17 Kitchen Scraps Born Anew for Experiential Learning

Kitchen Scrap Gardening

While almost all food scraps make great compost, certain scraps can make something even more wonderful – more food! Families can engage in hands-on experiential learning by collecting bits of these special foods and creating their own mini-gardens. Young gardeners can learn about how plants grow, and can enjoy delicious homegrown foods with ease!

Compost bins are filled with all kinds of special wonders – worms and bugs, favorite foods in all stages of decomposition, and a host of smells both sweet and savory. Did you know, though, that some of the bits of food that land in your compost bin can live a second life? Many of the food scraps that we discard can be turned into new plants and, eventually, more food! Creating a kitchen scrap garden is incredibly easy and equally as fascinating, and it can lead to fantastic experiential learning on the topic of plant growth and biology.

Plants possessing the ability to regenerate easily fall into a few different categories. Edible bulbs, like scallions and green onions, will happily continue to produce flavorful green shoots so long as their white bulbs are preserved. Biennial green stalk-y plants like celery, bok choy, lettuce, and cabbage can grow anew if the portion of the plant where the leaves and stalks originate from is saved. Plants whose roots we enjoy, however, work a little bit differently. Rather than saving a small, inedible portion of the plant to regenerate more edible stuff with, food scrap gardeners actually use the edible portion of the plant to sprout more. Ginger and potatoes both grow in this way.

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5 Easy Composting Tips for Your Family Garden

Environmentally sound garden practices for the family garden

Most people know about composting, but as a busy parent this can feel like a lot of work.  Try these five tips on how to add organic matter to your family garden and discover an easier way to “compost.”

One of the major keys to a successful garden is the incorporation of organic matter into the soil every year. I remember taking a soil class at UMass 15 or so years back and hearing my professor say, “the answer to almost any question I ask this semester will likely be to add organic matter to the soil. If the problem is nutrition, drainage, pH, disease & insect problems, etc… the solution often can be solved with the addition of organic matter.”

Soil needs organic matter for a host of reasons, including moisture retention, aeration, microbial life, a slow release fertilizer… but maybe you’re wondering how to increase the organic matter in your soil…  Most people know about composting (see my post, The Dirt on Dirt) but as a busy parent this can be too much work for too little return. Here are five tips on how to add organic matter to your soil that my family often does, many of which you might not find in the pages of Better Homes and Garden:

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Green Tip: Composting

Green Tip: January 2012

Did You Know?

Food waste, including uneaten food and food preparation scraps from residences, restaurants, and grocery stores, makes up a large portion (up to 40 percent) of the municipal solid waste stream. As a result, diverting organic wastes from final disposal is an important waste reduction strategy that can help extend the useful life of our region’s landfills.

Green Tip:

If you work in the food industry, see if your company is interested in participating in a region-wide commercial composting program that offers free technical assistance, signage, and training to help set up composting programs at businesses and institutional facilities. For more information, contact the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission at 413-781-6045.

Meanwhile, at home, consider adding backyard composting to your spring cleaning list this year. Visit the Greenscapes Guide at greenscapes.org to learn how to start. If you are not able to compost at home, contact your municipality and ask if your town’s waste drop-off facility collects food waste.

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A Day at the Trash Museum

I Love Trash!

The Trash Musuem has educational kits for loan, including a worm composting bin. This kit includes material to discover how compost is made by vermicomposting worms. The kit is available for a month loan. Click on the photo to discover the other educational loan kits the Trash Museum has to offer. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

Late autumn here in New England and the light is leaving us. The sun is down almost as soon as we have eaten our after school snack. Everyone in my house becomes slightly grumpy as the light fades and we spend less time outdoors. The boys know their screen time allowance goes up and I fight my own lack of energy to keep us out, about and moving.

We turn inside ourselves a bit: we craft, we bake, we bang on our instruments to make a joyful noise in the midst of the settled routine feeling we have this far into the school term. At times, the boys are grouchy, like Oscar the Grouch grouchy.  So, we went to the Trash Museum In Hartford, CT.

The Trash Museum is free to visitors and open Wednesday – Friday from noon-4pm. It is the perfect day trip for families with young kids at home, or for a mama like me who was struck with multiple half days and professionals days this Fall. The Trash Museum is a sweet low-key outing. Younger and older kids will have an opportunity to engage the available curriculum about recycling, composting and waste reducing. We arrived with some friends in a bit of a gaggle and the museum seemed well prepared to greet us -and mentioned they receive visits from preschools, elementary schools and homeschooling families.

