Humus Hubris

By , June 18, 2011

Recently, I spent much of the day on a tough job that left me sore the next day, but immensely satisfied: I dug the humus out the old compost pile.

This pile has nominally aged for a year, but its accumulation is really much older, possibly 3 or 4 years old. The end product is like a mound of medium dark roast coffee grounds.

Within the last few years an author made his name by reading dictionaries or encyclopedias straight through. He became a media darling, so we heard him interviewed often. His favorite anecdote seemed to be an entry on President John Adams. He was mystified and troubled by the observation that Adams, in his old age, spent much time “rejoicing over the size of his manure pile.”


The humus pile, do-it-yourself, highly fertile garden soil (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

The author may have just been playing that one for a laugh. One so well read certainly must have picked up somewhere along the way that in Adams’s time, compost piles were referred to as a manure pile.

Anyway, I know how Mr. Adams, gentleman farmer, felt. A good pile of compost or manure is worthy of such gloating. It’s like money in the bank.

As you can imagine, composting is vitally important to us on the homestead. If we were average Americans, we could dismiss all of our refuse to the local landfill, but for us, that requires packing it out over the trail. Composting would be worth it just to reduce or eliminate that chore. But, since we rely on our garden for so much of our food, we have a real interest in providing as much free nutrients and fertilizer for our plants as we can, particularly since the peninsula’s topsoil is so thin, and mostly decayed wood.

Further, composting is essential to our outhouse system. We’ve taken total responsibility for our “waste” management rather than simply relying on a municipality to whisk it away and “take care of it.”

I’ve become much more involved in the composting process. For years, going back to our life in the suburbs, I’ve been content to leave it mostly to Michelle, as an extension of the garden. This year, things have changed. I’m hot on compost (if you will) taking the time and making the effort to manage our pile to ensure high temperatures, thorough processing, and efficient distribution of the end product.

So where does the hubris of the title come in? There’s none really. It just seemed like a nice alliteration. My pride in the job seems justified. Maybe the hubris is on the part of folks who could compost, but don’t see the need? That seems worth considering.

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