a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Compost Happens

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Compost Happens

SUMMARY: An award from one of my other lives.

In April of 1995, I enrolled in my first agility class. In October of 1995, I went through the County of Santa Clara's Master Composter program and became a--yes, you guessed it--Master Composter. The program was free, except, wait, you had to agree to give 50 hours related to composting back to the community.

In January of 1996, I entered my first agility trial, and eventually entered another 5 during that year. Back then, the World Wide Web was young, email was (relatively) young (who ever heard of spam?), bayteam.org wouldn't come into being for another 2 years, Taj MuttHall wasn't even a gleam in TMH-mom's eye. In other words--I had time!

I gave dozens of workshops to the community. I worked tables at fairs and home shows. I went to schools and gave talks. I answered questions by email. I constructed PVC sign frames for the program. I helped harvest the big demo worm bins and fill demo compost bins at Emma Prusch Park. I worked at city-wide and county-wide bin-sale days. I gave demo presentations for new classes of Master Composters. I put in many, many, many hours and I had a blast.

I earned my polo shirt for graduating, my sweatshirt for putting in 50 hours, my hat for 100 hours. And I kept going; for the next couple of years I must have put in, oh, 300 hours at least.

But then, as you also may guess, something insidious and really addictive started to take up all my weekends, and evenings, and spare moments everywhere, and gradually dog agility displaced most of my Master Composter activities. I clung to being an active member of the group, though. At one point I thought that my life's work might be as a compost evangelist, although I'm probably less likely now to produce shovels full of compost for party guests and say, "See? Doesn't it smell great?" Maybe only a little less likely. I've been working only maybe one or two compost-related events each of the last several years, just to keep my hands in it, so to speak.

Of course I compost volumes in my yard.

Well, the Home Composting Education Program did something new last night: Together with handing out certificates for the new graduating class of 25, they had an awards banquet for existing Master Composters. I sat with some gung-ho folks from the '04 and '05 classes who are already up in the 300-400-hour range. We saw some slides with impressive statistics about how many hours were volunteered back to the community during the last fiscal year. We saw that there is at least one person still active from every class dating back to the program's origin in 1995 (guess who!).

And then they handed out the really new thing: Pins for people based on how many hours they've worked. This is where I discovered that I've put in something like 465 volunteer hours, and I got my 250-hour pin.

Of the people attending, only 3 had more hours than I had. But, dagnabbit, there's a 500-hour pin, too! And I'm so close! Not that I'm competitive or anything, but...well... I want that pin! But where the heck in the next year am I going to find 35 hours free of dog-agility-related effort to put in those hours? Sheesh! They sure know how to give a kick in the pants to compost-crazy, award-motivated maniacs like myself. I'll do it--somehow, I'll get that pin by next May!

See you at the compost pile.


  1. I have a compost bin in my yard and I dutifully put my kitchen & yard waste in it then completely forget to ever harvest the good stuff out of the bottom. The soil under the composter must be amazing stuff.

  2. Yeah, I'll bet it is! Some people do it that way--just move their bin to a different place each year and plant where the bin was the previous year.


  3. You got me laughing with your comments about wanting to earn the next level, lol. Nah, you're not competitive in the least.

    I love that little cartoon wormy -- so cute!

    My compost bin died this year... finally dismantled the thing because it didn't get any sun, and I thought I read somewhere that compost piles need at least a bit of sun? What little sun my yard gets goes to the vegetable garden. Fortunately my municipality will be starting up a curbside organics collection in the next year or two. I'd rather compost at home, but until I buy that nice big yard with the attached house...

  4. That's Wiggly Worm! He's our mascot.

    Sun is irrelevant as far as decomposing things--it's mostly microbes that do the work, plus worms and other critters along those lines. What they need to do their work is about equal parts of high-nitrogen and high-carbon materials (picture a basket of grass clippings plus a basket of autumn leaves), mixed together, and damp as a wrung-out sponge. No moisture=no living things=no decomposing. The most active decomposers work from about 60 degrees F up to 120 F. The nice thing is that, if you've got a nice mix, right moisture, and a large enough pile (maybe 3x3 feet), they generate their own heat for a while! Very cool to see. You'd wish your dogs generate their own contact rewards! The only thing the sun is useful for is if it's freezing and you're trying to up the ambient temperature so that the more active microbes can get to work. But most people whose yards freeze over the winter don't really care what their compost pile does during the winter, either, and just wait for spring.

    In fact, I keep my bins in the shade because during the summer, direct sun quickly dries them out too much.

    So anyway, I'm guessing that your pile did nothing because (a) it was winter and too cold or (b) it was too dry.

    Ha, see, I can talk about compost as much or more than dog agility. Just get me started! I dare you!


  5. Move my compost bin?! Plant stuff? Yeah, suuuuuuure, I'll get right on that.

  6. LOL! I always tell my classes that I'm a very lazy composter and gardener, but I'll give THEM all kinds of useful advice if they're less lazy than I am.


  7. D'oh! Maybe my pile didn't have to die after all. I hadn't used it in years after my neighbour complained about it smelling. (I have a terrible sense of smell so it seemed fine to me.) Apparently properly functioning compost piles aren't supposed to smell? So I guess mine wasn't very happy.

  8. OK, a smelly pile was probably too wet. No drainage, or a large amount of grass clippings or fruit or something all at once with no carbon (dry leaves, chipped wood, etc.) to offset it. A good compost pile doesn't smell *bad*.