I heart compost, a loss of the heart, and a heart song

Everything I learned about compost, well not everything, just everything about the science of it, I learned from Malcom Beck in my Master Gardener training classes. He also appears nearly weekly on local San Antonio Texas radio shows. I was pleasantly pleased and surprised to see a Tweet telling me there was video of him on the Science Friday website. That’s so cool! Here, take a look:

Malcom Beck’s Website

Early in my childhood my parents, children of the Depression, composted kitchen scraps and garden waste. We always had a pile going. My mom had a huge garden which I swore she had only to keep us five kids busy with weeding and picking chores. Most all of our vegetables came from the garden and were preserved for use during winter months. All things I didn’t appreciate until I was much older. I didn’t even have a garden of my own until we had our first house and then it was not really much of garden.

It wasn’t until I was thrown into the totally strange surroundings of Texas did I make a serious, and seriously flawed attempt, to garden. There is no way anything learned about gardening in Wisconsin applies to gardening in Texas. It’s just not the same. Except for composting. Composting is about rot, mixing, watering, and mixing some more. Composting is pretty much the same everywhere.

Nature invented composting. Look at any forest floor and turn over the layers. You’ll see the entire process right there. It’s slow. Good stuff takes time. Growth takes time. So really, nature does its job in the amount of time needed. We can speed things up by turning over, watering, adding more to the pile.

Composting is about taking old stuff, stinky stuff, even failures, and making something useful. Once compost is mature or finished, it serves to lighten, feed, nurture, heal, and increase the soil to grow things once more. Soil needs microbes and beneficial fungii to be at it’s best. There’s a garden saying, dirt is dead, soil is alive. Compost makes for healthy and productive soil.

Recently, I had some help with cutting in new gardens. (Read more about our anniversary garden here.) Finally, after full year, and experiencing seasons in our new Virginia home, it felt good to get started on our garden plans. I discussed my design and needs, ordered the landscape materials and had them dumped on our driveway ready and waiting for the work to begin. Our landscaper (his title for what he does, not mine), and let’s call him Tractor Man, came with his tools and two helpers. Tractor Man said in all his years, no one had ever asked him to add compost. He repeated that several times in the prep stage and during the early hours of the work day. By the end of the work day, and he called his work complete, we still had at least half the pile of landscape/compost mix left. It turns out, Tractor Man was unable to do something new, something contrary to his Tractor Man method.

So we finished ourselves. The proof is in the plantings. Within 24 hours of planting, an examination of the root systems show the roots extending out, practically jumping into the new rich soil. We’re giving our plants a head start. We’re investing in the soil to gain beauty and harvest in the future. This enrichment of the very basic, making use of what has come before, will feed my future apple tree, peonies, roses, and perennial border. And we’ll continue to nurture and add to the soil on a regular basis.


My heart aches for my friends today, who lost someone dear last night. I’m richer for having met this gentle man just a few times, and I’m most definitly richer because of his influence in my friends lives. We all go on to bless and encourage in a way that celebrates and honors this influence. Whatever pain coming from our loss is best used to benefit our future.

For some reason, talk of compost, talk of passing, I’m reminded of a Girl Scout song from long ago. Forgive me if I remember the words incorrectly. It went something like this:

Happiness runs in a circular motion,
life is but a little boat on the sea,
everything’s just a part of everything anyway,
you can be happy if you let yourself be.


I love you Lord.


About Robin Arnold

Reader, writer, gardener, geek, maker of homes in several states, now settled in Virginia with husband Bob, and Hazel and Wilson the tabby cats.
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