Composting With Kids: Let’s Break It Down - MetroFamily Magazine
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Composting With Kids: Let’s Break It Down

by Lindsay Thomas

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Mushy zucchini. Moldy berries. That spring mix you bought last Saturday when you had dreams of being a better person. Even with meal planning and a preschooler who eats cucumbers like they’re candy, our family isn’t perfect when it comes to eliminating food waste.

For years, slimy bags of lettuce and mushy apples ended up in the trash. Today, we recycle them.

Our family added a vegetable garden to our backyard in 2020. After a successful first season of snap peas, tomatoes and entirely too many peppers, my husband became interested in small-scale composting to improve the health of the soil in our raised beds. I agreed it was important (a rind is a terrible thing to waste), but we both work full time, and with a young child, I needed it to be easy. So, we started small.

Compost is decomposed organic material that improves your soil and helps plants grow. It isn’t dirt, but rather, decayed matter you can use as a fertilizer. You can buy compost, but most of us have the ingredients to make it: fruit and vegetable food scraps (without fats or oils), eggshells, coffee grounds, yard waste like leaves and grass clippings, moisture, a little space, and time. The Oklahoma State University Extension has a great resource for getting started, as does the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rather than build a compost pile on the ground that we’d need to turn by hand, we opted for a tumbling composter like this one. Our daughter was 2 years old when we added this to our backyard, and I’m confident that if she ever gets a chance to compete on The Price Is Right, her years of turning the composter alongside us will have prepared her to spin the big wheel and head to the Showcase Showdown.

To collect kitchen scraps, we started with a container with an attached lid on the kitchen counter. We bought small compostable bags to avoid the bucket getting grimy and adding another chore – washing it – to our lives. Although our kiddo loved to help carry the scrap bags outside, I learned a few lessons that first summer:

  1. It’s an invitation for fruit flies to join your family. Permanently.
  2. Although it’s best to make your fruit and veggie scraps small, so they’ll break down faster, a large container made me more likely to dump in whole apple cores and never look back.
  3. Those handy little compostable bags? They break down in commercial composting, not our little tumbler. Oops.

 

In year two, we simplified. We started using a tall plastic container (like a to-go container for soup) and kept it in the door of our fridge. No bugs, the smaller footprint forced me to chop our scraps, and there was nothing extra to buy.

For backyard and first-time composters, much ado is made about kitchen scraps, but leaves are critical to the success of your compost pile. According to the OSU Extension, in Oklahoma, grass clippings and yard trimmings make up as much as 25% of a community’s waste. Rather than raking your leaves and sending them to the city dump, you can put them to work in your compost. (Interested in lazy composting? You can also just leave leaves on the ground, where they’ll fertilize the soil as they break down on their own!)

Our tumbler is just a start, but it’s working! Last fall, I opened it to dump in a batch of kitchen scraps and found a squash seedling growing inside the dark composter. It’s been a great way to talk about recycling in action and being thoughtful about waste with our 4-year-old; plus, it’s a natural extension of the fun we’re already having in our backyard. Happy gardening!

Lindsay Thomas is the director of public affairs for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband, preschooler and Muppet-like dog.

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