I’m green enough to grow compost

| Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Spectator
Jeremiah M. Murphy

Another St. Patrick’s Day has passed with me wearing colors not green. I’m a “wearin’ o’ the green” grinch.

I can’t say why exactly. I guess I’m so Irish, I figure the actual green attire might be too much.

That’s a rare case of restraint - usually for me, more is better.

Take compost for example: I’ve had a compost pile since the spring of 1994. Every spring I’ve been sober I’ve composted.

If you look up compost in the dictionary you’ll see the noun defined as a mixture of decaying organic matter. The verb is defined as putting materials together to make that mixture.

To me, composting goes much further than that – I compost to an end result that is not a mere mixture of decaying organic matter. It’s fully decayed organic matter. It’s dirt.

I compost used things – leaves, grass clippings, fruit rinds, and vegetable rinds into a useful thing.

Typically, I’m not much more “green” in life than I am on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t spend any time worrying about the size of my carbon footprint. I burn fossil fuels at a high rate (see previous column re: traffic stops). But, I do like to compost. I like making dirt. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it produces a valuable product in which I can grow tomatoes.

Tomatoes are important because, if there were no tomatoes there would be no salsa and, if there was no salsa, we’d have corn chips backing up on us.

A week ago yesterday was Holy Saturday (Sabbatum Sanctum). Holy Saturday is the Lord's Day of rest, for on that day Christ's body lay in His tomb. So, of course, I was outside working.

We were preparing the house for Easter and that seemed like a good excuse to clean up my compost pile and vegetable garden.

I tore out last year’s growth from the garden and worked it into the compost pile as visions of heirloom tomatoes danced in my head.

I favor heirloom tomatoes. These are old, old varieties of tomatoes that have not been cross-bred. They are not hybrids.

Most hybrid tomatoes have been designed to be uniform in color, skin thickness, disease resistance, and growing time – traits that serve commercial tomato producers.

Conversely, the key trait in heirloom tomatoes is flavor. Flavor at the expense of uniformity.

I’m stepping into Cathie Draine’s territory a bit here. But, I think Cathie would agree – No tomatoes are tastier than heirloom tomatoes.

Of all the heirloom tomatoes, I really like the Brandywine variety. Brandywines are great, lumpy, purplish brutes that are the tastiest (and, arguably, the ugliest) of the heirloom tomato lot.

Extreme tomatoes, but wonderfully so.

My affinity for certain vegetables doesn’t come at the expense of meat. I love red meat. To paraphrase the comedian Jim Gaffigan, I don’t know what they do to that stuff when they process it. But, it is DELICIOUS!

One of our number here at Murphyland doesn’t eat meat.

Well, she eats meat if it’s from a creature that swims. But, she won’t eat meat from creatures that walk or fly.

Chicken of the Sea – yes. Chicken of the barnyard – no.

Except . . . except in certain conditions.

She will eat pheasant if it came from the wild.

That is, she will not eat meat that was processed or inspected by professionals at a licensed processing facility. But, she will eat pheasant that was shot and fell to earth in a dung-covered pasture before it was processed by her husband and his buddy with a kitchen knife and a pair of tin snips out in the alley.

Because that’s natural.

Maybe. Unless you’re the pheasant. Not so natural to him.

I didn’t partake in the wearin’ o’ the green this spring. But, this summer I will be doing the mowin’ o’ the green to provide grass clippings for the turnin’ o’ the compost pile to nurture the tomato garden to supply the salsa for the dippin’ o’ the chips while we do the grillin’ o’ the steaks (and fish).

Jeremiah M. Murphy lives in Rapid City. Contact him at murphy@rushmore.com

(Edited version of a column originally published in the March 30th, 2008 Rapid City Journal)