Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

Posts tagged ‘reducing reusing repurposing recycling!’

Compost Worms. The perfect pet for the lazy gardener!

It is just possible, thanks to the humble compost worm, that I can officially label myself ‘Not quite as lazy as I thought I was’.

Why? Because I recently read in a popular Australian gardening magazine that worm farms were ‘just too much effort’ to maintain. Now that is lazy.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a garden helper as low maintenance and hard-working as a compost worm. Well, maybe an earthworm. Or a microbe…but that’s not the point!

To be fair, I think the writers were judging the effort required from the first couple of weeks of setting up the worms, which still isn’t anything like herculean, but is not really an indicator of the level of effort required once the worms are established.

Draining lovely 'worm tea' for the garden.

I put my ‘worm farm’ back into use in January. I did muck about a bit for a week or two getting the worms set up and working out how much compost to feed them. I worried that I would accidently starve them so I overfed them more than once, but I think it is a pretty standard mistake to make.  Worms eat very little when they are settling in.

If you do accidentally overfeed your worms it is easily solved. You can transfer the excess to the compost bin or add a little lime (I did read somewhere to use dolomite lime, not garden lime…but I’d already added garden lime before I’d read that and the worms are still there happily chewing away).

Worms feeding in the recently added second level tray. They will gradually move up into this tray, then the next, allowing the castings in the lower levels to be used.

Now, in early winter, I check the worms a couple of times a week (I was peeking in more often in hot weather)  and I might feed them on one or both of those occassions…or not. If there is still food they haven’t finished, I just keep going past the compost worms to the compost bin with my scraps.

There are a few basics to keep in mind for compost worms, such as:

  • Avoid onions and limit the amount of citrus and other acidic scraps (having said that, my worms seem to be quite partial to strawberry tops)
  • Avoid meats and anything cooked in oils etc
  • Keep the worms in the shade or undercover (mine have done just fine under ‘Mother Maple’ through the hot summer)
  • The worms might need a little water added if it is hot and dry, but generally the food scraps and the worms ‘output’ keep things nicely damp. It doesn’t hurt to flush them out from time to time anyway and it means you get some (slightly more dilute) worm ‘tea’ (ok, yes, wee!) a little faster.

The first tray is now almost ready to 'harvest' for castings (it does not fill all the way up as the next tray sits quite deeply into it)

Many places also recommend that you chop up worm food finely and I’ve seen pictures of people putting worm food in a blender… but I have not found it necessary to do anything but tear larger pieces of compost up a little. If you’ve got a bit of a mix of compost that is older/softer (such as overripe bananas – worms looooove bananas) and some newer stuff they will manage ok over the course of a few days without the aid of a food processor.

And as for the benefits? My plants love it! A little diluted worm wee is just the trick for a plant suffering from transplant shock, a plant that is looking a bit sad and tired, or for helping newly emerged seedlings get a good start in life.

My daughter's 'Chocolate Lily' that had almost died before a couple of doses of worm wee.

The worm wee must be good stuff, because I’ve just discovered that the little Chocolate Lily Arthropodium strictum (that has flowers about the size of a thumbnail) should flower here from September to December and I don’t think it is flowering because it is about to die!

It is recommended to use worm wee as you would seaweed preparations and suggested that you dilute it anything from one part in 5 to 10. It is good to know that even if you used worm wee without diluting it doesn’t burn plants like other fertilisers would. However, it is better to dilute it as you can make it go a lot further that way.

Help Me Reuse and Repurpose with Purpose.

In common with many gardeners I am trying to do a little bit more each day to be more sustainable in my garden. My halo is definitely quite crooked and I still have a long way to go. But I am going.

The fact that I now reuse/recycle all of my toilet roll cores at home is now a cause of great pride for me. If you think that is a little pathetic, try holding on to all of yours for a month and see if they are a waste issue or not.

Then think of something to do with them that doesn’t involve them ending up in the waste or industrial recycling stream.

Happy seedings in toilet roll cores the worms will eventually eat.

Lately I’ve been retaining as much as I can that looks like it might be re-purposed in some way from the rubbish and recycling bin. As I’ve mentioned before, our local council is pretty responsible when it comes to waste management. We have three separate bins supplied for rubbish, recycling and and green waste (with the rubbish bin being significantly smaller than the others).

I’ve also been fortunate to see what happens to some of the material that goes into the recycling bin (as a result of tagging along with one of my daughters school trips), so I can rest easy that it is recycled…not quitely deposited in landfill when no one is looking.

The bin with the red lid is for rubbish, the large bin for recycling, the third bin that is not pictured is also a large one for garden waste to be recycled.

But it’s pretty common knowledge that industrial recycling takes energy and resources too, so anything kept out of the waste/recycling stream is a bonus.

Now, retaining ‘what looks like it might be useful’ brings me to my sore point.

It has highlighted for me that is still just too easy for me to throw things away  without thinking. Holding on the waste confronts me with the very real issues of how to store it, what to do with it and how very  much ‘stuff’ I have consumed without thinking. Did I mention how quickly it builds up?

