Zen and the Art of Composting

Charles ‘Turnip’ Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (18 April 1674 – 21 June 1738) creator of the modern crop rotation system and avid turnip grower.

Joseph Foljambe, inventor of the Rotherham Plough in 1730, quickly superseded by the Scot’s Plough of 1763.

. . not the inventors of the seed drill

Jethro Tull (1674–1741), English agriculturist, often credited with inventing the seed drill (or was that some ‘Flower Power’ rock band?) Actually, the seed drill had been in use in the Far East for a couple of thousand years, but who wants to get between an Englishman and his version of history?

Sir Albert Howard, inventor of compost at Indore in India just before World War I. Really? Yes, really! That is what any decent English History of Agriculture will tell you. Forget what all those ‘Johnny Foreigners’ say, compost is as English as television, rocket engines and the first man on the moon! Aren’t you proud? Aren’t you proud to be English? (or hacked off because you are not?)

But I digress, where was I? Compost; or more precisely, Composting, is an art form. I know this from my many years of living in the shadow of J who, in my opinion, rates up there with those other greats of English agricultural innovation and development.

J makes compost. Or rather, she ‘nurtures’ compost, it’s in her genes, inherited from her gardening father Len whose motto: ‘Now then – just stop and think a minute!’ is the bane of my life. J has made compost ever since she had her first window box as a student in a basement flat on Holland Park Road and found it a convenient place to empty the tea leaves. From such modest beginnings she has morphed into a proverbial ‘Stig of the Dump’, ever enthusiastic but often disheveled and festooned with garden trimmings and blobs of brown stuff.

She is to conventional composting practice and wisdom what Richard Dawkins is to Pope Benedict. J composts everything – garden waste; kitchen waste, cooked and uncooked; dead birds, lizards and polecats that are the left-overs from the murderous nocturnal activities of our bloody moggy; almost anything that is decomposable will be used. And, she adds nothing by way of chemicals, minerals, accelerators or activators. These heaps will attain internal temperatures in excess of 66*C (150*F), you can coddle eggs in there or slow cook a casserole – it is awesome! The results are great mounds of sweet-smelling, rich, brown, run-your-fingers-through-this-and-give-them-a-sniff compost that teems with wildlife and feeds our otherwise barren and stony garden. Everything grows at an accelerated rate; one tree reached 70 feet in eight years! Whole new species have evolved on the revised time-scale J’s stuff provides! There are grubs in the heaps so big that your average Indigenous Australian searching for ‘Bush Tucker’ would discard his Witchetty grubs in disgust!

J cannot stand waste in any shape or form, so a few years ago we acquired one of those macerator things. What an amazing machine – a ‘time machine’ in fact because now I don’t just get to prune all the trees we were stupid enough to plant, I get to spend hours a day feeding all this extra stuff through the machine and clearing it when it jams up! Mind you, J says it is worth it, and who am I to argue with (such an) authority! The ‘Proof of the Pudding lies in the Soil’, or words to that effect!

And the ‘Zen’ bit? I expect you’re wondering about that – well, Zen is about contemplation of the ‘Life Within’ and J spends hours doing just that – ‘Where are you? Come and look at this; smell this stuff – it’s the source of all life, don’t you know!’

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmm; Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

J and her 'bins' - the compost is to the left (she does not approve of being a 'celeb')
the 'Fount Of All Goodness'

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

4 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Composting

  1. I am totally impressed, as the young uns would say, with J’s composting. I have a new fangled compster out in the yard – came with the place when we bought it – and can I get my sorry self out there to dump my tea leaves? Not by any means enough! You are inspiring me. I was raised by a British mum who had a MASSIVE compost heap in the back yard, so perhaps this is her way of kicking me in the pants to get me back into the habit. Do you really, btw, coddle eggs in there? Also, what is a bloody moggy? 🙂

    Side note – M. has started reading your blog in earnest – and announced the other day that on our next trip to see his brother near Bodrum, we might have to make a day trip pilgrimage of sorts to Okcular! You inspire us!

    1. Huh! You flatter me (I love it!) Coddle eggs? haven’t actually done that – but you really could. The heat is staggering, enough to have you draw your hand away by reflex. A bloody moggy is our loveable but very large and very efficient hunting cat (about 6.5kgs). Be delighted to see you and M when you next visit – anything to get you away from the horrors of the concrete beach.

  2. I tried composting in my little overgrown courtyard garden in Walthamstow. It was hopeless. I had the debris but not the space. I was so glad when the council introduced garden waste recycling which they used in public parks.

    1. in truth, the climate in the UK does mean that compost must be managed more carefully – here, anything seems to go and J gets masses of stuff very quickly. Made it in a variety of containers in the UK – oil drums were great and then doubled up as potato ‘fields’.

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