Backyard composter provides great education for kids and grandkids

Ella Distad helps out by taking her family's food waste out to their backyard composter. Photo by Brenda O'Reilly

You’ve probably heard about backyard composting and may have thought that it would be nice to try it yourself. Well, this is a great time of year to set it up. Why compost? If you are recycling your bottles, cans, paper and cardboard, the majority of your remaining trash is probably compostable yard or food waste.

Even if your yard waste is being taken to a commercial compost facility instead of the landfill (as is the case in Bay Village), you can still benefit by composting your own yard waste and creating a rich soil amendment to be used in your yard. It’s a great educational opportunity for children to see how easily and quickly organic material can be returned to the soil.

According to Kathleen Rocco, education specialist from the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste Management District, composting not only keeps organic waste out of landfills, it can be mixed with your soil to add nutrients and reduce the need for watering. “Mixing compost with soil improves its texture, structure, aeration ability and water holding capacity,” said Rocco.

There are many types of backyard composters. You can simply pile your compostable material in a discreet spot, or you can build a compost bin from wood or other materials. You can purchase various types of compost bins including spinning bins or digesters. You can use an old trash can for your compost bin – just drill some holes in it for aeration. The advantage of the spinning compost bins, digesters or converted trash cans is that they are contained, which helps keep the critters away. You can still keep the critters away with an outdoor compost pile, but you need to bury your food scraps deep within a working compost pile.

It’s easy to compost; there are just a few guidelines to remember.

The compost process works by mixing so-called “brown” and “green” organic material together, per Rocco. Green materials are high in nitrogen, and include all of your plant and grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps, and flowers. Brown materials are high in carbon, and include dead leaves, pine tree needles, straw, sawdust, dryer/vacuum lint, nut shells, and shredded newspapers.

If the compost pile is not contained, Rocco suggest starting it with yard waste only at first. Put a 2-4 inch layer of green material and cover it with a 4-6 inch layer of brown material. It’s best to have more brown material, so start with a 75 percent/25 percent mix of brown to green. You can increase your green material up to a 50/50 mix of brown and green as the compost begins to work. The compost pile should be mixed periodically (every few weeks) with a pitchfork or shovel. The more often you mix it, the quicker the pile will compost.

Your outdoor compost pile should be placed in a discreet area where it will get sun and rain water. It should be kept moist, but not soaking for best results. Microorganisms will go to work and create compost for you. Organic materials break down into compost at varying speeds. In summer months when the sun is hot, materials with a lot of water such as vegetable and fruit scraps will become compost as quickly as 1-2 weeks. Denser material such as dead leaves and plant stalks take longer to compost.

Once your compost pile is set up and working, have the kids bury your vegetable and fruit scraps (food waste). Then come back in 1-2 weeks to see what you can find – you’ll see that most of the fruit and vegetable scraps have disappeared and you have a very rich soil amendment in its place.

The Cuyahoga County Solid Waste Management District provides compost education and sells bins at a reduced cost to Cuyahoga County residents. For more information on composting, go to

The District is currently offering a composter and a digester for $50 each and a kitchen collection container for $5. For more information or to sign up for an upcoming compost seminar, call 216-443-3731 or email

Brenda OReilly

Co-Chair of the Bay Village Green Team

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Volume 6, Issue 12, Posted 9:28 AM, 06.10.2014