One must on occasion seize the opportunity to turn compost. The little lawn we grow for Zeke responded to the last three months of rain by growing 18 inches tall, and today was my first opportunity to cut it. When he is done with it and sleeping beneath a Cornus nuttallii, I will rip the lawn out and plant more droughty sages, a collection of oreganos for za‚Äôatar, a lemon for Becky. But thankfully that day is not yet here. And cutting fourteen inches off the lawn, one exceeds the capability of my scavenged electric mulching mower to, well, mulch. So a half-hour with the rake and barrow, and I hauled four fifths of the lawn to the compost.
It was hot work and I was glad of it, wiping sweat from my face with muddy hands, new sweat washing the mud into my mouth. In the old myth Jehovah says to Adam: “Eat My dust!”:
[C]ursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Thorns and thistles I have in abundance, and some I pulled today, and others went to feed the rabbit who feeds the compost, and chard and asparagus and a few other herbs of the field went into the kitchen. It struck me as I worked that the implication in that old myth was that no one sweated in happy labor in Eden, which sounds like no garden I have ever loved. A garden that was not.
A Steller’s jay was in the live oak tree eating its bitter fruit, no snake around to tell it what to do. It’s rarely a good idea to put a layer of grass clippings directly in the compost pile. The blades mate together as they rot, and a slimy hardpan results. So I planned to turn the pile, adding grass clippings a shovel-full at a time, where they would break up the now-sodden mass of kitchen scraps and rabbit turds that made up the compost.
But when I stuck my fork in the compost pile, I found that it was done. A wet winter’s accumulation not turned once, it should have been drippy and anaerobic. Instead it was ready for the garden beds. In September I was cleaning out my old worm bin, not used since 2001, and improbably found a single baby redworm, Eisenia foetida, still alive beneath a crust of dirt. I tossed it into the compost pile.
Today the compost pile teemed with Eisenia, their castings laced with the mycelia of Pleurotus and Coprinus, and only the top four inches of the pile in any way resembled the material I had placed there. The rest now sits in the garden bed, mounded to allow the Eisenia time to burrow into the soil below.
And the grass and the top layer mixed together, on a bed of filaree stems and giant mallow, are the first six inches of the new pile, and a handful of Eisenia thrown in with a gram of gardener’s sweat.