Compost and recycling in the garden

Everything goes in a circle

whether you like it or not

whether you acknowledge it or not

whether it is right or wrong or correct or left or front and center


In general

old timers do not like to waste stuff

stuff like food or building materials

because food was precious and scarce and took a lot of work to hunt or grow

because cutting a tree down, hauling it, milling it and drying it into lumber took weeks and months

because every little nail had to be hammered and forged

so then old timers became thrifty, economical, or saving, what have ya wanna call it

if you have tried to grow just one tomato and eat it, you know what I am talking about

its not easy, none of it was easy

everyday survival


These days

thanks to the industrial revolution, global trade, cheap labor, container ships, and so on

there is an abundance of stuff

some good stuff that lasts, lotta stuff so cheap it doesn’t matter if it lasts or not

when it breaks or crumbles or rots

just go buy another one…

so the leftover junk, flotsam and jetsam, day olds and spoiled

all end up in the dump of human civilization

piles dug deep into the earth

mounds of garbage spread far and wide


In nature, everything is used, nothing is wasted


Road kill possum by the guard rail:

turkey vultures are circling

raven is picking at the head

flies are swooshing down laying eggs, ants are carting off pieces of fur and fat


Tree falls down in the forest:

a crack and a thump

fungus is tearing it apart

beetles and termites are having a picnic

bacteria is scrambling for bits


Oil rig scaffold left in the ocean:

becomes a place to live

for creatures like barnacle mussel limpet and algae

drifting migrating spores and larvae find their way onto the steel

settle down, make their homes, and there they dwell

happily ever after


In nature, everything erodes, everything decays

nothing is ever lasting and permanent

she loves to take things apart


Headlands on the northern coast:

arches crags and thirty thousand ton boulders

so rock steady and firm, seemingly immutable


let the heat bake em

let the waves batter them incessantly

let the sands scratch and scuff, pepper and graze

and the crust underneath shifts and rolls, twists and subsides

and the formations change

within ten years, within twenty years, within the span of a human life span

you go back for a visit and you are like – what?! 

I don’t remember it like this?! 

this used to be….

well not anymore…


Monuments and buildings:

the pride of Mesopotamia

the glory of Rome

the greatest architecture of all millennium

million dollar mansions


revolution or downfall or lack of upkeep and maintenance

war and disease followed by pestilence

then it is abandoned, given up, forgotten

doesn’t take long

for spider, mouse, and cockroach to set up shop

for white rot and brown rot, tropical highs and riverine floods to work together

for screws to come loose, for rebar to rust throughout, for cables to untie, for a leak to spring

for a skeleton of a frame to meld, melt, and congeal back into the earth


Old chevy by the seashore:

salt wind and sand blasting it

iron burning in the air and wetness soaking thru

in a hundred years, what’s left?

maybe some rubber, some plastic, some foam

who remembers what model it was? 

why somebody left it at the beach?

where did the memories go?  all gone


In nature, everything comes around again


Who would have thought

that dead plants submerged

with heat and pressure and time

would end up as oil

and fuel our society and culture

maybe in twenty million years

all that plastic will be deposits

of oil again

until then – there it floats, drifts with the wind, goes up to the sky in low pressures

comes down with the hurricanes and monsoon rains


Who would have imagined

that mercury used to capture gold bits

back in the 1850 gold rush days

would flow downstream from the mountains

and still be in the sediment of the bay today

with the mud and the crabs and the tangled fish nets

how is it possible

that mercury would be filtered, sucked up, and become a part of

shrimp and sea anemone and clam

then taken in by sturgeon shark ray and people too

pooped out, then returned to the earth and sea

going around and around, in and out, in and out


Who can fathom

this endless cycle

of sunrises and sunsets

full moons and new moons

high water marks and low tide pools

going in circles orbits rotations

pretty amazing

all around


Ideally, in the garden, you practice composting, or at least use compost

cause it is great stuff for growing plants!

specifically – for growing domesticated food plants like radishes turnips swiss chard and the like


Compost is the end result of nature breaking down

then mixing with the soil

forming a thick layer of spongy rich growing medium for plants

bits of leaves, peels, seeds, branches, bone, flesh, and so on

in a matrix of fungus bacteria protozoa algae


Compost is the once-alive organic material that has been passed through the bodies and guts of

earthworm millipede pill bug round worm springtail and mite

it is a process that requires the basics of life – water and air, warmth and time

without any of those components, it does not proceed


In the tropical rainforest, matter decomposes quickly

somebody lays a turd, creatures are on it

cause one animal’s turd is another animal’s food

in the cold tundra where it does not rain

it takes a long long time for anything to break down

it just ain’t happening

you can leave a banana peel in the arctic

figure it’ll decompose in no time

but nope, it just sits there, and sits there, and sits there some more…

frozen most of the time

wondering when some bug or mushroom threads are coming to tear it apart

to release the potassium and magnesium and manganese

it had stored in its lifetime


So when we make compost

we are mimicking nature, and speeding up the process by which raw materials

become a useful agricultural or horticultural or natural product

Try to grow a carrot in rocky hard soil

what do the roots do?  do they grow well?

then, grow a carrot in loose cultivated material full of compost

what then, is the shape of the root?

aha!  compost!!!

alright then, let’s get to work

make some piles of fish skins, moldy cheese, rotting limes

add a truck full of brown oak leaves and chipped up elm branches

and a few wheel barrows of lawn clippings

if you’re lucky, bonus for some pond weeds or rinsed off kelp from the seashore

wet it down, turn it time to time to give it some air

give the feeding organisms some good ol’ oxygen to breathe

then like all things, be patient and wait for nature to do her thing

pretty simple, very useful


Like any  fisherman or rancher or farmer or gardener will tell ya

mother nature does not waste

mother nature always wins

mother nature is a loop

old timers be like

what goes around, comes around…

that is how it is

that is how it always will be…

Your instructor Gus Broucaret always gives this funny story out as a handout to the class.  Yes he is a gardener who has mowed and hedged all his life; but this story is reflective of his thoughts about the matter.