Starting your own compost may sound daunting, but once you commit, I bet you won’t regret it! Involving your children makes it even more fun. Not only will you save money and reduce waste, but you have the opportunity to encourage your family to learn about how your daily habits and choices really can make a difference.
I have been composting for over a decade in both my home and kindergarten classroom, and my best advice is: don’t over think it. I started with a simple chicken wire fence contraption, graduated to an aerated rain barrel, and now currently use a home-made cedar compost bin. A quick visit to Pinterest will give you several DIY options, or you can simply purchase one too. Milwaukee Department Public Works also offers them at a discounted price!
Take a nature walk in the forest with your kids and observe the natural process of how fallen leaves insulate the soil and eventually decompose into nutrients that feed the forest. Ignite their inner conservationist and research about what happens to garbage that could be composted, but instead ends up in landfills.
Identify your browns and greens:
A healthy compost needs a balance of carbon and nitrogen. Carbon rich materials, or “brown” items include: dead and dried plant matter, twigs, wood chips, newspaper, and cardboard for example. Nitrogen rich materials, or “green” items include: living stuff like grass clippings, scraps from your veggies, coffee grounds, egg shells, and tea bags. Children will have fun identifying and classifying the two!
Know what to stay away from:
Avoid meat, fats/oils, pet droppings, bones, milk, cheese, and diseased plants so your compost will efficiently break down and you won’t invite any pests to the pile.
Make it apart of your daily routine:
Keep a small composting bin in your kitchen and add food scraps as you go. I guarantee children will quickly become the compost police and want to carefully separate what goes into the compost rather than the garbage. Have them rip up newspaper, cardboard, and egg cartons to add to the mix. Hey, maybe they will even volunteer to mow and rake to contribute toward the compost. In the summer, I dump the kitchen compost bin right into the outdoor bin daily. In the winter I keep a 5 gallon bucket on my porch so I don’t have to trek out in the cold. Keep a routine simple and approachable so everyone will follow it.
Compost and observe:
Imagine you are making a big parfait! Layer brown, carbon rich matter with green, nitrogen rich matter, sprinkle with soil, and repeat. If the pile looks really wet and slimy, add more brown items. If it’s dry, add more green as well as a periodic watering. Check on the compost often so your children can observe the magical changes and you can trouble shoot as needed. Look out for millipedes, sowbugs, and earthworms that will call it home sweet home- working hard to breakdown the organic matter into compost.
The process takes awhile to breakdown and mature. I compost all year long, and do one big harvest in the spring. Once your compost resembles beautiful crumbly black soil, it is ready for use! Add it to your garden as mulch, top soil, or use as potting soil. Children will delight in the full circle process and it will likely influence their interest in gardening and nature. If you end up with too much for your own use, give little bags away to neighbors and friends!
Don’t be afraid to get messy, and learn alongside your children. Composting is pretty foolproof and can be done in small or yardless areas too! Bask in the good you are doing for the planet and let it inspire your family to think of other ways to practice a more sustainable lifestyle.