How to Compost in Your Classroom and at Home

In this post, you will learn how to build and maintain a compost bin which can live inside any house, apartment, classroom, or office.

As many of you may know, the way we treat our earth leaves much to be desired. However, together we can work to better our environment and decrease our carbon footprint. An easy way to do this is by decreasing the amount of waste we produce through a process called composting. Composting is a natural process of breaking down organic materials and turning them into a material called compost, which can enrich our soil and help plants grow.

In the natural world, composting happens all the time. One example is when the seasons change and the leaves fall. Over time, the fallen leaves slowly decompose and eventually turn into earth. Composting is nature’s way of recycling. And lucky for us, this process of recycling can be adapted and brought into our homes and/or the classroom.

We can use this process as a way to reduce the amount of garbage and waste we produce. By turning things like food scraps, coffee grinds, and tea bags into compost, we can naturally help our plants and gardens flourish. By the end of this post, you will have your own living and breathing compost bin and will be equipped with the proper tools and information to properly maintain your bin.

But we hope your environmental education doesn’t stop there!

Washington D.C is jammed-packed with many community gardens that are always looking for volunteers and helpers. In true Live It Learn It fashion, we believe people learn best when they experience. So we encourage you to get your hands dirty and learn about the environment at your local community garden. You can find your local community garden here.

One of our favorite gardens is the National Arboretum’s  Washington Youth Garden, a Live It Learn It destination where our students learn about healthy eating and living. At WYG, volunteers do not need any previous gardening experience to get involved–just a willingness to get dirty and work hard!

Step One: Building the Bin

The first step is building the bin! For this activity you will need:

  • A plastic storage bin; any size will do depending on how much you want to compost.
  • Scissors
  • 2 -4 newspapers
  • A pot of dirt
  • 1 cup of water
  • Leaves

Steps To Build the Bin:

 1. Use a pair of scissors to cut eight – ten holes on the cover of the plastic storage bin. Oxygen is a crucial part of the composting process. These holes will allow your compost to breathe, and assist the various microorganisms in decomposing the organic matter you place in your bin.

STEP 1 – CUT HOLES
  1.    Add ½ inch wide shredded newspaper strips. The newspaper strips will be the base of your bin. This will keep the matter inside the bin from getting too soggy or stinky. For this step, rip the newspaper into ½ wide strips. Fill the bin 1/8 to ¼ full.

  1.    Add a medium size plant pot worth of dirt.
STEP 3 – ADD DIRT
  1.    And a ½ cup of water.
STEP 4 – ADD WATER
  1.    Optional: Add leaves.
STEP 5 – ADD LEAVES
  1. Optional: Decorate 
  2. Now find a good place for your compost bin to live. A sunny part of your home would be ideal. For those who have patios, backyards, or any kind of outdoor space, feel free to let your compost bin live outside. Although this bin is designed to live inside, compost does best when outdoors.

Step Two: Determining What to Compost 

Now that you have created your compost bin, it’s time to fill it. In most households, almost 50% of the things thrown into the trash can be composted and reused. Vegetables, fruits, egg shells, and coffee grounds are all perfect examples of food scraps that can be composted. However, since your compost will be living inside, it is important to be weary of smelly and soggy foods to avoid unwanted odors. Similarly with fruits, compost those in moderation in order to not attract fruit flies and unwanted crawly friends.

OKAY TO COMPOST NOT OKAY TO COMPOST
·         Fruit and vegetable scraps

·         Egg shells

·         Coffee grounds

·         Coffee filters

·         Tea bags (remove staples)

·         Loose leaf tea

·         Spoiled soy/rice/almond/coconut milk.

·         Paper napkins and paper towel

·         Dried/dead flowers and plants

·         Dairy

·         Fats

·         Meats

·         Fish

·         Plastic

·         Dryer lint and hair

·         Weeds with seeds or roots

·         Chemicals

·         Metal

Step Three: Achieving a Successful Compost Bin and Maintenance

When composting, it is important to keep the A.D.A.M principle in mind to ensure a successful compost bin:

Aliveness — Remember, your compost is a living environment filled with bacteria, fungi, and other critters working hard to convert your scraps and waste into a nutrient-rich soil that we can use!

Diversity — For healthy compost it is important to feed your compost a balanced and well-rounded diet of both ‘green, nitrogen-rich’ and ‘brown, carbon-rich’ organic materials.

GREEN BROWN
·         Fruit and vegetable scraps.

·         Coffee grounds.

·         Tea bags & tea leaves

·         Leaves

·         Dead Flowers

·         Shredded Paper & Cartons

Aeration — Maintain oxygen levels in your compost by aeration, a.k.a. turning the compost over at least once a week. This will speed up the composting process and keep odors at bay.

Moisture — it’s important to keep the compost damp. This will help breakdown materials faster. However, be sure not to over-water; this will ruin your compost.

Step Four: Harvesting Your Compost

It’s hard to say exactly how long it will take your bin to produce compost, but you will know it’s ready when it resembles a rich, dark earth-like substance seen in the picture to the right.

Once it looks similar to the image above, it is ready to be harvested. Harvested means it is ready to be used — whether that be as soil in your garden, to repot some houseplants, or even to donate to local community gardens.

Now you have created a living-breathing compost-bin! We would love to see your creations. Share your bins and the progress of them with us. You can share on social media and tag us: @liveitlearnitdc or #Liveitlearnit. You can email us communications@liveitlearnit.org or comment below!

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