Mini Compost Pile
Today's Snack: fruit or vegetable; see the list
below for ideas of what to eat so that you'll have a "supply" of compostable
material right after snack!
You could have a vegetable peeler on hand and peel whole
carrots, reserving the peels for your compost pile; or have a paring knife and
cutting board ready to chop up other uneaten food items
Another idea: hard-boiled eggs for snack, and crush the
eggshells later for the compost pile
Adults could collect their coffee grounds for a while in
advance, or ask a coffee shop for some
Old plastic pitcher or metal
container with a lid
Large, beat-up old plastic or metal
garbage can or storage tub
OR wood, chicken wire and staples or
Sharp utility knife or electric
drill or ice pick or hammer and nail
Chopped banana peels
Coffee grounds or used teabags
Cut-up orange rinds
Chopped apple cores
Chopped celery tops or bottoms
Uneaten slices or rotten, overripe fruits
and vegetables, chopped
A little (not a lot) of shredded
The things we eat are amazingly useful, and not just for
nourishing our bodies. They nourish the ground we stand on - and grow
tomorrow's food in! That's right: a large segment of what goes in to making
dirt is actually dead leftovers and rotting parts of the plants that are
growing today. It doesn't
SOUND beautiful - but there's nothing that smells as good as a handful of
fresh, black soil, and feels as good in your hand. That's because, if you think
about it, dirt means life! Where would we be without it?
Gradually, out in nature, scraps and leftovers from plants break
down into nutrients in the soil. What does it? Microorganisms such as bacteria and
It takes a long time, lots of sunshine, wind and rain, but
good, black soil comes from the process that happens over and over again, of
plants breaking down into soil. When they transform from the plant they were
into the soil they'll be, they release their storehouse of nutrients. And
that's good! Nutrient-rich soil is perfect for helping to grow new plants. It's
the circle of life - earth to food and back to earth again.
And you can be a part of it, even if
you live in the middle of a city. You can make your own compost pile! You can
make something beautiful and useful out of what you USED to think was just old,
smelly garbage, making a liveable habitat on purpose for "gross"
To "compost" food scraps by concentrating them in one place
and keeping them warm and moist is to hurry along the decomposition process.
You'll come up with soil improvements to help your garden, or someone else's,
in less time and have fun doing it, as you add to your compost pile.
Grown-up gardeners with enough space
will build a box or have a structure in a sunny spot outside in which the
composting can take place. But you'll be able to do it in a simple household
How will you know you're
successfully composting? When you see steam rising from the pile on a cold
winter day, or have a wheelbarrow full of rich, fertile compost to get your
spring seeds and transplants off to a great start! Here's how:
your mom or other grownup for an old pitcher or other plastic or metal container
with a lid that you can have. It should hold a half-gallon or more. Ideally,
you should be able to keep this under your sink with the lid on until it's full.
ask for a beat-up old plastic or metal garbage can that you can have, with a
lid. You could also use a plastic storage tub. Get one as big as you can. With
adult supervision, cut the bottom off a plastic one, or poke or drill lots of
holes in the bottom of a metal bin. Also punch or drill holes around the sides
of the can so that moisture can drain out. Use the ice pick or drill, or hammer
a nail through to make the holes. Or you can build a compost bin out of scrap
wood and chicken wire so that it's open to the top but has chicken wire sides
and a bottom. You can put a board on top or cover it with a tarp.
hole about a foot deep and set the bin in it. Put a few scoops of soil or
store-bought compost in the bottom. Keep the lid tightly closed.
this behind your garage, in your back yard, or some other out-of-the-way place
out of doors. Don't put it on nice grass because it will kill it, but on plain
dirt or gravel or pavement. A sunny spot is best.
start collecting your compost! Whenever you eat a banana or an orange, cut up
the peel into pieces about an inch square. Put them in the old pitcher that you
keep under the sink. You can put bits of other cut-up and uneaten fruit or
vegetables such as strawberry tops, potato peels and apple cores, used coffee
grounds, and crushed-up eggshells in there regularly, too.
put any meat or dairy products into your compost. It makes things smell bad! No
fish or fish parts . . . nothing that had milk or cheese in it . . . no candy .
. . just stick with the things on the list above.
WANT you to eat your broccoli . . . so don't let your compost pile be an excuse
to evade eating your fruits and vegetables!