My kids played a nice long round of I Spy in the dump sculpture. We then had a chance to talk about other ways of dealing with trash. They played in the recycling center, where they got to make the conveyor belt go themselves and had our first introduction to composting worms. One of the staff took time to sit down on the floor with the five children we brought. Anyone who was brave enough could hold the worms. She gave a positive, age-appropriate lesson on the values of composting. I think all five kids really appreciated the attention. There were many areas to explore. My littlest boy would have happily stood in the observation deck all day, where you can watch actual trucks and dudes with trucks compacting, trash, sending recycling down the conveyor belts. It was more like living in a Richard Scarry book than anything else we have ever experienced.

I know it may seem far afield from Western MA, but the Trash Museum is 6500 feet of education and fun. It was a great afternoon. The kids were warm, busy and very engaged. For all the caregivers, it is a straight shot down I-91 and there are multiple coffee shops between here and there.

I’d love to hear from all of you. Where do you take your kids in the winter months that is fun, free – nearly free – and they don’t moan and demand more television?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Green Mama: Kelly’s Top 10 Reason to Live a Greener Lifestyle

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Let’s Hear It For The Bear

(ccl) Alan Vernon

Photo credit: Alan Vernon

Apparently no one told the neighborhood bear that the McIlquham’s were making an attempt to live greener and had enough forces working against them in their attempts to do so, so we most definitely did not need his/her help in thwarting our efforts.

Really, every time we feel like we are making great strides forward, something gets in the way. The spring sports season rules our dietary intake (as I’ve said before there’s nothing organic about the food at the Little League snack bar). My husband or I forget to pick up the organic fruit and vegetable basket for the week and have only canned, processed fruits and veggies to feed our kids for the week. The weather gets so hot and humid that the bedroom feels 50 degrees warmer than a sauna and we break down and put the air conditioning unit in the window. And now the BEAR.

As I might have mentioned in previous posts, we purchased a composter and began using it a couple months ago. We had been wanting to get one for a long time and when my husband came home one day and presented me with this beautiful, green, plastic canister I couldn’t have been happier than if he had done all the laundry, folded it and put it away. I purchased a pretty green countertop canister online to house our daily scraps and the kids were temporarily fighting for the chance to be the one to bring out the scraps and turn the composter. All was well and green at the McIlquham house. But the scraps were not composting as quickly as we had hoped and soon we had two problems. The smell began to deter our children from the chore of emptying the bucket while at the same time attracting our curious neighbor — Mr. or Mrs. Bear.

Each morning we would find the composter pulled of its stand and pushed half-way down the blueberry path. I guess the bear realized the encroaching forest would make it difficult to roll the canister all the way home so he/she developed another tactic: the bear decided to try and remove the compost cover and get at the goods inside, while hanging out in our backyard at all hours of the night.

His first few attempts merely left a few claw marks in the plastic and the composter left to be retrieved from the blueberry path, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out how to get the cover off. That incredibly clever bear was able to rip the screws right out of the plastic and the cover right along with it. After a few choice words, Mark had had it and for a week or two there the unused, coverless composter sat, our scraps making their way back into the trash can. Hey, it was a good effort on our part, but apparently composting in the backwoods of Hinsdale wasn’t meant to be. Or was it? Mark and I began making lists. These lists included all the reasons to continue our green journey. They also included all the ways that we had changed in a few short months. It was unanimous that one of the most noticeable changes was evident in the amount of trash we were collecting (significantly less than the waste months before), and that was a direct result of our recycling and (you guessed it) our composting.

Renewed with our lists my husband (with some help from my dad) found a way to fix the cover, we moved the composter to a sunnier location so it would compost more quickly, smell less thus deterring the bear from the area and not the kids, and we began collecting our scraps again. We are back in composting mode. Yahoo! We even used some of the composted soil to repot a few plants recently.

But I know this is not the end of the “forces that be” and I know somewhere along the line in the not-too-distant future we will contemplate just giving up on this whole green thing and be tempted to go back to living our old, wasteful way of life. So in anticipation of that day I have created a new list of why we should continue on this journey, for myself and my family … maybe it will help you when various forces of nature try to thwart your environmental efforts.

Kelly’s top 10 reasons to live a greener, more environmentally friendly, health conscious lifestyle:  Read the rest of this entry »

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