Gardening organically since 1968


Compost Love Story

© Nancy Jamello 2020

Originally, Joe and I lived in a rental house in Palo Alto California. The garden was a lovely forest of bamboo, with not an inch to grow anything else. Soon after that we moved to a house with room for a garden; we met John Jeavens and started organic gardening.

Shortly after that, Joe and I moved to a small rental cottage in Los Altos. We picked that place because there was about a quarter of an acre of sunny open yard behind the cottage. We started organic gardening in the French intensive method. We had corn, cucumber, giant big max pumpkins, we made our own compost and dug in full speed.

It was glorious. We were young and strong. We double-dug the soil, added amendments and had bumper crops. Common Ground / Ecology Action was run by John Jeavens and his family. They had classes and supplies for organic gardening. My mother had been an organic gardener, long before they even called it that. Mom helped us with flowers but she hadn't grown vegetables since she was a child on her parents farm.

Jody and I started an organic houseplant business and Joe and Bill were in a rock and roll band. Both the rock band and the plant business made some money but there were reinvestments. Potted Plant needed more supplies and was constantly growing. RapCity bought bigger and better musical equipment. Needless to say, there was not ever money left over. We were, as what they called it then starving hippies, funny in that we never went hungry… we just had a simple lifestyle.

Things were going great until they were not. We hit a hitch. It was about 1975. Joe and I broke up. Done, finished and absolutely not ever getting back together. I moved out and got my own place.

We owned an old wooden upright piano that I had bought for Joe from one of his aunts. I had to pay her $10 a week, when I had it, till it came to $150. We had a stunning, lovable black and white cat named Zorro. He was a real gem. We had a waterbed and a small kitchen table. We each had our own car and we had our own businesses, but that was about it.

During our time apart we started to work on who would get what. It was not much to divide up but we were barely speaking, so the conversation of who got what was limited. One day, we decided to meet in a bar to have the conversation about division of shared property. We had lived together for about five years, so we did have plates, silverware and houseplants… but no money and nothing of any real value.

Back in the day, we still both drank alcohol, so we met in a bar and drank. We could share the plates and such, but the big items like the cat and the piano had to be divied up. They could not be split up. So we were arguing over the few items... bed, table and cat. We were heated, sad and not happy. How had it come to this?

Among the list of possessions that we each thought we had a right to get was the compost pile. For years we had been making our own compost. I always added in the kitchen scraps and frequently went to the local horse stable to get free manure. Joe used to go fishing during the day as most of his music jobs were at night. Joe would put all of the fish scraps and the leftover fish bait into the compost pile. His band had their studio in our garage. We would grind coffee beans and make fresh drip coffee for the band. All of the coffee grounds and the unbleached drip paper would go into the compost. All of the corn stalks and spent squash plants went into the compost as well. We had no formal compost bins; we simply would make a big pile on the side of the yard.

We had a small grass area that I mowed with a push lawn mower we got for free. The lawn clipping went into the compost pile. Joe loved to BBQ; the ashes from the wood went into the compost pile. We put hair from the hair brushes and dust from the floor into the compost pile. We added the water from boiled potatoes or pasta. We never put meat or meat scraps in the compost. We never used poop from animals that ate meat like cats and dogs. We only used poop from vegetarian animals like horses, goats and chickens. There was a horse stable nearby that would let anyone come and take manure for free. The fresh manure made the pile heat up and decompose faster, so we would use a lot of it… seeing as it was free. (Now, that we are older we do not bother with hauling manure anymore, we simply let the compost sit longer. Eventually it will decompose.) We had a large yard so the compost pile got plenty of fresh air and sunlight. Honestly, that is all it takes. Every pile must have fresh air, sunlight and a little rain, then voila, wait for the magic.

Obviously, we each thought that we deserved the compost pile. We each believed that we had made the most significant contribution to building it. It was our gold and we both wanted it. Needless to say we never considered that it could have been divided, it was too precious. We each wanted / needed the whole pile. It was the most valuable thing we owned and we were not about to share it with anyone.

As the compost gold argument got heated, we were probably a little buzzed. Somehow we realized we were having a big fight over a pile of shit. Still, with neither of us considering sharing it, with both of us insisting on the whole thing, the pile of shit part started to make us laugh. Our compost was definitely our most valuable possession.

Soon, we realized that we had made this compost gold by working together and there we were fighting over a pile of shit. Amidst loud laughter, came hugs, kisses and making up that has lasted now for decades.

So when future generations ask, "Nana, how did you and Papa stay together for over 50 years?" I will have to smile and say we bonded over a pile of shit.

Copyright Nancy Portugal Jamello
August 9th, 2020