Composting with Kids

We are excited to have this guest post from Stacy Tornio ( the author of “Project Garden: A Month by Month Guide to Planting, Growing,  and Enjoying All Your Backyard Has to Offer” a fantastic new book which includes over 175 activities for the whole family to enjoy!  I’ve been enjoying it and found that there are so many fantastic and creative ideas that kids will love. Check out how to win a copy of her new book < here  >

Composting with Kids

Truth be told, I don’t exactly find composting an “easy” activity for kids. I think it can involve a lot—finding the right space, knowing what is and isn’t okay to compost and having the patience for it all to turn into soil.

Yet, I regularly teach a composting class to kids through my volunteer work as a master gardener. How come?

The thing is, kids love it. I mean, what’s more magical than throwing your garbage into a bin and then it turns into soil? So to make composting with kids easier, here are a few suggestions:

Explain what’s happening. Make sure to tell the kids what’s going on throughout this process. There are some great books out there that explain what you should and should not compost (Compost Stew is a wonderful picture book). Depending on what age of kids you’re working with, make sure they understand what’s happening.

Find a good tumbler system. Old school composting systems involve a lot of turning and mixing by hand. But if you’re composting with kids, I recommend getting a good tumbler system. They’ll like to spin it, and it speeds up the process.

Learn the difference between brown and green. If you don’t get this part right, then nothing else matters. It’s easy to come up with green matter like kitchen waste, but don’t forget to add brown matter like leaves and cardboard. The general rule of thumb is you need about 25 to 30 parts brown material to one part green. (To learn what is and isn’t okay to compost, take a look at my video.)

Designate a spot. You definitely need a spot to keep your compost pile or bin outside, but also designate a place to keep your kitchen scraps. They make some bins, complete with compostable, odor-eliminating liners that are great. If you have it out where everyone can see, you’re more likely to keep doing it.

Experiment with worms. Worms speed up the composting process, and kids love them! When I teach composting classes, we create mini environments with red wiggler worms, shredded newspaper and soil. In the gardening world, it’s called vermicomposting. Check it out!

Recycle, recycle, recycle. The bottom line is that composting is a great way to recycle. Don’t lose sight of that. Even if you’re not successful right away or it’s a lot more involved than you imagined it to be, you can still use it as a way to recycle more. It’s still a worthwhile lesson.

It’s okay to take a break. Many people stop composting in winter (if they live in a colder climate) or find that they go in spurts. This is okay! Don’t try to do too much, and take a break if you need it.

Picardo P-Patch Children’s Garden

Currently I am mid-design on a project that is a great honor to be working on.  Picardo is Seattle’s first and largest P-Patch community garden and is actually where the term P-Patch (P for Picardo) came from.  You can read all about Picardo’s rich history and rich soil here.

In a couple of weeks there will be a public meeting  which will include presentation of a Master Plan (done by Nicolas Marin of Barker LA) and the design of the Children’s Garden — that is my job.

Site meeting in November 2011 with (L-R) me, Sara Egbert, Picardo's CG coordinator, Nick Marin, LA of Barker LA

The kids had a long list of fun requests and I think I got most of them included in the small SE corner of the site.  It will have many fun elements and one multifunctional shed.  Here are some rough sketches I’ve drawn that are going into a CAD program.

I will be updating photos and drawings for this project here, so that people can check it out during the process.  Another neat tool I have to show ideas is this Pinterest pin board.

Feel free to ask questions or shoot me an email!


Garden projects with kids: concrete

I am always looking for crafty activities to do with my kids in the garden.   Recently we made some concrete labels for our plants, and some just for fun.

We found a kit at a thrift store which had large letter stamps to press in a concrete slurry we mixed ourselves.  The closest I could find to this kit was this:Midwest Products Traditional Letters and Numbers Stepping Stone Stamps They turned out OK, but  I can’t wait to do it again now that we’ve had some practice.  And I am thrilled that my favorite publisher has just released a new book Concrete Garden Projects: Easy & Inexpensive Containers, Furniture, Water Features & More with ideas and tips for concrete garden projects.  I’m looking forward to checking the book out!  They also happen to be having a cool giveaway here . Finally, to see a demonstration of one of the projects – check out the video below.  It stars Emma who happens to be my Timber Press publicist!

Wordless Wednesday – My Helpers

Startin 'em young

mmm.. our first frames of honey.....

