Am I really writing a post under that name? To start a series of posts about gardens and gardening in November (of all months!) and with such an “exciting” subject to boot is not just risky, it probably looks very silly. I mean, who is going to want to read about this, now? (Or ever). But with nature withdrawing and dying all around us, I was compelled to reflect on the cyclic quality of it all, and then I felt oddly moved to participate in the process… by getting a compost bin.

It was a spontaneous purchase. I had not thought it out. For a novice gardener making their own compost is usually not a priority. It must be the encroaching darkness and the melancholy of these November days that did it. The darkness is drawing in, I am thinking of the months to come – cold, windy, harsh. Our garden, so unbelievably verdant the whole year, is getting emptier by the day, leaves and twigs just drop off and seem to vanish into the naked soil after each rain. My new geranium Rozanne that by July had completely taken over the shade garden promptly wilted and disappeared. The ferns and hostas are gone. The Japanese cherry tree turned yellow almost overnight, just as I was beginning to think it would defy nature and become evergreen. It has been shedding leaves for a few days now, although far less hastily than Japanese cherries are meant to do, which apparently disqualifies them from the “autumn foliage interest” entry in gardening books. And now our lawn is a beautiful carpet of gold and green and orange and mauve.

Leaves 1

I was just taking something out to our green waste basket outside and looked at these fallen leaves and suddenly wanted them to stay on, to remain a part of our garden somehow. I felt that I would not be able to pick up my rake and throw them away… Next thing I knew I was on the internet ordering a proper compost bin. And suddenly it made perfect sense, not only with the leaves, but with all this green waste that our household produces. For a couple of years now we have been getting a weekly package of mostly locally grown, organic and seasonal stuff. We love it. Although admittedly there are those winter weeks when we get huge bunch after huge bunch of endives and boerenkool (kale) and that’s a lot of the famous Dutch stamppot to make and consume. Occasionally, we had to take some to the Clingendael park to feed the goats there but not since they put up all those forbidding signs on the old farm. We have been producing loads of green refuse for municipality’s regular collections, while I was buying expensive commercial compost from fancy garden centres around The Hague. So, the municipality and the goats will get less from us now and there may even be some costs savings in the long run, but it’s really not about the economics.

Because it was a relatively expensive bin. And because do I actually need 280 liters of compost for my small urban garden? Very optimistically, I have been telling myself that our volkstuintje (garden allotment), a very hypothetical one at this stage, may also benefit from it. We are number 17 on the waiting list and will in all likelihood wait another three years for a plot. Fine! That’s apparently the right amount of time to obtain that aged, rich, chocolatey, crumbly, sweet smelling stuff which is the apogee of composting.

How am I going to go about it? Layer on layer, brown and green, “lasagne” style (How fond I am of that analogy!). I think I am going to be hands-off to start with. I am not ready for vermicomposting. A big part of the net seems to claim it’s all about worms. But I am not sure I can bring myself to order worms online to arrive with my mail just yet. To turn or not to turn, that is my biggest question! I may try to do it without worms and without turning, let nature get on with it and maybe compost will just “happen”. I am probably too naïve.

Compost bin

Composting sounds amazing. Starting composting in November sounds amazing. It gives me such joy to think that the cherry tree leaves will live on, that they will help nourish new growth in our garden. To imagine that boerenkool providing nutrition for my exotic irises ensata is perversely satisfying. It is going to get me through the winter! In the dead of January, looking out into the bleakness of the garden I will find comfort in knowing that not all is dead out there, that things are quietly germinating, life is being lived out there by all those microorganisms hard at work creating new organic matter. Composting is believing in the distant spring. Composting is about patience which is not at all my forte and something I need to work on. It is about participating in creation, growing soil when there is precious little one can grow. Why, it is like garden alchemy!

Ok, well, perhaps I will get some worms after all, in the spirit of cooperation with nature. And maybe one day I will even stretch myself to make compost tea (don’t ask)!


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