'Green bags' have come under fire in Aus as having created an industry in themselves...but they are still a better way to go than single use bags - as long as you remember to take them shopping!

Hopefully being confronted in a very real sense with this waste will encourage me to think a bit more about what I buy and reduce a lot of the surplus packaging and needless junk that we bring into the house.

The other part of the issue is that it’s all very well to hang on to something that ‘looks like it might be useful’, but I better find a real use for it damn quick or we are going to end up buried in the stuff…which might be quite fitting when you think about it.

So far the uses I have found for salvageable waste are as follows:

Kitchen vegetable scraps – ‘wormery’ and compost.

Toilet roll cores – plantable seed raising tubes and compost addition (thanks again to Barbara in Mannaheim Germany for this one – influence from the other side of the world!) If you are a bit grossed out by the idea of planting seeds in toilet roll tubes, throw them slightly crumpled in the compost, they break down quickly and help add pockets of air. Or get over being grossed out :p

Unpainted cardboard – compost additions, mulch underlay/weedmat.

Yogurt tubs – seedling planters…but I’m only going to ever need so may of these if I reuse them as much as I can. Many will end up in the recyling bin.

Clear plastic packaging trays (from biscuits, berries etc) – seed raising trays (thanks to Helen at Summerhouse Art Blog for this idea). But again I’m only ever going to need so many…

Cotton clothing – pass on for re-use via opp shop if in fit state, compost if not. Worms love cotton!

Newspapers – mulch underlay, compost.

The things I can’t find enough reuses for, or can’t recycle on site include…plastic bottles (dishwashing and clothes washing liquid ones along with milk and soft drink)

Colourful brochures and papers that sneak past the ‘no advertising material’ sign on the letterbox via inserts in the local paper still add up and end up in the recycling.

Colour printed cardboard boxes. Are the dyes used on these really so bad that I can’t throw them in my compost?

Plastic wrappers. OK, so these don’t even look useful for a second go at anything. Reduction is the key here and  I need to confront my laziness in buying pre-packaged muesli bars for my daughter’s lunchbox.

So my challenge to you is to join in this gentle challenge with a serious purpose.

You can do this in three ways:

By offering a post with ideas of how you reuse or repurpose one or more household items that usually ends up in the waste stream or industrial recycling.

By offering a post with ideas for reducing the consumption that produces surplus waste. An example might be an easy recipe for me to use to make my own muesli bars or yougurt…saving on the mass produced packaging…which is petro-chemical in origin and worth pause for thought.

By offering a post where you set yourself a challenge to reduce repurpose or recycle at home one common waste item that you haven’t tackled to date.

My own challenge is to deal with the plastic bottles. The more I think about them the less I want so many of them in my life. I’ll update in a month to let you know where I’m at.

Contents and containers that need a second thought.

Although I had already started to draft this post before today, I offer it up with the fact it is World Enviroment Day tomorrow in mind. Reading the post ‘I Hate all of Us‘ by Benjamin at The Deep Middle moved me to finish it.

This  is my way of reaching out to the blogosphere to say every last one of us can take a step today, whether it is our first, or one of many. Have hope and take action.

Link your post back here if you would like to (copy post link into reply for now) whenever you would like to. Pass on the challenge in your own way.

More fun with Compost!

Like most things in my life, I seem to learn some very interesting things about gardening after I’ve given something a go, gotten it completely wrong, then gone back to read the ‘instructions’.

Composting is another one to add to the list.

You will just have to forgive me for my trial and error approach to gardening.  Although I am determined to contribute to a more sustainable future and have a lovely garden to boot, I have been honest and have admitted to being a pretty incompetent gardener right from the start!

Mermaid Rose, to give you some respite from the pictures of compost to come!

Anyway, last weekend I stopped playing with the worms for a moment and turned my attention to our poor neglected and overloaded compost bin. It was so overloaded that I’m too ashamed to show a photo of it!

The compost bin we use is the freestanding open bottomed variety, a bit different to the lovely tumbler type that I secretly desire and that Noelle from Ramblings From a Desert Garden featured in her great post on “The Joy of Composting”.

I had noticed that the bin had pretty much stopped functioning. Somehow the lid had been misplaced (what is it about lids in this household?) and the bin was overflowing. There was nothing for it but to dig around in it and have good look.

You know, if there is a good incentive to think about getting your composting right from the start, it’s having to pull out all the contents of the bin to find out why it isn’t working.

With about a third of the material removed, still nothing but dry stuff!

At the start I was fearful that the worst had happened and the bin had become anaerobic.  It had not, instead it had simply stopped doing anything much at all, as it was too dry and contained too much twiggy material. I had to dig out more than three-quarters of the bin to find anything other than dry grass, twigs and the occasional kitchen scrap.  Thankfully a lot of the twigs were from the peppermint geranium, so at least it smelt pleasant enough.