Edible Flowers

I love this time of the year, not only because gardens are at their peak, but because it is when some of my favorite flowers are blooming AND we can eat them!  It is also a great time to introduce children to the idea of eating flowers because they get so excited about it.  In fact, I have to watch out because my kids will eat all of the flowers leaving none for me or the bees.  They also have a fun time showing other kids when they come to visit.

Here are daylilies, nasturtium and borage flowers- all edible!

Edible flowers can make a salad more delicious and beautiful - I made this yesterday for dinner with a friend and it all came from my garden (well, with the exception of the almonds)

Here is a list of other edible flowers/part and links to more info (from wikipedia):
Do you have a favorite edible flower?
A few words of caution: if you don’t know what a plant or flower is, or you don’t know if it is edible, do not to eat it.  If you have allergies or medical problems,  do your research.  I often use this great site to check on the edibility rating of specific plants.

Northwest Flower & Garden Show 2011

What a refreshing experience! We took a year off from designing and building a display garden at the show so I could write a book.  It was fantastic to stride through the gardens and vendor areas with no blisters on my feet, to actually be awake, alert and enjoying the show.  Usually after spending a solid 72 hours constructing the gardens, the week of the actual show is fueled by excessive caffeine with just to enough energy to sit in a chair nodding and smiling. Last year I suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and would duck out regularly into the barn to love my oxygen tank.  2010 was a rough year despite the 7 awards our garden won.

Our 2010 NW Flower and Garden Show Garden

This year I taught two seminars (“What the Cluck?!” about chickens, and “How to have your garden and eat it too” which was about Homestead design) and went to several other seminars which was great.  I wandered, shopped, brought my kids (6 &9) and said hello to friends in the business.  I loved seeing the diversity of the display gardens and will always appreciate the hard work that goes into creating them.  I noticed a few trends worth mentioning and a few timely elements missing in the gardens that I heard many show goers commenting on. Edibles mainly, were hard to find in the gardens this year- I found two gardens which contained food, but had to really look for them.
Trends I saw were the use of salvaged materials in everything – from the structures to small details.  In fact it made the “new” materials really stand out! One garden had some new wood elements that looked so freshly built that it stood out a little too much under the show lights.

Christianson Nursery charming display garden

Metal was also in just about every garden this year, much of it looked salvaged.  I absolutely loved seeing all of the rusty steel art, walls and planters.

A metal planted screen in the "shoe" garden

Metal grating used as tiles or pavers

Possibly my favorite container in the show

Many of the garden walls were built with metal this year as opposed to last year's gabion basket trend

One of the gorgeous spheres in Karen Stefonick's garden

A simple water feature in one of my favorite container gardens

Another major highlight for me this year was the Children’s Play Garden which was new and full of fun stuff for kids including chickens, rabbits, spiders and composting.  There is always a scavenger hunt, and this year it was to find little piggy banks in all of the gardens and kept my kids occupied for hours, which was then rewarded with a take home piggy bank! Having kids I appreciate anything and everything that keeps children interested in gardens… after all, they are the future – for us and for gardening.

Meet our new little man: Trickster

In my search for photogenic gardens and experienced chicken owners I happened to stumble into a magical landscape where every nook and cranny was full of great surprises.  In this garden lives more than two dozen chickens, 7 of which were roosters. They all had stories and a family who loves them.  One rooster in particular was the low man on the totem pole and his feathers were being ripped out by the other chickens leaving a bald spot where his remaining feathers look like a failed comb-over.  He needed a new home… and low and behold, I have been secretly cruising looking for a handsome little bird of my own.  Perfect match?

Trickster to little roo

He is a white crested black polish rooster and is only a few months old.  I brought him home in a box on the front seat and he barely made a peep.  When I let him loose with the other birds, he was not hesitant to walk right up and say “hello”!  Two of my oldest hens gave him the ol’ chest bump “skwaaaak” to show him they were the real bosses… and the turkeys just slowly followed him around waiting for him to make a move.  Throughout the day me and the boys would go check on him and make sure he was OK, and often found him sun bathing in the dust under the big Doug Firs.  He kept to himself and seemed to really enjoy it.

At feeding time he was no where to be found and we went on a little search only to find he was in a thicket and didn’t want to be caught.  The chase was on – I think it helped develop all of our agility for soccer – he was quick!  We finally caught the little rooster in a stand of tall grass where he ducked into it with his head down as if we wouldn’t see his little puff of white feathers.   He is a sweet little guy, and seems to feel very comforted when held.  He survived his first day outside and night in the coop with the all of the other fowl… and we have yet to hear him crow…hopefully soon… when he reaches chicken puberty.