Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Rotten Part of Life

Everyone understands the importance of cleaning out the refrigerator on a regular basis. Granted, sometimes the motivation is a certain something in the air that turns out to be leftovers from three weeks ago.
Yesterday I cleaned out the condiments and containers in the refrigerator door. They’ve been in there a long time. That jar of pickle relish? I don’t eat pickle relish. Rick loved it on sandwiches. He’s been gone for a year and a half. This is both a math and a logic problem.
I pulled out a couple of virtually empty mustard jars, some highly suspect yogurt – it made a little “pfff” sound when I opened it – a container of apple juice which I remember bringing home a year ago, and other interesting archaeological finds.
I’m not sure if Worcestershire Sauce has an expiry date. That’s the trouble with condiments in general. Let’s see – barbecue sauce, salsa, soy sauce, blackberry pancake syrup? If it’s not growing mold, is it okay? If it’s the kind of thing that tastes a little expired when it’s fresh and new, how do you determine if it’s spoiled?
Maple syrup: I keep it in the fridge because if it is not chilled, it starts to ferment. It stays.
In the vegetable drawer, the appearance of the food can be the deciding factor. I am aware of the sensible advice that a little brown on your lettuce leaves won’t hurt you, but when the leaves have gone all the way to black and the texture has become slimy, I return lettuce to the wild.
I take aging vegetables and other moldy or slimy carbohydrates to the compost heap, where the raccoons and other scavengers trundle up from the ravine to browse. 
Now, this is not an upper middle class tragically hip compost heap. This is a circle of wire that mostly keeps the dog out and the compostable garbage in, and that's all. It's not a plastic drum that can be rotated and fussed over. Nope. This is simply a place to toss expired food. I even sometimes throw in cooking grease, gasp. The compost predators never complain.
An awful lot of expired food has gone in that heap over the years, and most of it didn’t stay there for long. When I go out every day or two to toss the compost bowl from my kitchen, all that is visible in the heap is a lot of coffee grounds and filters, plus a few things like melon rinds and corn cobs and shucks. And clam shells. FYI, clam shells do not compost, at least not within your lifetime. I would like to think I wasn't the one who threw them into the compost, but I might have.
Despite the paucity of actual vegetable matter that stays in the heap, I know that if I removed the fence and dug in, I would find a huge writhing mass of worms doing what comes naturally, and around, under, and beyond them, lovely black compost. I know this because I’ve dug in a few times. I like to throw a few shovels of compost into the hole when I plant a rose, for example, to get the plant off to a good start. Don’t want the deer eating inferior roses.
What I noticed a few years ago was that the compost was leaking out the fencing at the bottom of the heap. It radiated out in a circle. I also noticed that plants near the heap benefited from that creeping black soil. They were flourishing.
Then I heard about keyhole gardens. A keyhole garden is a circle with a compost heap in the middle, and a little path from the edge of the circle to the compost heap so that adding compost is easy. This central compost heap has wire fencing, like my compost heap, and the compost leaks out the bottom, same as my compost heap, but in a keyhole garden the compost is going directly into your garden soil, so you’re enriching your soil with compost from below while growing things in the garden on top.
I have seen keyhole gardens with walls built out of stone, and cinder blocks, and empty bottles, whatever is on hand to build a wall.
I’ve wanted one ever since I saw keyhole gardens online, but have never got around to making one. I don’t have enough stones, cinder blocks, or bottles.
I suppose I could start drinking.
Just kidding.
It would be great to have one of those gardens. I’d feel so righteous every time I emptied the compost bowl, or cleaned out the refrigerator and fed the compost heap.
Nice to participate in this upside to rot. Go, worms! Go, bacteria!
Ah, the circle of life.

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