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Colossal (to me, anyway) Compost Kerfuffle Answered

[warning: contains some rant-like content]

I am so angry that I can't see straight.

My apartment building has a Community Garden, which is good. Our rules and guidelines which are especially emphatic about keeping the gardens all natural and organic, and chemical and pesticide-free. To this end, there is an "Approved Garden Products" list specifying the chemicals and fertilizers that may be used in the gardens. The list includes "Walt's" brand organic fertilizer, "Cedar Grove" compost, and six product made by Miracle-Gro.

I had two 4' x 5' plots in the Community Gardens last year, which I heavily amended with the compost from my worm bins. I submitted a request to have an organic fertilizer mix that I have on hand added to the approved list, but the only response I received was another employee telling me: "I emailed Jane (not her real name) about it, and she emailed back to tell to you that Walt's is the best one to use." I should have followed up on this, but was too angry and aghast to speak to Jane about it immediately, and later never did get around to grasping that particular nettle.

This year I'm doing just one 4' x 5' plot. I dug in some compost on Sunday, and on Tuesday I received the following letter (all names have been changed for internet purposes):

Dear Ms. Gorfram,

I wanted to follow up with you regarding an email I received about "homemade" compost that you may be using in your garden.

The garden agreement has specific items that can be used in the garden, unless you are using a combination of those ingredients, your "homemade" compost hasn't been approved yet. If you would like to submit the ingredients of your compost for review we can take a look at it and try to get it on the list as well. In the mean time please use only the Cedar Grove compost or any other product on the approved list.

We appreciate you help in this matter.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe,
Property Manager
(Spelling and punctuation very much hers, very much verbatim)

She insulted my compost. She accused me of violating the gardening agreement. She is demanding that I list every last darned thing that I ever put into my compost and submit it to her for approval. She appears to be confusing my compost with the fertilizer that I asked to have added to the approved list. She either does not necessarily believe that I do make my own compost, or she is misusing quotation marks to indicate emphasis.
...She insulted my compost!

Not wanting to alienate the manager of my apartment building by telling her that she is a slavering ignoramus who does not know the difference between compost and fertilizer, I responded with the following:

In re: your letter of June 9, 2009

Dear Ms. Doe,

Perhaps there is some misunderstanding about my use of soil amendments in my Community Garden plot.

The compost that I use in my garden plot contains no chemicals or pesticides. It is made entirely from vegetable waste from my kitchen and garden, to which I add water and locally native earthworms. It is my understanding that this sort of bulk organic matter does not need to be reviewed for the Approved Garden Products list. In answer to a related question asked at the July 15, 2008, Community Gardener's Meeting, John Galt (n.b. Jane Doe's boss) said, "As long as it doesn't contain pesticides or chemicals, you don't need to tell us about it."

The email your letter refers to may have been in regard to my August, 2008 request to have "Dr. Earth Organic 7" fertilizer added to the Approved Gardening Products list. For your convenience, I have attached a new copy of the information about "Dr. Earth Organic 7" and its ingredients that I submitted with my request. I look forward to receiving approval of "Dr. Earth Organic 7" for use in the Community Gardens, or a statement of your reasons for denying this request, soon.

Thank you,

Evelyn Q. Gorfram

Am I nuts? Should I be this mad? Should I tell her to take her 20 square feet of soil and suggest where she might put them? Should I demand that we duel at dawn unless she publicly retracts her dread insults to my compost?

30 Replies

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RedneckEngineer (author)2010-01-03

Just a thought from left field but since it is a community garden, why not try and get started a community compost bin?  I'm sure the others that garden know the differance between "Walts" and home made compost. You could even make it into a campain to "Green your greens" and show the property manager the benifits. 

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Goodhart (author)2009-06-14

My apologies, but this: ...She insulted my compost! just cracked me up

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Gorfram (author)Goodhart2009-06-14

Well, yeah, it is funny. :)

But it's funny in the way of a truism -

I mean, on the one hand, for heaven's sake, it's compost': you put a bunch of organic matter somewhere and leave it there for long enough, and compost is what you get - rocket science, not so much.

On the other hand, it's my compost - I put a bunch of organic matter, carefully balanced between carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials, into a properly drained and ventilated bucket, added some of my best earthworms, kept the the temeperature and the moisture balance within range for six weeks or so; and then hand-sifted it to remove any stones, accidentally included inorganic material (i.e. trash), and unfinished compost.

(Ible pending (for them as cares) - one reason I want to get the rest of the semi-finished compost dug in soon is because I need to empty the darned bucket so I can use it for the 'ible!)

This particular batch was extra carefully selected to include half-finished compost that would help warm the cool spring soil as the compost finished off; while excluding anything that might seem tasty enough for dogs, squirrels, or crows to want to dig up.

You see, I thought I was doing a good thing here, with leaving the soil improved in the plots I'd gardened (below is a picture of a plot I'd gardened half of last year that is being gardened as one plot this year - "my" half does seem to have the taller, stronger, lusher plants). When people said it was unfair that I didn't get to keep my improved soil from year to year, I joked that with 8 garden beds making 16 half-beds, it'd be only 13 more years until I'd gotten to them all.

And then Ms. Doesn't-know-decent-language-mechanics-from-a-(compost-filled)-hole-in-the-ground accuses me of using compost made of non-organic chemical fertilizers (which is by definition impoossible), effectively throwing it all back into my face.

And yet it really shouldn't be such a big thing. People are starving in (wherever people are starving at the moment), and killing each other wholesale in (wherever this week's wholesale killing spots are). On the scale of the stars and planets, this really doesn't matter very much; and I can amuse myself out of some of my ire with the thought that, a hundred years from now, everyone involved in this will be dead.

