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It’s infrastructure week in Birdland. Michael is putting up siding on the north wall of the chicken coop while I muck out the corners of the floor where the tiller couldn’t reach.

My husband happily wields the circular saw to cut the boards to the right length but calls me over when it’s time for nailing because he knows I like to use the nail gun. Pew, pew, pew — I knock three nails into each board at the studs. Then I go back to my digging because I’m the Compost Queen.

That’s what I told my students last week when my colleague (Dr. F, as he’s affectionately known, because he gives a lot of Fs) and I introduced our Compost Club at our campus in China where we both teach.

It all started because when I live in China, I don’t want my garbage to smell. For over 30 years, we’ve composted all our kitchen scraps, so our garbage can in the pantry never gets that stinky garbage smell.

In China, the trash is collected once a week, so my coffee grounds, banana peels and other scraps were stinking up my kitchen. In my office, there is a nice compost bucket in the tea corner where we throw our tea leaves and coffee grounds, and I thought about taking my own kitchen scraps there.

But one day I saw the housekeeper dumping the compost into a regular garbage bag, so I had my doubts about whether it really ended up as compost. Dr. F told me he keeps his scraps in the freezer until garbage day, so I followed his example, but we thought there could be a better way.

Since Dr. F is already back in China, he spoke with the manager of our canteen and the manager of our student farm. Yes, the student farm could host a compost pile. Yes, the kitchen could save the scraps. Somehow Dr. F got some wheelbarrows, shovels and rolling compost cans. We just needed help to get the scraps across campus from the canteen to the farm. Thus, the Compost Club was born.

Since I am still teaching from here, I made a short video introducing the students to the benefits of composting. We talked up the club in our classes, and now we have over 80 members in our WeChat group.

At the first meeting, Dr. F. played my video and then led a compost parade across campus with the first load of scraps. He posted photos of the progress to the farm and the dumping of the scraps into a neatly dug rectangular trench. A line of students followed Dr. F like ducklings, rolling wheelbarrows and shouldering shovels. Since there is so much organic material, we are using the “hot” method, where the biological activity actually “cooks” the scraps, turning it into rich, brown humus faster.

Later photos showed the students checking the heat of the pile, steam rising into the chilly air as they turn the scraps over with a shovel. I told Dr. F that we need a marching song and I sent him one: “Cherish the grain! Build the soil. Together our work doesn’t seem like toil.”

He told me we won’t usually have a parade, but only two students per shift. I still think a song might be nice.

At home, I sent photos to the group of our own composters — my chickens doing the work of the digging, mixing in the scraps with the bedding of leaves, grass and weeds with their own poop. Mine is truly the lazy method — most of the time.

But today, I stepped out the kitchen door to see the maple trees have let go of a good many of their leaves in the night, and now the dooryard is carpeted with a lovely golden brown leaf pattern. I’ve got to finish the mucking of the coop so I can pile a deep litter of those leaves for the chickens to rustle.

Last week, Michael tilled up most of the floor, and we piled the diggings into the composters to finish. Today, I dug out the corners and mounded that directly onto the top of my China-style flower bed.

Next, I topped off my victory gardens (the one I planted last year in an old horse trough and my new one, just started in an old wash tub). When I had dug out the corners, I raked up several loads of leaves and piled them in the coop. The chickens will take care of spreading those piles.

Over the next few weeks, more leaves will fall, and I’ll continue the cycle until the coop is knee-deep in leaves. That will keep the coop full of bedding until spring, when we’ll do it all again.

Nourish Beauty; Compost Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is serious about answering mail from readers — email too! Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can follow Birdland on Instagram and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters) or at Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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