With a sense of pride I used to delve deep into my composter to air out its mixture, poking my shovel beyond kitchen scraps, twigs and grass clippings to hit what gardeners call Black Gold. Sprinkled around the garden, this crème de la crème of dirt nutrients made the roses stand up and salute. And don’t get me started on the bumper-crop of ripe, red raspberries. Not only does compost improve the quality of a garden, it also reduces the amount of organic waste that would otherwise be schlepped to the landfill.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 27% of the US municipal solid waste stream consists of yard trimmings and food residuals. Even though this material is organic, when trucked to landfills, it adds to greenhouse gases, wastes energy and produces methane. If that methane isn’t released, ka-boom!
Composting is the right thing to do. I wish I didn’t have to stop. Now every time I throw away coffee grounds or egg shells, the guilt eats away at me the way the red worms used to nibble on our apple cores. Hitting the sweet spot of temperature, air, moisture, browns, greens and food scraps demands diligence and fighting through the odor of unwashed socks. Yet when you get there, it’s like being in a cool club; you share a knowing look when you meet a fellow composter.
Like most good things in life, I took my composter for granted. Before I knew it, the overflow of Black Gold literally split our composter apart. None of this would have been a concern until I saw a rat scamper out an opening so fast, I barely glimpsed the long, hairless tail before it disappeared beneath the wood fence.
Rats freak me out, but I didn’t fold. I chucked the compromised composter and moved on with my high school kid’s help. He constructed a rat-proof compost bin with a metal mesh lining; rats’ teeth can’t penetrate the stuff. Starting from scratch, it took time to get to that sweet spot again where banana peels, coffee grinds and grass clippings go in and sweet smelling earth comes out.
My son planted heirloom tomatoes and cilantro for my favorite snack, Pico de Gallo, and I grabbed my shovel to sprinkle on the humus from our composter. As I lifted the composter lid, I found a plump rat with shiny eyes settled in the center of the dirt mound. He gave me a cold, cold glare. I screamed ala Janet Leigh in Psycho. Mr. UnHollywood ran like a flash to me but the rat had fled.
Composter number two is gone.
Can I rekindle my love affair with composting? I long to do the right thing. If only I could just bag up my old produce and coffee grounds, I’d happily heave them to a composter off site. Any takers? Who can guide me through this compost conundrum?