’t go back to the earth fascinates me like very few things do. I would very much like to return to the earth when I die and I hope to have a green burial and maybe even in a compost pile somewhere.

The cardboard boxes are totally gone. Nothing is left of them at all. There was a layer of newspaper covering the entire pile, only a couple of pages thick, and it is gone as well. There is a small knot of paper envelopes and stuff that I didn’t scatter out so well and it’s amazing how intact this junk mail offering to the Gods of Rot has survived. I use a pitchfork, yes, a real live pitchfork, to shovel everything over to one big pile. We have denizens, yes, we have, even in weather this cool.

There are scores of largely immobile earthworms. A lot of small creatures that usually scurry about, but the chilled air has them slowed down a bit, and then there are the fireants. Fireants are what hell will be like if it was twice as evil as we could imagine and there were telemarketers there. They are small, endlessly aggressive, and they pack a venom that hurts a lot more than you’d give credit to such a small insect being able to inflect and they sting until you are dead or they are dead. They are among the few creatures on earth I truly and honestly hate. I would, with no hesitation, cause the total and complete extinction of this species and never blink.

The colder weather causes them to move slowly as well so I am able to dig their entire nest up. Thousands and thousands of eggs are exposed to the cold air and I hope this puts a damper on their usually runaway growth in the compost pile. It’s very difficult to get them out once they get in, but the colder weather helps.

I started this pile way back in 2006. There for a very long time it was a pile of leaves with junk mail tossed into it. It didn’t go very far or happen very fast but eventually, after a couple of years, it began to have some sort of internal process that devoured stuff faster. In 2009, a Loki Mutt arrived and he happily dug through it looking for edibles. A fence was erected around it. And finally, in 2010, I decided to start planting peppers and tomatoes in the soil I had created from junk mail envelopes, used paper towels ( no cleaner on them, thank you) and yard debris. This soil rocks, I tell you!

There have been some lessons learned. The first is this; water. Or more precisely, moisture. The pile has to be kept damp to operate but if it is large enough, there will always be moisture at the lower levels. The second was plastic never rusts. All those junk mail envelops had those little plastic windows in them and each and every one of them showed up and they are still showing up, even though I stopped using them after the first year. If it is plastic it will return to you. The plastic tape on boxes never breaks down at all. Even metal will erode away before plastic goes anywhere at all. Think about it; I’ve been doing this since 2006, tossed in junk mail for just one year, and those little clear plastic windows still pop out of the earth every once in a while. Imagine how many are in landfills not doing anything more.

So the plan today was quite simple; stack everything up, put down a later of newspapers that have been soaking since last week, put down a layer of new stuff, put old stuff on top of it, wet it down, put new stuff down on top of that, put old stuff on top of that, wet it down, repeat until I ran out of new stuff or old stuff.  Or I get tired.

Anyway, this is my theory. There are microbes and material in the old stuff looking for new stuff to eat. The new stuff has to be wet, warm, and yummy which is why I make sandwiches out of the old stuff. The activity in the old stuff generates heat and this further breaks down the new stuff. This is all a process as old as…dirt.

Newspaper, kitchen debris, new stuff, water, old stuff, water, new stuff, water, old stuff, water, and call it a day. The fence goes back up and the dogs, who have been watching with disinterest, wag their tails hopefully. It’s rather cool and they rather be sofa mutts than composting out here in the cold. The pile has steam rising off of it now and the sun is going to warm it up a bit as the day wears on.

Deep inside the pile, the colony of fireants is in a state of disarray. I have an odd theory that goes something like this:  The fireants leave trails of pheromones so other ants know where food is and where everyone else is, too. There are other creatures, centipedes, termites, worms of a hundred types, beetles, and the sort who live in the pile too. As they walk over, crawl over and slither over the ant trails, they start to smell like ants, too. Sooner or later, there’s a population inside the pile that are no longer noteworthy to the ants. I fear my activity disrupts everything. Life is turned upside down for everyone. But the pile grows larger, the soil inside gets better and my garden will grow too, come spring.

I’m going to get some Carolina Reapers.

Take Care,



  1. Pitch fork? How many tines? Long handle?

  2. Yeah, they keep calling them pitch-forks but they're really manure/(en)silage/compost forks, especially the ones with flat tines.
    This is my pitch-fork, this is my gun, one is for work, one is for fun.

    Sigh, I guess corruption of the language is de rigueur these days, damn whippersnappers.