The Science Behind Composting – Nourish the Planet on Earth Day

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Spring time means getting out and enjoying the sun, watching the trees bloom and cleaning out those flower beds and garden patches and filling them with flowers and plants. Before you start clearing out the dead of winter and putting plants in the ground, get a little compost going.

Compost is the single most important supplement you can give your garden soil.
- EarthEasy.com 

Compost creates nutrient-rich humus – a natural fertilizer. This super charges plant growth and helps keep moisture in the soil. Your water bill can be reduced by 20%.  It also adds microscopic organisms that works to aerate the soil, break down organic materials and fight off plant disease and insects.

By composting your organic kitchen waste, your trash will be lighter and your footprint smaller. About 30% of household trash is compostable materials.

Materials Needed

  • Carbon materials (The brown material) - newspaper, cardboard (not shiny), paper towel and toilet paper rolls, wool, cotton, dryer lint (from natural fibers only), egg shells, sawdust (lightly to avoid clumps), tea bags, shredded brown paper bags, conifer needles, bits of wood, hay, peet moss, coffee filters, stalks from perennial plants, end of season annual plants, branches, dry leaves, egg cartons made from paper, paper (not shiny).
  • Nitrogen materials (the green material) - fruit or vegetable peels and cores, coffee grounds, all non-meat food scraps, manures (not pet waste), lawn clippings, green leaves, seasonal thinnings from the vegetable or flower garden.
  • Do not put bones, fish scraps, dairy, fat (they will attract pests), plants treated with pesticide, perennial weeds or diseased plants. Also avoid black walnut leaves.
  • Water
  • Air
  • Time

Composting Techniques

  • There are several varieties of rotating composting tumblers on the market. They are expensive but don’t require a lot of work to rotate the material.
  • Make your own composter. Purchase a plastic bin or garbage can and drill some holes in the top and sides to allow air to flow. Secure a cedar plank inside a garbage can and roll it to mix materials.
  • Open air compost pile on the bare ground. This allows worms and other organisms to easily get into your pile and aerate.

Build a Compost Pile

  • Start with sticks or straw on the bottom to help with drainage and aeration. Then place carbon and nitrogen materials. DUG.org suggests you have 2/3 carbon and 1/3 nitrogen on a 3′x3′x3′ pile.
  • Put a 4-6″ layer of mixed carbon materials on top of the sticks or straw.
  • Add a 2-3″ layer of mixed nitrogen and one handful of garden soil.
  • Mix the layers together and water until the pile feels as wet as a wrung out sponge.
  • Continue to add layers, mix and water until pile reaches about 3′ high.
  • If compost pile is on the ground, cover with black plastic, wood or carpet scraps. This will hold in the heat and moisture – two essential ingredients for great compost.
  • Do not allow the compost to get soaked or overwatered. The pile should be moist.

Maintaining the Pile

  • Rotate the pile once a week. Turn materials from top to bottom.
  • Add a little water if compost isn’t moist.
  • Add food scraps to the middle of the pile and cover with carbon material.

Mature Compost

  • The compost is finished when it looks like dark potting soil and is reduced by half its original size.
  • Contents are not recognizable.

 How to Use It

  • Add a few handfuls of compost into the top 4″ of the soil when planting plants. It can also be added lightly as a top-dressing around plants several times during the season. Compost should only be 25% of the potting soil around a plant, because it is so full of rich nutrients.

Don’t stress about getting it all exactly right. Composting is a natural process and this just speeds it all up. As long as you have all 5 of the main components, you will get nutrient-filled compost for your plants this spring and summer.

Another great idea is to move your compost pile every season and then plant in last year’s location. The soil will be perfect for growing vegetables and beautiful flowers.

Denver DUG.org offers composting classes and a lot of information on Urban gardening. They also have information on Vermicomposting (using a specific type of worm to compost).

EarthEasy.com offers a lot of information, trouble shooting and bins. Click the link for a chart of compostable materials, whether or not they are carbon or nitrogen and how to use them.

Thank you to both DUG.org and EarthEasy.com for help in pulling together this post.

Dr. Oz Uses Mentos and Diet Coke to Demonstrate the Anti-Diet Plan

Dr. Oz is known for his wacky and unique demonstrations to illustrate what happens inside the body. Recently, he donned a poncho and became the Mentos Boy in the Box.

He stepped in a sealed container to demonstrate what happens in the intestines when a food that doesn’t agree with body chemistry is introduced into the stomach. The giant plastic box acted as the intestines, the Diet Coke served as the bacteria and the Mentos were the beans or reactive food. When the food was dropped into the stomach’s bacteria, it caused a reaction that forced the bacteria to erupt and overflow.

The demonstration was part of an episode that  discussed the Anti-Diet Plan with controversial author Lyn-Genet Recitas. She claims the secret to losing weight is chemistry, not calories.

To watch the clip, visit the Dr. Oz show, The Anti-Diet Plan, Eliminating Reactive Foods.

The Science Behind Clouds – On a Cloudy Day You Can See Weather

Have you ever wondered how clouds form? We all learn the water cycle in school – water falls from the clouds in the form of rain or snow and collects on the ground. The water on the ground heats up and turns to vapor and the vapor travels up into the atmosphere and creates clouds.

But how do those clouds form? Here’s an experiment that demonstrates how the water molecules join together and form a cloud.

Before you start on your own cloud, let’s learn a little more about clouds.

A cloud is a lot of droplets of water and or ice crystals, depending on the temperature. The droplets float in the air molecules.

Even though we don’t see them, water molecules are in the air all around us. These airborne water molecules are called water vapor. When the molecules are bouncing around in the atmosphere, they don’t normally stick together.

