Schools teach children about recycling, and the children are quick to learn what belongs in the garbage, and what goes into the recycle bin. In addition to traditional recycling, I am aware that in my son’s kindergarten class they also repurpose materials for crafts. For example they keep empty apple sauce containers from the children’s lunches for holding paint, and they have used the empty drinkable yogurt containers to make a snowman craft, and so on. All of these things are responsible things to learn. However, perhaps for obvious reasons, I have not seen schools with compost programs. At home composting can be a great teachable moment.
Back in the fall of 2014, I decided to start composting at home in an effort be a bit more green. However, the process of composting, or food decay, works at slow and smelly pace. As a result, it wasn’t meeting my expectations, and it wasn’t interesting enough to hold my children’s attention. Furthermore, I had grand ideas of having homemade fertilizer for my lawn in the spring as well as the veggie garden, which I planned to use as another teachable moment. So, with a bit of research I started my own vermin compost. Vermin compost is interesting for children, and it changed my green effort into a teachable moment.
Step one consisted of ordering 250 red worms online, and having them snail mailed to my mail box. My new little friends showed up in a burlap bag inside a box; the bag was filled with a bit of soil to keep the little guys happy. Red worms can go 2 weeks without food, which is actually what you do just before you are ready to harvest the bin. We choose red wiggler worms because they are non-invasive. I also liked the idea that if they escaped the bin, they can’t take over the house, or garage, or wherever the bin is kept because they die within a few feet of the outside of bin. The bin is their environment, and it sustains them.
My compost bin was prepared for the worms with slightly decayed food, so in they went. Now this isn’t for the squeamish, and some people just don’t like worms, but this is a great learning activity for the children. The bin and worms needs to be attended once a week, or at least every 2 weeks, with just a simple turn of the compost with GLOVED hands (remember we are talking about worm poop and decaying food). Most children will enjoy getting dirty and playing with worms. In addition, everyone can see the progress the worms have made with the creation of compost, and this progress can be followed from start to finish.
Vermin compost is much faster than regular composting. The bin doesn’t stink like decaying food, but it has a damp earthy smell which is not offensive to the senses. There is a bit of science to it in terms of keeping the moisture level at a middle point, dealing with adding food in a manner to avoid fruit flies, knowing what can and cannot go into the bin and so on, and because of this it has to be an adult and child activity. However, it is fun and interesting for everyone.
Additionally, the added benefit involves what you are avoiding putting into the landfill. Since I started this little adventure we have cut down on our waste considerably. Some weeks, including pull-ups, all we have is ¾ of a bag of garbage for a house of 4. Some weeks it is a full bag. However, between composting and regular recycling we have seen a significant reduction in our garbage. In addition, I can have a small pail of worm-made fertilizer for the back garden in a few months, and a bit for the lawn as well. Likewise we also get worm tea. Worm tea is produced from the worm bins, and it is a nutrient rich liquid that is great for the lawn and plants.
Overall, it has been a great tool for teaching my children about not wasting, as well as demonstrating how everything can be made use of in some way. My oldest child calls things like potato peels “worm food.” He enjoys finding baby worms in the bins. Interestingly, the worms repopulate and control their own numbers by dying off if the food supply doesn’t sustain the older half of the population. That said another teachable moment has involved the circle of life, which has also lead us into growing our own vegetables. There is something fascinating for children about watering seeds and checking them every day until they sprout and start to grow.
If vermin composting is a hobby you are interested in for yourself or for the kids, just a bit of time on a google search can give you lots of tips and ideas. My bins (yes plural, the worms multiplied and I started a second bin) are just Rubbermaids with air holes drilled into the first bin and lid. This drilled bin gets placed in a second bin without holes to catch the liquid run off, and you are ready to start.
By Shari Marshall – 2016