Composting a good garden activity for parents and their kids

Amanda Bradshaw Contributing columnist

December 31, 2013

Question: Now that winter has officially made an entrance what can my kids and I do in the garden?

Answer: Start composting. Even though the temps have dipped and the urge to stay inside is upon us, composting can happen year round. You might be wondering, “Exactly what does it mean to compost?”

According to the old faithful Merriam-Webster Dictionary to compost means the following: “A decayed mixture of plants (such as leaves and grass) that is used to improve the soil in a garden.”

Anyone can compost at any time of the year and at any age. Composting requires little to no space and has many benefits not only for the garden but for families too.

The actual act of composting has existed for thousands of years in nature all around us. Fallen leaves that didn’t get raked out to the curbside, limbs and branches that fell during a wind storm combined with nature’s insect army and the bountiful rains all create the perfect habitat for composting. Forest and wooded areas depend on such an action to keep the lifecycle in check and pushing forest growth forward. Natural layers of compost are created each year on forest floors creating the fertile lands of North Carolina that we all love.

Items being discarded from the kitchen every day and items found around the yard can be composted easily by adding a few steps to the daily routine. Items such as:

Grass clippings

Discarded vegetable scraps (cabbage, lettuce, etc.)


Used Tea Bags

Egg Shells

Coffee Grinds

Fruit/Citrus Peelings (Bananas, oranges, etc.)

Fallen Leaves

There are a few items that shouldn’t make it into the composting bucket. Items such as:

Meat (Cooked or raw)

Milk products (cheese, sour cream, etc.)

Diseased garden plants


Pet Droppings


These items can be gathered each day in a bucket and emptied as the bucket fills or every other day into a composting facility. Composting bins can be composed of an assortment of items. Your local hardware or home improvement store will have a variety of options to choose from complete with a buffet of price ranges also. Recycled wooden pallets can be mounted together and surrounded by chicken wire for a more affordable and greener option. Also, a composting bed can simply be the forest floor. Once composting has begun, remember to give it a stir often as to allow for a healthy airflow. Within a few weeks the magical nutrients will be ready to add to your garden area. Compost can also be used for bedding plants, in potted plant displays, or around household shrubs. Using compost helps to reduce fertilizer and soil cost and is a natural way to keep plants healthy, green and lush all while reducing landfill usage.

Another great adventure with composting might be to add worms to the mix. This form of composting is also known as “Vermicomposting.” These hungry munchers speed the process of composting along and are a great tool to help teach the necessity of protecting local ecosystems. Commonly used varieties of earthworms include: red wiggler, night crawler varieties, and earthworms. Not to mention they will bring more of the “cool factor” to the world of composting for your kids thus drawing them in hook, line and sinker to this new journey.

Kids can be part of the composting action from step 1 right on down to the final step when you begin to use this in your household environment. Composting items from the kitchen will not only teach responsibility but will be a great lesson in promoting good stewardship of the environment we live in.

To find out more about composting and vermicomposting, please check out the following resources:

Vermicomposting School Enrichment Curriculum can be found at the Sampson County Cooperative Extension office. Feel free to visit and pick up a copy or call 910-592-7161.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension at

Composting for Kids presented by Texas Agriculture Extension Service at

PBS Kids and the featured show “The Greens” at

Each of these is an awesome resource to help you and your family dive into the world of composting. Each composting experience will be different because the contents, weather, location, and moisture levels all play a vital role in the finished product. Using the resources above will help your family to discover the right combination and produce rich compost for your garden area. Let the composting begin!

Reminder: Please call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at (910) 592-7161 with your horticultural questions and to register for any upcoming events. Be sure to check out the Ask An Expert Widget at for any questions you may have.

(Editor’s Note: Amanda Bradshaw is an Extension Agent with the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Office.)