Waste-re­duc­tion work­shop


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Ev­ery­day ways to help save our planet

Claire Mummery, founder of Grow In­spired (growin­spired.co.nz), is one of New Zealand’s fore­most pi­o­neers in re­gen­er­a­tive liv­ing, nu­tri­ent-rich food production and large-scale or­ganic garden de­vel­op­ment. Her ex­pe­ri­ence in or­ganic prac­tices spans three decades and her areas of ex­per­tise include com­post­ing, worm farms, garden trans­for­ma­tions, and grow­ing nu­tri­ent-dense food. We asked Claire to take us through the ins and outs of get­ting the most from our food waste.

Did you know that ap­prox­i­mately 122,547 tonnes of food waste goes to land­fill each year in New Zealand? That equates to about $872 mil­lion of food! Once in the land­fill, it rots and pro­duces a harm­ful green­house gas called meth­ane. With more and more peo­ple want­ing to grow their own food in their back­yard or life­style block, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand the value of com­post­ing. By com­post­ing we can process all our own food waste and re­turn it to the soil to in­crease the value of nu­tri­ents and mi­crobes in our much-de­pleted gar­dens.

I have been com­post­ing for the past 30 years and over this time I have tried many dif­fer­ent sys­tems on a small and large scale. With so many ways to com­post, it sometimes can be hard for the home gar­dener to un­der­stand how to get started. Many peo­ple sim­ply give up if some­thing goes wrong or their com­post be­comes smelly. My aim is to take the com­plex­ity out of it and show that even peo­ple with busy lives can com­post. Two com­post­ing sys­tems that I use as my sta­ples are worm farm­ing and bokashi.


For re­ally busy peo­ple I rec­om­mend a worm farm. They are easy to set up and don’t take much main­te­nance. A worm farm pro­cesses all your scraps and pa­per into a prod­uct called ‘ver­mi­cast’ (worm cast­ings) and a magic liq­uid which is known as ‘worm leachate’. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, you can pretty much feed your worm farm any­thing – from bones, chicken car­casses and veges to pa­per, teabags and cof­fee grounds.

Worms process all your house­hold pa­per, from the card­board in­side toi­let rolls to shred­ded pa­per from your home of­fice. Some say not to feed them onion skins and cit­rus, but my ad­vice is that it’s usu­ally fine to feed them any­thing – just avoid any­thing in ex­cess. The only rule in my ex­pe­ri­ence is that the larger the item, the longer it will take to break down. There­fore, avoid big shells and bones, and make sure you tear up pa­per and cut your scraps into small pieces. I would also avoid fish bones as these take a long time to break down, and also can re­main quite sharp when put in the soil. In­stead, I sug­gest dig­ging a hole and bury­ing these where you in­tend to plant a fruit tree or a peren­nial plant.

Ver­mi­cast is a valu­able ad­di­tion to soil, help­ing to pro­mote ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria and re­store the struc­ture of plants if they’ve been sub­jected to harsh weather. Drain off the worm leachate and feed it to plants neat (1 tsp under each plant) or di­lute it in a wa­ter­ing can at a ra­tio of 100ml to 10 litres of water.


Bokashi is a closed (anaer­o­bic) food fer­men­ta­tion sys­tem de­vel­oped in Ja­pan. Bokashi bran is made from wheat flakes that are in­oc­u­lated with EM (ef­fec­tive micro­organ­isms) then air-dried. You can buy a bokashi bin from your lo­cal garden cen­tre. This is usu­ally a dou­ble-bucket sys­tem – the top bucket is for food scraps and the bot­tom one col­lects the juice. You add your kitchen scraps to the bucket and sprin­kle the bran on top, then keep re­peat­ing un­til full.

As the pick­ling process (caused by the bran) oc­curs, a juice drips through holes in the top bucket into the bot­tom bucket. This liq­uid, which needs to be drained ev­ery 2-3 days to avoid it de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, is full of mi­crobes and nu­tri­ents which in turn are a pow­er­ful fer­tiliser for your plants. Once the bin is full, it is best to leave it for 2 weeks to fer­ment, then add the material to your soil by tip­ping it into a trench you’ve dug or by spread­ing it on top and cov­er­ing it with a car­bon material such as leaves, straw, pa­per or card­board. Then plant your plants straight into it. The juice is very strong and should never be put on your plants neat. The di­lu­tion ra­tio is 1-2 tsp to 5 litres of water. To com­bat pests and disease, this can be in­creased by 1ml at a time un­til plants have re­cov­ered. Undi­luted juice can also be tipped down drains and sinks to add ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria to your pipes and stop odours.

Over the past 15 years, I have done many ex­per­i­ments – small and large scale – us­ing bokashi and have had out­stand­ing re­sults with grow­ing food. The plants are much health­ier, need less wa­ter­ing and the colour of the leaves is far more vi­brant. I have used it on a large scale at restau­rants and in turn cre­ated more us­able soil, build­ing up garden beds and di­vert­ing more than 19,000 litres of food waste away from land­fill over a two-year pe­riod.

Re­mem­ber, com­post­ing is fun, ben­e­fi­cial for your garden and, most of all, good for the planet. Happy com­post­ing!

Live com­post­ing worms, $39.95, from Bun­nings. Can-o-worms worm farm by Reln, $128, from Bun­nings. 10-litre bucket set and three bags of com­post-zing, $67, from Zing­bokashi.

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