Showing posts with label Organic Gardening - Worms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Organic Gardening - Worms. Show all posts

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Worm Farm Workshop

Written by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin

This is a repost of an article that I wrote only a few hours ago for my main blog, and thought it worthy of a repost on the Co-op.  Happy Vermiculture!

Last Saturday week, I held a workshop at my house for the Melton Sustainable Living group.  It was a simple workshop, but fun to present.  It took me about an hour to build and populate the new worm farm (rectangle box in photo), and additionally, I showed the audience how to harvest worm castings from my existing worm farm (round one in the photo).  Both of these worm farm kits are made by Reln plastics, and marketed under the Tumbleweed brand (I have no association with this company, I just like the product).  They are made from 100% post consumer recycled plastic.  All of the packaging (except for a small plastic strap) is utilised in the construction process and eaten by the worms!

As you can see, it is all set up ready to go, and it also gave me an opportunity to clean at least half of the carport!

Now, in a moment of silliness, I forgot to give Ben the camera to take photo's during the workshop, so you will have to use your imagination.  Here are the basic instructions on how to put one of these things together.

1.  Locate in a cool position in afternoon shade. Morning sun is OK.  I place mine on the south side of the house, northern side for northern hemisphere readers, or somewhere where they will not freeze in winter.
2.  Setting up the base as per instructions.  Some have legs, others do not and my new one had legs that were unusually difficult to figure out and the instructions were no help.  Both my worm farms have legs.
3.  Put the first working tray on top of the base with legs, then fill a bucket with about 7 litres of water and place the worm farm bedding block in it.  This is made from coconut coir husk.
As the bedding block expands, start to break it up into an even mix. It took about 10 minutes. Use the
paper wrapper too because all the paper and cardboard packaging has been designed to be worm friendly.
4.  Fold and place your cardboard packaging into the base of the working tray, then spread the expanded worm bedding block on top of this. The worms will eventually eat all the bedding and cardboard.

5.  Spread your worms (minimum of 1000 composting worms) on top of the bedding, and cover with a a few layers of wet newspaper or cardboard.  The more worms you initially add, the more food they will compost for you.  I used an old cotton dressing gown soaked in water, that Ben had grown out of.   One of the audience mentioned that this must be the Taj Mahal of worm farms, and that I must love them very much.  I replied that yes, I do!

6.  Don't feed the worms at this stage, and let them settle in for one or two days.  Here some of them are their new home.  From experience it will take about 3-4 months for the initial 1000 odd worms to fill up their first tray.  Once the tray is full up to the lip inside, then pop on the next tray and start feeding the worms from the new tray.  Just make sure that the first tray is full enough to come in contact with the new tray so the little worms can climb through.

So now that I have a second worm farm, I have the means to create lots more worm wee tee and castings.  The worms can be fed most kitchen scraps but steer clear of onions and citrus, as it is a little too acidic for them.

As a guide worms will eat anything that was once living. This includes:

- Left over vegetable scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings
- Tea leaves/bags and used coffee grounds
- Vacuum cleaner dust or you hair clippings (also animal)
- Torn up newspapers, egg and milk or soaked pizza cartons
- Crushed egg shells (These will help with the pH balance)

As I mentioned in my post titled "Home-made Liquid Fertiliser", you can used the worm wee tea as a liquid fertiliser, so as they increase in number, I will be able to keep up with supply for the garden.

