Composting 101: Getting Started



One of my favorite books to read to my son, to the point where I nearly have it memorized, is ‘Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth‘ by Mary McKenna Siddals (brilliantly illustrated by Ashley Wolff). It’s a rhyming book that gives you all sorts of ideas of what to include in a compost heap to create a rich, healthy soil.

If you visit Ms. Siddals website, she has a wealth of information and lesson plans about composting (check it out).

Composting is one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to enrich your soil, reduce your garbage waste, and get your child involved in the garden.

Why Compost?

According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and encourages the development of beneficial bacteria and fungi that created a rich nutrient-filled material.

We actually have 3 different compost areas in our yard: our chicken coop (where the majority of our food scraps go), a pile in our garden (during the winter, we will place dead plant material there to break down when we empty out pots), and a tumbling compost bin (this one from Amazon – we place yard material and scraps that can’t be given to the chickens here). Eventually we would like to add a worm bin, but that’s a project for another day.

Let’s Get Composting!

So what exactly can you compost? There are so many things that you can add to your compost bin. The key here is to get a good balance. You are going to want to have an equal amount of browns to greens. The brown materials provide carbon while the green materials provide nitrogen. You’ll want to add some water to moisten everything and help break it down.

Here’s a short list of some of the things you can add to your compost pile (there are so many other things you can add though):

  • Eggshells
  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Coffee Grounds or Tea Bags
  • Cardboard
  • Hair Clippings or Nail Trimmings
  • Leaves and Grass Clippings
  • Dryer Lint

What you DON’T want to add is dairy, meat, fats, pet feces or yard materials that have been treated with a chemical pesticides.

Getting Your Child Involved

Caleb loves to feed our food scraps to the chickens and to spin the tumbling compost bin. But a great way to get your child involved in composting is to set them up with their own bin. All you need is a bucket with a lid or even a plastic storage container.

Make sure that you poke holes in the lid and the bottom of the box to allow air flow and to let moisture drain (or else you’ll just get mold). If you’re leaving your box inside, just throw a tray under your bin.

From there, let your child be in charge. I like to start my compost bins with a layer of shredded newspaper or leaves on the very bottom and then a layer of dirt before adding my other materials to give it sort of a base to start.

Let them add the scraps each day and give the bin a quick shake (or a stir). If you (as the caregiver) notice that the contents of the bin are staying very wet or if they are smelly, add some shredded fall leaves or shredded newspaper to dry it out. If the contents are very dry, use a spray bottle to moisten the contents, or add plenty of moisture-rich items such as fruits or veggies.

It’ll take about 2-3 months (longer in the winter) for your materials to break down enough to use but it is so worth it!