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Last Updated
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Composting and Worm Farming

Composting

A compost bin

On average half the garbage in your red lidded bin is food and organic waste. Hunters Hill Council will NOT be offering a dedicated food and organic matter bin because we are already addressing the issue of food waste in the garbage bins.
Council, along with four other councils in the Northern Sydney Region formed the Northern Sydney Councils Waste Alliance in 2015 and send the contents of red–lidded waste bins to a purpose-built Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility at Woodlawn, south of Sydney.

The facility is managed by Veolia who are responsible for transforming the waste from red-lidded bins in Hunters Hill into useful compost for environmental rehabilitation. After the organic material is recovered and converted into compost, any remaining waste is delivered to a bioreactor for further energy recovery.

This MBT waste processing technology needs organic matter (ie: food waste) in the red-lidded bin to enable the compost process and it contributes to Council’s waste diversion rate which has since the processing began in July 2017 risen to above 60% per month.

Composting is nature’s own recycling system and if you have a garden that will benefit Council encourages composting food scraps or using a worm farm – lawn clippings and leaves can go into the compost bin to help balance the mix. Hunters Hill Council worked with Compost Revolution previously but this programme no longer being funded. However, the education material is still available on the Compost Revolution website and a 40% discount is available on worm farms and compost bins from them. If you only have a small garden, compost for what you have and put any remaining food waste in the red lid bin. Composting can turn organic kitchen and garden waste into a wonderful nutrient rich material for your garden. Composting is a natural decaying process that converts organic matter (food and garden waste) into a crumbly earthy nutrient rich product. Its nature’s way of recycling living things back into healthy soil.

The decaying process that takes place in composting reduces an organic pile from 20 parts to 1. When your compost is done, your garden will love the concentrated nutrient rich soil it produces.

Learn more about ways to recycle your foodscraps and greenwaste at www.compostrevolution.com.au Take the compost and wormfarming quiz to be eligible for a discount from Compost Revolution for a compost bin or worm farm to get you started on making lovely fertilizer and compost for your garden and balcony plants. Upon completion of the Compost Revolution questionnaire you will need to Compost Revolution directly to arrange for payment and delivery of your bin or worm farm.

Avoiding food waste saves water, energy, transport and waste from packaging and disposal. Find out more at www.lovefoodhatewaste.nsw.gov.au and shop with a list to reduce consumption.

How to compost

The most important thing to remember is to ensure that there is a balance between browns and greens and not too much of one thing. The more variety of material you put in the compost the better your end product will be.

The simple steps to make a compost heap (or bin) are:

  • Buy or make a compost bin. To make one, use a container with a lid, and cut an opening in the base.
  • Put your bin in a sunny flat place on soil so the worms can come up. Preferably place it close to the kitchen for convenience.
  • Firstly put twigs, leaves and woody mulch to allow air into the heap. (This is your BROWNS)
  • Then add a bucket of kitchen organics (GREENS). Then add another bucket of browns and layer grass clippings.
  • Top it off with a layer of soil.
  • Turn the fresh part of the compost with a fork regularly. This provides oxygen and prevents a wet smelly heap. It also stops vermin from making a home.
  • A piece of Hessian, cloth or carpet will keep the heap warm if it isn't in a sunny spot.

What to compost - greens and browns

GREENS
Kitchen scraps
Fruit and vegetable peelings
Tea leaves and coffee grounds
Egg shells and egg boxes
Cardboard cereal boxes torn into strips

BROWNS
Garden organics
Twigs, woody mulch, leaves
Grass clippings dead flowers and dead pot plants
Most weeds (if there is a seed present, place it in the middle of the compost for maximum heat)
Soil

What else can go in the compost?

Worms, vacuum cleaner dust, human hair, pizza boxes, cardboard torn into strips, animal manure, wood ash, newspaper and cotton rags.

Worm-farming

A cartoon worm farm

Worm farms are a great way to turn your leftover kitchen scraps into a rich fertiliser, especially if you live in a small block or a flat. They can even be placed on a balcony - all you need is a small, cool, well-shaded spot.
Worm farms, such as the RELN Worm Factory, are available for purchase at Council for cost price $76.95 (GST included).
It’s also easy to make your own worm farm out of polystyrene boxes. The best ones to use are the broccoli boxes from fruit and vegetable shops. These don't come with holes so you can punch your own where they are required.

