October 2009 – Compost Squares

Compost Square – definitely something different cooking in the composter!
First, there were the rural crop circles. Now, we have the urban compost square. Myth or mirth? Hoax or wishful thinking? Is it a recipe for disaster or an odd phenomenon? A Scoop Reporter has found a real Hallowe’ed mystery to end this special issue of The Scoop. Dig deeper …
The following is a true story from a NANPS member as told to The Scoop.
It all started rather innocently, as it has for the past 6 years. Dump a pile of litter in the composter, spread it evenly, put the lid back on, and let it cook. It was Saturday September 19, 2009. The next Sunday, I lifted the lid off to reveal a most peculiar sight – a perfectly, uniform square in the centre of the composter!
My first reaction was to run and check the calendar. Not April 1st. My second reaction was to run and grab the camera, but then I thought, why bother when everyone will assume that I’ve doctored the photo and pulled a Nessie.
The evidence was straight forward. An undisturbed, raised bed in the shape of a square with dimensions, 24” x 24” x 8” deep of aspen-timothy hay based litter, sat in the middle of my composter with a 6” wide by 4” deep perimeter, like a sunken frame, surrounding it. The square was bone dry while the perimeter was moist.
Who did this? What did this? I’ve ruled out the ‘who’, as I am the only one that accesses the composter and I don’t sleep walk. So, that leaves the ‘what’. The mysterious square was undisturbed at the human scale. There was no evidence of tampering by mammals such as mice, rats or raccoons. At the macro-level, lots of invertebrates inhabit the composter, predominantly, isopods, millipedes, and centipedes. Could it be their doing? But how? The raised bed was perfectly square. They didn’t even cut corners! Whatever it was produced the oddity with military precision.
Did they work alone? Was it a collaborative effort? Could two decomposers and a carnivore work together? I’ve worked professionally with isopods. The little crustaceans that have invaded land are welcome in the garden. They are very quiet, industrious critters. The ones that we had in the lab were fed a diet of rodent chow, leaves, vegetables, and wood, similar to the diet fed to my composter. Curiously, the isopods in the lab produced rectangular feces. With this scatological evidence in hand, I might suspect them. But if it was really them, how could they have produced the square and why?
This is where The Scoop got involved.
Since the composter was heavily disturbed by the time The Scoop arrived on scene to start the investigation, it was decided that the site did not need securing. The square had been re-levelled by the owner. Later the entire contents of the composter were emptied into the adjacent composter (a round one), and a new batch of compost was added. The Scoop could only work on conjecture now. Due to the small sample size of this study, we may have to drop it in the anecdotal bin, for now.
Here is a list of our theories about the square, so far:
1. The isopods set up a picket line. They were marching around the inside perimeter of the composter. Their demands were for more organics, more local produce, i.e., from within 10 m of the compost bin, and especially, more water (the square was as dry as a large weetabix cake…and probably just as tasty).
2. Since their demands were not met quickly enough, the isopods decided to build their own irrigation system. Foolish crustaceans for leaving the safety of your watery habitat in the first place!
3. Perhaps the isopods were setting up a Barnes Dance, but had not yet started construction on the two diagonals.
4. The isopods were carving out a message when the owner interrupted them…were they trying to tell the owner that they needed more water? Even spookier, the owner was given the composter by a neighbour who died the following year. Was Bert trying to channel a message through the critters?
5. The isopods were setting up a Hallowe’ed display; a platform for The Great Pumpkin who would visit on the night of October 31st.
Please, be careful around your composter at this time of year. Much as it is tempting – don’t compost any ML&S inspectors caught trespassing. And it is probably bad luck to disturb your composter during Hallowmas.