No matter how noble my intentions to garden
organically may be, sometimes life gets in the way. In my case, a rotting compost bin, built by
my husband, Scott, and I when we moved to our house nine years ago, derailed my organic ideals. The compost bin was made of untreated lumber
because I didn’t want to use treated lumber that might contaminate my compost
with chemicals. Of course, with constant
exposure to soil and moisture, it began to rot immediately after construction. Scott told me it would rot, but, because I
was trying to garden organically, I did not want to use treated lumber, and
other options were too expensive.
When we built the compost bin, we placed it in what
was then the edge of the woods and out of sight of the house. In the intervening years, we built a patio
with a fireplace and a formal garden, which had an unrestrained view of the
compost bin after we cut some of the pine trees that seemed to enjoy falling
towards the house.
The compost bin, built to my specifications, was 12
feet long and three feet wide, not something I could hide easily. It had three wire bins with doors on hinges,
and with my husband’s penchant for overbuilding everything, many nails. Hundreds, even.
Because it was rotten and unstable, we could not
relocate it to a better site, and I had tired of shoveling compost over the
4-feet-tall sides from bin to bin.
Somehow, my children sucked away the extra energy I used to use for that
task, and I needed an easier method of making compost.
We thought about dragging away the remains to rot in a
gully on our property, but we decided against that option because after the
wood rotted, mounds of wire mesh and nails would remain to puncture the soles
of little feet that would surely explore the gullies one day. Burning it became our only alternative for
Organic ideals and necessity clashed as Scott, the
lazy pyromaniac, excited about a bonfire in the yard, and without using kindling or
breaking down the bin, doused the structure with gasoline and set it
ablaze. Aside from an initial burst of
flame that disconcerted my daughter, and some charred wood, the fire went out quickly. We tried again with more
gasoline and some kindling, but the fire never engulfed the bin. We did damage a fire ant nest near the
fire. I am not recommending this as a
treatment for fire ants, though; the nest came back in a few weeks.
Scott had an impending trip out of town, so he saved
the task for my father, another fire-lover (what man isn’t?) with many more
years’ experience in burning unwanted structures around his farm. My father set to breaking down the bin, with
my help. We salvaged wire and hinges, gathered kindling, piled the broken-down
bin parts together, and set the bin ablaze.
After my father bought a heat pump for the house and
quit using a wood stove for heat, he doesn't get to build fires nearly often
enough for his taste. He grew up in a
house in which his mother cooked on a woodstove and the only source of heat was
wood, and he became skilled at building a fire.
During my childhood, he laid fires so perfectly that he could light the
fire with a match and give it no more attention except to adjust the dampers on
the stove to achieve a roaring fire.
Scott’s only experience with building fires seems to involve lighter
fluid or gasoline; his fire building skills have improved now that we live in a
house with a wood-burning fireplace.
After the fire cooled, I gathered the remaining wire
and recycled it. I swept the pile
several times with a large magnet, of the type roofers use to find errant
nails, to remove the nails from the ash pile.
When Scott came home from his trip out of town, he was glad that my
father helped me take care of one of my projects.
When I have building projects, I still avoid treated
lumber. My father gave us cedar lumber
cut from his property to build the chicken coop. Scott built me two cold frames, and he used
treated lumber because, he declared, "I'm not going to do all that work
and have it rot in a year or two."
I agree with him. My compost pile, these days, is a jumble of ingredients
on the ground that I don’t turn. I don't
have as much compost as I used to, but it’s much easier to manage. I also leave compost ingredients, such as
dead plants or trimmings, on the ground to decompose in place, or I feed them to the chickens.