By Heather Zydek
If we look carefully enough, we can see God all around us. Of course, it’s easy to see God in the beautiful: in flowers, in the ocean, in the eyes of a newborn child. It can be harder to see God in a heaping pile of compost. And yet, there He is, demonstrating His Paschal gift to us in the most beautiful way.
To most folks, piles of rotting food scraps and decaying yard waste may conjure images of death and decay. But if you think about it, composting is really about turning death into life. And in this sense, it is a kind of icon of the resurrection and the ultimate reminder of God’s grace.
Composting is the act of “recycling” vegetable waste. In our household, we collect vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, paper towels, grass clippings, dead leaves, and other plant waste and throw them in a pile in our backyard (or into worm compost bins in our basement) and let the stuff rot. By achieving a proper balance of nitrogen-rich to carbon-rich materials, along with water, air, and the microbes that naturally exist in soil, the aforementioned waste breaks down over the course of several months into humus, the nutrient-rich part of soil that feeds plants.
Sounds complex, but it’s really not. I try to throw in one part moist fruit scraps (the nitrogen rich stuff) to about 30 parts dried plant-based waste (e.g. dead leaves or newspapers – carbon rich stuff) in a pile. I turn the pile once in a while with a pitch fork to aerate it (though I admit that in the winter this doesn’t happen at all). I water my pile if it hasn’t rained for a few days to give drink to the billions of microbes who happily eat my garbage and turn it into that rich “black gold” we call compost. Hopefully, if the conditions are right, those hard working microbes will generate heat as they eat.
I remember the first time my pile finally got so hot it steamed. This is a sign that microbial activity is high, which means a higher quality of compost will result. It also means that any weed seeds thrown into the mix or any pathogens that appear on food scraps will be killed by the heat. I wrote about my first hot composting experience at my other blog, Blue Bungalow Farm. Of course, your pile doesn’t have to heat to make useable compost. “Passive composting” is a slower but perfectly legitimate way to compost and requires almost no work, though you will probably only be able to harvest fresh compost about once a year. I composted passively for years before I finally figured out hot or “active” composting.
In the spring, after my pile has heated and then cooled, I open it up and no longer see orange peels and egg shells. Rather, I find rich, crumbly, black humus. I apply that humus to my vegetable and flower gardens to enrich the soil and feed my plants, or add some to a bucket of water to make “compost tea” I use to feed and water trees, grass, and other plants. The stuff of death becomes the stuff of life.
I didn’t always consider composting an icon of the resurrection. I used to think it was just a great way to recycle. The more food you compost, the less goes into your trash and then off to the landfill. The more food you compost, the more enriched and healthier your soil is and thus the healthier and happier your plants become. It wasn’t until recently that I reached a new level of appreciation and admiration for compost as a spiritual gift as much as an earthly gift (pun not intended). Watching the most undesirable rotting food waste transform into something new and fresh and beautiful is one of God’s many gifts to humans. This act of composting offers us yet another glimpse into God’s mysterious energy. It is a symbol of Pascha – of Christ’s entering into death and exiting from it, ushering all of humanity into eternal life.
If you’ve never composted before but would like to try, I can’t think of a better time to start than during the Bright Week, when we remember with joy Christ’s “trampling down on death by death…bestowing life.” Or, perhaps you’d rather wait for the Paschal hubbub to simmer down and start composting during International Composting Awareness Week, the first full week of May. Regardless, starting composting is easy. You could go all out and buy an expensive compost bin, but you don’t have to. My bin is a homemade wood and chicken wire structure that sits in my backyard:
Plans for DIY compost bins abound online. A simple google image search will yield an array of ideas.
Once you have a bin, you’ll be able to turn your heaping pile of waste and envision Christ dying on the cross and entering into Hades to preach the gospel to the dead. You’ll shovel that rich black earth into your garden to feed new life and imagine the resurrection giving us new life through death. Composting is one of the most spiritually and morally satisfying activities any human being can undertake. When I consider the beautiful transformation that takes place, the words of the Psalmist are called to mind: “This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23)
If you’d like to learn more about composting, check out my informational blog post on the subject. Then, if you have more composting questions, feel free to e-mail me.
Heather Zydek is OFT social media consultant, and a writer, blogger and college instructor. This comes from her OCN blog.