Books: Let it Rot!

Let It Rot!


Author: Stu Campbell
ISBN: 1-58017-023-4
Paperback: 153 pages
Publisher: Storey Publishing

Back cover

This is the classic guide to turning household waste into gardener’s gold! Since 1975, Let it Rot has helped countless gardeners recycle waste materials like household garbage, grass clippings, and ashes to create useful, soil-nourishing compost.

Excerpts from Chapter One:

In the beginning there was manure. Humanity has known for a long time that animal excrement is valuable stuff when it comes to growing things and has apparently always made efforts to save it. But shortly after early humans became friendly enough with animals to be able to persuade a few of them to live at home with them in a more or less peaceful relationship, they must have realized that there was never quite enough manure to go around. So they began to devise ways of stretching it and started to think about way to make “synthetic manure.” They didn’t know what they were doing really. They probably just took a look at what was going on and then began trying things. Composting had begun long before our ancestors discovered it.

Decomposition is at least as old as the soil. The earth itself, as the poet Walt Whitman suggests is something of a compost pile. “It gives such divine material to men, and accepts such leaving from them at last.” Long before there were people around to observe it, composting was going on in every forest, every meadow, every swamp, and bog, and prairie, and steppe in the world. As Richard Langer says, “Composting is a natural process that began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since.”

“Modern” Composting

Allowing nature to take its course, however, may take more time than we have. The modern practice of composting is little more than speeding up and intensifying natural processes. That’s all it is. When you come right down to it, finished compost is no more than “treated” or “predigested” (rotted) organic matter, which usually has undergone a natural heating process and which is very valuable stuff to incorporate into your garden’s soil.

For too long there has been an air of cultist mysticism surrounding the art of composting. This is the kind of nonsense so many people find objectionable in a lot of composting literature. It is easy to get confused by gardening magazines and gardening books that describe the “science” of composting in such narrowly defined terms that you get the distinct impression that there is one, and only one, method for making humus.

Don’t misunderstand: There has been all kinds of extremely valuable scientific research done on composting, and much of the information gathered can be very helpful to the home composter as well as to the municipality that is doing or considering composting on a large scale. I suggest that you try to learn as much about the highly technical aspects of the subject as you can. But I caution that an overly scientific approach to composting may take all the fun out of it.

The word compost comes from tow Latin roots, com meaning “together,” and post, meaning “to bring.” To make edible “fruit compost” (or “fruit compote”), for example, is to bring together several different kinds o fruit, mix them with sugar and other ingredients in a jar or crock, and let it sit to ferment for several days. It really doesn’t matter how long it sits or precisely how much you add of what. In fact, you might eat some of the mixture, and when the container gets low, replenish it with other fixings as they become available. The final concoction is almost always a delicious one, though rarely, if ever, the same as the last. There are really as many recipes for making fruit compote as there are fruit compote makers – probably more. You’ll find the same is true with composting.

As you get into composting, try not to get bogged down with complicated recipes and formulas. A few simple guidelines can help you eliminate some of the traditionally unpleasant aspects of composting. There are few hard-and-fast rules governing the making of good compost that must be followed to the letter.

If you are a beginner, start thinking in simple terms about a compost system. Later, you may want to develop more complicated and sophisticated techniques. Apply what scientific knowledge you have. If you find a particular section of the book too technical, skip it. You can always return to it at a later point.

Be creative. Select what you can from the information offered here and go on to establish your own composting style. When your neighbors tell you that you are doing it “all wrong,” tell them both of you are right. As you learn more and more about composting and begin to understand the rotting process a little better, you may grow to appreciate the recycling activity that takes place in nature day in and day out. You may also find, as others have, that you want to synchronize yourself with it.

Successful Composting Requires:

1. The realization that no matter what you do, no matter how many little mistakes you make, you are still probably going to come up with reasonable good usable compost.
2. A basic understanding of the life forms and processes that operate within a compost pile.
3. A willingness to experiment.
4. A little effort.
5. A little artistry.

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