Permaculture in Action

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Produce No Waste

Over the past few months we have been looking to transform the house yard into a child-friendly area for the Purple Pear Permaculture Playgroup. So, along with other farm activities, a little of our time has been spent in this garden space.

The first of our daffodils we planted back in Autumn has flowered with some more just starting to bud...

I prepared this site before hand, having observed where the children most frequently walked around the garden. They chose to walk under the apple tree, through the garden bed, to move from one area to another. Rather than try to stop the children from walking here, I created a path by adding some stepping stones. An added benefit was that the stepping stones gave the children some varying heights to step up and down in an otherwise flat yard. If you look closely you'll see some of the stepping stones just behind the daffodil.

The snow peas we planted on our last day together around our bamboo tepee have started to sprout.

Today we talked about a permaculture principle  produce no waste, in particular what to do with food scraps. Most of our food scraps  if we have any  either go to the chooks, guinea pigs or the dogs, but we use a worm farm for tea leaves and coffee grounds. For those mums who don't have small animals in their backyard, a worm farm is a great solution to food scraps. The worms convert the food scraps  into humus that can be used in the garden to improve the soil. We tried to keep the materials list to what would be readily available and to keep the cost to a minimum. I was able to source everything from materials on the farm.

We started with two styrofoam boxes, which we have aplenty as I pick up scraps from our local organic shop in them. They can be sourced from supermarkets or vegie shops and, since they would otherwise go to landfill, you would be doing the planet a favour by reusing them.

The bottom box needs to be watertight as it will store the leachate produced by the worms...

On top of this place a piece of shade cloth to stop the worms from falling into the leachate and drowning...

In the top box cut some small holes for drainage...

And inside this box place some bedding for the worms. We used cocopeat, but you could use shredded paper or clean straw...

On top of the bedding place your composting worms. Do not use earthworms as they are not suitable for worm farms. Place a piece of hessian over the worms to protect them from extremes in temperature and pop on the lid. Find a nice place to put your worm farm; not too hot or too cold. Mark says to look for where the cat likes to sleep during the day, then kick it out of the way and place the worm farm there.

This took about ten minutes, including retrieving toddlers from climbing the stairs; very doable. We talked about the sorts of things that were suitable for the worm farm  basically anything which was once living. In the past we have put in old bits of clothing made from natural fibres and all that's left after a time is the polyester thread, the buttons and so on. Hair from my brush goes in, as does the vacuum cleaner bag. All that doesn't go in is orange peel and onions, as the worms don't like these. We would also suggest that any food that would likely attract vermin not go in either, otherwise you might get visiting rats and mice!

We have many worm farms here on the farm. The basic black box model that's available from your local council, an old bathtub and quite a few worm towers that sit directly in the garden bed.

Another important question to consider is how much to feed the worms. This comes down to how many worms you have and how much they can eat in a day or two, because you don't want the food sitting around for longer than that  this is when you might get vermin! If what the worms you've got can't handle the quantity of food scraps you produce, you may need to think of creating more worm farms.

The mums were keen to give it a go when they got home.


  1. I read this with interest Kate! We made a worm farm but I killed all the worms. I still don't know what I did wrong. I really want to give it another shot but I'm reluctant to try till I know my mistake. Seems cruel to sacrifice more worms in my clumsy attempts!

    1. Hi Linda. Drying out of the worm farm and lack of food are quite often causes of worm death. But sometimes the worm farm can become too acidic and a little dusting of dolomite or ag. lime fortnightly will help.

  2. I think it is just wonderful that these young mums are getting these skills when they come to playgroup. What do you feed your worms , Kate?

    1. Yes they are picking up quite a few skills as their children play nearby. We feed our worms in the house yard mainly tea bags and coffee grounds. Our food scraps go to the chooks and guinea pigs, but down in the mandala garden we have a bathtub and mainly we feed the worms cow manure.

  3. I don't know what I did wrong last time Kate, but you've inspired me to try again and it's working!! Thanks. Can't wait for my worm juice!