I built a compost heap a couple of months ago. After repeatedly checking the moisture level, poking and turning and fussing over it every second day, I concluded that just like all previous attempts, this heap had failed. It stayed cold. It got buggy. I dug out whole, recognizeable chunks of bell peppers and other food waste from inside the heap.
Then it rained, and I abandoned the effort. We stopped saving kitchen scraps. Every time I drove by the compost, I felt annoyed. I mean, if I can’t make food scraps rot, what the heck is wrong with me?
I consulted with a friend who has deep experience in the art of making food rot. The thrust of her advice: “size matters.” The bits have to be small, and the pile has to be big. “You can’t make compost in a teacup,” as someone once said, or maybe that was me.
So over the weekend I pitchforked the heap onto a level patch of dirt and ran over it with the lawnmower. This was tedious, dusty work, but in the end I had a small mound of leaf bits, chopped weeds, and the occasional celery stalk (the mower was unsuccessful at lifting some of the bigger food scraps off the ground). I was surprised at the change in volume. I think some rotting must have taken place inside my cold heap, because what I had left after chopping was about one-sixth as much as I had when I built the pile two months ago.
Today I pressed a tentative hand into the pile. It was warm! I felt like I’d made life. Or at least, like I hadn’t suppressed life through some gross error in procedure. I was cheered in any event.
If you’re ever lost in the wilderness, and night falls, you can use what you’ve learned here to keep warm: shred brown and green vegetation in roughly equal amounts to create 12-18 cubic feet of material, wait two days, and then climb inside. For best results, run over the pile with a lawnmover first.