Life In A Compost

I was in the school garden recently, as a parent volunteer, among an enthusiastic group of fourth graders.  We were clearing garden beds, digging up weeds and old vegetation, and fluffing the soil, preparing to plant zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes.  Gabe, a kid with curly black hair, had been appointed by his teacher to man the wheelbarrow and transport the pulled-up weeds and spent crops to the composting area.  While accompanying Gabe to the rear of the garden to show him where to dump the weeds, I extolled the virtues of compost, proudly explaining how we convert our discarded green waste into rich soil for the next generation of crops.

Rather than dumping everything into bins or plastic bags or onto the street for the city to then haul miles away, we’re able to reuse our materials right here on site, creating fertile and nutrient-rich soil.  During our brief journey through the garden, this transformation from garbage to fecundity appeared to hold Gabe’s interest.

Then, just as I was demonstrating the proper way to tilt and dump out the yard waste onto the heap of compostable materials, Gabe let out a gasp.

“Spider!” he hollered, pointing excitedly at a quite harmless and, some might even say, perfectly adorable yellowish critter negotiating the weathered edge of the old wheel-barrow. “Spider!” Gabe warned again in a kind of horror film rasp.  “Watch out!”

“Look at that,” I said, offering a finger to the itsy bitsy, so that it could crawl along my garden glove.

Gabe took two steps back.  “Aren’t you gonna spray it?”

“This guy?” I said, displaying my new friend.  “Are you kidding?  This guy’s a good guy.  He actually eats lots of the bad guy-pest insects that damage the crops we’re trying to grow.”

“But it’s a spider,” Gabe declared.  “It’s poisonous.”

“Not this guy.”  I explained that very few spiders are poisonous, and they pose no threat whatsoever to people.  “Even if he didn’t take care of all those pesky bad bugs, we’d still welcome him and all kinds of other critters and animals into our garden.  You know, for diversity’s sake.”

Gabe seemed to relax.  He crept forward for a closer look. 
“I myself think spiders are lucky,” I told him.

“Whoa,” Gabe said, stopping maybe for the first time to really examine and consider a spider.  “Cool.”
Now I’m not claiming this modest learning exchange to be some transformative moment in the history of public education or Integrated Pest Management.  But I did sense an important shift in Gabe’s perspective that morning.  Here we were closing the loop together by composting and converting our finished cold season crops into organic soil.  At the same time, we were discussing the interconnectedness and diversity of garden biota, one or two chats away from the soil food web and, for that matter, how to take care of the entire planet and safeguard our future as a human race. 

Not bad for five minutes or so of volunteer work.

Article by Howard Rappaport, KGS Leader