Saturday, June 23, 2012

A story of compost

Almost five years ago, my family began making compost in the back yard. I had heard a lecture on the making of compost and had a bit of experience with the stuff in my youth when I volunteered on a kibbutz years and years ago. It didn’t seem that hard to do. The reason the idea came up at all was because it was shmita year. Shmita is the Sabbatical Year, and is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle in Israel. Fields are required to lay fallow, and all agricultural work, such as plowing, weeding, spraying, trimming, is not allowed. "God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land. It is God's sabbath during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your unpruned vines, since it is a year of rest for the land. [What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you, by your male and female slaves, and by the employees and resident hands who live with you. All the crops shall be eaten by the domestic and wild animals that are in your land." (Leviticus 25:1-7) (In Modern Israel, many answers have been found for the economic problems that occur by not growing produce for a year, but that’s another issue.)
Whatever produce that does grow, such as fruit and berries, take on a special sanctity. Because of this sanctity, these fruits cannot be thrown out carelessly, but have to be disposed of in a dignified and respectful manner. So apple cores, orange peels, peach pits and the like must be separated from the rest of the trash and discarded separately. This can pose a problem and compost was the solution we came up with. By throwing the leftover banana skins into a compost bin, we were not throwing out the fruit into the trash, but returning it to the soil. In addition, we could then use the compost in our garden as fertilizer (not during a shmita year of course, but, anyway, it takes awhile for rotten fruit to actually turn into compost).
Shmita is mentioned several times in the Torah, and was considered to be one of the most important Mitzvot during Temple times. It is to the Land, what the Shabbat is to people. Indeed, there are some commentaries that hold that the first exile to Babylon/Persia lasted 70 years, one year for each shmita year that was not kept.
Compost, on the other hand, is not actually mentioned in the Bible at all. But it was a very practical solution to our small shmitah problem. In addition, it teaches our kids the importance of conservation and recycling. Yada yada yada.  Of course, it’s a great way to get rid of garden debris and save money on fertilizer.

Over the last week, missiles have, once again, been raining down on Southern Israel. While Beer Sheva has actually been spared – so far – approximately 150 missiles have been shot at Israeli towns and villages over the last five days. It’s hard to comprehend that number. A few houses have been damaged, a factory in Sderot took a direct hit, and an empty school was badly damaged. So far, 11 border police and one civilian have been wounded. As I write this, a report just came out the five rockets have been shot into Ashkelon at one time. They were taken out by the Iron Dome anti-missile rocket defense system.
Here is where compost comes in. One katuysha hit a garden composter, which absorbed the shock of the blast, so that there was little damage to the adjacent house.   See story

It turns out that composting saves not only money, but lives, at least in Israel, where miracles happen.

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