catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 8 :: 2005.04.22 — 2005.05.05


Kitchen scraps and theology

In North American society in the 21st century, your garbage can helps determine your notion of value and worth. When something breaks or something is used up and you toss it into the can, it is transformed utterly from something with value to something with no value. That simple action of tossing something in the trash, an action we repeat countless times every day, affirms for us the mistaken notion that a thing's intrinsic value is absolute. A thing has value as long as it serves me without error or blemish. As soon as it develops a flaw, it is utterly without value. Maybe I am being a little paranoid here, but if we really believe that imperfection renders a thing without value, no wonder our planet is torn with wars and strife. Maybe trash cans are teaching us that when people don't behave the way we want them to, they too should be trash-canned.

Fortunately, the solution to this eroding of human value may be quite simple. Start composting, and learn that something as apparently flawed and useless as an apple peel can be an amazingly valuable thing.

To be honest, I am neither a theologian nor a compost expert. I have read only one book on composting and perhaps only a fraction of a percent of the total books available about God. This does not cancel out my value, though. I am capable of enjoying the warmth of a steaming compost pile in the middle of winter, and I have experienced the joy of cutting the number of leaf-bags we put on the curb by about half. I have seen kitchen scraps, lawn waste, and even cotton tee-shirts and unbleached paper turn into food for flowers and vegetables. In short, although I don't claim to understand predestination or breakdown of organic materials in any kind of a fall sense, I have enjoyed both God and my compost pile, and so I consider myself, however, to be in good company with a whole line of everyday Christians trying to transform the world. You are probably included in that bunch too and you have been wanting to start composting for a long time, so here is a simple explanation of how to transform your garbage and your values into something more pleasing to God:

  1. Get yourself a philosophy of composting. Just like denominations in Christianity, there are several varieties available. The first question to ask is why you are interested in composting. Typically this breaks down into three basic areas with a fair number of sub-categories and cross-overs. 

    What-goes-inners: These are people who are more interested in what goes into a compost bin. They want to compost in order to reduce the amount of biodegradable material they are sending to landfills. They want to get as much material into the bin as they can and they are all about quick biodegredation. This is, of course, an excellent way of protecting and renewing God's earth.

    What-comes-outters: These people want excellent soil cheaply. They garden and recognize that compost provides excellent nutrition for their garden at no cost. Essentially, composting is a means to getting huge vegetables or beautiful flowers. This is, of course, an excellent way of protecting and renewing God's earth.

    Worm people: These folks are hard-core. They order worms from catalogues and keep them in a climate-controlled bin in the basement. They utilize special worms to break down compost more quickly and produce a high quality soil. They do all the stuff the other two groups do, but tend to be a little bit focused on the worms, caring for them and feeding them almost as if they were pets. This is, of course, a little odd, but it is an excellent way of protecting and renewing God?s earth.
    The point here is simple, you need to have a philosophy of composting, but in the end, for Christians, the bottom line is always the same, composting is an excellent way of protecting and renewing God's earth.


  2. To get started, you need a bin. They are available in catalogues in all shapes and sizes and made of a variety of materials, from wooden bins with detachable sides to make turning the compost easier, to plastic balls with hatches allowing you to dump table scraps in and then let your kids push the ball around the yard to turn the material. Of course, if you are really into a true compost mentality, you wouldn't think of buying a compost bin—not when you can make one out of materials available. 

    I tried to get too fancy.

    I had several 6-by-6 landscaping timbers left over from a landscaping project gone very, very wrong, and so I figured I'd put together a compost bin out of them, using landscape spikes (mondo nails) to hold the thing together. Now this was actually a pretty good idea. The timbers are strong enough to resist rotting and have served as an excellent bin for over a decade now. No, the problem came when I added chicken wire.

    I had this idea that if I put chicken wire between the middle two layers, my compost would sit toward the top of the bin, obediently rotting, and then, as it became humus, it would fall through the grade and be a nice pile of useful dirt on the bottom. I left the top and the side open and then sheeted them with plywood, which then attached to the box by hinges. In this manner I would open both doors and daintily scoop out my excellent soil.

    Turns out compost isn't always that obedient. It doesn't like to rot in mid air (mostly because it tends to dry out.) It doesn't like to fall through chicken wire either. After a month or two I tore the chicken wire out and let my compost sit on the ground (inside the box). It has been happily decomposing ever since.
    So the bottom line is, build yourself some kind of simple box out of scrap lumber that is just taking up space in your basement, attic or the side of your house. Put it in a place that is convenient to you (ours is near the trash cans on the side of the house). When you have completed it, feel a sense of achievement. You have already recycled the lumber, and no matter how bad it looks, it will work just fine, as long as you don't get too fancy.


  3. Next, you need compostable material. This is not too hard to do. Kitchen scraps are a good place to start. I compost peelings, overripe fruit, bread—really pretty much anything—although I generally avoid composting meat because it smells and could draw vermin and I try to avoid composting overly processed food (like twinkies) because it doesn't break down that well. 

    Another source for compostable material is your lawn. Leaves, grass clippings, crabapples from off the lawn, gutter gunk, sticks, garden weeding, and edging detritus all break down nicely.

    Finally, I like to experiment. A useful resource is Compost this Book which describes an amazing amount of things that you can compost (including, the book which is made of unbleached paper and even uses organic glue in the binding.). Newspaper, cotton towels, and cardboard break down pretty easily. I have experimented with shredded white paper and it goes pretty fast, but the book cautions that the bleach I the paper might contaminate your soil.


  4. The trick is to try to keep a good ratio of "wet greens" to "dry browns." Wet greens are table scraps, corn husks, and other plant bits that hold a lot of water. Dry browns can be anything from leaves to cardboard cut into strips. If your pile gets too dry, nothing will break down. If your pile gets too wet, the decomposing process slows down and can begin to smell funky. With a more-or-less even ratio of greens to browns, though, the pile will decompose pretty much without odor. 
  5. And that is pretty much it. Composting is an easy activity that can save you money, make your plants more beautiful, decrease the need for landfill space, and, most importantly, remind you that even though some things (and people, and you yourself) are not perfect, all of God's creation has value, even though broken and battered by the effects of sin. After all, a rind is a terrible thing to waste.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus