The backyard compost pile is easily the most magical place of my family’s suburban home. We alternate layers of kitchen scraps with dry brown leaves, and in about a year the pile transforms our coffee grounds, onion skins, apple cores, and carrot tops into rich, dark brown compost, which I use to fertilize our herb garden or young fig trees. The compost pile is a very real, close, concentrated example of life’s most fundamental magic: fertility from rot, life from death.
Gulf Coast toad in our compost
Others have written more extensively and expertly than I can about principles and guidelines for composting. (See especially the compost sections in Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen’s book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, which grew out of their wonderful blog Root Simple.) My family currently uses a single bin of coated steel wire that we picked up at our local gardening store. Ours is a lazy, slow pile, shaded by cedar elms and live oaks. It gets warm, but not hot, and we only occasionally remember to water or turn it. We try to alternate kitchen scraps (greens) and leaf waste (browns) in about a 50-50 ratio, but mostly we just put what we have into the pile. Insects, fungi, worms, and bacteria do what they do, and eventually everything breaks down. (Since our pile doesn’t get very hot, we avoid putting meat, dairy, eggs, fatty food scraps, or animal waste into the pile.) We know the compost is ready when it looks like garden soil, with the color of good, dark brown chocolate.
Composting the Old Year, Celebrating the New
At the turn of the calendar year, many of us like to reflect on the year past, release old issues, and set intentions for the year to come. I adore a New Year’s Eve fire, and will have one this year with family and a few friends, but I’m going to do my focused ritual work alone with the compost. Establishing or tending a compost pile is both a powerful and practical magical act for transitioning from one calendar year to the next, especially if, like me, you plan to plant a spring garden.
By earth, wind, sun, and rain,
Blessed be this compost pile.
Blessed be the waste that feeds it,
And blessed be the beings who eat it.
Thank you for turning rot to fertility;
Thank you for turning the cycle of life.
Blessed be this compost pile
By earth, wind, sun, and rain.
May I who tend the pile be blessed by the act.
On New Year’s Eve, after grounding, centering, and blessing my compost pile, I’ll perform a simple spell from Starhawk’s book The Earth Path: I’ll hold a fruit or vegetable scrap in my hand and breathe last year’s problems into it, before giving it to the compost pile (168-169). On New Year’s Day I’ll cook black-eyed peas and greens for my family, and we’ll celebrate the first day of 2018 with a cold, cloudy hike.
May you and yours also compost the old year and welcome the new in ways that are meaningful to you. Thanks for reading in 2017.
Coyne, Kelly and Erik Knutzen. Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. Rodale, 2010.
Starhawk. The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature. HarperOne, 2005.