Sustainable Life: From food waste to garden food

Mia Swainson

It’s BBQ season. A time for good food and good friends to relax together.

We’re always eating (often too much) just so that it doesn’t go to waste. There is another way. Leftovers don’t need to be a waste and you don’t need to feel guilty about leaving the last mini quiche on the plate. Lush green vegetables, juicy tomatoes and tall sunflowers flowers also need to eat. In my opinion, the more food they eat, the nicer they look. Our leftover food at home can be transformed into garden food with a compost, worm farm, chickens and bokashi. It’s easier than you think. The hardest part is making the change.

There are options to transform food waste which suit every lifestyle. Apartment dwellers can use bokashi, people in townhouses might choose the worm farm or a compost tumbler and those with big backyards can have chickens. Here’s my guide to choosing the method that suits you best.

Bokashi bucket

Developed in Korea, food waste is placed in a kitchen bucket and broken down with the help of a ‘bokashi’ enzyme. The Bokashi bucket suits people living in a small space, like apartments. You can add almost all food waste to the bucket, except large bones and liquids – like soup. Every night you need to add the ‘bokashi’ enzyme to the bucket to facilitate your food waste breaking down. The bucket produces liquid fertiliser – perfect for balcony plants; and excellent quality soil.

Worm farm

I love the squirming worms in our worm farm. Working well, they’re a dream. But there are a few tricks to keeping your worm farm humming along. Choosing their location is important. Worms need a relatively consistent temperature and suit a courtyard space, up against the wall of your home. They freeze in Canberra’s winter if they’re not right next to the wall of your home and they get too hot in the direct summer sun. Our worm farm is just beside our back door, tucked underneath a large shrub.

Worms eat most fruit and vegetable scraps, tissue paper and old natural fibre rags. Leave out meat, dairy, citrus peel, onions and garlic. Worms like their scraps chopped up – easy to do when you’re in the habit.

Compost

Composting is versatile – you can add anything that once lived into a compost that’s working well. Yes, that includes meat, dairy and chunks of large vegetable. In addition to food waste, composts like to be ‘fed’ with other ‘brown’ or dry materials, like sticks, leaves or newspaper. The rough ratio of green waste to brown materials is roughly 2:1. Most people layer their compost so that the brown layer adds air, an essential part of the compost’s success.

There are three main types of compost systems:

  • Compost tumbler. These are sealed from rats and mice and suit smaller spaces, including courtyards. It’s a pretty forgiving method. Simply turn the tumbler to add air into your compost mix.
  • Bin or box compost, connected to the ground. Because this system connects with the soil, earthworms and other soil microbes that break down waste can easily colonise your compost. If you need to add air, simply use a large stick to make three or four vertical ‘holes’.
  • Community garden compost. These are large compost heaps, tended by community garden members. If there’s a local community garden, why not ask if you can contribute your food so that there’s extra compost for their plants? There are gardens dotted all over Canberra, including some run by Canberra Organic Growers Society and others at the Canberra Environment Centre and Kingston.

Chickens

If you’ve got a large yard, consider chickens. They will eat all… yes, all of your kitchen food scraps in any size or shape. They add rustic charm to the backyard, with their clucking and prancing around. Chicken manure is excellent garden food – just turn it through your soil and let it rest for a week or two before adding your veggies. Chickens also produce eggs – tasting delicious and helping the family budget. I love them!

Chickens take a bit of looking after. They need a predator-proof shelter (something you can shut at night) with a roost and space to lay eggs, yard space to dig and scratch around, water and grain to supplement their food scraps diet. If you’re thinking about chickens, take a look at my earlier article on backyard chickens and the ACT Government’s fact sheet.

So, transform that leftover food into food for your garden. There are options to suit every lifestyle, from apartments to big backyards. Enjoy the benefits of a well-fed garden – juicy tomatoes, luscious herbs and flowers that dance in a gentle breeze.

Did you know?

The ACT Government is considering whether or not food waste will be added to the new garden waste bin collection program right now. If you’d like to see everyone’s food waste transformed into compost for farmers, not just in those houses that love to feed their garden, then take a look at the ACT Conservation Council’s petition.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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