The Death Smell of Compost in the Joy of a Warm Winter Day

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 6.55.46 AMSeed catalog season. They started coming last month. I really should be planning the garden. I can virtually smell it around me…

Wait, that’s compost. It’s been a couple weeks and a few feet of snow since I took out the compost. That little carbon filter in the top of the pail’s done its duty. Can’t smell it at all. I pick up the pail and collect the mountain of fruit peels on the cutting board in the kitchen. I trudge through the mud.

It’s beautiful outside–a break in the winter that tempts me to get out there and plant something I know will subsequently die. A January thaw–a break in Winter’s show. He got off the couch to get some snacks and a beer, letting Spring fill in for a bit. Still, I can’t plant now. The Farmer’s Almanac would be horrified. It predicts much more snow in February. Not long odds in Vegas. It’s New England.

I dump the compost in the bin. It smells like nothing I’ve ever experienced, having done most of its composting in the house. The death smell chases me half-way across the yard, laughing the moment I take off the lid. I can’t leave it like that. It smells worse than the time I left the chicken in my trunk for a week during summer. That one forgotten bag…

I stop breathing, reopen the bin, and stir the rotting compost into the fireplace ash. I toss a few oak leaves on top. Better. I sniff. The worms will rejoice just as soon as they thaw all the way.

I step into the garden. Mud. Enough to swallow me. I realize I haven’t been outside–really outside–in months. I stop. I listen to the birds who welcome me back. I think about walking around the garden. The mud plots to enshrine me. I sink. I take a step. I sink further. We come to an agreement. The mud releases its hostage. I’ll take my tour some other time.

The seeds will be calling soon. I’ll scatter them everywhere. Many will die as a result of my overzealousness and impatience. The laws of nature don’t bend for one good-weather day. Seeds in the garden–like in life–must be planted at the right time, then nurtured consistently to grow.

I take out the recycling and go to the farm. Eggs are in the red cooler out front on weekends.  Put in some money, take out some eggs. The cooler’s blown over. Scrambled eggs. I manage four dozen good ones. I toss in an extra buck–I was short last week. I still have eggs in the fridge. I stack these on top–always overbuy, over plant, overestimate when nature is involved. Plan well when you can and appreciate nature’s bounty always. It’s better to have just a little too much when it comes to growing, cooking, and eating. Dieters and zen masters have it all wrong.

I take off my muddy boots,  put the compost pail back onto the mantle, and sit back down to work. 

Spring will be here soon enough.

 

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Can Too Many Veggies Kill You?

Garden partyI stop. I look around my garden, which just six weeks ago was a 44×33 section of lawn. Odd dimensions, I admit. Rusty bought a tiller for my birthday and turned over the soil. Best birthday present ever! Since moving to the sticks, every gift-giving occasion, we get a new Swamp Yankee Thing. I got him a tow bar for his birthday. He got me the tiller, I got him a trailer for the lawn tractor so he can Indy 500 around with loads of wood and leaves and stuff. He bought himself a chainsaw. My chainsaw is wimpy. We split the Jeep trailer. Now we can forage wood. By “we” I mean “he,” but I can stack it up nice and run the wood stove. I’m learning my rustic skills. I’d like to be off the grid someday. Just a bit.

Rusty is better qualified for this. His first teen job was felling trees and taking care of horses. Mine was working at a real estate agency finding house listings and spell checking ads before Google and spell check were invented. Mostly, I learned to drink coffee and call WHCN to win concert tickets back when radio stations were local and had fans. I’m not sure that prepared me for getting off the grid. 

Rusty made the mega-garden mostly to “keep (me) the hell out of the front yard.” He said I should not even think about planting a horseradish or spring onion border in his flower beds. I totally would. I don’t plant much I can’t eat. Veggies are beautiful. I’d line the sidewalks with rainbow chard and use mint as the groundcover near the road. You can’t eat portulaca. It’s not very useful. Weeds are beautiful, too. They have flowers. I’d get rid of the grass if possible. Plant the whole thing with food, with English-garden pathways. In my mind’s eye, the front yard is simply a canvas for food. In fact, many lawn weeds are edible if you just let them grow. Though the lawn’s stunning, I’m a bit sad each time Rusty outflanks weeds with chemicals, defeating the chickweed, dandelion greens, and plantain leaves that are just trying to say, “Hey, here I am, tomorrow’s salad. Celebrate me!” 

“Thanks for growing, guys, but you have been sprayed with RoundUp. I think I might grow another hand if I eat you.” I think twice. The prospect of growing another hand is actually pretty attractive to me–I’m super busy. I could take multitasking to a new level, but since the Roundup label has too many big side-effect words, like a Viagra commercial, I give up contemplating eating weeds, and go back to my birthday garden, which has way too many veggies anyway. 

I empathize with Rusty. I understand the strict warnings. Every time he turned his head in our former urban paradise, I planted something new; constructed a new raised bed. I didn’t do this to annoy him, I just saw places where vegetable plants should be. You might call that obsessive. I think it’s a metaphor for life. You see an opportunity for growth; you plant something. Plant enough seeds, and you’re guaranteed a decent harvest. He does this all the time in business and entrepreneurship, but when I do it by planting, say, seven  hundred beet seeds and carrots in cracks in the sidewalk, it’s somehow not as cool.

My friend called my garden “big ass and ugly.”  He’s forgiven. It’s either jealousy or he’s glad he doesn’t have to put up with my carrots in the sidewalk. Indeed I am going overboard. I will to eat from this garden from now to late fall. It’s already begun. Eight days of kale and spinach. Priceless.

I’ve been told document the money spent on the garden to calculate the real cost of food. That reminds me of a great book, “The $64 Tomato.” I’m sure I’d be shocked. I tell everyone I just want to enjoy the beauty of life popping up where no life had been. It’s an excuse–I’m terrified that the bottom line will officially prove I’m insane. 
 
Besides, I don’t want to measure everything. It would remind me of work. I feel like I exist to measure stuff. Test, assessment, goal, target, graph, pie chart…I don’t want that to be the spirit of my garden. It’s my soul.
 
“How will you know what you did so you can be successful next year?”  Good question. Oh, I will take notes and information. I’ll remember that my cucumbers died and I swore.  I’ll remember that my farmer told me I planted the carrots too early and I need to reseed. No need to measure. My only goal–to weed, eat, and share the deliciousness with some aphids, and maybe some of you.