Friday, 29 February 2008

The alchemy of compost

It’s the time of year when, seeds ready, buds swelling and air warming, the growing season beckons. The ancestral memory stirs in our bones, drawing us outside into the garden. Though our ancestors would never have grown lupins or petunias – silly floozy bedding flowers that have no use at all. Being a permaculturalist, I like to eat my garden.

Each year before I plant I go through the ritual of emptying the compost heap on to the beds, to add to the soil that will feed my food this season. I’ve been hooked on composting since my twenties. It’s the ultimate closing of the life cycle loop, death feeding life. Like most living things, compost improves with age. What goes in the compost heap a mess of waste - vegbox peelings, Guardians, hair, hooverings, wood ash, old clothes, cardboard and whatnots from the bathroom - comes out sweet smelling, crumbly, fine soil.

My preference is for an open bin, about a metre cubed capacity. The compost doesn’t turn sour or smelly and you can make the bin out of natural things like pallets. As a result, I have a rat issue. I don’t say, Problem, because the rat is brilliant at turning the compost. But my neighbour’s son saw the rat climbing their back steps the other day. Sorry rat; you will have to die.

Insider information: for free composting advice contact the Compost Doctor

Friday, 22 February 2008

The rooks are nesting

I was passing time with a man outside Waitrose yesterday. I don’t know his name but I like being with him because he makes me speak honestly. When I ask him how he is he never answers, ‘fine’, and I only stop and chat when I know I have the time. Yesterday, he said he’d been thinking about things. I said I was loving the weather but I felt sad because it was too warm for February. ‘In the old country,’ he said – he’s Irish – ‘the country people had a saying: The rooks don’t nest before March, unless the first of March falls on a Sunday.’ (An odd saying, I know, but could you make it up?) He looked up at the rooks cawing noisily in the bare branches of the old Horse Chestnut. ‘Those rooks are nesting,’ he said. It did appear so; one of them had a twig in its beak.
I told him I was thinking of giving up Waitrose and all supermarkets - even the little I do shop there. Yes, he agreed, they’re a problem. The food they sell is all wrong. But, he said, he could get great bargains on food, especially meat as it is approaches its sell by date. He told me about the shelves, scattered about Waitrose, where the cheap deals could be had. He told me about his all-time favourite food and how the Waitrose version was so much superior than that sold by the other supermarkets. After a long pause (sometimes he gives me one if his poems) I bid him goodbye.

(Insider information: There is now a recycling bin on North Street for Tetrapak juice, milk and soya milk cartons)