Just in case you wanted to know more, here are some worm facts that I found at ResourceSmart Victoria which also has instructions on how to make your own worm farm without having to buy a kit.
  • There are 350 species of earthworms in Australia and most of those found on farms and in gardens are introduced species. Compost worms are rare in the bush because the conditions are not suitable. 
  • Compost worms are a special type of earthworm. Compost worms are generally more active than normal earthworms. They thrive in the rich, moist and warm environment of a worm farm and can eat about half their body weight in one day. 
  • The population in a well maintained worm farm doubles every two to three months. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, which means each worm has female and male sex organs, so every worm can have babies. But reproduction can only occur between two mature worms of the same species. 
  • After mating, both earthworms form a capsule (or cocoon) containing up to 20 eggs. Even though each mature compost worm might mate every 7 to 10 days and produce about 4 to 20 capsules a week, only 3 of these capsules produce babies. Each capsule produces around 4 baby worms, which makes a total of 12 babies per adult per week. 
  • Babies hatch after about 30 days and are ready to breed 55 to 70 days later. Earthworm eggs can survive in very dry conditions for a long time. The babies usually hatch when the soil becomes moist. 
  • Although earthworms do not have eyes, they sense light as well as vibrations and temperature through special organs in their skin. 
You can also add compost worms to standard compost bins or heaps, as long as you do not let the contents of the bin get too hot.  About 2 years ago, I put a big handful into my Aerobin, and they have multiplied greatly.  They don't live in the top 20 cm as it is too hot, but prefer to work at a lower level.  I just keep piling on brown and green garden waste and they keep gobbling it up.  When I take compost from the bottom, there are no worms to be found as they live higher up.

I also saved the old laundry sink, since we have just had this room renovated, and will be turning this into a worm farm in the next few months, so more on that further along the sustainable living journey.  When I was a teenager, my dad used to use an old bath tub as a worm farm and it was most successful in producing many worms that we used for fishing.  I think he used Tiger worms, however most worms that you buy in boxes or from a large worm farms today are 'Red Wrigglers' and 'Indian Blues or Dendra's'.

So, hopefully this post has given you enough information to start your own worm farm.  The good thing is that as pets, they don't bark, bite, kill birds, or annoy you in any way, and their droppings are the most useful matter on the planet!  To finish off, here are some wormy quotes;
“Worms are the Intestines of the Earth”
"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised(sic) creatures”
“Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Reducing Food Waste

by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin

Recently, I read that over 30% of all household garbage is food waste; peel, plate scraps, rotten food, tea bags, etc.  Now this figure does not include food waste from Supermarkets, agriculture and the food industry in general.  In landfill these organic scraps become buried under tonnes of other waste and earth in an oxygen deprived environment.  As they breakdown they produce methane which is 25 time more potent than CO2 as a Green House Gas.  Not to mention the pure arrogance of being able to throw away food when over a billion people across the world don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  It makes me feel sick and sad.

So if this issue is so big, what are some of the solutions?  Well a few that I can thing of that can help you to divert food waste from landfill are really common sense and easy to implement   The most obvious is to reduce food waste at the start of the cycle.  By this, I mean when you go grocery shopping.  Here are a few tips;

  • Take a list.  By using a list you will most probably only buy the food items you really need, and in compiling the list you would have checked upon your existing stores at home and just be topping up.
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach.  From personal experience, you buy more food when you are hungry, and usually it is food that you just don’t need.  It is like impulse buying that kicks in due to hunger pains.
  • Grow your own food.  Plant a vegetable garden and reap the rewards, financially, physically and mentally.  It has been proven that people that grow their own waste very little of their own produce.  Maybe it is pride, or the thought of all that effort you took from seed to table.
So by limiting food waste at the beginning of the cycle reduces waste overall. 
During the storage phase, there are other solutions to minimise waste.  Here are some thoughts that might help
  • Menu planning.  Planning each meal may sound a bit anal, but it helps you to utilise the food you have at hand.  Each item in your fridge (where most food spoils) will be accounted for and will usually be used before going furry.
  • Use the crisper.  Your fridge has different compartment for different types of food.  The crisper is the best place for fruit and vegetables and usually last at least two weeks longer than in other parts of the fridge.
  • Use stuff on hand.  Before you go opening another jar of jam, check to see if you have one already open in the fridge.  No use breaking the seal to find that you still have one that is three quarters full.

Finally, what to do with leftovers?  Leftovers are one of my favourite meals.  They can be put into containers and frozen for lunches during the week.  They can be used in other meals.  Cooked too many vegetables?  Try making a bubble and squeak.  Too much Christmas Ham?  Make a pea and ham soup, or freeze chunks of it for use in a few months time when you crave some hammy goodness.  Cooked too much soup?  Well freeze it so you can enjoy it later.  There are so many things you can do with leftover food. 

