Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Compost, Worms Can Work Wonders in the Worst Soil

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Compost, Worms Can Work Wonders in the Worst Soil

Article excerpt

In New York City, where leaves hang limp from the drought, the Lower East Side Ecology Center on East Seventh Street, between Avenues B and C, is a living testimony to the powers of compost.

"There was no soil here, just amended rubble," said Christine Datz, who got a lease from the city in 1990 to start a composting program on a trash-filled lot. It took neighbors and friends a few months to throw out several Dumpsters' worth of garbage.

She stood in the shade of a tall poplar tree, which was a little stick four years ago. It was once the same story for a lush willow and a sprawling Chinese empress tree. Hadn't they heard they were in a drought?

"We give them a few wheelbarrows full of compost every fall and spring," Datz said.

Fat little cantaloupes and summer squashes peeped from the boisterous vines at her feet.

"These are all volunteers from the compost," she said. "The cantaloupes are really sweet this year."

A sloping rock garden, built by sculptor Clyde Romero from stones and slabs of wood dragged from excavation sites and downed trees, billowed with Russian sage, French lavender, horehound, lemon balm, tarragon and basil.

Datz, who came to New York from Frankfurt about 15 years ago, looked right for the part of compost goddess, dressed in sturdy boots, old shorts and a purple T-shirt, a tightly rolled scarf serving as a headband over her braids.

"It's my thing," she said. "I have a strong feeling about doing good things for the earth. You have to live by example and show other people they can do it, too."

She led the way to the back of the lot, where eight large, low mounds of compost - each about 6 feet wide and 15 feet long - are at various stages of decomposition. The freshest piles are covered with black plastic, which absorbs heat and speeds decomposition; the older piles are topped with burlap. One huge sheet of shade cloth lies over the whole shebang.

"We're concerned about our friends, the worms," Datz said. "The shade cloth cuts out 80 percent of the sun, so they don't get fried. …

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