Clouds on Earth form when warm air rises and its pressure is reduced. The air expands and cools, and clouds form as the temperature drops below the dew point. In other words, cold air cannot hold as much water vapor as warm air. Invisible particles in the air in the form of pollution, smoke, dust or even tiny particles of dirt help form a nucleus on which the water molecules can attach. When these droplets come together, they form a cloud.

Why do clouds float instead of sinking to the earth? The water droplets in a cloud are heated up by the sun. The cloud and the water vapor inside are warmer than the air around it. Warm air rises, cold air sinks. How much water vapor, temperatures at different heights, wind and other air masses determine what altitude the clouds are formed.

Try this simple and popular Colorful Rain Cloud in a Jar activity -

Materials

  • Clear jar
  • Water (any temperature)
  • Shaving cream
  • Cup of water with a little food coloring
  • Pipette (or spoon)
  • Food coloring
Activity
  • Fill jar about 3/4 full with water
  • Spray shaving cream to cover top of water completely.
  • Drip water on top of the shaving cream using pipette.
  • Drip food coloring on top of the shaving cream.
When a rain cloud gets so full of water or mass, the water has to go somewhere and will break through the cloud and start to fall to the ground. As you pour or drip the water over the shaving cream cloud, the water will start to break through just a little bit. Observe your cloud as it gains mass and changes in composition. As the water breaks through, drip food coloring on top of the cloud.
Questions and Answers to Popular Cloud Questions -
1. Why are clouds white? 
The water droplets and ice crystals that make up clouds, scatter the light rays and reflect white light. Sunlight is made up of all colors. When all colors of the light spectrum mix, it creates white light. This is the opposite of paints or physical colors, which blend to black. The clouds reflect all of the colors evenly, showing white.
2. Why are storm clouds grey? 
When the clouds get thick or high in the sky, the light does not make it all the way through to reflect back out, making the cloud appear grey. When many clouds are together, they can also cast shadows on other clouds, causing the clouds to look grey.
3. How do clouds move?
The clouds and the storms they form move in the air currents, wind and jet stream.

Here’s another popular cloud activity – Cloud in a Jar
This activity requires adult help.  

Materials

  • Jar
  • Hot Water
  • Ice
  • Plate or jar lid
  • Matches
Activity 
  • Fill jar about half way full with very hot water. (Have an adult help with this part)
  • Cover the jar with the plate or lid and place ice on top.
  • Let it sit for a few minutes – you will start to see a cloud form. Watch the convection currents as the hot air rises to meet the cold air and then sinks again.
  • Light a match (bring your adult helper back in for this part), let it burn down for a few seconds.
  • Blow out the match and place it between the jar mouth and plate.
  • The cloud and the air currents will be more visible.
  • Lift off the plate and watch the cloud disperse.
  • Try it again!

Additional Resources: 

 

 

 

 

Third Graders' Creativity Shines in Invention Convention

Move over Shark Tank inventors and patent attorneys get ready for some amazing, new kid-invented products. Third graders at Wilder Elementary in Littleton, Colorado joined Steve early one morning to share their inventions and solutions to common everyday problems.

The annual Invention Convention takes the lead over the classic science fair in asking kids to solve problems with their own inventions. Many parents and teachers in elementary schools are organizing “Invention Conventions” in place of the traditional science fairs and kids are responding in record numbers with great ideas. The non-competitive, highly supportive nature of events these inspire kids to identify everyday problems, brainstorm creative ideas, and, ultimately, invent a solution that makes us all say, “I wish I had thought of that!”

Many inventors find things that happen in their daily life that cause them to think of some problem in a new way. The inventor of VELCRO ® thought of his invention while removing burrs from his pet’s fur after walking in the woods. Eli Whitney watched a cat pull feathers through a cage — it was how he thought of the invention now known as the cotton gin. Silly Putty was discovered accidentally when the General Electric Company attempted to find a substitute for rubber during World War II. Over 200 million plastic eggs, containing 3,000 tons of Silly Putty, have been sold since 1949. Good ideas are everywhere and inside of everyone. The Invention Convention brings out the inventor in elementary school kids. No idea is a bad idea.

A patent attorney in the Wilder community shared this important resource for protecting ideas.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers a number of resources to help young inventors learn more about protecting their creations. Check out the following website for more kid-friendly information about inventions and patents:

USPTO Kids Pages

Extract the DNA from a Strawberry – Kitchen Science

DNA is the building block of all living creatures, plants and animals. It is found in the cells of animals and determines the genetics or make up of every individual organism. DNA is also present in the whole foods we eat.

Thanks to the special characteristics of strawberries, it is possible to extract, isolate and observe the DNA. You don’t have to be a geneticist. You don’t even need a microscope. All that is needed are some household materials.

The long thick fibers pulled out of the extraction solution are strands of strawberry DNA. DNA is present in every cell of all plants and animals and determines the genetics of the individual organisms.

 While other fruits are soft and just as easy to pulverize, strawberries are the perfect choice for a DNA extraction lab for two reasons: they yield more DNA than any other fruits, and they are octoploid, meaning that they have eight copies of each type of DNA chromosome. These special circumstances make strawberry DNA easy to extract and see. (Human cells are generally diploid, with only two sets of chromosomes.)

To extract the DNA, each component of the extraction solution plays a part. The soap helps to dissolve the cell membranes. The salt is added to break up protein chains that hold nucleic acids together, releasing the DNA strands. Finally, DNA is not soluble in isopropyl alcohol, and even less so when the alcohol is ice cold.
For step by step instructions and photos, please visit the Strawberry DNA experiment on SteveSpanglerScience.com

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