Composting with kids

Mum of two, broadcaster and blogger Helen Farmer shares her top tips on battling food wastage with the family
Helen Farmer, Composting, No-waste kitchen, My Green Chapter
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Composting with kids
April 29, 2020

Is it a sign of middle age that I get excited to check the progression of our compost bin? That when I see people putting an apple core in the office trash, I consider asking if I can take it home? Don’t answer that. As a household of three adults, two kids and two dogs, we spend an awful lot of time shopping, preparing and cooking food, but last year, when I took stock of how much was being wasted, I got a shock.

Growing up we had an area at the back corner of the garden. My dad had nailed together a few pieces of wood to create a makeshift container, and in there he would tip the summer smells of green grass cuttings, mouldy plums and apples that had fallen from our fruit trees, too spoilt to eat or turn into chutney, and the peelings from our kitchen. I remember the scent as we played nearby, all earth and warm dirt, breaking down into rich soil that he would spread underneath bushes, onto roses and veggie patches.

Here in Dubai, in 2020 not 1990, life is very different. We don’t have a big garden, and it’s a case of a few tomato plants instead of plum trees, but we do have a lot of waste, from kitchen scraps to clippings from plants. The composting movement is definitely in its infancy here, but I got in touch with My Green Chapter to find out what our options were. For people in apartments, there are tabletop units, or bins like the one we have outside our kitchen window. We have a large mason jar that is filled with peelings, cores and more (even paper) and once full it is tipped into the bin, which has a hole in the bottom for us to take out the mulch for the garden. It’s pleasing, I promise.

Our kids, age 3 and 5, are into it too. Perhaps more enthusiastic than I’d like, when turning their noses up at raw vegetables, and gleefully exclaiming “But this is for the compost!” It teaches them about gardening, about recycling, about waste – and how we’re trying to reduce it. But rather than their chucking food in the jar with wild abandon, here are the guidelines we have given them:
1 GREENS ARE GOOD – vegetable peels, grass clippings and cuttings from the garden.
2 BRING ON THE BROWN – branches and leaves.
3 WE NEED WATER – add some moisture.
4 GIVE IT A MIX – the compost needs to be turned every few days to introduce more air.
5 NOT TO BE ADDED – coloured paper, pet waste, meat, bones, dairy, fish and fats.

Above all, we’ve found this to be a useful way to talk to the girls about the environment. Where does our rubbish go? What is biodegradable? What will stay in landfill for hundreds of years? If we reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill, we can reduce the impact we have on our environment. And in this time of distance learning, of different learning, that’s always going to be a good lesson.

Lea Charpier, managing partner of My Green Chapter tells us a bit more about home composting.

How did My Green Chapter start?
We were convinced that residents of the UAE could farm and cultivate their own produce either in or outdoors for the better part of the year. We also wanted to inform and educate everyone about how we can compost, recycle and plant our way to a more sustainable country. Our online gardening and home centre has everything from planters to composters and coops and our selection includes many exclusive products.

Why is composting important?
Composting is a simple way of turning our food waste into nutrient rich compost for gardens. Disposing of our food waste the right way lessens our carbon footprint, is great for the environment and reduces landfill. If you don’t have an indoor or outdoor garden, donate your compost to family, friends or even local schools – a great green gift if we ever saw one.

Can it be done if one lives in an apartment?
Composting can be done anywhere if you have the right tools. The composters we have for apartment living are fantastic. Modern in design, they take up little room and give you fresh compost within a couple of weeks. In addition to composting vegetable scraps, fruit peels and leaves, our composting machines also love uncooked pasta, teabags and popcorn to name a few.

What is Bokashi? What are some of its benefits?
Bokashi is the hero of all composting systems. It’s environmentally friendly, odorless, easy to use and perfect for apartment living as it can fit under the kitchen sink. It also allows you to include meat and dairy products (banned from Aerobic systems).