Remember, shoot for five servings a day. But the peels and leftovers can sure
go into your compost pile!
your kitchen container fills up, the materials inside will start to change, as
the warmth inside your house and the moisture from inside the food itself begin
to make chemical changes that are the first step in converting the food items
so often, when your container gets full, take it out to the big compost can and
dump it in. During the warm months, you should try to "layer" a thin layer of
kitchen scraps followed by a thin layer of grass clippings and thin layer of
shredded leaves, and then mix. But in the winter, if you disturb your compost
pile, it'll slow down the process.
sure your compost pile starts off full enough, because it will shrink fast and
you don't want to go through all the steps and wind up with just a small
quantity of pompost. Put in enough grass clippings or shredded dry leaves with
your kitchen scraps to fill your container to the top, even after you've run
water from the garden hose for a while. If it sinks down, add more materials
and more water, until it's pretty darn full. Then "stir" the garbage so that it
thoroughly is mixed with the grass clippings or leaves. Make sure to use grass
clippings that do not have any weedkiller or other chemicals on it.
need a little "green" for nitrogen and a little "brown" for carbon. If you're
short on grass clippings or shredded leaves, there are alternatives: if you
happen to have chicken or rabbit manure, it can go in and it's full of
nitrogen, since those animals eat nitrogen-rich foods - but no other kind of
manure, such as dog doo or horse manure, for example, will work. You can
sprinkle in nitrogen-rich alfalfa pellets that is sold as rabbit feed in pet
stores, or blood meal, which you can purchase from a garden store. If you don't
have shredded leaves, you can use other carbon-containing ingredients, such as
straw, sawdust or ashes from your fireplace or woodstove. Make sure that you've
chopped any of the compost ingredients pretty small - that speeds up the
you're composting in the winter, leave the pile alone, and don't stir it again
'til spring, because cold winter winds and low humidity will suck the moisture
away and the microbes can't break down. You could put a tarp over your compost
bin, but do add water regularly. You could also put straw bales around your bin
to provide insulation, or dig a hole and put your bin in it as a buffer from
might want to have a separate outdoor container to hold on to the kitchen
scraps that you collect after you've started a batch composting.
you've started a batch composting, and your bin is full in spring, summer and fall, stir your compost
around once a week or so with a spade or other long garden tool, and toss in a
little water with the garden hose so that it's damp but not soaking. Keep
filling your outside container even in cold weather, but it won't "compost" very
quickly until the warm temperatures and sunshine create the chemical conditions
necessary to turn it into dirt.
there's steam coming off your compost pile, congratulations! You're doing well!
If the inside does NOT get hot, though, you're either turning it too much or
adding too much water. A well-managed compost pile should not smell bad; if it
does, make sure the ingredients you're using are those listed above, and throw
in everyday garden soil, which has no odor, to help cancel out any bad smells
that might be bothering you or your neighbors.
the warm weather arrives, you should have a nice batch of compost ready to use
in the garden or patio flowerpots!
on how hot it is and how often you add water to your outside compost pile, the
process will probably take a month or two from the time you added the grass
clippings. The moisture and released gases from inside the discarded food,
combined with the chemicals breaking down, especially nitrogen from the grass
clippings, will create what looks like rich, black dirt. That's what it is!
Through the changes brought by heat and moisture, what started off as an old
banana peel and other old garbage has become enriched soil, full of nutrients.
Though you started out with a full container, by the time the compost is
"done," it'll only be about one-fourth full . . . but it'll be quality stuff!
compost will stay in this condition indefinitely. You do not have to use it
right away; you can wait 'til fall or even the following spring's gardening chores.
Keep a heavy-duty sack from some other product, such as fertilizer or a leaf
bag, and store your compost in it 'til it's needed.
you've added grass clippings to your first compost pile, you can start
collecting fruit and vegetable scraps for a second one.
But don't add anything to your pile as it's composting, because it will extend
the process any time new material is added.
compost as a "soil amendment" next time you plant any kind of flower, vegetable
or shrub in your yard. Just throw a handful around the roots of any transplant,
or work compost into the existing soil when you're planting seeds. Compare how
much better plants grow when they have the added boost of compost!
your mom's an avid gardener, a sack of your special banana compost makes a
memorable and special Mother's Day gift.
also please Mom to think of you eating all those fruits and vegetables in the
first place, because Moms know just how good they are for you, inside and out.