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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Frugal Gardener: Compost 1

Frugal Gardener: Compost 1

A contribution from my dear husband, also a scholar, lover of Proust and Emerson, cyclist and gardener. AND he does all the dishes, thanks to the training of his mother.

You would think that the soil of Southern Louisiana would be rich and fertile. But it’s not—or at least not where we live—and if I want to anything to grow I have to add lots of organic matter. During the first few years after we moved into our house I actually paid for loads of pine bark and manure. Then I wised up: there was lots of organic material all bundled up and just waiting for me. I’m talking about the organic garden waste that my neighbors so kindly package and put by the street.

Of course there is garden waste and garden waste, and it takes an experienced eye and an experienced foot (more about this in a later post) to distinguish between the deliciously compact and hefty bag of mower-mulched leaves and grass, and the asymmetrical and disappointingly light bag of miscellaneous sticks and branches. But a good bag of leaves and grass makes, after a bit of judicious aging, a wonderful addition to one’s garden.

And therein lies the rub.

When I began my compost foraging I had the streets to myself. I’d scout the neighborhood, note the promising locations, and then go out at night, before bed, when I didn’t have to worry about holding up traffic, and load the bags into the trunk and back seat of our Camry. (I put a mover’s blanket on the seat to keep it clean.) Then drive home, toss the bags someplace for later distribution, and go out for another load. The only minor crisis I had in the early days was late one Sunday night when a police officer saw me on my rounds and rightly thought I looked a bit suspicious. I had a hard time convincing him that I wasn’t trying to cover for some more nefarious activity, but he finally let me go. (He did follow me home to verify my improbable story.)

And then I began to notice that some of the especially good pickings would disappear before I could get to them. Sometimes I’d see them in the afternoon, waiting calmly for my later visit, and in the evening they would be gone. Competition! We have a friend who is also a compost bandit, but he insisted he was limiting his forays to his own neighborhood, and in any case preferred pine needles, whereas I leaned toward a nice leaves/grass mixture.

One afternoon I was distributing some of my composted leaves when the mail carrier stopped to compliment me on my garden. “Hey,” he said. “You can get some great bags of leaves around here. There’s one place on 15th—they have great stuff!! I just got five great bags last night.” Wait! That’s my place! And he had a pickup truck he used to gather the loot—much easier and faster than a Camry.

Just the other day I saw a dignified middle-aged man in his Lexus (I am middle-aged and undignified, and my Camry is ten years old) open his trunk and fill it with my neighbor’s three bags—unquestionably my territory.

So the golden age is over. Now I have to scramble to get my leaves. But I don’t mind: there’s still plenty to go around, and it makes my frugal green heart sing to see all of that wonderful organic matter going into gardens rather than landfills. Those who are frugal by conviction love to spread the word. So go out tonight and get your own bags of compost. You’ll be doing yourself, your garden, the waste-management people, and the environment a service.

Just prepare a story for the police officer.


Chance said...

snerk! Another compost bandito -- people put wanted ads on craigslist up in VT for bagged leaves this time of year, and they speedily disappear if they are left at the curb. I have had great luck snagging compostables by taking a couple of buckets to the salad resturant and asking if I can fill up.

Frugal Scholar said...

Yesterday, our neighbor pointed out the 5 bags of leaves by his garbage. An hour later, when my husband went out to get it, it was GONE! Perhaps the Lexus has struck again.