Build your own worm farm

  • Choose a nice spot for your worms to live. Make sure the spot is not too hot or cold.
  • If you choose to use polystyrene boxes, you will need two of them. At least one box needs to have a lid. Poke about twenty holes in the bottom of one box. Put the lid on the box with hole and place this box on the box without the holes. The bottom box will catch the liquid produced by the worms (worm tea).
  • In the box with the holes or one of the trays in the worm farm, place about 10cm of bedding.
  • Use a combination of shredded paper, leaves and finished compost as a bedding layer, around 10-15cm deep. To this you should add about 1000 worms (check the Yellow Pages under Worm Farms, or the Australian Worm Growers Website to buy them). The worms used for worm farms are called compost worms, tiger worms or red wrigglers. They are different than the usual earthworm. You should not put earthworms into your wormfarm.
  • Cover the bedding with a layer of hessian, newspaper, carpet etc. This will keep the worm bedding dark and moist.
  • Once the worms have burrowed into the bedding (2-3 days) you can start adding small amounts of kitchen scraps.
  • Worms love to eat vegetable and fruit peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, as well as some paper, but make sure to shred scraps first to make sure they can easily digest them. Avoid feeding your worms meat and oily foods such as dairy products, or acidic foods such as citrus or onion. At first only add small amounts, once the worms have finished most of their previous meal.
  • Your worms should produce a rich, soil-like substance called "castings" or "vermicompost", which makes a great fertiliser for potted plants, a potting mix for seedlings or top-dressing for your yard. To harvest your castings, move them to one side of the farm and add new food to the other side. Soon your worms will migrate into the food pile, and it will be safe to remove your castings. In addition, the liquid (or 'worm tea') that collects in the bottom box can be used as a liquid fertiliser, once it has been diluted. It should be diluted at about 1 part worm tea to 9 parts water. As your plants get used to the solution the strength can be increased.

How much will my worms eat?

This depends on how many worms you have. Mature worms (which can be identified by the ring shaped swelling around their body), can eat up to half their own body weight every day (approximately 250 grams of scraps).

How can I help my worms eat more?

Mash, blend, or food process scraps.
Maintain temperature to around 24 deg. Celsius
Avoid acidic foods

What shouldn't I feed my worms?

Manures
Acidic foods (onions, citrus, garlic, shallots)
Garden waste
Dairy products
Meat

Should I add water to my system

Watering will enhance the production of liquid fertiliser. Food wastes are about 80% water, which is released as the worms break them down. If you pour some water over the system every couple of weeks you will have a constant supply of liquid fertiliser.

Will I get too many worms?

No, you can never have to many worms. Worms self regulate their population according to available space and the amount of food you give them.

Can I put compost worms in the garden?

Compost worms, (those used in worm farms) require moist conditions all year round, and do not tunnel deep to find moisture. They can only be useful in the garden if you have a thick layer of mulch in your garden.

It's raining and the worms seem to be gathering in the lid. What do i do?

This is a response to the change in the weather. Worms move up into the lid before it rains to avoid drowning. Move the system out of the rain and replace the worms in the bedding.

Why aren't the worms moving up from the lower levels into the top working tray?

  • You may have added new food before the worms have eaten the previous food. This leaves uneaten food through the system and causes a reluctance by the worms to migrate upwards whilst they can still access food in the lower layers. Before adding new trays stop feeding the worms for at least a week to ensure all existing food has been eaten.
  • The level of castings in the working tray needs to be high enough for the worms to pass easily up to the next tray.

What about severe temperature?

Worms will tolerate a wide temperature range from approximately 10-30 degrees Celsius. If it gets much hotter than this, move the system into a shady, cool position. Take the lid off and hose down the system (making sure the tap is turned on to allow the liquid to drain out).
In very cold temperatures, cover the system with some old carpet, underfelt, blankets, and hessian to keep warmth in. Feed the worms more food, which will create some warmth as they decompose.

How do I keep ants out of the system?

Ants will enter the system if it is too dry or acidic. Add water to raise the moisture levels and add some garden lime to where the ants are gathering. To stop them from getting into the system, place the legs of the system in a container of water or rub Vaseline on the legs.

Will the worm farm attract flies?

Sometimes small vinegar flies get into the system, however they will not do any harm. If larger flies are present slow your rate of feeding.

What about maggots?

Maggots appear due to decomposing meat being present in the worm farm. Avoid meat in your worm farm. To remove maggots place bread soaked in milk on the surface. The maggots will be attracted to it and you can remove them after a couple of days.

Will the worm farm smell?

Your worm farm should only smell if there is a lot of uneaten food built up in the system. Stop feeding the worms, add some garden lime and stir the top tray lightly to aerate the mixture. This will allow the worms to move through it more easily. Start feeding again when all smells are gone.

Hints for a healthy worm farm

Keep the worm farm damp but not wet. Water every so often or as required.
If your worm farm smells: you're probably just feeding them too much, or giving them too much water. Only feed the worms small amounts at first, when they have almost run out of food, and gradually build up to larger portions.

If cockroaches and ants invade your worm farm: keep a lid on the farm or cover it with hessian. If your farm sits on legs you can also place each leg inside a bowl of water to keep ants out.

If your worms won't breed: you may need to keep the farm in a shadier or cooler (around 18-25 degrees centigrade) location or keep it more moist (although not too wet).

Acidity: can be caused by too much sugary food, such as fruits, and grains. Sprinkling some dolomite, wood ash or lime on the farm can help solve this problem.

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