As Earth Day approaches, our attention is focused on tangible ways to help protect our environment. One easy and virtually free way for kids to go green is to start a backyard compost bin. Composting is a natural way for organic (previously living) materials to break down, into a nutrient-rich soil that we can use in our garden. Did you know that in the US we make about 4.43 pounds of waste per person each day? (see epa.gov) That is 250 million TONS of trash per day! We make too much garbage and 13.4% of the waste produced in the US in 2010 was yard trimmings, 13.9% was food scraps. We could be composting this waste, recycling it, and returning it to the ground!
Here are reasons why it’s important to compost, instructions on how to do so with kitchen scraps, and resources (books, clips, and games!) to learn about composting at home.
Reasons to Compost
1). Easy (just throw in your scraps!)
2). Free (after you get the bin, it’s free!)
3). Excellent, organic, chemical-free fertilizer for your garden!
4). Tangible lessons for kids! (environmental and biological science)
5). Less waste! (and less organic material in landfills= less methane gas emissions)
6). Improves soil quality! Soil enriched with compost uses less water, contains more nutrients and good microbes, loosens clay soils, and conserves topsoil.
How to Compost
Choose a spot in your yard that isn’t in the sun the entire day (so it doesn’t dry out). Composting requires a receptacle (or pile) in your yard that you can access daily to drop in your scraps. You can use wooden enclosure, a wire/metal enclosure, a round tumbler bin that you have to spin, or a garbage can-looking bin with vents (click on the types of bin to see pictures in amazon affiliate links).
I usually keep a bowl on my counter to throw scraps in while I’m cooking, and then have my kids go dump them in our compost bin. You should have a mixture of “green stuff” and “brown stuff;” this is the food for the bacteria that will be breaking it down. our compost should also have air ventilation and moisture (I’ve never added water, but in case of a very dry climate you may splash some water on it).
Green: (high in nitrogen) grass cuttings, fruit and vegetables scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags, vegetable plant remains, plants or cuttings from plants. If you have a pet chicken, rabbit or bird, you can add their manure!
Brown: (high in carbon, acts as “fiber”) dead leaves (that you rake), dead plants, dead weeds, cardboard, paper towels (without cleaning chemicals! I put them down when I peel potatoes/carrots), old flowers, natural bedding from small pets, egg shells, hair (from people or pets!).
AVOID: cooked/baked grains (as in bread, pasta, etc); meat/fish or bones; plastic; oil or fat; pet or human feces; weeds that have gone to seed (or else the seeds will sprout with the compost!); glossy paper; coal; and cat litter.
TIP: If you’d like to keep away the flies (though they are doing a job in the compost:) you can always maintain a top layer of brown leaves, and move them to the side when adding your scraps. We do not do this because my kids are in charge, and they prefer to just throw everything on top:).
You will know that the compost is ready by checking the bottom of your bin. We take out about 14 inches of rich, black dirt from the bottom hatch and spread it into our garden every spring!
Resources to Learn about Composting at Home
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth, by Mary McKenna Siddals is an excellent book with gorgeous collages. In rhymes, an ingredient for every letter of the alphabet is included in the “recipe” for compost stew. Environmental chefs will learn what to compost so that “Mother Earth will/ have a treat,/ dark and crumbly,/ rich and sweet...”
Compost! Growing Gardens from Your Garbage, by Linda Glaser, is another sweet book that describes how to compost for young kids. I love the simple explanations, and illustrations of a family composting, and then even the kids harvesting their compost for their garden.
Sid the Science Kid learns about his mushy banana:
Very cool! “Creatures of the Compost” video for kids:
A great little video featuring kids, explaining how to compost:
Can you keep a microbe happy? Feed him, give him water and air, and see if you can help him turn the ingredients into compost humus for your garden.
Compost Crunch! Help the worm find scraps of food and make compost!
Get Wallace the Worm to eat the right scraps and avoid the bad ones so that he can make you juicy compost.