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Turn a smelly problem into a soil-enriching solution

I’m sure you will agree that the smelliest thing to be found in a bin are rotting leftovers or decomposing vegetables. Far too much kitchen waste gets tossed out into municipal bins and sent off to landfill, especially during the festive season. But there is another way…

© blickwinkel Alamy
Let the humble earthworm help you deal with kitchen waste.

It’s been a very long time since we have tossed kitchen waste in our bin.

In our home, any peelings and scraps get stored in a recycled ice cream bakkie with a lid which lives next to the sink. When this container is full, we take it outside and tip it into our compost bin. Almost miraculously this bin never fills up due to the addition of a handful of eager red wriggler worms which convert this waste into compost at an extraordinary rate.

I have a friend whose worms are so voracious she’s actually gone out and bought them wilting lettuces to feast on because she hasn’t generated enough food for them herself. But you need never be short of food for your worms – they eat practically anything organic, even damp cardboard egg boxes or toilet rolls will do.

© Alejandro Duarte Unsplash
When you prepare a delicious veggie meal, don’t send the kitchen waste to landfill.

If, at first, you don’t succeed…

Don’t be put off if your first attempts at creating a wormery don’t work out. Worms don’t like it too hot and so our first batch died during a summer heatwave after I attempted to get them going in a custom-made “wormery”. This was a black plastic crate with some ventilation, but it became something of a heat sink when it was exposed to the sun. Nevertheless, I passed this container on to my son Callum whose solution is to bring his worms inside during hot weather.

We had better luck when we converted our existing compost bin into a wormery by adding a handful of red wrigglers to the mix. Even though this isn’t a conventional wormery design, they are thriving. Our bin also has a hatch at the bottom so that you can dig out the ready-made composted materials for use elsewhere in the garden.

It lives in a cool spot under a tree and has a lid to keep it dark just the way the worms like it. Every now and then we transfer some of the material from the hatch to an existing compost heap – which also provides a bit of a worm bonanza for the garden birds, in particular the Cape robin-chat and olive thrush. Happiness all around (except of course for a few hapless worms).

​But what if I live in an apartment without a garden?

Hah, of course this is a valid question, but I know of many people who save their kitchen scraps and pass them on to friends who have their own composting arrangements. Some neighbourhoods even have community gardens that are willing to accept this material to enrich their own composting efforts. Some forward-thinking flat dwellers have also started their own wormeries located in a quiet dark spot (under a stairwell is a good place to start). I asked Briony, whom I found on my neighbourhood Facebook page, for advice.

© Callum Clark
Be sure to add carbon-rich materials such as paper or desiccated plant materials to your wormery (so called 'browns' to balance out the 'greens') to get good useable compost.

Briony’s tips for apartment dwellers

“We have a wormery, not for the whole block but for our household. We love it and it works really well. It’s very easy to run and maintain and a great way to recycle. Our indoor plants get the worm tea and they have never been happier,” says Briony.

  1. It’s important to keep the worm farm out of direct sunlight and in a cool spot. I have heard of people keeping theirs in garages that reach high temperatures (over 30 Deg C) and their worms died.
  2. They love greens and most scraps but we don’t feed them COPS (citrus, onions, protein and sugar). We also avoid garlic, peppers, sauces, and dressings.
  3. Red wrigglers are the best worms to use (and not just any earthworm).
  4. The worms enjoy a cup of water once a week.
  5. We drain the worm tea weekly.

© Callum Clark
Get it right and you will soon have good compost, courtesy of your red wrigglers.

Now for the serious stuff

We don’t know quite how much food waste is going to landfill – only 13 out of 284 of our municipalities in South Africa currently measure this – but we do know that soil depletion is a major risk to the environment. 

According to WWF’s 2020 Living Planet Report, soil hosts one of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on Earth: up to 90% of living organisms in terrestrial ecosystems, including some pollinators, spend part of their life cycle in soil habitats. Soil is a critical component of the natural environment – yet most people are totally unaware of, or underestimate, the vital role that soil biodiversity plays in our wellbeing.

Do a bit of keyboard research, ask around, and don’t feel that you have to invest in expensive contraptions to make this work. Once you’ve removed kitchen waste from your bin, life just becomes a whole lot sweeter.

Andrea Weiss Photo
Andrea Weiss , Media Manager, WWF South Africa

Andrea would like to everyone to tune into the wonders of our natural world and to do their bit for nature.

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