Composting in times of change
Also, I was on a podcast and composting with cockroaches (it's real)
Since last we spoke, everything in my life has been happening at once and now almost nothing feels the same. Some of the things: My beautiful Grandmother passed away. I made the tough—but correct— decision to leave my relationship. I moved from a large house to a one bedroom apartment. I published a book. I quit my job(s). I apparently own a dog. The only thing that has stayed consistent throughout all this is compost, which is somewhat ironic being that the point of compost is “change.”
I can’t say I mind.
So much of our life can get spent worrying that things won’t stay the same forever. We’re anxious that we’ll stop being young, lose friends, change jobs, change partners, move cities. We want to know what will happen tomorrow and the next day and be able to forecast with consistency into an indefinite and blameless future. It feels that there are so few practices that endeavor to achieve the opposite; that insist on change as a core principle, let alone offer it as a tactile experience. On my not-so-great days, I feel like compost is a life-saver for that reason—a way to practice at change.
I was invited to be a guest on Jesse Meadow’s podcast a couple weeks ago. We talked about how intimidating compost can feel for the beginner and how to get over the hump of getting started. We also talked about how they compost their dog’s poop. (Listen to find out.) When the episode was released, somebody immediately left a comment for us saying they can’t compost because they hate cockroaches.
The full text actually made me laugh aloud:
This is most people.
Most people I talk to about compost say they won’t build a pile because they’re squeamish about bugs, or they’ve always wanted to try and can’t quite bring themselves to because of bugs. In fact, I would cite “bug avoidance” as one of the primary reasons that the majority of compost-curious people never get around to actually composting.
I don’t blame anybody for their gag reflex. There are solid reasons to be wary of insects. They do tend to appear where other things are rotting, which is bad sign if what you’re looking for is a meal. However, I like to remind people, what you’re doing is building a compost. Stuff is decomposing in there. You should see bugs in your pile and I’d be worried if you didn’t. Bugs are a good sign that your compost is working, that you have a thriving population of microorganisms, and that you’re steadily achieving nutrient density.
Bugs are good!
Jesse had, I thought, a particularly magnificent response:
Genuine understanding and sympathy, followed by a gentle reframe of the problem. (Jesse is amazing!) Yes, cockroaches do tend to manifest in areas that are weird and dark and gross and carry high risk of disease, like the dumpster out back of your building that hasn’t been serviced in months or the side of the road where some roadkill is beginning to decompose. Counterintuitively, though, their presence in “gross” places is actually a sign of how not gross they are. They’re comfortable congregating in the rotting, pathogen-filled darkness because their guts are so adept at disabling diseases and breaking down goop and grime, meaning that they are—actually—pretty “clean” themselves.
The paper Jesse shared regards a process known as “blatticomposting.” This approach utilizes a few, specific species of cockroach to make quick and efficient compost, intended for areas where worms are less likely to thrive. It’s a fairly remarkable procedure, but I will note that all the reasons researchers identified cockroaches as ideal for composting are the same reasons that people tend to dislike them: they thrive in darkness, are comfortable with overcrowding, multiple very quickly, and will eat literally anything.
Everything in its right place. :)
I’m happy to report that Jesse’s response landed well and maybe even changed somebody’s mind:
I’m also hopeful that by sharing this story here, it may change the mind of others—bringing all you curious-but-reluctant maybe-composters out there one step closer to trying a pile. For the extremely, enduringly bug-adverse, I have written previously on how to rid your compost of flies. There is, at the time of this writing, though, no known cure for cockroaches.