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Finding mindfulness in compost

We’ve been composting for years now, it’s a relatively hassle free process and means we can turn our kitchen and garden waste into lovely fresh material for growing our veggies. We have four compost bins in our garden and generally have a policy of filling up one bin, before leaving it to do its stuff and moving on to the next. With six chickens we get through a lot of newspaper and bedding which also gets added to the bins.

The system all works well, but about once a year, the inevitable happens, all four bins are full, in varying degrees of active decay and we’ve taken to trying to squash newspaper and chicken poo on top of the pile and squashing the lid down on top. We let this go on for a while until we realise there is just no more space and piles of scrunched up newspaper aren’t going to magically compost on their own.

So it’s time to act, we set aside a Saturday morning to ‘do the compost’.

It always turns into a big , heavy job, that involves tackling one bin at a time. Deploying wheel barrows (one always has a puncture in the tyre so is extra heavy), truggs and garden forks, we empty each bin, extract the ‘ready’ compost, before giving the rest a good mix and loading it up again. For some reason, it’s always drizzling and freezing cold when we do this job. I’m paranoid about any rodents we may find in the bins (although after 15 years of composting we still have yet to find any). Our wellies get so clogged with mud that we can hardly lift them to move, our hands are freezing in the rubber gloves we wear and we always manage to hurt our backs from twisting in an awkward position, and lifting the bins.

In short it’s a pain in the arse and a job we hate doing.

So last week, we set aside Saturday morning to ‘do the compost’ and we both came to the task with equal dread. As predicted, it was drizzling and cold and donning old coats, wellies and a pairs of marigolds over wool gloves, we ventured out into the garden to get the job done.

We started on the back bin which looked the most decayed and ready. We positioned the wheelbarrow (with the flat tyre) into position and lifting the plastic bin off the heap we went in. Despite giving our chickens the run of the garden, they were huddled around us too, desperately seeking any worms that dropped out in the process. This meant it was really difficult to use the forks (we didn’t want to impale any chickens) so started using our hands. I think this is where the magic started to happen. Don’t get me wrong, we used gloved hands, but hands none the less and were able to feel the compost, crumble it through our fingers and it started to feel really good. We weren’t in a rush, we didn’t need to be anywhere, we were just there in the moment.

Once we were part way through the first bin, Michael started to work on the second bin so we could mix the compost and introduce some of the excess newspaper to the other bin (this is a good compost tip, need to get a good mix of wet and dry).

There’s always loads of plastic in our bins, bits of plastic from plasticised cardboard, the odd ‘compostable’ fork that never seems to compost, the remnants of a few premium tea bags that also never seem to actually compost. Michael said it was like a taking a journey back through our family history, we were going through different strata, our daughter’s A level revision notes, the elastic from an old pair of cotton knickers, the final remnants of a wool jumper that our son had had when he was about 12 (he’s now 19). Literally hundreds of egg shells. We also found the kitchen knife that had been mistakenly composted 6 months ago, and after a quick wash up is now back in circulation again. Oh and all the stones and skin from the avocados we have eaten in the last 10 years. They just never seem to compost.

As we worked our way through the bins, handling the compost, recalling memories, finding stuff we’d lost, watching the chickens root around our feet, we both agreed that we were really enjoying ourselves. This wasn’t feeling like a chore, we were actually savouring the experience, we were in the moment, we were being mindful. And for some reason, on that drizzling wet Saturday morning we both felt it. We had a great time, I honestly had more pleasure from doing the compost that morning than from a walk in the countryside, a meal out with a friend or a night at the cinema.

As I spread the ready compost on the raspberry bed and in the greenhouse, I felt this amazing warmth and contentment. It was just wonderful to be here and experience this.

Conclusions from the morning:

· This was a shared experience not a task or a chore

· It’s great to use your hands and feel what you’re doing

· Wool gloves under marigolds keep your hands warmer for longer

· Tea-pig tea bags don’t compost - we’re moving to loose leaf tea from now on

· We probably eat too many avocados

· We’re both looking forward to the next time we ‘do the compost’

Mindfulness resources and links:

Book – A mindfulness guide for the frazzled – Ruby Wax

Free course - Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance – Future Learn – starts 4 March

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