Adventures in Composting

“We had science today!”

My son announced the above with glee as he climbed into the car after school. “We learned about worms! And composting!” At home, my son pulled out the handouts he received from the guest science teacher that day. “It’s good for the earth, mommy. Can we try it? What do you think?”

Composting is one of those things I’ve always wanted to embrace. Like cloth diapering. And biking to work. And if we’re being totally honest here, I secretly envy others who make these activities look so effortless. But under the guise of a fun kids activity, maybe we could give it a try? Add to that my crazy garden that grows enough cucumbers to supply the entire neighborhood, but won’t grow a carrot larger than my child’s eyelashes. Granted, those eyelashes are unfairly long, but short for a carrot.  

Yes. Composting could be good for us. 

Nitrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Oh My! 

We started with some research on the types of composting methods and containers. After feeling a little overwhelmed with the options, I ultimately followed the advice of my college roommate. She’s the perfect balance of pragmatism and adventure, and she majored in environmental science, so she’s into this stuff.  

We’re six months into this adventure in composting. And here are the things I’ve learned. Ready? It’s messy. (In an out-of-my-comfort-zone-and-I’m-trying-to-be-okay-with-that kind of way.) 

In choosing our method and container, we went with this composter. There are lots of options out there, and you can even make your own. We needed a closed container because we planned to keep it in our yard close(ish) to our house. It’s also right against our fence, and our neighbors have a nice view of it too. We like our neighbors, so we chose a closed container. Since our container isn’t a tumbler (a tumbler has a handle to turn the contents inside- kind of like a large version of one of those bingo or raffle drums), I also bought this compost turner to move the stuff around inside and aerate it. A pitchfork or shovel would work just as well.   

I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending for you right now. We don’t have any viable compost to add to our garden yet. After six months of diligently adding to our bin (and six months of checking. Often.) some stuff has decomposed, but only a little. To be fair, we started composting in January, and cold temps aren’t conducive to breaking down organic matter. (Tell THAT to my spirit that was completely broken after the 4th snow in March.) If April showers bring May flowers, fingers crossed that May flowers bring rich June soil.

How it Works and What to Do: the down and dirty

In reading and talking to experts, I’ve realized people put a lot of thought into where to place their compost bin. Some say keep it close to your house so it’s convenient to put your goods in it. Others argue that you should keep it further away from your house because it attracts critters. In the sun your compost will warm up more quickly and things will decompose more rapidly. But with sun and warmth comes smell. Since, for us, this is a fun kids experiment, we decided on a location knowing we could move it if we needed to. Ours is about five feet from our house just inside the fence of our backyard. This space gets some sun, and it’s easy to get to. We haven’t had issues with animals trying to get into it, and while it doesn’t smell like a field of lavender, the smell isn’t offensive unless you stick your nose directly into the open container.

At this point, you may be wondering, in what way does a composting how-to guide fit with the themes of your favorite parenting blog? I’m glad you asked. Now that we are into this composting thing, I’ve realized that it may be the best little project we’ve done with our son. Ever. 

While my seven-year-old doesn’t quite grasp how wasted food that ends up on a landfill turns to methane gas that is released back into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change, he does know that the fewer items we contribute to landfills, the better. And it’s important that we all (including him) do our part. 

He’s also at least familiar with the words nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen, and he understands that, even though he can’t see them, these elements are in the food scraps, leaves, and air, and they are really important in our “compost recipe.” 

Composting has made our whole family more okay with the yuck. Decomposing your own garbage isn’t pretty, but it’s strangely satisfying. Seeing the insects fly out of the bin when you lift the cover would have made me gag in the past, but now I understand these critters are aiding in the process. Bring on more! My boy isn’t quite to the point where he wants to aerate the compost himself, but he’s all in on watching me mix it, and he will point out the items he recognizes. It’s kind of gross, but pretty funny. 

Looking back, it’s also funny that it took a first-grade science class to make me finally move on something I’ve spent years saying, “I should try that.” Just another example of how little ones make us all better people, right?  

How have your children helped you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new?  

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