THE KITCHEN & GARDEN

Make & Do Activity Kit

Compost watch
In this experiment we observe what happens to organic matter over time as bacterial organisms do their job to break it down. We explore the concepts of recycling, reusing and composting.

Time: 30 minutes + Difficulty: Hints: This is a messy activity and a
good one to do outdoors in the garden.
your materials to 1. Take a workbench or into the garden. Adult step: Make sure your food scraps and garden clippings are cut into small peices. your waste paper into 2. Rip small peices and place a thin layer into the bottom of the jar. Dampen it slightly.

a thin layer of leaf 3. Place litter or grass clippings on top and dampen.

What you will need:
• a large lidded glass or clear plastic jar/ container • waste paper (chemical free and unprinted) • fruit and vegetable scraps • dry leaf litter or grass clipping • water (a spray bottle can be used)

a layer of food scraps 4. Place on top and dampen. Repeat steps 2,3 and 4 until your jar is full.

the lid on to 5. Place discourage insects but don’t screw it down as your compost needs air. Place your composter in a sunny spot. over the next 2-3 6. Watch weeks as the food scraps break down. Some will decompose faster than others. Soon it will be compose for your garden!
500 Harris St Ultimo PO Box K346 Haymarket NSW 1238 Australia Tel: 02 9 6217 0111 http://play.powerhousemuseum.com This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialShareAlike 2.5 License.

THE KITCHEN & GARDEN

Make & Do Activity Kit

Compost watch

Page 2

What’s going on?
Bacteria is doing it’s job At the beginning of your composting process microbes start consuming the materials you have added.  When they do this they produce heat which encourages the arrival of heat loving bacteria and other micro-organisms.  Some compost piles that are outside in the garden can reach 40-60 degrees Celsius! Bacteria decompose the things in your compost by releasing chemicals, or enzymes, that break down your food scraps, so that they can absorb the nutrients. Well balanced and healthy compost It is good to add lots of nitrogen-rich plant scraps (called greens) and bits of paper (called browns).  You can also add woodchips and coffee grounds as browns.  It is important to balance these two elements in your compost.  If there is too little nitrogen, the microbes may not be able to raise the pile’s temperature enough to kill diseases and dangerous bacteria, or to attract the heat loving bacteria. However if there is too much nitrogen the bacteria will produce odorous ammonia gas, and not be able to survive. Is your compost smelly? A lack of oxygen is the likely culprit for bad smells. Without air, the bacteria produce methane and other gases that can give off the odour of rotten eggs!

Hair - the slow decomposer Not everything decomposes at the same rate. Hair is good in compost, because it contains lots of nitrogen, but it is very protein rich and can take a very long time to break down.  Most hair takes about a year to decompose but with the right conditions it can last for thousands of years.  Decomposition is affected by temperature, the amount of oxygen, the amount of water and the presence of microorganisms.  Some mummies from ancient Egypt still have their hair because they have been well preserved in air tight, dry caskets.

What else can I do?
Make a worm farm or food composer
By setting up a worm farm or food composer at your house, flat or even at your school, you are helping to: 1. reduce the amount of rubbish that is dumped into landfill. 2. make rich soil that can be dug into the garden to fertilise plants and grow more of your own fruit and vegetables. 3. reuse and recycle the waste from your kitchen.

500 Harris St Ultimo PO Box K346 Haymarket NSW 1238 Australia

Tel: 02 9 6217 0111 http://play.powerhousemuseum.com

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialShareAlike 2.5 License.