Stafford Intermediate Garden Club Learns Composting from an Expert

By DAVID BIGGY | May 22, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Stafford Intermediate students Leiloni Comiskey (left) and Kendall Greene happily discover some worms helping the decomposition process inside a composting bin as part of a presentation by Ocean County Recycling Program aide Sandra Blain-Snow on May 14.

Stafford Township — As they walked through the halls of Stafford Intermediate School on May 14, trailing behind their Garden Club friends, Kendall Greene and Leiloni Comiskey were so excited by what they had just learned they developed a plan for an upcoming sleepover.

“We can have a composting party!” Leiloni said to Kendall, grabbing her friend’s shoulder and shaking it slightly as they rounded a corner. “That would be so cool!”

Of course, Kendall was all for it. In fact, she could barely contain herself.

“We can go out in the backyard and get worms for it, too!” she screeched. “Oh, that’s going to be fun!”

Ah, the ideas youngsters will come up with when they’re fully on board with something.

Perhaps most of the other Garden Club students – visited by Ocean County Recycling Program aide Sandra Blain-Snow and Master Composter volunteer Eileen Jones after school – weren’t as excited about proper and effective composting as Kendall and Leiloni, but many of them at least found something interesting about the presentation by their guests.

“I’m not really sure why I like gardening,” said Cooper Adams, who has been one of the leaders among the Garden Club students since its inception in 2017. “But composting is good for the plants you’re trying to grow because it gives them nutrients and food.”

As one of the overseers for the Ocean County Landfill in Manchester, Blain-Snow was invited by teacher advisers Stacey Goddard and Kathy Coates to help educate the club, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30 to 4 p.m., regarding best practices for composting and its benefits to the environment as well as the landfill.

At the outset of her presentation, Blain-Snow shared some facts about the landfill, particularly how it’s maintained and that it’s scheduled to exhaust its allotted space in just less than 20 years from now, by 2038.

“I really liked the part about the landfill,” said Jackson Bodony, another Garden Club veteran. “I thought that was really interesting how they cover it up, put it in cells, and that it’s going to last until 2038.”

From there, Blain-Snow explained the process of composting – the natural process of decomposition and recycling of organic material into a humus-rich soil amendment – and how compost develops, as well as prominent ingredients for proper compost, such as fruit and vegetables scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, leaves and paper towel rolls.

Of course, the more materials used for composting, the less waste that ends up in the landfill, she explained.

“The biggest thing I wanted to get across to the students is to think about everything that is thrown out and how they can help save space in the landfill,” she said. “Don’t just throw out your organic material, but instead use it to create better soil. Think about it before you toss it. Look to see if there’s something else you can do with it.”

Using some of the science lessons many of the students may have learned by now, Blain-Snow discussed a key factor in composting – the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, aka “C:N Ratio” – and its effectiveness in helping the process, when properly combined with other factors, such as the volume and size of your composting space, along with the amount of moisture and aeration used to move the process along.

She also discussed tools used for composting, selecting a good composting area, and potential troubleshooting ideas for when it seems the compost isn’t developing as desired. And, yes, she even brought up Greene’s and Comiskey’s favorite part of the topic, the effectiveness of worms in composting.

“The cool thing about worms is that they’re part of nature and really beneficial to the environment,” Leiloni said. “And it’s even cooler that they can break down food and different kinds of things in compost and turn it into soil.”

Not surprising, when the students were given a brief show-and-tell on Blain-Snow’s portable composting bins outside in the gardening space at the school, the two girls yelped and swooned over the worms they found amid the compost. Greene found it interesting, too, that compost doesn’t smell bad.

“There’s food and other stuff in it, and you think, ‘Ew, get away! That’s garbage!’ but it all can be turned into soil using decomposers like worms,” Kendall said. “But I always thought it would stink, and it doesn’t. When I touched it and smelled the compost, it didn’t smell like anything but soil.”

Following the remainder of the presentation, most of the students turned their attention to some of their 29 gardening beds, quickly taking an opportunity to water some plants or pull a weed or two from the plots of radishes, lettuces and strawberries, among other fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“Obviously, hands-on learning is the best learning for a lot of students, and what they’re doing here is impressive,” Blain-Snow said, Jones nodding in agreement. “When kids get into something, they really go for it, and they get their families and friends into as well. These students are doing a great job with this space.”

Goddard and Coates soon will be developing with their 32 students in the club several composting areas as a means of better using their space. It’s all part of the extended education outside the classroom, after all.

“Kathy and I are sharing our passion with them, and to see them come out here and get excited about their gardens it’s really one of the best parts of my day,” Goddard said. “The ladies visiting us today were wonderful, and they educated me as well. But that’s why we have this club, to all learn something as we grow crops together. And to see the students’ excitement when their crops start coming up, it’s really great.”

— David Biggy

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