December and January were chilly and gray. It was undoubtedly winter. At the start of my YAV year though, we wondered if autumn would even arrive at all. Summer seemed to linger far too long. Yesterday just a handful of wispy clouds floated across the bright blue sky. The sun was shining, bidding January 2017 a warm farewell.
Nothing much grows in the wintertime, but that doesn’t mean it is a season of death. It is the season that allows plants and animals to close the loop of production. It is a season to conserve energy and store nutrition internally, gearing up for the bursts of springtime. It is the calm and the quiet that every living being needs. Trees shed their leaves and plants their colorful blooms. The discarded brown bits, over time, feed right back in to the earth at the roots of these plants. All of the loss eventually helps plants to grow better later.
While poetic, this tumblr-worthy jpeg is not necessarily true. To turn a plant life cycle into a metaphor for the human experience would be to ignore some gaping holes. What about annuals, whose life cycle ends in winter? Or what about cacti that flourish in continually stable climates? Every person is different. But then again, so is every plant.
But we can still talk about what it means to be a human in wintertime. We can’t always expect continuous production from ourselves. We can align our goals with the season. Nature is the purest inspiration so take a look at the trees, the gardens, and the animals. We can take our wintertime to bulk up, like the livestock out here at Ferncliff. We can fill our internal stores and focus on input instead of output. We can use winter to shed our dying leaves of last season. We can slough off all of the unnecessary things weighing on our hearts and minds. We can prepare ourselves and our work for springtime.
Winter is a good time to compost
I have been focusing a lot of my effort this winter on compost. It was not necessarily my intention two months ago, but it makes sense for now. Compost has an enormously important role in the lifecycle of plants and we can so easily guide it to successful fruition. All of the leftovers we generate don’t have to be thrown in landfills. I have been reading articles and books and other print information on- and off-line in an attempt to become a resident expert on composting. I’ve met with some local professionals who make a business of composting and rely on compost for their own urban agriculture productions.
I read to the Nature Preschoolers here, too. We practice deciding what goes in the recycling bin, what goes in the trash can, and what can be turned in to compost for our garden. What I learn is only valuable as long as I can share it. The preschoolers don’t yet know the science of decomposition but they’re starting to understand that it has a role in our Earth’s life cycle.
Second Presbyterian Church has an active Environmental Stewardship team that has welcomed me as a participant in kicking off the church’s composting efforts. To begin, Environmental Stewardship purchased a top-of-the-line rotating, insulated compost tumbler. They also gifted a matching one for use at Ferncliff. In discussion about how to implement responsible composting practices, SPC invited me to introduce composting to the Children’s Choir. (Environmental Stewardship made the front page of the newsletter, so I’ve saved that at the bottom of this post as well.)
A rotating composter makes composting so easy. There is no shoveling involved to aerate the pile. Because it is insulated and locking, pretty much any food waste can be turned in to compost. Traditional compost piles are generally just fruits and vegetables because waste that contains meat and dairy smell or attract unwelcome animals. Our rotating composter is only part of our efforts to reduce waste and divert organic matter from the landfill. At Ferncliff we practice three methods of composting: hot compost, cold compost, and vermicomposting.
Hot composting, like our rotating tumbler, is very active. We maintain a loose 2:1 ratio of browns (paper, dried leaves, straw) to greens (food waste, grass clippings). It requires moisture and oxygen which is why hot compost piles need to be turned once or twice a week to stay heated and fully functioning. A cold compost pile more accurately mimics natural composting. Layers of greens and browns are left to decay at their own rate but the organic matter is still diverted from ending up in a landfill. We leave the largest quantities of compostable material in a cold compost pile to add to hot piles when needed.
Vermicomposting means utilizing worms to generate worm castings as a type of compost. Worms process food waste and organic material fairly quickly, leaving compost that is remarkably low in contaminants and high in nutrients. In December we welcomed new batches of Red Wigglers to restart two Worm Farms. While relatively low maintenance, vermicomposting does require quite a bit to get started. Once conditions in worm farms are stable and safe, it is easy to keep up.
Composting is slow and messy; it is not glamorous. It is not the sexiest way to help conserve our natural resources. Composting is simple and straight-forward; it is not difficult. It is super accessible to families and communities. I love how much I have been learning and sharing. It is amazing that so much waste can be turned into something to help our world grow.