Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Follow Your Nose! by Jenny Gardiner

Things are getting pretty ripe around our household, and not necessarily in a bad way. At least not yet; talk to me come July when the neighbors start banging on my door in protest and I might have to rethink that supposition.

But for now, what's ripening is our brand new compost pile.

Now, my all-about-sustainability locavore-embracing son has been working on persuading us to compost for ages. But I've been decidedly compost-averse with good reasons, including stench, snakes and fruit flies…

The stench concept seems obvious. Ask any mortician: decomposition usually doesn't smell pleasing. Enough said. Though my son argues that if managed correctly a compost pile will not smell offensive. Alas, failing to obtain a degree in chemical engineering leaves me at a distinct disadvantage in trying to avoid said stench.

And the snakes? Well, I learned once of a friend's compost pile housing a nest of copperheads, which was enough to convince me composting wasn't going to be high on my to-do list. I'd rather not have do-gooding land me in the hospital, thanks. And I think you all know about my war with fruit flies that triggered an obsessive-compulsive need to kill about a thousand of the things a day a few years back. After that experience, I've worked assiduously to avoid any lifestyle behaviors that might invite the pests back unwittingly.

I suspect the biggest obstacle to my embracing composting was my introduction to it, a quarter century ago, when we visited distant relatives in Seattle. Of course Seattle has long been ahead of the curve with all sorts of great things (Starbucks, Microsoft or Amazon ring a bell?), and it's always been a very green area of the world (quite literally, thanks to a ubiquitous drizzly mist for three-quarters of the year).

It was early September, and our host (we'll call her Jane) — wife of a retired military officer and regimented to a fault — insisted we dump much of our leftovers (and there shouldn't have been any, as we oughtn't have wasted a thing!) into a countertop Chock Full of Nuts coffee can dedicated to collection of such spoils, bound for a compost mound out back. It's likely my aversion to composting was tied to the fact that Jane didn't cotton to food waste. The stale donut and overripe banana I failed to ingest for breakfast one morning made a command performance appearance on my plate the following day. I soon learned to hide (and not compost) what inedible food I wasn't planning to eat.

Now Jane was an award-winning gardener — she even had azaleas named after her — and she knew of good soil. So composting no doubt was second nature for her. And her garden was spectacular, so I could appreciate the cause and effect on some level.

But the sum total of my experience with her compost was a smelly tin can with a swarm of fruit flies that when not lingering by the rank vat of rotting garbage, swarmed our heads instead. I was unimpressed. And took note that even they had no interest in my stale donut with the bite taken out of it from the previous day's breakfast. Suffice it to say I wasn't sold on the glories of composting after that trip.

However my family recently undertook a vegan juice fast (sadly I lasted all of 12 hours, though the rest toughed it out for days), and we were shocked at the waste generated by juicing vegetables. Honestly the aroma of vegetable pulp soon churned my stomach and scarred me for life, being that I'm not a veggie lover to begin with.

Nevertheless, it made imminent sense to do something useful with all this green-and-orange muck spewing out of the juicer all day and night. Cue my son, fresh out of four years of college focusing on sustainability and green living and ultimately as the director of sustainability for the student government at a major university.

He was all over the idea of composting and had tried once before to get us to green-up a bit, but we didn't have it set up properly to manage the system. But this time he was prepared to construct a compost bin and figure out the best way to ensure the organic matter broke down properly. He spent a week building an impressively-designed segmented structure into which compost is dumped, and then ostensibly shifted during various stages of decomposition (I have yet to see that happen).

Where to put the unsightly plywood bin was a challenge: we didn't want it to be too close to the neighbors, but also it couldn't be so far away to make it impractical to use it. We opted for an area to the side of the house that sees little activity, in the hopes the thing will remain unnoticed.

Now I do get that it's winter. And come summer, there might be a stench of week-old cadavers wafting from our spiffy new composting bin. We might have neighbors converging on our home with torches and pitchforks (and not to make off with rich compost for their gardens). And I know the fruit flies have gone south for the winter (or whatever it is those things do when they're not annoying the hell out of me). So we may abandon this great green venture come a drastic uptick in temperature.

I did, however, discover a flaw in the system — no lid — when I found the remains of a very old apple that had been dumped into the bin last week, with cute little evenly-spaced teeth marks rounding the circumference of the fruit. It appears possums, or raccoons, or some type of critter, have found the pile and are oblivious to its disgustingness. Must figure out how to keep them from having a field day in there.

But for now, it's pretty amazing how much we've cut back our trash — I'd say by 75%. That's incredible, if you ask me. Imagine how much less full our landfills could be were more people to compost. Right now, it seems relatively easy to do. I'll get back to you in four months, though. But for now, I'm not minding this green effort too much.

Next on my son's agenda? A chicken coop, with an accompanying brood of chickens. The good news is I'm pretty sure chickens are verboten around my neighborhood. As much as I appreciate a freshly-laid egg, I can barely keep up with the compost pile; I can only imagine trying to keep those things alive and fed. But looking on the bright side, at least they wouldn't come with a ready-made copperhead nest.

Jenny Gardiner is hoping you won't soon be able to follow your nose to her home. You can find her digital home at
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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Mary Kirkland said...

I agree about the compost pile, not sure I could deal with that either...although it's a great idea.

I did have a chicken coup when I was 18 and my brother had one a few years ago. It was fun, except when i found an egg that I missed the day before..Not something you want to crack open in your frying pan, let me tell you.

Here at least, anyone can have chickens if they have a yard to put a coup. There's a CAL Ranch store across the street from me that sells baby chicks and coups.

Jenny Gardiner said...

I wouldn't mind having a chicken coop if I didn't have to maintain it/them. We have too many pets as it is and they're time-consuming--can't add a flock of dumb birds to it. Plus my dogs would probably kill those things before they had a chance to lay an egg!

Mary Preston said...

We have quite a large compost. It doesn't smell because we put the grass clippings in there as well. They provide a layer between the smelly stuff & the world.