Composting in my garden began as a reluctant journey into the field of science and biology which I have spent my life avoiding. I read over and over of the benefits of compost, and believed in the green ethos of keeping my waste out of the water supply and landfill, but making and maintaining a compost pile seemed too technically rigorous and potentially smelly for me to handle. Before starting to compost on my own, I needed to know if it would be worth it. Free compost is available from my city just a few blocks from home, so I shoveled loads into buckets I could carry in my car and dumped them into the garden just to see if all the hullabaloo about compost was true.
Everything mulched with compost was bigger, bolder, and really just plain cockier than the other plants. I could take all the compost I wanted from the city yard, and I could rely on the city to pick up my waste and make it into compost for me, but all this driving and shoveling and loading to get it from my yard to theirs and back to mine seemed bureaucratic, excessive, and based on dependence rather than self-reliance. I had to start my own pile.
In the claustrophobic 1930’s suburb where I live, my neighbors can see (and probably smell) far too much of what happens in my backyard. I didn’t want an eyesore. I didn’t want to get fined by the city. I didn’t want to breed vermin and start the next great plague. Composting filled me with fear.
But it was easy. All the rules and lists and tables you may read in technical guides to composting may be helpful if you wish to monitor your compost pile like an insulin dependent diabetic monitoring her blood sugar to avert crisis and death, but who really wants to live that way? Compost is easy, and easy-going. It won’t kill anyone. It won’t explode. It won’t die. If you neglect it, it will forgive you, and it might even get better. Yes, if it pleases you, you may finesse your compost with thermometers and ratios of ingredients and carefully timed turning, and you may even brew your compost into an amazing bubbly panacea to cure all ills in the garden; if it pleases you, do so. But if you are overtaxed in other ways, if you long for an unscheduled moment in your overscheduled life, by all means throw things into a pile and walk away.