Sustainable WNC

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Archive for December, 2007

Soil Searching- Composting as a spiritual practice

Monday, December 17th, 2007

The supreme good is like compost,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places
that people disdain.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking keep to the simple.
In conflict be fair and generous.
In governing, dont try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and dont try to compare or compete,
everyone will respect you.

-tao te ching

Soil Searching 101-the suburbanite
Soil Searching 102- worms elevating life on the 56th floor
Soil Searching 103-the devotee
Soil Searching 104-humanure -a ‘movement’ towards enlightenment for the advanced pilgrim

In nature there is no such thing as “waste”. “Waste ” is a man made word. Really a verb. It’s what we do in that moment and we are personally responsible for that action. Not a noun that is a separate entity. Nature utilizes everything. Energy stored in things is released in each step as the material is broken down in continually simpler forms to its most elemental form in which it is assimulated and pulled back into the cycle again (mostly by plants). Somewhere in the last century we vered off the path of the natural world, cycles, spirals, returns and headed down the linear path of consumption and waste. We live on this island called Earth and it is getting smaller and smaller each day. Yet, we demand more of it as our population exponates. We give little back in the form of reusable resources. We are quite juvenile in our behavior. Like little kids we say “me, me, me, I want it now” and we grab. We throw tantrums called wars when dont get what we want. We treat this Earth like a disposable diaper and we smell because it is the only one we have.

I believe solutions start small. Every journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step. I suggest for a step ever so small, is to stop when you are throwing something away. Ask yourself when you are in the kitchen, “will what I have in my hand decompose? Chances are if it was connected to something edible the answer is yes. This is a great place to start. Take this handful of scraps and put in a bowl on your counter top. This will be your valiant steed that will carry you to a doorway through which you may enter on an incredible quest in search of the Grail castle (your compost bin). This a sacred journey that will fortify your soul (soil).

Having a bowl with a lid of leftovers, scraps and coffee grinds on your counter top will now motivate you to ask more questions, and asking questions is a sign of intelligent life. You may ask yourself questions like, “where will it go now? because it is going to get nasty soon.” You have a few days, depending on the time of year, but you need to ask the question, “what to do?… where to do?… how to do?… Most importantly “why to do compost?” As this is the question that gives you, the errant knight, a sense of duty and the courage to ‘carry it out’, even under the harshest conditions of sleet and cold and regress.


Why to do compost?


answer: For us and our children to exist on this planet we must do everything we possibly can, “no matter how small” (*1), to replenish the Earth to our best ability. There is an amazing power in the cumulation of small deeds. In meditation we practice mindfullness by returning to the breath. 100 times in a half an hour if need be. Some long hair hippie dude about 2000 years ago said not to forgive seven times, but “7 times 70″ (*2). That is how we achieve focus, discipline, and bring change to our deeper being. Change is accomplished in very small seemingly insignificant, but consistent increments. They add up and that begins to change the way you live and interact with the world. Composting is a practice. Its meaning is in the intention and the discipline of changing lazy, apathetic habits of not caring and not taking personal responsibility for your actions in the world. If you compost for awhile, the next thing you know, you give the compost to a plant and then the plant gives you more flowers than you know what to do with and you give some to a neighbor, and that plant attracts a butterfly whose wing flaps…. and well, you know the rest of the story. It’s true, and you know it, and it will change the world. I will add one scientific fact that might help jump start your interest in composting. We American’s have used up more than 1/2 the topsoil of our agricultural land in the last 100 years. Top soil is what feeds us. It is our soil (soul). It is sacred. More people need more topsoil, not less.

*1-Horton Hears a Who- Suess, Dr.
*2-Christ, J.

Soil searching 101-The suburbanite-


What to do?

Step One-Just start. Like jumping into a pond in the summer. You can tip toe in or you can double flip off a rope swing. it’s your choice. I suggest beginning with the simple act of asking yourself when you are about to throw something away “is this natural vegetable matter? …can it decompose?…. is it man made?” What if I didn’t throw in in the trash which goes to the landfill, and is buried in a landfill closed from our living system not to be utilized again. What if I didn’t looked at this handful of potato peelings and coffee grinds in disgust, but as something more precious than gold (cant eat gold, never could, never will). How can I take an active role in turning this handful of lead into gold? This begins an “alche-mystical” trip of discovery and questions that lead to more questions, a few answers. conversations with neighbors and families and the building of neighborhoods and communities. Yes, taking that first handful of compost and simply putting it in a bowl on your kitchen counter instead of in your garbage. Be grateful for it and ask all the questions. That is step one. Breathe, relax, take some time to take it all in. You have four or five days grace period before step two becomes crucial.

Two step (Texas)- left-right-left….and right, left-right-left…. and right

Step two- OK. In about four or five days it becomes clear that the leftovers would be better outside. Compost 101 is the suburbanite tract so I will assume you have a little yard or some patch of ground in your dominion. Find a place in your yard that is convenient to carry kitchen scraps to , but is out of the way of outside activities like playing sports, sun worship, mowing and maintenance. “Ewwww, What about rats and bugs, vermine, plague and pestilence” the voice in your head asks that sounds half biblical, and half like your mother? This is a good point and is guarded against with a simple hoop made from a 4′ wide x 4′ length of 1/4″ hardware mesh. Rats can get into 1/2″ mess so go with the 1/4″. Roll up a length of the mesh into a tube and connect the sides with wire or the mesh itself. Take a scrap of mesh and cover one end of the tube. This will be your bottom. Again use wire to sew the pieces together, or ends of the mesh bent over. Stand up the mesh tube and cut another piece of mesh that will serve as the top. This is your Grail Castle. If you have problems with infidels, marauders and dogs, pound some stakes in the ground around the Castle and staple the Castle to them. (Not the marauders, the mesh) That’s pretty much as simple as I can make it. There are going to be people with all different situations and here is where you get to be creative and make the journey your own. There is no dogma in compost, just dogs and what you need is always right at hand.

Step three-

Getting the mix. Taking out compost is a bi-weekly routine so keep up the good work of saving every piece of organic material you can. This includes cotton clothes as well as yard waste. I wouldn’t put too much yard waste in your compost bin as this material isn’t desired by critters and can be piled up unprotected in some corner of your yard and actually provide cover for wildlife. I would only put in enough grass clippings and finer material to mix in with very wet kitchen scraps. A problem most composters have is the mix being too dry. Though not crucial, the microbes work better in a moist environment so feel free to add water when the weather is dry. I could go on forever so I pass you on to the myriad of information that help you on your crusade of soil searching.

Next-soil searching 102-worms elevating life on the 56th floor