Mmmmm. Dirt. Not like, yum, dirt. Just mmmmm.
No, not THAT kind of dirt.
When I was a kid, my father and I would spend hour upon hour in our *tiny* backyard garden, pulling up weeds, checking on mini carrots as they gently pushed their way down and eventually up until the little orange tops were sticking out of the soil. He tended lanky bean plants and sugar-snap peas with their delicate vines and tendrils pulling upward onto the primitive sticks we had stuck into the ground. There was a spot for rhubarb by the back stairs, which was turned into delicious strawberry-rhubarb pie by my mother in the late summer. I chose ripe cherry tomatoes to snack on before they ever had a chance to see a salad plate. I can still close my eyes and feel and smell and taste those tiny tomatoes, so sweet and warmed by the sun. No need to wash. Later I tried my hand at raspberry bushes and mint and even baby lettuces.
And because our yard was tiny, and partly shaded by the gigantic hundreds-of-years-old oak tree, part of the garden had to share the space with the haphazard swing that went round and round, closer and closer to the garden until eventually, crash! Someone would smack into the bean plants, have to dismount, and carefully (or not so carefully) re-stick the dang things into the ground without ever an adult knowing. Well, they knew. I’m sure.
But I digress…
I used to watch our neighbors as they meticulously shredded the giant oak tree’s leaves that fell into their yard, then mixed them with soil and scraps and other yard and kitchen waste and pile them into a large concrete compost bin they had in the back alley. In what seemed like no time at all, their soil was as black as coal and making its way back into their much more desirable garden, which boasted many more tomatoes than we ever procured, and kale and broccoli and squash, spinach, red bell peppers, you name it. I was jaded.
But they taught me. Yes, we had a compost pile and even a special bin for it, but it was only mediocre and I did not know why. So I paid special attention and even snuck a peak every now and then, looking closely at the ground-up mixture they had cooking in the alley. Yes, I was a huge nerd. Still am, I guess, when it comes to this kind of stuff. It fascinates me, really. How something discarded and used can become something fresh and new and nourishing.
And now, as a grown-up nerd, I continue my quest for the perfect compost pile. In Philadelphia, we composted in the back yard which was not really a yard at all, more of a parking strip full of weeds and debris. But you’d better believe there was a pile of earth I had to step around in my high heels every morning on my way to get human feces thrown on me (it was a great job).
We skipped the composting idea in Baltimore. It was sad, really. There was a two-foot by two-foot “litter box” of soil in the back of that house which smelled strongly of cat urine and was gray and dusty and could grow not one weed. There was going to be no dirt-to-plate transition there. Unless we wanted to contract a serious case of toxoplasmosis. Which we didn’t. You know, with me being prego with Milo and all. Blind baby? No thank you very much.
In DC, we had the pleasure of being on the brink of the woods, so yes! Compost. Great compost! So great, in fact, that someone kept stealing it when it was nice and ripe and ready for the garden. No matter, though. We didn’t get a lick of sunshine in our back yard, so no veggie garden. Though our hostas were thriving.
But now! NOW! We have our compost. Three piles, actually, in varying stages of decomposition, teeming with earthworms as big as snakes AND if you didn’t know, earthworms produce their weight of castings (poop- really, really good poop) every day. And the shredded-up leaves that come from our sycamore tree, plus the dried-out grass clippings, eggshells, coffee grounds (did you know you can just throw the paper filters in there too? You can! Do it, and if you have a good pile, the earthworms will make short work of it in a matter of days), veggie and fruit peels, table scraps (sans meat, of course), even fireplace ashes (which will keep the critters away as well as add valuable potassium carbonate to the pile) make for a quick-acting trash-to-treasure delivery system.
Ah. I love dirt.
I am practically salivating at the thought of the veggies we will produce next summer as I add, month by month, wheelbarrow-full after wheelbarrow-full of new, sweet-smelling black soil to the area I have cleared and Andrew has walled in.
*Thank you Bill and Annie for the book that inspired this particular post!