My wife has a reputation -- not a bad reputation, you understand, but certainly one to raise eyebrows. Even questions about her sanity.

It all started, I think, when she began visiting our church's coffee urn and dipping out the used grounds. Those who knew she doesn't drink coffee wondered: Was it to save money on my habit?

Then she started gathering up the used styrofoam cups from the coffee table and trash basket, almost to the pont of standing in front of drinkers and snatching emptied cups out of their warm hands.

One sweet old soul volunteered that my wife needn't gather the cups and wash them out: "We have plenty of clean ones in the kitchen."

The car, the kids and I found ourselves spending summer evenings just ahead of the next day's garbage pick-up. We traversed the neighborhood, collecting bags of grass clippings, poling at them to make sure they had a minimum of trash and holly leaves.

We couldn't drive anywhere without her eagle eye spotting grass bags three blocks away. The kids took to diverting her attention, as they once had from antique shops.

Again, those sidewise glances: Was she trying to beat out the trash men? We found her volunteering to rake certain neighbors' lawns -- just to get a good supply of pine needles.

And there's the time our new car "smellebrated" its first-month anniversary by hauling boxes and cans of manure from a nearby stable.

I even got volunteered to clean out the neighbors' fireplaces for their invaluable supply of ashes.

When I was away on a long trip, there are those who might have suspected that the new lump under the compost-pile cover might be me.

But finally, for visitors to our home, the mysteries were cleared up. In the spring, the former coffee cups incubated cabbage and tomato seeds. Anyone lifting the plastic cover from our backyard compost pile could feel the heat generated from manure and garbage and grass and leaves.

If they were unconvinced by then of my wife's sanity -- or at the very least, practicality -- they merely had to open their eyes and mouths during the summer. Tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes, broccoli whose heads filled a plate or a freezer box, eggplant that outdid the catalog art, lettuce sweet and crisp, beans that were a joy to snap, blueberries and rhubarb that had benefited from the coffee grounds and the pine needles.

And there was corn we would have loved if the raccoons hadn't beat us to it.

The bugs, of course, also got fat. But my wife even had ways to take care of them: flowers for some, onion juice, sour milk, soap bubbles and beer for others.

There are times when I can get away with calling my wife -- in context, I stress -- a knit-wit. Because she can't throw away anything that might be useful, our Kentucky Wonder beans climbed the most colorful array of red, white and blue yarn, left over from the sweaters she has knit.

We had neighbors on all sides, but by summer's end we weren't sure they were still there. Not because of the manure, but because the lima beans grew up and beyond the fence and then beyond a 4-foot extension. ywe know that one neighbor managed to find some beans on her side -- under cover of all that shade - but we didn't begrudge her that, figuring she was just defending her territory.

One last recycling discovery: Newspapers are a grand ground cover for keeping down weeds between rows of vegetables. We topped them off with grass clippings (as much to keep the paper from blowing as for esthetics) and to help decomposition. Newsprint quickly goes to pieces. By the time we plowed the garden for its winter rest, much of the paper had vanished, or was well on its way.

My wife and all her recycling still raises eyebrows, as well as gardens. But one of the side -- or front -- benefits is that all that bending and lifting and shoveling by this week-end laborer takes off enough pounds and inches that I can eat as much out of that good garden as I want.

Maybe that will keep her from recycling me, too.