1. Everything is workable, everything is valuable. There is no such thing as garbage.
  2. Time is your friend.
  3. Alchemy is everywhere.
  4. Sometimes, you get back more than you give.

Transformation is one of the most un-magical processes in the world. Look at any living thing for long enough, and you will see it transform, sometimes wildly. In the garden, transformations happen both fast and slow; speedy little annuals flower through the heat of summer until a freeze turns them to mush; herbs seem almost desperate to go to seed the moment they have sprouted from the ground; butterfly communities span four to six generations in one season, while the oaks they live on take over a hundred years to reach maturity and over a hundred years to die. Compost has its own time and its own logic, speeding up or slowing down with the weather and moisture, with the contents and critters in it.

Compost is like a tangible act of grace. You can literally see garbage become gold. You can see the most profane refuse become divine. If you have enough time, and you are not as impatient as I am, you can literally compost any organic thing. There is an amazing form of vermicomposting which turns doggie poo into safe compost very quickly, if you are inclined to coddle our little wiggly friends and keep them warm and fed through the winter months. I avoid ingredients that may contain pathogens because I know myself too well; my “compost” often gets spread out like mulch before it is fully cooked. What do I omit? No poop (although the fantastic and classic Rodale guide to composting explains how to safely use human and animal waste) and no plants with known fungal disease because spores may survive the Holy Fire of the pile.

And it is a Holy Fire! It turns stinking rotten fruit and soggy dead leaves into a fragrant, rich, healthful fertilizer that costs less to make by keeping the ingredients than it would cost (monetarily and environmentally) to throw them away!

So this is the magic of compost. You will save money, you will save time, you will do less work, and you will get back more than you give. Try to let it sit longer than I do; try to let it become unrecognizable with no onion slices or lemon rinds or other chunks of food in there. But if you are impatient, the half-done compost will hold many little acts of grace within it, and you will still learn that you Can Not Make A Mistake.

As an example, I forced some daffodil bulbs indoors that became moldy in their little glass dish with rocks and water, and when I finally gave up on my hopes for flowers in the dead of winter, I put the bulbs into the compost bin. Six months later I found them inside the pile, growing roots everywhere and sending shoots up from the tops although they were twisted from the confusion of getting turned with the pile and never knowing where to reach for the light. The mold was gone. They were happy and thriving. They needed a new home so I planted them in the ground. They have flourished and flowered there every spring.

I’m not backwards enough to really think this is magic, but then again, it really is! It is death becoming life. How can such a miracle happen? And how can it happen with or without effort? Okay, okay, read the essential gardening book “Teaming with Microbes”  by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis and look at the scientific evidence behind the magic. You must read the book because it will teach the technically challenged gardener (like me) that the soil is a living organism. You must read the book particularly if you are not interested in biology, because the worlds within worlds will astound you. The story of the soil is better than science fiction and its relationships more complex than a soap opera.

If you think it histrionic exaggeration to call composting a miracle, then you have never smelled a compost heap. You have never been changed by smelling a compost heap. Compost smells like a gift from another dimension. There is no smell of garbage or of waste, and there is no need to fear vermin if you simply keep your pile enclosed. There are no diseases breeding in compost; compost is The Cure. This is some serious aromatherapy. Just try to stay cranky and bitter when you turn your compost. You can’t. You will smile more and more with each whiff of intriguing earthiness.

The smell of compost is simply poetry. It is beyond the most complex French fragrance. It’s totally sexy. It goes far deeper than a delightful and ephemeral flower fragrance. It wells up with power more intensely than a strong herb. The fragrance of compost has roots that penetrate deeper into the earth than we can dig. It speaks of things unseen. It comes to us through a vast history we barely remember. We are part of the earth. Compost calls us back to who we are and what we are made of. It is the smell of possibility. Compost is the smell of something coming from nothing, the smell of life coming from darkness. Compost is the smell of the earth mother’s big twat. She isn’t shy, and she has every part of the earth inside of her waiting to be born. These riches are part of each of us. Because we are part of the earth.