I learn about compost in the Windy City

The Cat offers to help
The plane tree has been scattering all its leaves in the strong wind. Tuffy-Cat offers to help us collect the fallen leaves.

The wind has hardly stopped blowing since my arrival here last Friday. When Reggie collected me from the airport post office, she greeted me with the words, “Flat Kathy! Welcome to the Mother City!”

“I thought I’m in Cape Town,” I replied, still a bit befuddled and disoriented from the long flight over from Canada.

“You are in Cape Town,” she giggled, giving me a hug. “The Mother City is just a nickname.”

“Why is it called that?” I asked.

“Honestly, I’m not quite sure,” she confessed. “The most popular explanation is that it is the first city to be created in South Africa, when Jan van Riebeeck first landed on these shores in 1652. A related explanation is that, sometime in the 1930’s, a letter was written to a local Cape Town newspaper, claiming that Cape Town was the only city in South Africa that could justly call itself a metropolis. This Greek word means ‘the mother city of a colony’, in other words, a city that sent out settlers. And that’s what happened here. But other people like to make the joke that it takes 9 months to get anything done here!”

“Has anyone ever thought of calling it the Windy City‘?” I inquired, as an unexpected gust blew me off the table top, and I floated gently down onto the wooden floor.

We carry the fallen leaves, one bucket at a time, to the compost heap
We carry the fallen leaves, one bucket at a time, to the compost heap

“Oh! Flat Kathy, I’m so sorry!” Reggie bent down to pick me up and dust me off. “Let me close the door. This wind is really quite something.”

“Yes,” I nodded, trying to straighten out my hair. Reggie carefully re-tied my bows. “Hm,” she mumbled, “let’s find you a strong stick so that you have something to hold onto.” I was most grateful, I can tell you!

Well, that wind has been blowing every day, from morning to night, and the beautiful old plane tree outside has been scattering its leaves like it was autumn. As a result, there are piles of dead leaves and little twigs everywhere.

This morning, we decided to sweep up all the dead leaves in the courtyard. The Cat tried to help us with gathering up the leaves, but in her eagerness, she only succeeded in toppling me over. Oh dear. Fortunately, no harm was done. She was most apologetic, poor dear. We get on very well now; I like her.

We carried the leaves, one bucket at a time, to the compost heap. I thought it would be a big pile, like on a farm, but they have two large bins instead.

In the evening, Richard shows me what the compost looks like at the bottom of the bin
In the evening, Richard shows me what the compost looks like at the bottom of the bin

“What kind of stuff do you put in there?” I asked.

“We throw in vegetable and fruit peelings, grass clippings, fallen leaves, ash from the fireplace, egg shells and egg cartons, and sometimes add shredded newspaper too,” Reggie explained, up-ending a bucket of leaves and sending them showering into the bin. “We never add any animal products, though, as those attract rats and mice.”

I shuddered… I thought their bin would be quite smelly, with all those things tossed in all higgledy-piggledy ontop of each other, but it isn’t.

“Why doesn’t it smell funny?”

“Well, sometimes it does smell a bit, but it’s just decomposing vegetable and plant matter, so it doesn’t stink at all. It shouldn’t. If it does, there’s something wrong – perhaps it’s too solid or too soggy, and then you need to empty it out and mix in more dry material.”

“Oh, right,” I nodded. This was interesting.

“There are loads of earthworms and bacteria deep inside that pile of stuff, eating away and transforming it all into lovely, dark and soft compost. Sometimes, if you dig deeper, you can actually find the earthworms. But you should try not to injure them with a shovel – we need them and they’re doing all the work for us.”

And the rocket and fennel plants obviously love the healthy nutrients too
And the rocket and fennel plants obviously love the healthy nutrients too

I bravely dug my hand in to see what it felt like – I didn’t feel any wriggling worms, but I was surprised that the compost was quite warm!

“This is a good thing – it means the material is decomposing properly,” explained Reggie patiently. “You have to add some water too, though, to make sure that it is always a bit moist – not too much, because you don’t want to drown the earthworms, or to wash all the good nutrients out through the holes in the bottom of the bin. But if it is too dry, it won’t decompose.”

When we were done, we had filled the one compost bin to the very top.

Tonight, Richard offered to show me what the compost looks like, when it is properly broken down and decomposed. He peeled off a small door near the base of the bin, and used a hand shovel to remove some of the compost from the bottom of the bin. No leaves, no twigs, no vegetable peels remained – instead, it looked like loamy, black, nutrient rich soil. And it didn’t smell icky at all!

We threw generous handfuls of the lovely new compost into the various pots, containers and herb barrels. I hope the plants will be happy with all the fresh nutrients they are getting!

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4 thoughts on “I learn about compost in the Windy City

  1. I’m very glad I don’t like in Cape Town then – I get scared if the wind blows too hard and everything rattles. Emptying out the compost sounds gross! I don’t like getting my paws dirty.


    1. Really? I am surprised, Rosie Bear. I thought you would love digging around in the compost. It smells so interesting!


  2. Did you know that Chicago is nicknamed the Windy City? Didn’t know that about Cape Town. We have a compost bin here, too, although we never stir it so it really doesn’t have all the health benefits it could. But when it turns to dirt we add it to the garden.


    1. I didn’t know that, Curvy Kathy. Reggie tells me that it is often very windy in Cape Town around January and February; she says the wind surfers and kite surfers love this time of year. And I don’t mind the wind so much – at least it cools down the temperatures a bit, or it would be extremely hot!

      Oh, so you also have a compost bin? It is a good thing to have, to return the nutrients to the soil again.


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