The Imperfect Gardener

by Adina Sara

The Joy of Composting

I treated myself to a top-of-the-line composter. It came with hundreds of tiny parts that required a full day's concentration to assemble. I already had a composter—the kind the city gave away years ago with three tiered squares that never fit together and only produced piles of frustration. So this new and greatly improved Compost Tumbler, designed to be easy on the back and promising perfect compost in two weeks, seemed a worthy investment.

The 23-page instruction booklet was only mildly intimidating. I skimmed through the temperature graphs and mathematical equations, discovering the benefits of 4:1 carbon/nitrogen ratios, shredded newspaper and grass clippings, and adequate moisture and aeration. Everything boiled down to maintaining a balance of brown and green matter. Not to mention a willingness to commit. Composters are a little like pets. They need a great deal of care and attention.

And so I find myself going around the garden in search of perfect compost food. Dead blooms and dried leaves are collected carefully and with great enthusiasm. I am not nearly as interested in the spectacular roses, finding myself much more excited by the old decrepit flowers that will add valuable carbon to the compost mix. I clip dried branches into compost-

bite sizes and forget to notice that the watsonia and iris are bursting open. I turn the compost drum daily and open the door too frequently to suck in the smell—a musty sharp blend of decay and hot steam (it's not for everyone)—to reassure myself that the system is indeed working.

Swept up in compost mania, I bought an artsy ceramic food-scrap container for the kitchen counter and set a larger bucket on the porch to hold overflowing coffee grounds, tea bags, and yesterday's salad. From kitchen counter to compost area, an assembly line of containers filled with chicken manure, grass clippings, and dead leaves help keep the flow moving. Even the old plastic three-tiered compost bin is coming in handy again to contain plant materials needing to be cut down to compost-friendly size.

More than likely, this is a temporary phase. I hope to eventually turn my attention back to the more colorful parts of the garden, but for now I am reveling in this new relationship. It is still too soon to know what effect the seething dark dirt will have on next season's vegetable crop, but being this close to the process of transformation has already proven to be reason enough to compost.

On the other end of the gardening spectrum, tiny squash and scarlet runner beans have sprouted from seeds given to me last year at the Metro Garden Club plant exchange. There is no way I can plant them all, unless I want to trip over monstrous squash leaves all summer. It is so hard to decide which perfectly healthy seedlings to plant and which to toss out. At least, this year the losers will be sent to the compost bin, where they just might get another chance to join in the garden's rich cycle of life.

Our local garden community exchanges ideas, plants, and gardening resources. Send an e-

mail to TheMetroGardenClub\, and ask to be added to the growing group of Metro garden enthusiasts.?