Sunday, January 22, 2012

Just for Dad: Making a compost bin

What is composting?
Composting is the process of decomposing organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. All living matter decomposes.  In the forest when plants and trees die and fall to the forest floor, they slowly decompose and eventaully enrich the soil.  Composting for gardening or farming is an acceleration of the same process. When we compost our excess fruits, vegetables, and other organic materials, we are able to return the nutrients from those materials back into the soil.  Plants planted in this enriched soil will take these nutrients helping them become strong, healthy, and fight off diseases.  Adding compost to our gardens helps us to recycle and avoid waste, as well as increase the quality of the food we eat.
How does it work?

Composting allows for control of the four factors that affect the speed of decay: oxygen, water, food and temperature. By managing these factors, the naturally slow process of decay can progress much faster. Carbon rich material is known as 'brown' stuff. Nitrogen rich material is known as 'green' stuff. During composting micro-organisms from the soil eat the organic (carbon-containing) waste and break it down into its simplest parts. This produces fiber-rich, carbon-containing humus with inorganic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The micro-organisms break the material down through aerobic respiration. Through the respiration process, the micro-organisms give off carbon dioxide and heat. The more heat generated, the faster the decomposition occurs. (source) Or for another explanation click here.
Why are you doing this?

Is this really apart of homeschooling?  You bet it is!  Education isn’t just about reading and arithmetic; we want our children to learn real practical life skills.  On top of that, there’s a lot going on in the dirt you are working with and this can become quite the science lesson incorporating Biology, Chemistry, and Agriculture.  Not to mention it’s a good lesson to help children understand where their food comes from, and how to avoid waste by recycling

What will you need?

This depends on your situation, if you’re living out in the woods somewhere than you’ll have more options and more space to use.  If you’re living in the city you’re going to be limited in space. 

1.       A container (unless you’re out In the country then you can just make a pile somewhere)

2.       Green organic material: Leafy greens are the best but all your leftover fruits and vegetables will do.

3.       Brown organic material:  twigs, straw, sawdust, shredded paper, and even coffee grounds

4.       Water

5.       Sunlight

6.       Oxygen (either by holes in your container, turning the compost, or both)

What do you do?

Set up your container.  If you’re outside then consider into choosing your container that the more air you get to it the better.  If you’re keeping your container inside just remember you’re going to need to turn it more frequently and maximize sunlight to avoid it going moldy.  We’ve used a deep bucket in the past and left it on the roof, and I turned it every few days. 

Once you have your container or space picked out you are going to make a compost lasagna.  You want to layer your compost alternating between the green leafy materials, and the dry brown materials.  It is suggested that you want a 3 to 1 ration of brown to green materials.  Add some water give it some sun light, turn it as often as you like, twice a week maybe and pretty soon you’ll start to see the material decompose, and eventually you’ll have your own compost to start gardening.  If you want to just leave it, time will do all the work, but mixing it up will speed up the process.

Also remember that almost any organic material can be added, from grass clippings (so long as you don’t treat your lawn) to all fruits and vegetables, ash, eggshells, manure, and leaves.  You do want to avoid, anything processed with chemicals, meats, oils, dairy products, or diseased plants, for either odor reasons, attracting pests, or compromising the quality of the compost.  It’s also ok if you want to start by using some earth, or organic potting soil just to get you started. For a list of potential materials check here.

What’s next?

Well hopefully you’ve assumed that if you’re making a compost pile then you must be getting ready to do some gardening.  Stay tuned as we’ll be posting soon on starting a window garden so you can put that compost to work.

What are you learning out of this lesson?

There is a lot that you can extract from this lesson, and it depends on the age and ability level of your child, but for a few ideas.Gardening and Agriculture
Life cycle of a plant
Where our food comes from
Self sufficiency
Recycling & avoiding waste
History (this is no new invention)

If you would ike a visual explanation check out this video tutorial.