But that's another part of my frustration - that I've gotten all wrapped up in such a small and petty little mattter because I have chosen to try to participate in the apartment building's "community." Why wouldn't I have been better off just to lock my door; draw the shades; and live the reclusive, troglodytic lifestyle that seems to get one the best - and the only reliable - return on one's societal investment?

(tolja there'd be some rant-like material :)

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Gorfram (author)Gorfram2009-06-14

Rats - I can't seem to uplaod the image I mentioned. :(

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Goodhart (author)Gorfram2009-06-15

Sorry, I did not mean to make light of your situation.

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Gorfram (author)Goodhart2009-06-15

No, I didn't think you were making light of it at all. In fact, you gave me the impetus to explain - to myself mostly - what it is underlying the apparent humor of the situation that makes it feel so serious and important to me, for which I should thank you. And, for responding to your contribution of a cheery bit of humor with a full-strength heart-of-the-matter diatribe, perhaps I should be apologizing to you.

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Goodhart (author)Gorfram2009-06-16

No, I really do need to be more tuned into what others are going through, and not be jocular all the time (unless I am feeling depressed, then my demeanor changes fairly rapidly).

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canida (author)2009-06-16

Wow, your property manager sounds positively ridiculous! Of course homemade compost is going to be better than anything purchased! Hopefully it's just a misunderstanding; perhaps she thinks you've been putting in that other fertilizer and advertising it as homemade to circumvent the rules? Not sure that accusing you of misrepresenting the source of your compost would be better than a direct insult to your compost, though.

But as the others have said, be cool and calm and point things out rationally - she can't help but look like an idiot, given the situation!

(It's not like you have to get your plants approved, is it? That's not significantly different than bringing homemade compost.)

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Lithium Rain (author)2009-06-14

What's she gonna do if you use the compost - shoot you? :D

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n8man (author)Lithium Rain2009-06-14

Nah, it would be more like a mob hit. Maybe dig up his garden.

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caitlinsdad (author)n8man2009-06-14

You would have to leave fish. But that might not be approved as compost.

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n8man (author)caitlinsdad2009-06-14

maybe it would be a pitchfork stuck in the ground, that is threatening enough.

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Gorfram (author)n8man2009-06-14

If I were a "made" gardener (I doubt if there is such a thing), she might wake up one morning to find herself in bed with the head of the old, ratty, weather-ruined scarecrow (it was nice and new a year ago) that one of our more aesthetically-challeged gardeners insists on keeping on display.

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caitlinsdad (author)Gorfram2009-06-14

There's always the "make them an offer of compost they can't refuse."

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Gorfram (author)caitlinsdad2009-06-14

"...I did seriously consider "submitting the ingredients" to her by using her desk to display a representative sampling of slimy carrot peelings, moldy coffee grounds, blackening banana peels, and soggy decaying cardboard rich with big thick wriggly earthworms..."

Perhaps I could make her an offer of refuse that she could not refuse? ;)
(Wheeeeee! It's a rare day when I can come so close to almost making that pun work... :)

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caitlinsdad (author)Gorfram2009-06-15
  • make it an offer of compost they can reuse.

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Gorfram (author)caitlinsdad2009-06-15

Refuse you can reuse? Somewhere out there, a campaigner for composting has just gotten himself a new slogan. :)

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Gorfram (author)Lithium Rain2009-06-14

Kick me out of the gardens and give the plot away to someone else.

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gmjhowe (author)2009-06-14

Just sounds like a slight misunderstanding, remain calm, and keep communication going. And hope that non of them are avid instructables fans.

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Gorfram (author)gmjhowe2009-06-14

Avid instructables fans who think that "quotation marks" can be used to indicate "emphasis"? "Perish" the "thought!"

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caitlinsdad (author)2009-06-14

You're not gonna leave a paper bag of the compost on the property manager's doorstep and light it up, are you? I guess you can take this organic thing to a point but should maybe worry about the acid rain that falls on the garden. Will they make you dig out the soil if not approved?

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Gorfram (author)caitlinsdad2009-06-14

I did seriously consider "submitting the ingredients" to her of using her desk to display a representative sampling of slimy carrot peelings, moldy coffee grounds, blackening banana peels, and soggy decaying cardboard rich with big thick wriggly earthworms; but decided against it. I also considered digging out the compost I'd dug in and throwing it at her, but decided against that, too. (It's been in there a week: it may be getting hard to distinguish from the surrounding soil by now.) I am planning to go take a picture of one of the beds I gardened half of last year, which is being gardened as a single big bed this year (the half-bed/whole- bed who-get-what-bed-which-year assignment process is arcane at best). The plants in the half that was mine are doing noticeably better than those in the other, unapproved-compost-free, half of the bed. :)

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Rotten194 (author)2009-06-14

DUEL AT DAWN DUEL AT DAWN DUEL AT DAWN Jk. She didn't really insult your compost, she just got mixed up. Although having an "approved" products list is BS if you ask me. Sounds like someone is getting paid for the advertising....

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Gorfram (author)Rotten1942009-06-14

I have wondered, ever since the "Tell her Walt's is the best..." remark, whether she (or maybe her boss) is sleeping with Walt. (And, while thanking you richly for the endorsement, I'm not really up for the Duel at Dawn. For one thing, I'm not really a Morning Person; but more importantly, she'd have the choice of weapons. She'd probably go for paper cuts or something, while I'm much more skilled with compost forks. :)

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