Friday, July 1, 2016


Do you read your horoscope? About once a year I sneak a look at mine just to see if any new advice comes my way. Today it did. The reading suggested that for the next month (or forever) I concentrate on one thing and master that, which is just a small nudge in the right direction to remind myself not to leap from one project to another all the time. So which should it be this month: watercolors or etching?

I immediately went outside to tackle emptying out my compost bins, a job on my long-term to-do list.

Over the years I've tried several different methods of composting, starting with the easiest, a stack of clippings near our vegetable garden at a previous house. I tried and ultimately discarded several different shapes of bins (I found a local community garden that would take them) until I decided on two round ones that I could spin to mix the ingredients. I have had a hard time finding a hidden place with sunlight in our shady backyard.  The bins need the sunlight to cook the contents so that it becomes good dirt.

Instead of the expected good dirt in a couple of months, my bins have been sitting there for several years. I continued to add compostable stuff, spun the bins, and added fertilizer in the hopes the contents would turn. At one point the contents turned sour. I added more fertilizer, which provides heat, and the contents progressed a little. I still never had a large quantity of spreadable compost. Our trash collection service announced this year that it would begin accepting compostable food scraps, so I gave up composting. I left the bins alone, turning them only every couple of months. I decided to give these bins away too. I just needed some time to clean them out. Today seemed perfect for that chore.

If you are a wannabe scientist like I am, you will find all kinds of interesting things in a compost bin. As I dumped the compost out, I noticed wiggly things, millions of them. In the dirt, I found red worms that I added a long time ago, their hatchlings, and smaller worms that looked like centipedes. What is more, the compost finally changed into true good dirt. I was excited. I had two good barrels of compost.

A few things didn't decompose. Some of the food scraps - carrot tops, turnip ends - that I added five or six months ago were still in their original shapes.  Silk tea bags and egg shells looked the same as when I put them in. A raspberry vine had established itself in the compost and had sent two or three shoots through the seams of the bin. I continued to dump the dirt out until one of the bins was completely empty except for some dirt that tenaciously clung to the sides along with a few worms. I transferred the compost to a large fibrous composting bag and to a plastic container.  I shredded the newspaper that I had used to catch the compost and put it into the empty bin so that the worms would have something to eat while they waited for a new home. The other composting bin was still full, but much easier to empty than the one I had been working on all morning.

I now have three (instead of two) containers full of good dirt, just waiting for the perfect day to spread around our yard. Perhaps that day will be the next time I decide to concentrate on just one thing.

Some people don't like worms and other wiggly things, but here's my dad's version of a caterpillar that became the book plate for the library.

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