Finally, in about the bottom fifth of the bin I found some good news. Here I found a few inches of rich composted material alive with worms and lots of other little crawly things that signify that all is well in the compost world. I read recently that worms live in the top few inches of compost material. Effectively the top of my compost was at the bottom of my compost bin.

It might be hard to tell, but this is the good stuff.

It was clear that a fresh start to get things moving along again was needed. I wanted to move the bin anyway, as it was sitting at the far end of my emerging butterfly and bee garden and I wanted the space for planting more insect attracting plants!

Look at the state of my dirt...not a worm to be seen! The compost bin will help fix that.

I am now putting a bit more thought into my composting and, as advised here by Gardening Australia trying to remember the simple rule of one bucket of wet material to one and a half of dry.

I am also trying to remember that 38 degree celsius days will dry out my compost as much as it dries me out, so I should  remember to add some water occasionally!

Here’s an interesting side story – In the most recent edition of the Gardening Australia magazine there was a letter from a reader by the name of Judith Caine complete with an amazing photo. It shows the family compost bin having been taken over by bees. Not just bees visiting the compost, but a bin with a fully formed hive inside. Apparently after a couple of years the family wanted their compost bin back and asked a beekeeper to come and collect the bees. The bees would not be coaxed into one of the beekeeper’s hives, so he ended up taking them away with him compost bin and all!

Becoming a worm farmer

Part one – setting up the farm & moving the worms in.

The remaining parts of the worm farm. Enough to be going on with I think!

A few years ago we had a worm farm that produced beautiful ‘worm tea’ and vermacasts for the garden. Worm by-products are a fantastic rich fertiliser that doesn’t burn plants. I can’t remember why we stopped using it, but for some reason the worms were set free and the farm was packed away.

While pottering around recently I found the old plastic worm farm and have decided to give it a new lease on life. Sadly parts of it seem to have been ‘re-purposed’ or just plain lost over the years and it’s been left without it’s tap or the lid.  I had a scrounge around and came up with some things I hoped I could use to get it up and running again.

The worm farm needs to be in a fairly shady location. Shelter from frost is important too.

Before I could start moving the worms in I had to do something about the missing tap or the precious worm tea (and maybe the worms!) would leak out of the hole at the bottom. I needed something that could drain the liquid, but could also be sealed up. It had me stumped at first but then I thought the top of a lemonade bottle and it’s lid might just work…

The lemonade bottle top was just a tiny bit too big for the hole in the tub, but a very sharp knife helped widen it just enough. It fits pretty well, but not 100% snug, so I’ll keep an eye on how much leakage there is and put some silicone sealant around the hole if need be.

The old tap was narrower and used to get clogged up a bit so maybe this will flow better, if it lasts!

Once the tap issue was sorted, it was just a matter of setting up the worms new home.  As my daughter is currently keen on being an entomologist when she grows up I was lucky to have a willing helper.

Half a dozen pages of damp newspaper (worms don’t like anything dry!) went in to line the first ‘residential’ tray that was nestled above the drainage tray.

Here is the Box O’ worms! I bought them live from a hardware shop which my daughter found to be a very strange idea indeed. Compost worms are different varieties from standard earthworms which we are also lucky to have in the garden.

I’ve read recommendations that worm farms the size we are using should be started with 500 worms and others that recommend at least 1000 or even 2000. We’ve just got 500 and the hope that in a few weeks they will be happy enough in their new home to make more worms!

Below my daughter is helping spread the worm mixture gently across the tray. They go in complete with the organic matter they were boxed with to help them settle into their new home and have somewhere to hide. Worms like hiding so much we thought our box of worms had no worms at first!

If you look really closely you will see that there is more than one worm!

Every bit of information on worm farms seems to recommend only giving them a little food at first, but they don’t tend to quantify what a ‘little’ is, so we guesstimated about a cup worth of compostables, mainly old potato peelings and banana skins.  The Gardening Australia fact sheet on worm farms recommended banana skins, so hopefully we’ll be hearing contented munching noises soon!

At this stage the worms should not need feeding again for a least a week as they will be busy settling in. Definitely don’t feed worms meat or meat tainted scraps and limit use of onion or citrus in a worm farm.

Last of all we added a blanket for the worms – another layer of damp newspaper. The whole farm can be covered with wet hessian or carpet if it’s getting really hot.

I checked our worms a few hours after setting them up and already they are moving about the new food scraps, so I’m guessing they are hungry! We will be checking on them each day to see how they are going and to make sure that their home does not dry out.

I’m not sure what to do for a more long term solution for the missing lid, but my temporary solution was to out an old sign across the top and weigh it down with the spare worm  farm tray. I’ll scrounge up something more permanent soon.

Pest update

I found out what these pesky little critters were. They are a native ‘true bug’ Scolypopa australis with the common name ‘Passionvine Hopper’ . They love sucking the sap from creepers and other plants (like buddleia) that produce nice juicy new shoots.  Interestingly when I trimmed out the canopy of the buddleia noticed a lot less of these and some contented looking Red Wattle Birds.  You have to  love natural biological controls!

Last but not least, one of my favourite roses…

Double Delight