On compost and kids

in #gardening8 months ago

I was about to write a very long post about composting methods, recipes, the hows, the whys, like a how-to guide... but after a few days of contemplation and certainly being affected by the re-listening to a few hours of Carol Sanford interviews on the "Making Permaculture Stronger" (episodes 19, 33 and 55) podcast... I decided to not presume to know more about everyone's context than themselves.

So instead of a technical overview and instruction, you'll get a couple of photos and observation on natural processes - like composting and growing kids.

Our compost is the opposite of ideal, but it's perfect, because it's natural. It has a very uneven mix of materials. Nothing is shredded, everything is whole. It moisture varies widely yet it's never watered. The materials come at an erratic pace. We never add manures to it, or catalysts, or any inputs that have to be bought. A cubic meter of compost - contained between 4 pallets - takes us a spring cleaning of the garden and a whole year of kitchen scraps of 2 families and an autumn garden cleaning as well. So it usually takes about an year and then we top it up with 20-30 cm of straw and let it sit for 6 months at least.

Our compost does not have a rhythm other than its own, it's not one of those "scientific" composts that race the clock, it's never turned, the thermophilic phase is very subdued and poly-phase as well, depending on what we're adding when. We've been told that's not composting, that it's dangerous, anaerobic (untrue, easily proven wrong), does not sterilize seeds and pathogens, etc, etc.

Yet the result is something marvelous. A type of soil that's so light and yet resilient, you can squish it with all your might in your fist and it rebounds and crumbles to the perfect tilth. It's so full of life, so full of surprises, so giving and nurturing, such a good teacher in patience, humility and gratefulness. When used for starting seeds, along with the tomato seeds we planted we also get savory, wild fennel, basil, sulphur cosmos, tagetes, kale, arugula... When added to our high-clay Vertisol, it reduces the rigidity of the soil, it inoculates with an amazing microbiome, its very high organic matter content staying in the soil for years, feeding the soil food web and helping the carbon cycle and the growing plants that will feed us and in turn feed the compost, closing the loop.

Sitting down and typing that made me think how easy is to take a step back and apply that same text, that same meaning to our kids as well.

Our kids are not ideal, but they are perfect, because they are natural. They're very different from one another and different even in themselves depending on the period they're growing through. They are whole. They grow and learn at their own pace. There's no need to rush them along. It takes a long time for them to pass through a development phase and sometimes it seems like nothing's happening. But it is. Deep inside, under the thick mulch, knowledge and love for the natural is cooking, incubating.

Our kids don't have a rhythm other than the one of the family. They're not one of those "trained" kids, their behaviour depending on what knowledge they're ingesting at the moment. We've been told that's a dangerous way to raise kids, hands in the dirt, not sterilized, questioning, proving people wrong.

Yet the outcome is something amazing. Little ones that are so lighthearted and resilient, that even in oppressive situations (looking at you, 2020) they adapt and understand and forgive so fluently. They're so full of life and wonder, so full of surprises and our best teacher in patience, humility and gratefulness. When we leave them to their own devices, we get a garden full with "self"-seeded flowers, herbs and vegetables everywhere. They know the soil is their friend and plaything and also what feeds them, so they respect and tend to it... but they also make their clay bowls and fill them with "stew" of grasses and leaves and flowers and seeds and feather and after the play is done, they deposit them in the compost, knowing things will come full circle.

Here are the promised photos of the sieving process. WARNING: CUTE KIDS ALERT!

After the compost has sat for a few months and is well decomposed and colonised by fungi and bacteria, we remove the leftover straw covering plus the top 10 cm and use that as a starter for the new compost pile. That's usually done in spring when we start to prepare the garden.


I used scrap materials to make a small sieve for the kids and double the size for me. It's perforated sheet metal, 4 mm holes. The fine particles fall in the bucket or on the tarp, the coarser material and stuff that needs more decomposition time gets used for direct mulching on all fruit bushes. That coarse material is usually integrated in the soil in one year, as now I'm applying new layer of it and hardly see any leftovers from last spring.


Our big boy can work the sieve properly, but his sister still needs a couple of years to do that so she works with a toy rake to the same effect. She's slower, but more observant and contemplative.


She stops often to pick out a baby worm or a pill bug and talk to them, or to just stick her hands in the compost and hum some song of her own. In the mean time, her big brother is hauling buckets to and fro, mulching, loading the sieve and generally being the big man he imagines he is, while calling the plants by name and reading tags in English.


All under the watchful gaze of baby boy, nonchalantly munching on an sunchoke, which I wipe in my sleeve in a futile attempt to remove at least some of the soil from it, knowing full well the moment I turn my back on him to snap a photo, he'll be trying to stuff a handful dirt in his mouth... or a snail shell... or a dandelion...