The Compost Bandit

Reader Contribution by Aaron Miller
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I always get a little smile on my face when I see people bagging up their grass clippings or leaves in preparation to throw them away. They don’t even realize what they have. What valuable materials they are thoughtlessly tossing off to a landfill. Just like the pre-Columbus Native Americans who had gold lying around but never gave it the value the Europeans who came to conquer them did. As I get more into gardening and gain the knowledge of microbes and the ecosystems we can create, it’s empowering to think about all the rich material I have on my small ¼ acre lot.

All the limbs I cut down are used in multiple ways. The large ones get cut into logs for our summer campfires under the stars. The smaller ones are the kindling or plant stakes. If the power goes out it gives me the comfort of knowing I can keep my family warm and fed without the need of a gas powered generator. This is not only good for me but also good for my fruit trees that the limbs come from. It allows for new growth to come in and help the tree stay healthy for years to come.

The leaves f

rom those branches are used as compost. With most experts saying you need 25 units carbon to 1 unit nitrogen (but never explaining exactly what a “unit” is) I need all the brown stuff I can get my hands on. I pull the leaves off and let them dry a bit so that I can then run them down with my reel mower into smaller pieces. This makes it easier to breakdown and thus it breakdowns faster. Without a good amount of this brown material for my compost it won’t have the right texture or beneficial organism growth, and therefore a lower potential nutrient capacity than it could have. All free from my own yard.

I also use the leaves and grass clipping as mulch. I really love the idea of mulch because like compost, it does so many good things without taking much effort from me. My favorite chores are those that make my life easier. Placing the leaves or grass clippings in my garden beds help keep the soil moist during warm weather and warm during cold weather. It provides food for the healthy micro-organisms that break that organic material down as well as protection for the worms, beetles and other arthropods who keep the soil fertilized and loose as they crawl around eating those smaller microbes.

All these things are invaluable when you really see it for what it is and so much so that I don’t get enough to satisfy my compost and mulch needs from my little plot of land. It’s doesn’t help that daily I drive through the neighborhood and see all those fallen leaves, just begging to be picked up. I wouldn’t mind not having access to all that brown gold if it was being used but what makes it worse is that most people, and the Homeowners Associations forcing them, remove this material from the property to make it look “pretty”. This essentially starves their yards and forces them to buy things to add to the soil, feeding that general thought that you need to constantly add chemicals and fertilizers to your yard and garden. When was the last time the Amazon rain forest was fertilized and aerated?

My greedy nature just took over watching all this waste. I wasn’t going to stand by and let all that beautiful brown treasure blow away and end up in some dump surrounded by shoe boxes and McDonald’s cups. I made a decision that night and the compost bandit was born.

I waited until a rainy day when the streets would be empty. Being in the Pacific Northwest I knew my wait would be a short one. It was a Saturday morning when I saw my chance and so I ran out to the garage, grabbing my rake and trashcan. Casually walking down the street with my hood pulled up high, I fought the urge to move too fast and draw attention to myself. My heart pumping loudly in my ears and the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I got to the spot by the community mail box and bolted into action. Rake, rake, scoop; rake, rake, scoop. I laughed wildly like a mad man high on the rush of my heist. I knew I needed to be fast and checked my watch for the time. 10 seconds down, 10 to go. Smash and grab was the name of this game and I knew from watching ‘Point Break’ a hundred times that I needed to just walk away from what I couldn’t get in that time limit. Better to live and rake another day then lose to your greed and get caught. My watch beeped and I grabbed the handles of my trashcan full of loot, made an about face and carried on smartly. 

I got back to the garage and closed the door then ran upstairs to my wife. I grabbed her, dipped her backward and laid a passionate kiss on her lips, feeling more alive than I had in a while. She could tell there was a change in me, which I contributed to this new bad boy image I now had after the getaway.

A few days later, after still boasting about my trashcan full of stolen brown loot, my wife came home and said “Honey go down to the neighbor’s house and get her leaves, she said she would bag them up and leave them out for you.” Apparently she had stopped on her way home seeing the neighbor raking the rest of the leaves and had asked if we could have them. Leave it to my wife to show up my trashcan full of leaves with a truck load full of them. Well played Michelle, well played.

As I drove my truck down to get the bounty, I thought to myself that it was far from over. This may satisfy me and my garden for now but mark my words; the compost bandit will strike again.