If worst comes to worst, at least your pets can enjoy a good feed, or maybe even the chickens can have a nosh up if you keep them.  Nothing goes to waste around here at my house.  If the dog won’t eat it, the chooks, or worms or compost bins probably will.  The only organic things we throw into the landfill bin are small bones, but only after we have used them to make a stock!

In summary, using some of these methods will help you to reduce your organic waste, and save you a few dollars in the process.  Waste not, want not! 

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Adding Diversity to the Garden

by Chiot's Run

I'm always trying find ways to increase the biodiversity in our gardens and to broaden my knowledge of the benefits of of biodiversity, even in the small scale garden. Every year we add a few more native/local plants, especially ones that are beneficial for insects (like milkweed, queen anne's lace & goldenrod). We also garden without the use of any kind of sprays or dusts, even the organic ones, which still be hard on or kill beneficial insects. Our methods of pest control are limited to luring beneficial insects/birds/animals to our property and companion planting. If our cabbages get decimated by cabbage loopers we try companion planting or we try to lure beneficial birds to the garden. One of the reasons I don't spray or do anything to limit the insect population of any kind is because I believe the "bad" insects are around for a reason. If we didn't have them, we wouldn't have the good ones either, or the birds/animals that rely on them for food.

What got me thinking about this was something I read a long time ago about some trees in one state. This particular type of tree was plagued by web worms (which we have a lot of around here). The state started a spraying program to control the worms, but then they noticed the trees started dying off. After further study they found out that the worms defoliated the trees right at the time the dry season started. The defoliation allowed the trees to lose less water and thus survive the dry season. When they killed off the worms, they inadvertently weakened or killed the trees. We have such a limited view of the natural world, what we often see as a "pest" if often doing a specific job, if we interrupt that natural cycle we often do more damage.

Adhering to these self-imposed rules hasn't always been easy. We've had times when we've been overrun with earwigs, HUGE wolf spiders, and slugs and I've lost crops to insect damage. But we have noticed that each and every year we have a greater variety of insects, birds and other creatures in our gardens. Along with all these new species comes a healthier ecosystem and fewer problems with overpopulation of one species. I've noticed that we don't get overrun any more. When the cabbage worms start getting out of hand, the wrens eggs hatch and mama goes to work collecting all those big juicy fat green worms to feed their young. At that moment I'm thankful that I didn't dust the cabbage or those little wren babies might not have enough to eat. The more I pay attention to these natural cycles the more thankful I am that I read that article so long ago. I love spotting a wasp patrolling a broccoli plant in search of a caterpillar or birds flitting around the tomatoes looking for giant hornworms.

My newest attempt to add biodiversity to my gardens is in the way of a small pond. We've been wanting to add some water for the insects, frogs, toads, birds and other wildlife. I have small saucers of water I around the garden (change water frequently to avoid breeding mosquitoes), but I have been wanting to add something larger. My parents gave us their old pond when they upgraded to a larger one. We installed it a couple weeks ago and 2 days later we found a few toads in it already. We bought some fish to help with mosquito control and it looks like we're on the way to even great diversity on our small 1/4 acre lot. I've noticed bees and wasps drinking from the pond and the birds love it as well. I'll keep thinking of new ways to make my little slice of the world a refuge for the insects and animals of all shapes.

Any great tips and ideas on increasing the biodiversity in the garden? Have you noticed a greater abundance and variety of insects, birds, and other wildlife in your gardens?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal and you can follow me on Twitter.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Animals in the Garden, and Beyond

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

This article was originally written for Natural Child Magazine, as part of a series to encourage parents and caregivers to include nature in the everyday lives of children...

Animals are an exciting part of the gardening experience. We are blessed to have a garden large enough for many creatures, great and small. We also have a number of exciting wildlife around our place to enjoy. There are a lot of ways to incorporate animals into your gardens and your children’s lives, though, even without the luxury of having a lot of garden space.

Worms are fascinating to observe. They munch through food scraps and create fantastic fertiliser for your plants. There are often leaflets at your local council about how to build a worm farm; instructions are also readily available on the internet. Alternatively, you can buy a complete kit with worms and all requirements.

