Saturday, September 19, 2009


Since we moved here in June and discovered a composting bin in the side yard, my daughters have been eager to start composting. I’ve been the spoilsport, insisting that we grind and swish our peelings and coffee grounds down the disposal instead. You see, this bin we discovered was full of beautiful compost, rich and ready. Day after day, from June until now, I’ve found some excuse not to spread that compost. There’s time, I kept thinking.

Today I woke to a steady rain and cool breeze. The sun broke through around noon, urging me to seize the day.

The composter is located at the top of a dozen cement stairs leading down the hillside from our front yard to the back. Along those stairs are terraced garden beds, which until today held nothing but weeds and, in the lowest one, a small and spindly rosebush. I pulled on my leather work gloves.

Please understand that I like a dozen long stems as much as anyone, but spindly and vicious isn’t what I want in my garden, no matter how lovely. In these terraced beds next spring, I envision lettuce and carrots and cucumbers and, yes, zucchini. The beds are small and manageable, they get good sun, and because they’re on a hillside there’s not too much bending required. That rosebush was getting in the way of my plans.

I grasped its base, and the blessed work gloves kept the thorns out of my flesh. The soil, soft from the morning’s rain, gave easily as I pulled. I backed slowly from the bed, still pulling, as the taproot seemed to grown longer and longer, like a magician’s endless handkerchief.

My shovel turned over brittle bits of eggshell, brown and crackled—evidence to prove this really was compost, transformed from someone’s parings and salad leftovers and perhaps last year’s autumn leaves. Shovelful after shovelful I transferred the compost from the dark interior of the bin out into the terraced beds and the bright sunlight. I picked a lone Dole sticker out of one shovelful of compost. Not everything decomposes.

The people who owned this house before we did thought ahead enough to fill the composter with layers of dry and wet and to lift and stir from time to time to keep the oxygen circulating so the remnants of old meals would continue breaking down. Decay is a good thing when it comes to compost.

My shoulders are a little sore, but my terraced beds are ready for winter: Let it rain! Soon I will place a bucket near the kitchen sink, and we will begin to stow what might be thrown away. We’ll stack and stash and layer our scraps in the compost bin then salt it with a few earthworms. We’ll let it sleep for winter and see what it becomes by spring.


  1. Good work, there. I expect you got the rosebush, but I have known them to never die. We have one beside the house, where Tim stacks wood. Our first year here, he pulled it out. Next year, it grew back, up behind the woodpile, and has remained. The roses are full and beautiful, though, so I'm glad it was hardy.

  2. Lisa, Diana Frazier referred me to your blog. She and I worked together at Westminster Theological Seminary, and she told me the two of you worked together at the Alliance (before it was the Alliance). Any friend of Diana's is a friend of mine (especially when that friend is a fellow writer!) so I wanted to say hello. Your blog is lovely.

    I, too, recently returned to my home state after years of living around the country while my husband and I were in grad school, so I know something of the bittersweetness of homecomings. We compost, too, and this year our zucchini, cucumber, and tomato plants were monsters! Make sure you give next year's plants lots of space, because they sure do love composted beds!

    All the best to you and your family.

  3. Mindy,

    Diana was my boss years ago, and over time a friend, too. I learned a lot from her—not just about writing and editing, either!

    Thanks for dropping by and saying hello.