Embracing Rot

“By composting, you reduce your carbon and financial footprint; your waste doesn’t have to be transported, nor do you have to buy nutrients in. By embracing rot, you will start to see failure in a new light …”

                ~ Alys Fowler

When I first started my vegetable garden, nearly forty years ago, I made several trips in a borrowed pickup to a local mushroom farm to collect compost to improve our soil. The farmer (‘roomer’?) laughed when I asked if he would accept a check in payment, “Son,” he drawled, “people that haul their own compost don’t write bad checks.”

The mushroom compost worked wonders for a strawberry bed, and it seemed that every year, turning the garden became easier and the soil shifted from a tan, clayey or sandy mix to a blacker and richer-looking soil. I was somewhat disheartened when we had to relocate the garden due to some construction, but the new area was soon whipped into the same shape using our own compost. Later, we added raised beds to help with my aging back, and the fall addition of each summer’s compost enriches them over each winter.

Horticulture journalist Alys Fowlersays, “You can take what is waste and turn it into something that you will come to think of as more valuable than gold – good soil.”

We compost yard waste and kitchen scraps, untainted by meat or dairy so as to keep the scavengers out of the compost pile. We do get a little help from the squirrels and raccoons that turn the pile searching for goodies to eat. Our somewhat chaotic chemical-free garden allows for the birds and insects to wander freely and safely, but our dog and cats discourage most other animals.

According to Fowler, “You can feed more than just your family. Every plant grown without chemicals will feed the soil food web — thousands of insects from aphids to butterflies — and, with them, the birds.”

Our garden is a component in a broader environment, and it’s important to provide a variety of opportunities for our natural friends. We’re lucky to have tall trees in our yard that are favored by all kinds of birds. These are supplemented by shrubbery that provides a mid-point between the trees and the ground, facilitating bird and insect movement. Our lawn is somewhat shabby when compared to most of our neighbors’, but provides clover and other flowers for insects and a hunting ground for various insect-eating birds. Our dog shares her water bowl (grudgingly) with the squirrels and birds, and the raccoons are night visitors during the warmer months.

I share Fowler’s perspective on gardening, “The dictionary has it wrong. Gardening isn’t about plants, it’s about everything else: the soil, the insects, the birds, mammals and reptiles, and how you sit in this world. The plants are the final flourish, the gift of reciprocity from all the others … For a garden to be successful it has to acknowledge the desires of the non-humans, too. In this way, gardening becomes less an act and more a relationship with your soil and the many things she supports.

If I make too much food, or somehow ruin a dish, I can take some solace in knowing that it will go to a good cause in the compost pile. After all, everything in the world becomes something else over time. All organics, including us, rot, decompose and contribute our make-up back into the world. That dead celery stalk or wilted lettuce becomes over time part of the rich soil that feeds more plants that support more insects and animals, and even combats global warming. It’s a cycle, and we’re all in it (literally) together. Embrace the rot.

Additional information:

Alys Fowler, Gardening Can Help Save the Planet. How? Start With Your Soil, September 25, 2021, The Guardian

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