Zen and the Art of Composting

Charles ‘Turnip’ Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (18 April 1674 – 21 June 1738) creator of the modern crop rotation system and avid turnip grower.

Joseph Foljambe, inventor of the Rotherham Plough in 1730, quickly superseded by the Scot’s Plough of 1763.

. . not the inventors of the seed drill

Jethro Tull (1674–1741), English agriculturist, often credited with inventing the seed drill (or was that some ‘Flower Power’ rock band?) Actually, the seed drill had been in use in the Far East for a couple of thousand years, but who wants to get between an Englishman and his version of history?

Sir Albert Howard, inventor of compost at Indore in India just before World War I. Really? Yes, really! That is what any decent English History of Agriculture will tell you. Forget what all those ‘Johnny Foreigners’ say, compost is as English as television, rocket engines and the first man on the moon! Aren’t you proud? Aren’t you proud to be English? (or hacked off because you are not?)

But I digress, where was I? Compost; or more precisely, Composting, is an art form. I know this from my many years of living in the shadow of J who, in my opinion, rates up there with those other greats of English agricultural innovation and development.

J makes compost. Or rather, she ‘nurtures’ compost, it’s in her genes, inherited from her gardening father Len whose motto: ‘Now then – just stop and think a minute!’ is the bane of my life. J has made compost ever since she had her first window box as a student in a basement flat on Holland Park Road and found it a convenient place to empty the tea leaves. From such modest beginnings she has morphed into a proverbial ‘Stig of the Dump’, ever enthusiastic but often disheveled and festooned with garden trimmings and blobs of brown stuff.

She is to conventional composting practice and wisdom what Richard Dawkins is to Pope Benedict. J composts everything – garden waste; kitchen waste, cooked and uncooked; dead birds, lizards and polecats that are the left-overs from the murderous nocturnal activities of our bloody moggy; almost anything that is decomposable will be used. And, she adds nothing by way of chemicals, minerals, accelerators or activators. These heaps will attain internal temperatures in excess of 66*C (150*F), you can coddle eggs in there or slow cook a casserole – it is awesome! The results are great mounds of sweet-smelling, rich, brown, run-your-fingers-through-this-and-give-them-a-sniff compost that teems with wildlife and feeds our otherwise barren and stony garden. Everything grows at an accelerated rate; one tree reached 70 feet in eight years! Whole new species have evolved on the revised time-scale J’s stuff provides! There are grubs in the heaps so big that your average Indigenous Australian searching for ‘Bush Tucker’ would discard his Witchetty grubs in disgust!

J cannot stand waste in any shape or form, so a few years ago we acquired one of those macerator things. What an amazing machine – a ‘time machine’ in fact because now I don’t just get to prune all the trees we were stupid enough to plant, I get to spend hours a day feeding all this extra stuff through the machine and clearing it when it jams up! Mind you, J says it is worth it, and who am I to argue with (such an) authority! The ‘Proof of the Pudding lies in the Soil’, or words to that effect!

And the ‘Zen’ bit? I expect you’re wondering about that – well, Zen is about contemplation of the ‘Life Within’ and J spends hours doing just that – ‘Where are you? Come and look at this; smell this stuff – it’s the source of all life, don’t you know!’

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmm; Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

J and her ‘bins’ – the compost is to the left, the other ‘bins’ are on her face(she does not approve of being a ‘celeb’)
the ‘Fount Of All Goodness’

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

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