Bird feeders are a second option for those with limited space. A simple bird feeder can be created using a pot plant saucer and some string or wire, and hung from a tree or hook in a sheltered area. The type of seed used depends on which birds live in your area and which of those you wish to attract. Birdseed balls are another easy project. These are generally made with animal fat and seed. Alternatively, you can use egg whites and seed, and bake at a low temperature until firm. Don’t forget to insert a little wire to tie a string to later. Water is usually more scarce than food, so to attract birds you could also put a shallow container of clean, cool drinking water in a safe place.

Another way to attract birds, if you have a larger area, is to buy local ‘wild bird seed’, which is often sold in supermarkets. Dig up some ground or an existing empty garden bed, add some organic matter and sow the seed direct. You may need to protect the area with some mesh or shade cloth. Before too long your cheap bag of birdseed will have grown into a variety of grains, grasses and maybe sunflowers. When these mature, birds will come to enjoy the harvest! If you have a pet bird, you can plant their seed and feed it to them when the seed heads mature – they will love you for it.

More small-animal ideas include ant farms, bug catchers and simply keeping a caterpillar in a jar and feeding it the leaves of the plant where you found it. Watching the life cycles of these mini-beasts is an engaging activity for all ages. If desired, include notes, photographs and drawings in your journey of discovery.

You may be blessed enough to have somewhere nearby where you can observe various animals. Going to see them regularly, and then in different seasons, will explain a lot about the animal world to your little ones. You might observe insects, birds, farm animals, or even domestic pets – see them breed, make homes and nests, change coats or colours, or come and go as the weather changes.

A garden pond will attract a variety of insects, amphibians and perhaps be home to some fish. Ponds can be created quite simply using a container, rocks and suitable plants, kits can be purchased, or you could build an even larger version to fit in with your landscaping. Most plant nurseries will stock suitable plants, and some of these are edible for humans too. Ask which ones attract friendly insects and encourage frogs. Be aware of water safety with little ones, you may need to cover your pond with some sturdy mesh or take similar measures.

If you are able to keep animals at home, you can grow plants for them too. Cats often love catnip, catmint and catgrass (a.k.a. cocksfoot), wheat and oat grass, creeping Rosemary, Alyssum and Heather. Dogs often love to chew many things, and a lot of ornamental plants are toxic for dogs. Good plants for your dog include lucerne (alfalfa) and Pennyroyal. The lucerne grass is to nibble on and the Pennyroyal repels fleas. Guinea pigs (cavies) and rabbits appreciate a patch of salad items just for them, or you can grow some for you and share the outer leaves and occasional carrot with your furry friends. Sitting on the lawn munching snow peas with a lap-sized creature is a magical part of our children’s lives.

Chickens are fantastic pets as well as laying eggs for the household. They can often be quite tame and don’t seem to mind a walk around tucked under someone’s arm. Many of ours are hand-raised and quite friendly. A little handful of grain often convinces them to come and say hello if required. Chickens can be kept in mobile cages in smaller backyards, or allowed to free-range if you have a large enough area. They do require adequate shelter, though.

Growing chicken food is similar to growing seed for wild and pet birds. In our Chicken Patches, however, we add all sorts of greens and grains, cherry tomatoes, apple cucumbers and other bird-sized snacks. To create these gardens we choose a sunny area and dig up a circle of lawn. We apply organic matter to the soil and sprinkle some of the chicken feed (mixed seed) as well as other seeds we’ve bought and saved which will produce edible plants. Sunflowers and corn are fantastic and allow the beans and other plants something to climb up. Around the circle we put several stakes and some wire mesh. It might be necessary to cover the top with mesh if your chickens can fly. During Spring and Summer this garden will grow wildly. The birds will often keep it trimmed from the outside of the mesh. When the plants mature, pull up the mesh and stakes and let them feast!

Connecting with nature through observance and/or care of plants and animals is often lacking in the lives of many children today. For more information about nature-deficit disorder and to find out about initiatives in your area, see the Children and Nature Network site.