Nutrient Retention and Cycling

Another aspect of ‘waste management’ that isn’t really covered by the ‘refuse, reuse/repurpose, recycle’ ethos (unless you count it as ‘reuse’), but is probably more ‘nutrient retention and cycling’ is the use of chooks, worms and compost in waste ‘processing’, allowing you to retain all those nutrients and sharing it around onsite to create better soil, vegies, fruit and habitats.

Although I’ve had worm farms since I was a child, and compost bins/heaps and chooks since 2008, you certainly don’t need to have all of them; start small, and increase as you find the need and gain more confidence.

If you do want to start any of the above, however, you certainly don’t need to buy in everything or anything: you can make a compost heap from just piling up compostable materials in an out-of-sight corner of the yard, perhaps contained by a round of chicken wire and star-pickets, or a series of salvaged shipping pallets screwed together to make a square surround, and wetting it down with a hose (the Gardening Australia website have some really good articles about how to do this, and how to get the balance of materials right so that it doesn’t smell and you don’t attract vermin). You can also make a worm farm in a styrofoam broccoli box or an old bath tub, and buy/trade for a little container of worms from a friend who already has an established worm farm.

Things like lawn clippings, fruit and vegies that are too bug-eaten for human-consumption, trimmings of chook-edible plants/crops like arrowroot and nasturtiums, and chook-edible weeds, like cobbler’s pegs, all go to the chooks to be processed into eggs and fertiliser, keeping all those nutrients on-site.

I collect any newspapers that I can get my hands on. These either get soaked in water and given straight to the worms or compost, get shredded and used in the chook house as bedding, then soaked and given to the worms/compost (all nicely mixed up with chook poo), or used to line the bottom of new garden beds or footpaths before laying mulch/compost over the top. Shredded office paper is also good for use in the chook house or worm farm (it’s quite an effective, one-way document destruction service).

I also ‘scrounge’ scraps when I can. When I first got chooks, I quickly found that having just the 2 people in our house wasn’t providing enough green scraps for our chooks, so until I could start growing enough for all of us, I asked around and found an obliging grocer who used to keep aside boxes of vegie trimmings (leaves from around broccoli and cauliflower, daggy leaves from the outside of lettuces, etc) and bruised fruit for quite a few of the chook-owners in our area, and he loved it because not only was his waste product going to ‘a good cause’, he also didn’t have to pay to get rid of it because we did it for him (together we apparently cut his waste collection bill to a fraction of what it was). Win-win :) Unfortunately, he has since sold the business and retired, but you may have a hidden source in your area, so don’t be afraid to ask. In the meantime, I’ve trained some of my friends and family to save me their scraps, and one family also gives me their ‘extras’ – they have a worm farm, but their family-of-5 often produces more than it can handle, so I get the ‘extras’ :)

Either way, the nutrients that enter my property as a newspaper, office paper or vegie/fruit scraps, gets retained onsite and cycled so that its ‘goodness’ stays with me, in my garden where it’s needed, and not in council landfill.

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