Consider composting in your school garden this fall

There are still opportunities to get in the garden in late fall and early winter.

Photo from Flickr creative commons
Photo from Flickr creative commons

Fall is the season when gardens are winding down for the year and we have to prepare the garden for the winter weather ahead. This is often called putting the garden to bed. Preparing the garden for winter can be an educational experience for adults and students alike. It is also an opportune time to highlight the important process of composting.

As defined by CalRecycle, “composting is a natural process that is managed to optimize the conditions for decomposing microbes to thrive. This generally involves providing air and moisture, and achieving sufficient temperatures to ensure weed seeds, invasive pests and pathogens are destroyed.” The end result of the composting process is called compost. This substance can be used as a soil amendment, with fertilizing properties for the garden.

Composting is occurring in your garden, whether you are intentionally managing a compost system or not. Natural decomposition occurs as leaves and plant debris break down. It can also occur in a managed system, typically producing more compost, more quickly than natural decomposition. This process is an excellent opportunity to highlight a number of science concepts for your students.

There are many benefits to incorporating a compost system into your school garden. Composting can be done on a small scale, perhaps using mostly materials from the garden itself like plant debris and leaves, or on a much larger scale, incorporating cafeteria and lunch waste, along with plant material from the school grounds. What scale your school chooses for a composting system is up to you and your school garden team, depending on what your goals are for composting.

Benefits of composting
  • It reduces decomposable materials going into landfills
  • It allows you to recapture nutrients from garden plants and surrounding plant materials
  • When composting recommendations are followed, the end product is a safe soil amendment, suitable for use in school gardens
  • Materials for composting are often free or low-cost
  • The process offers an education experience: see LifeLab’s Compost resource page for ideas on incorporating composting into your curriculum

If composting is a subject that interests you, MSU Extension has a series of articles available online covering the topic of soils and composting. The articles offer insight into the topic and announce further education opportunities.

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