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The Bookless Club and the Anatomy of Composting

If you’re like me, you can fill one of these stainless steel compost buckets in one family meal prep.

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It’s a bit of garden magic.

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A bit of alchemy and economy.

And it’s one of the most responsible things you can do.

I’m talking about compost.

Turn soil turned into plants into soil so it can turn into plants again.

A perfect example of how things should work. A perfectly closed circle.

Older homes always seemed to have a compost pit for grass clippings and leaf debris.

When I was a kid, drilling through these pits to reveal skeins of baby worms was fascinating. Turning the compost pile was just one of those things adults did, like putting up Christmas lights or cleaning the gutters. In my childish estimation, composting was a necessary part of adulthood, maybe not as exciting as burning stuff in an incinerator, but entertaining on its own.

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Retired microbiologist Dr. Peter Stovell, “Kerrisdale’s Compost King”, lived next door to me. His front yard was eaten away by gigantic compost piles of food scraps collected from UBC Food Services, each pile wrapped in black plastic. He could be seen regularly plunging augers and pitchforks into each pile to determine who knows what. Giant thermometers recorded the temperatures of each pyramid. Dr Stovell was discovered one midnight watering the piles, alarmed by the high temperatures generated by the decaying material. We imagined him screaming, “Run! She’s gonna blow!” as her banana peels and rotting apple cores have created their own China Syndrome.

I bought myself a sophisticated composter which, to speed up the decomposition process, rotates in its own cradle. A dark and distinguished device, it is nestled in a discreet corner of the garden. I’ve given it several years of sincere effort, but I just can’t get it to spin once it’s even 1/3 full. It’s like trying to get a Saint Bernard into a car.

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To that end, I had opted by default for the City of Vancouver’s green bin composting program. Being a girl with tartan blood, it wasn’t entirely satisfying. All this nutrient-rich material being outsourced when my own garden could have benefited? Alas!

Years ago I did a TV series about environmental advice. One of the tips was to run leftover food through a blender to make liquid fertilizer. I take that back – don’t do that. I learned the hard way that if you pour liquid caesar salad around your geraniums, the rats will dig up those geraniums looking for the croutons they suspect are part of the bargain.

So how do I reconcile my Scottish self with my composter genes? I had heard of Pela, a company in British Columbia that was revolutionizing composting. I contacted them and they sent one of their devices to test. It’s called Lomi and it’s to compost what the washing machine was to the washboard. What my not-so-tumble composter takes a year to do, the Lomi claims to do overnight: kitchen scraps into topsoil in 20 hours. As a woman who ditched miracle skin creams for lard, I was skeptical.

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If you’re like me, you can fill one of these stainless steel compost buckets in one family meal prep. If the Lomi did what he said he could do, that might be the end of the endless argument over who was going to throw the bucket. I set the Lomi up on my kitchen counter and loaded it with trash from meal preps. It’s a beautiful device and looks like what a bread maker would look like if it was designed by Steve Jobs. I set the program for warp-speed composting—the Lomi setting as opposed to the lower two settings—and waited to be amazed.

The next morning I took the lid off and found that my bucket full of leftover food had been transformed. Where there had been potato peels, orange peels, eggshells and something indistinguishable discovered in the back of the refrigerator, there was now fine, dry soil. The mass of kitchen scraps was reduced to two odorless cups of nutrient-rich topsoil. If you want to see what it looks like, check out the pictures on my website.

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So it looks like there will be fewer forks in the future of composting, but topsoil within 20 hours is a magical transformation worth waking up to. And now — hallelujah! – no one has to lug the bucket of compost down the driveway.

Jane Macdougall is a freelance writer and former National Post columnist living in Vancouver. She will write about The Bookless Club every Saturday online and in The Vancouver Sun. To learn more about what Jane does, check out her website,

This week’s question for readers:

How green are you? What is your badge of honor as an eco-warrior? Do you compost?

Email your responses text, not an attachment, in 100 words or less, with your full name to Jane at We will print some next week in this space.

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Answers to last week’s question for readers:

Was motherhood everything you expected? Have you had to adapt your parenting style to the expectations of others? Is it harder to be a mom today than before?

• I often think of my grandmother and the roles she handled so well. She didn’t have the same options as me, but I think she could have been CEO if she wanted to. She had all the qualities required to excel in this role, but instead she excelled in running a home, raising her children, and contributing to her community. I run all day and feel like I’m never in the right place. Everything but my job is cheated, but only because I could lose that job if I didn’t exceed expectations. I often wonder if being so spread out was the goal we women were looking for.

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• Today, parents with preschool children (up to age four) generally have their children in full-time child care. That is, they drop them off at 7 a.m., pick them up at 5:30 p.m., leaving two hours for them to eat dinner, bathe, and go to bed by 7:30 p.m. Compare that to parents (usually mothers) who take care of the children without even a coffee break, no congratulations, benefits, paid holidays, job security, etc. What job is the most difficult? Hats off and respect to any parent who does this most difficult job. They deserve much more recognition.

Rita Hagman

• Truth be told, I couldn’t do half of what my wife does. She handled a broader portfolio of concerns and responsibilities than I ever did. I watch my daughters juggle all their adult responsibilities, but I don’t comment. Their generation seems to think the kids will rise and society will be fine with the outcome. I wonder ….

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• My husband and I were pushed into an unexpected situation in 1963 when our first child was born. She needed major surgery when she was two days old. She left for VGH while we waited with surreal anticipation. She had flamboyant red hair (also unexpected), which had to be shaved before the operation. Fortunately, the operation was successful and we were able to bring her home on Mother’s Day.

I stayed on the mother trail for 20 years and luckily I was able to stay home with our three children. Now, many mothers have to work, juggling finding and keeping daycare and all the other responsibilities of motherhood. I feel their burden and admire how many seem to keep themselves and their families balanced and stable.

bonnie hamilton

• Motherhood is the most difficult, thankless, sacrificial, exhausting and wonderful job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for CEO of the richest company in the world…hands down. Ultimately, shaping these young day-to-day lives, as mundane as many might consider, brings the richest rewards.

Sue Wilder

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