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Seedleaf Compost 101: Making Ick Inviting

I live in the heart of a small city. Compost happens here. Science, I remember, unfolds in all cities: photosynthesis, for example—plants eating sunlight, from which we benefit, of course. Dear friend and applied science guru Becca Self of Lexington's FoodChain describes an equally important process that's happening all over our cities and countrysides: decomposition—a return of complex life forms to their constituent parts.

Until I attended Seedleaf's superb one-hour class, Compost 101, I had no idea compost could be so engaging, funny, sexy, and compelling. For one thing, this class enjoyed a precious 60 minutes with Ryan Koch, Seedleaf's beloved missionary for community nourishment. Ryan's genius includes making all the work of loving our planet through positive daily habits seem delightful and invigorating instead of hard, dull and burdensome.

Ryan Koch, Seedleaf's Chief Farmer and Educator, right, showing a slide that illustrates the astonishing energy and life forms involved in composting—about which, he assures us, we need to know exactly nothing to succeed at composting at home.

Note: Seedleaf plans at least 10 more "Compost 101" courses this year, roughly one each month. In addition, although remaining spots may be filled by the time you read this, Seedleaf offers a 10-week Master Community Gardener/Master Community Composter training series that begins on February 18. For more information, contact  Volunteer Coordinator Laurel Dixon, laurel@seedleaf.org.

Here's a bonus, new to me, thanks to Seedleaf Composting 101: Ryan says finished compost—cool, brown, smelling of the forest floor—contains humic acid, which gives our endorphins a boost. Finish compost, inhale, feel great! 

It took two different nudges from, of course, Wendell Berry lectures to get my household going with composting. We started our first bins perhaps six years ago, and then launched the second stage in 2013, when we began separating from our food waste those items the nearby chickens at 4th Street Farm find delicious. Within a week, in each case, the small extra steps involved in composting started to seem matter of course, easy, habits.

Enjoy more—dare I say it?—"castings" from Seedleaf's Compost 101:

1. If you have space and no worries about smell or critters "helping" break down food, simply pile your food waste up and allow lots of time. This slow form of composting is easiest of all, and still produces major benefits: food waste stays out of landfills, and, eventually, you can pull beautiful finished compost—and those humic-acid endorphin inducers—from the bottom of the pile.

2. Where smells and critters need to be managed, a variety of simple systems can work: free wood pallet enclosures, containers made from galvanized wire or stacked concrete blocks, and much more. Those appealing bins that seem to keep everything inside, all neat and unsmelly? Probably not a great solution, certainly not in winter, when, Ryan notes, the contents become a frozen lump. So the good news is that cheap and free compost solutions work better than expensive ones.

3. When in doubt about what's not right with your compost, add brown stuff: cardboard, which "can't wait to be dirt," leaves, fallen leaves, sawdust, paper, wood chips, hay or straw.

4. Consider worm bins if you have no way to compost out of doors, or if you want to supplement what's already happening. Enjoy this video. I did.

Ryan's reassuring bottom line:

"If you just get the greens and browns in there, give it some time and some air, the good stuff starts to happen."

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