The purpose of compost is to rot — to decompose and become part of the soil from which it came. Feel free to start humming The Lion King's "Circle of Life." That's what it's all about.

A compost pile undergoes a pretty amazing series of transformations on its way to becoming next season's topsoil. What happens to the steaming heap of old coffee grounds, discarded vegetable peels, soggy cardboard, and yard clippings is either beautiful or disgusting, depending on your perspective. As always, art is in the eye of the beholder. Even when it's compost.

Granville Island compost

Photo: sporkist/Flickr

Vancouver's Granville Island is famous for its public market. This Flickr user stuck his head into a compost dumpster to photograph this amazing symphony of orange. While not all these items are appropriate for home composting, they're as beautiful as garbage can be.

Roses in compost

Photo: The Division of Light and Shadows/Flickr

You can compost pretty much anything — even memories (though watch out for this stuff). Here is a still life of roses and baby's breath.

Read leaves composting

Photo: Gavin Anderson/Flickr

Autumn is the best time to collect carbon-rich "brown" compost. But this bulging compost pile, captured by Flickr user Gavin Anderson, show that brown sometimes comes in crimson.

Toad in compost

Photo: John Leach/Flickr

Compost attracts many admirers. This happy toad has settled in on damp heap, probably waiting for dinner to crawl past.

Light and lettuce

Photo: net_efekt/Flickr

Light, lettuce, and last week’s kitchen trash — compost photography evoking Vermeer.


Photo: Chika/Flickr

Wet, dark, and slimy — if you're a worm, this is what a day at the beach looks like. Vermiculture is a subset of backyard composting. Worm compost enthusiasts say red worms do the best job, and can process up to their body weight each day.

Green orange in compost

Photo: Soon Van/Flickr

When is an orange green? When it's compost. Image by Soon Van — read him at Random Echo.

Autumnal food waste

Photo: swanksalot/Flickr

Americans waste about 14 percent of the food they purchase. Nationally, food waste and spoilage amounts to losses in excess of $75 billion. In some sectors of agricultural production, waste can be as high as 40 percent. These autumnal fruits and vegetables — photographed being readied for compost — will get another shot at the table next season.

Mature compost

Photo: normanack/Flickr

The finished product! Mature compost, the foundation of a healthy garden. With proper care, another successful crop of vegetables will spring from this earth. And then the cycle starts all over again.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2009

A glorious gallery of rot: Compost as art
Composting is a beautiful thing -- it'll enrich your garden, give your old food new life, and you may enjoy admiring it as much as these photographers did.