How to compost your food waste with a worm bin
Having decided to embark upon a zero waste lifestyle, one of the big areas you will need to address very quickly is your household food waste.
According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), 35% of the average Australian household bin is food waste. Luckily, diverting food scraps from landfill can be achieved in several relatively easy ways.
Firstly, you can takes steps to reduce your overall food waste by eating fruit and veggie parts you may not have considered consuming before, like grated avocado seeds or roasted pumpkin skins. You can reuse veggie scraps to make your own stock or broth, and use spent coffee grounds to make an invigorating body scrub.
Next, you can dispose of your remaining food scraps through composting, either with a bokashi bin, a compost bin or a worm farm.
In order to help you start tackling your own food waste, I’ve called in an expert – founder of Wormlovers, Richard Thomas – who reveals why worm composting is superior to other composting methods, shares his advice on how you can keep composting worms happy, and tells us about Wormlovers’ involvement with local schools, councils and businesses.
Richard, what made you decide to become a worm farmer?!
I started out on the path to becoming a full-time worm farmer when I spent my first year out of school with my Uncle Fritz on his self- sufficient farm in Tasmania many years ago. The experience had a big effect on me.
Almost everything we ate came from the large veggie garden, milking cow, bees, chickens and sheep.
Composting, driving draught horses, cutting firewood, weaving clothes were all activities I learnt in that year. So ideas like “off grid”, the back-to-earth movement, self-sufficiency, permaculture, living with nature and organic farming are all concepts that were introduced to me at an early age, and have stayed with me.
Many years later, I started Wormlovers, after learning how important worms and composting are for healthy soil, plants, and the critical role they have in helping solve the water crisis, the waste crisis, food security, and even climate change.
Our core mission at Wormlovers is to empower meaningful, urgent and achievable change to our food system, transition to a circular economy and take better care of our precious earth, all with the extraordinary super powers of the mighty worm!
Why should people consider composting their food instead of throwing it in the bin?
While the War on Waste series has been very important in tackling the waste crisis, we need to move the discussion away from waste onto resource recovery and nutrient cycling.
This means we can revalue our attitude to food waste, seeing it as part of the soil-food-soil cycle, and come to appreciate organic waste as worm food.
When you consider the energy, nutrients and money that goes into growing food, it is unacceptable to learn that half the contents of rubbish bins going to landfill is compostable.
In a worm farm you are cycling the valuable nutrients contained in your food waste (and other organic matter), back into soil, where the nutrients continue to be cycled, eventually back into your food.
One of the greatest benefits of worm farming and composting comes from the important role it can play in taking action on climate change. For every kilogram of food waste that is fed to worms it is estimated that almost two kilograms of CO2 emissions are avoided, and there are further reductions by reducing the amount of material being trucked to landfill.
What are the options available for people wanting to use worms for composting their food waste?
If you’re game enough you can set up your own worm farm by repurposing hobby boxes, bathtub and even fridges (here’s where Google comes in handy). You can have fun and make anything work if you get the basics right.
The challenging part in having a really productive, effective and efficient worm farm over the longer term is managing drainage, harvesting and ease-of-use.
Eventually you are probably going to decide to purchase a purpose built design, as manufactured worm farms are generally the result of years and years of research and development.
Manufactured worm farms fall into two categories, the older stacking tray variety, and the new flow-through design such as the hungry bin.
Over many years we have tried out every worm farm on the market, and with our experience of worm farming and nutrient cycling, Wormlovers only supply the user-friendliest systems.
What are some of the advantages to using a dedicated worm bin or farm over a bokashi bin or regular composting?
Worm farms will process the same amount of organic material two to three times faster than the same material going into a compost bin. The end product – beautiful worm castings and worm tea – are possibly the best nutrient source for healthy soil, healthy plants and a booming garden.
To compost efficiently, you really need to get it hot, and that means having at least a cubic metre of starting material part, the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio, good porosity, particle size and the right moisture content.
The worm farms are a cold composting system, which means you add a little bit often rather than processing everything at once in a batch, as you’re doing with thermophyllic composting.
It’s generally easier, more forgiving and more efficient. However, where you have a lot of material at one time, such as after a big garden cleanup, a compost heap is the way to go, and worms will probably move in as it cools down anyway.
Bokashi is a good solution for home composting to take care of the more acidic and high-protein foods that you would avoid putting in your worm bin, such as meat, dairy and citrus.
Worm castings are a high value slow release soil conditioner and all-in-one plant food that adds life to soils and greatly increases plant growth and vitality.
Beneficial microorganism numbers in castings are up to 1,000 times higher than the soil and organic matter the worm ingests. Worm castings will last up to six times longer than most potting mixes, retain their nutrients and can be reused repeatedly.
Plants grown in worm castings tend to produce larger, better tasting fruit and tend to have better resistance to insect attacks.
What are some of the surprising things people may be unaware they can compost in their worm bin or farm?
You can add hair, vacuum cleaner dust, most paper products, coffee grounds and eggshells to worm bins/farms.
What are your top tips for keeping worms happy?
Keep it simple, don't overthink it. Focus less on rules and more on observation. Learn from the worms and your senses;
Carbon, lots of carbon – add at least as much paper or other carbon rich material to balance out food scraps;
Don't overfeed, work with the worms’ appetite;
Use crushed eggs shells to add minerals, balance the worm farm and help worm digestion and odour reduction;
Use a worm blanket to discourage pests and retain moisture;
Bugs glorious bugs! Don't worry too much about other species, most are working with the worms and are harmless;
Keep them cool, bedding should not go over 32C.
Tell us about Wormlovers’ involvement with local schools, councils and businesses.
The nutrient cycle is at the core part of our education message to anyone from kindy kids up to adults. Wormlovers work with schools, communities, councils, businesses and other organisations to teach people about the nutrient cycle (with a worm farm at its beating heart).
We have developed a primary years education programme to promote worm based learning in schools. The material is aligned to the Australian curriculum and includes teachers’ notes, classroom activities, videos and worksheets. Teachers can download this curriculum (for free) from our website to present to students anywhere in Australia.
Students discover the many types of worms, the nutrient cycle, worm anatomy and reproduction, and why turning organic waste into beautiful plant food is important for the environment. Each pack includes listening and watching, hands-on activities and written class material. You can download the curriculum material here.
Our workshops and classes cover the practical aspects of worm farming, such as setting up a worm farm, feeding and trouble-shooting, how to use the outputs form a worm farm, as well as raising consciousness of the profound ecological importance of worm composting and soil health, and regenerative agriculture and gardening.