Featured artist: Shannon Crees

Composting and worm farming

Featured artist: Shannon Crees
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Composting and worm farming

Composting is a natural recycling system whereby organic waste is broken down into smaller nutrients by microorganisms with other garden creatures, such as worms. The organic resources released in the food waste can also improve soil health and avoid the use of chemical fertilizers in your garden, which will save you money.

By composting you can give nutrients back to the soil and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

Composting or worm farming?

Use the guide below to help you decide between starting a compost bin or a worm farm in your home.

You want to...CompostingWorm farming
Compost garden clippings Yes Not suitable
Keep your bin inside – in a balcony or courtyard Not suitable Suitable
Compost large amounts of food waste; more than two people per household Suitable Not suitable
Keep your bin outdoors on bare soil Suitable Suitable
Maintain your bin in full sun; able to tolerate heat Suitable Not suitable
Compost a variety of foods, including citric fruits, onion and garlic Suitable Not suitable
Produce liquid fertiliser Not suitable Suitable

Composting

Effective composting requires a good balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Think of carbon-rich materials as brown things, such as dried leaves, paper and timber/bark pieces; and nitrogen-rich materials as green things, such as food scraps and grass.

Items that can be composted include:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Newspaper and shredded paper
  • Grass clippings
  • Dead flowers
  • Leaves and twigs
  • Egg shells (crushed)
  • Ground coffee
  • Tea bags and leaves
  • Animal and human hair
  • Vacuum cleaner dust
  • Old potting mix

There are a few things that can attract unwelcomed guests, such as mice and flies to your compost. Make sure you don't add any of the following to your compost:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Oils
  • Pet faeces
  • Large amounts of carbohydrates, such as bread, rice and pasta*

* These high protein items are nitrogen-rich and can be added to your compost in very small volumes in combination with carbon-rich items (shredded paper and dried leaves).

Follow three simple steps to have a healthy compost pile:

  • Balance nitrogen and carbon content – roughly 1/3 of green materials for 2/3 of brown materials.
  • Provide good aeration - mix your compost once or twice a week.
  • Keep it moist – place a hessian sack or damp old T-shirt over the pile to prevent water evaporation.

Buying a compost bin

There is a wide range of compost bins available from local nurseries and garden centres. Compost bins are also available at cost price from the Green Living Centre in Newtown (phone 9519 6366).

Finding the perfect spot for your compost bin

The bin should be placed on bare soil to allow for sufficient drainage in a partially sunny spot of your garden – preferably somewhere cool in summer and warm in winter. It is good to keep your bin away from the house and neighbours, but in a convenient location to empty your food scraps on a regular basis.

Getting started with your compost bin

  • Layer the bottom of your bin or a heap with coarse materials from your garden – small sticks or mulch are perfect
  • Add a layer of finer carbon-rich materials from your garden – dried leaves etc
  • Optional: add a 1-3 cm of soil to help kick-start the composting process
  • Add a layer of nitrogen-rich materials to the pile – e.g. kitchen scraps, grass and flowers
  • Add another layer of carbon-rich materials to the top
  • Water each layer to ensure all materials are moist 
  • Cover the pile with a damp cloth or newspaper
  • Aerate your bin after 1 week by mixing its content

Once you have your compost bin up and running, you may add kitchen scraps to your bin as they are produced. Always ensure that the nitrogen-rich food is balanced out by adding some carbon each time you fill your bin.

Interested in composting in your unit block? We can support you! Check out Compost Collective or contact Emma on 9335 2129 or emma.daniell@marrickville.nsw.gov.au to find out more.

Worm farming

A 'worm farm' is a simple and versatile home composting system that requires less space than other methods and is ideal for units, small backyards and other settings in high-density urban areas within Marrickville. Worm-farming is an excellent choice for composting food scraps and does not require any carbon-rich materials to work.

What can go in your worm farm

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Egg shells (ground)
  • Coffee
  • Tea bags and leaves
  • Animal and human hair
  • Vacuum cleaner dust
  • Shredded paper (small amounts)
  • Cooked leftover food, such as pasta and rice (very small amounts)

Worms don't like garden clippings, prunings, leaves, etc. There are a few other things that can make your worm farm sick, which means that food won’t break down making your worm farm smell and attract unwanted guests, such as mice and cockroaches to it. Here is a list of what not to add to your worm farm:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Onion and garlic peel
  • Chilli
  • Meat and seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Tofu
  • Bones
  • Oils
  • Garden clippings

Tips to have a healthy worm farm

  • Keep your worm farm in a shaded spot outside or indoors, as worms don’t like extreme temperatures.
  • Keep your worm farm moist – cover the worm bed with a hessian sack, damp newspaper or old T-shirt.
  • Add food to worm farm in small pieces – this will help worms to get through the food faster.
  • Make sure the environment is not too acidic – ground egg shells help to regulate the pH inside the worm farm.
  • Feed your worms the right amount of food – worms are very efficient and can eat the equivalent of their body weight each day, but make sure you start with small amounts of food gradually increasing it week by week.

Contact the Green Living Centre on 9519 6366 for more information and tips regarding composting and worm farming, or visit the workshops page to find the next composting and worm farming workshops.