Ah, the muck and magic of a compost pile

They're two peas from the same pod – and compost pile.

The February morning that I realized I was going to give birth to my daughter, Lauren, two weeks early, I wasn't resting on the couch as the delivery room nurse had suggested nor was I taking a moment to practice my breathing technique for the labor ahead. Rather, I was in my backyard tending to my original baby, my compost pile.


Sure you could call it my nesting instinct at work, but composting is a habit for me, and this day was no different.

I believe in compost, that organic wonder that makes a garden's ecosystem sing by boosting the soil's fertility, enriching it with needed nutrients, and helping it retain the moisture for growing roots.

Sure, composting allows green-minded gardeners to dispose of household biodegradable waste in an environmentally conscious way.

But for me, my pile always has been so much more. Composting lets me create something out of seeming nothingness – something organic, sweet smelling, and of the earth. It makes me feel productive. And in a way, it satisfied my need to nurture long before Lauren arrived.

My husband, Jim, naturally thought I was crazy when I called and told him where he could find me awaiting my ride to the hospital. He laughed even harder when I threatened to deliver our daughter out at the compost bin if he didn't hustle.

Now, fast forward three years, Lauren is my constant companion and my composting prodigy, so to speak. Together we head out to the compost bin hand in hand for the weekly turning, a long-handled shovel resting on my shoulder.

My compost pile is housed simply in a black, bottomless, lidded plastic bin that keeps neighborhood critters out while allowing essential heat to build up, thereby speeding along the decomposition process.

As always, when I open the bin's lid, I am awed at the handiwork of the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of worms, bugs, nematodes, and microbes that have replaced last week's scraps with the dark earth that will soon dress my garden.

I am just the lowly servant that feeds, turns, and aerates the pile while trying to keep in happy balance the ratio of nitrogen to carbon.

"Yucky," my princess-obsessed, tutu-wearing toddler proclaims, but then she lurches forward on tiptoes so that her head clears the bin's highest tier, so she can get a better look.

I dig in, incorporating my eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, and yard leaves. When Lauren believes that she spots Slimey, Oscar the Grouch's earthworm companion, nose-diving deeper into the rich blackness, she gleefully giggles.

It's then that I know that the compost bug has bitten her, too.

The pile lets me know instantly when things aren't right. If I have added too many green, nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps, an unmistakable sour smell emanates; too many brown carbon-rich leaves and pine needles, and the pile breaks down glacially.

Thankfully, the pile is forgiving, and even when I've let it get out of kilter, with a little tweaking and an occasional squirt of water from the garden hose, the pile chugs along once more.

Now Lauren makes demands as she shoves into my hand the remnants of an afternoon snack – be it an apple core, a banana peel, or a mozzarella cheese stick wrapper. "Mom, compost this!" she says, and I can't help but smile.

Lauren knows that it's Mom's compost that helped produce the sweet cherry tomatoes that she plucked all summer long like candy. She understands that composting is a good thing. And she, like me, wants to do her part.

As I stand here with Lauren, I wonder if she realizes how close she came to being delivered at the compost pile?

No matter.

The compost pile is where I can pass along my love of gardening and my desire to replenish a better earth for my daughter – with her at my side.

It also serves as a valuable backyard lesson.

As I see every day with my daughter, what appears to be magic can happen with just a little caring and attention.

The same is true in my backyard garden. One compost pile does and will make a difference.

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