Clare Foster, a writer and gardener from Oxfordshire, England, wrote a book called Compost and I have just devoured it. Attracted to the graphic illustrative cover and then to the design that lends itself to informative browsing through pull-quotes and lists blocked in verdant green, I got many pages in just standing around in the bookstore and by then it was already very much mine.
In the process of reading this book I felt a kindred spirit in Foster, as I recognized an almost giddy love of compost. Hers seemed to be on a very practical level (unsurprising in a gardener) while mine runs into the realms of metaphor and cultural theory as well as fascination with the science. Above all I appreciate the way she has so simply and concisely communicated the basics on this subject while still being thorough. Even this book worm felt compelled to go out and get my hands dirty when so often I can just as easily be content to read about it. But anyone could read this book and start composting immediately, that’s the beauty of it.
After so many years of my own half-hearted compost piles, she has instilled a sense of confidence grounded in scientific and practical knowledge of how soil works and excitement about the many varied ways one can put that knowledge into practice. From an apartment dweller without even a balcony, to farmers and everyone in between, there are ways for anyone to support the effective decomposition of organic matter resulting in nutrient and microbially rich soil that can help produce more nutritious food, healthier more resilient plants, and more robust ecosystems. And the best part is, you are doing it with materials that are considered trash, and that would otherwise go into landfills where, as opposed to breaking down naturally, they actually produce harmful gasses and mix with other chemicals and leach into groundwater and soil, causing all kinds of harm down the line.
In only a few days after completing this book, my compost pile has never looked better. I have actually set up a little cafe table and 2 chairs and have been spending time reading, writing and observing the process in action (contrary to popular belief, compost, when made well, does not stink!). I realized how much making compost can be like cooking – as I chopped the tall-as-me-weeds with a heavy cleaver into more manageably-proportioned compost-salad, layered it with dried leaves from the avocado tree, mixed in a scoop of chicken poop and crumbled on top spent shitake substrate from our year of harvesting mushrooms in our yard. I added some water and instead of going inside when I had to pee, I just climbed onto the pile and let it act as a nitrogen boost to help the whole process get started.
Within 2 weeks and a couple invigorating turnings, I had an incredibly beautiful, steaming pile of what looked like crumbled chocolate cake, and smelled like good earth. As it cures I notice that I have a deep sense of well-being and groundedness when I hang out in the “compost cafe” and I think I have made a life-long friend, a relationship which feeds me on many levels. Now, compost is not just a finished product of healthy soil or even the decomposition process that leads to it. It has become a practice in which I apply my attention, care and labor to facilitating a process that offers reciprocity and deep sense of wholeness. And it is the most natural, common thing, happening all around us all the time. The turning of life into death into life again.
Clare Foster, Compost: How to make and use organic compost to transform your garden (London, 2014, Mitchell Beazley)
Book Worm is a review column that synthesizes writing of interest to Amici Mortem. A document of the research aspect of the project and an expanded, interdisciplinary reading list, Book Worm takes a personal approach to sharing and reflecting on writing across a broad expanse of genres that relate to the intention and aspirations of the project: to transform our personal and collective relationship with death.