Our building has worms ...

What did you say?  The Hero apartment building in Russell St has installed a communal worm farm to reduce general waste and to provide compost for residents’ gardens.

Earlier this year (February/March), the Hero Owners’ Corporation took part in a City of Melbourne initiative to trial the effectiveness and practicality of installing a worm farm for a residential high-rise building that has (in this case) 150 apartments of which 40 comprise an apartment hotel.

Initially there were 37 apartments that signed up for the trial.  Each apartment was allocated an attractive kitchen bin (at no cost) for the collection of vegetable waste to feed a large colony of worms.

Initially a series of nine Hungry Bins from Wormlovers (www.wormlovers.com.au) were installed in the car park.  Each bin came with a colony of 2000 worms that multiplied to around 10,000 per bin after four to five months. These worms go about eating waste vegetable material including shredded non-glossy paper, which they love!  Generally, once a worm farm is established, each Hungry Bin is able to process up to 2 kg per day of food waste.

Every eight to 12 weeks the Hungry Bins produce a rich soil known as the “castings”.  On a continuous basis the worms produce a “juice” that is a potent fertiliser for apartment plants and rooftop gardens. The worm juice needs to be diluted by one part to five parts water.  The castings can be added to normal soil making a mixture that is excellent for growing vegetables and all manner of plants and trees.

You might think that busy CBD residents would not be bothered to separate out their vegetable waste as well as their normal recyclables, but this has not been the experience.  After only a month or so the waste load was greater than expected and four more Hungry Bins had to be added to the initial nine. At the same time, a 100 litre drum was included so that residents could help themselves to the worm juice.

After the trial period, Hero’s worms are doing just fine. Over the past few months, residents have made use of 350 litres of worm juice and, shortly, the first batch of castings will be available.

From personal experience, developing the habit of saving vegetable waste (not citrus or onions) for the worms was easy. The bonus is that your main waste bin does not have to be emptied so often. I even find myself chopping up some items knowing that the little creatures like smaller pieces. I think that if these worms help my plants to thrive then I want to see that they are well fed and that they are happy.  By the way, my apartment garden is doing well on its worm juice fertiliser and I am contributing in a small way to reducing my carbon footprint.

After the study was finished a month or two ago, the Hero Owners’ Corporation decided to support the on-going maintenance of the worm farm for another 12 months.  Wormlovers visits the property every two weeks to check on the worm’s health, keep the bins clean and to reset the signs on the top of the bins to indicate which worms need more food and which bins are full.

One thing that is important is to see that the food waste is not fermenting and that there is plenty of shredded paper included to balance the acidity of the mixture.  Note that old newspaper and shredded documents from the home office are ideal.

The advantage of having the worm farm as part of common amenity is that individual apartments may not have enough waste to support their own Hungry Bin, whereas bins for the community make sense. The owners’ corporation benefits by significantly reducing the quantity of general waste and hence the cost of taking it away.

The City of Melbourne encourages CBD dwellers to embrace composting.  Go to www.compostrevolution.com.au/melbourne/ to learn about an offer of 25-35 per cent off the retail price of a worm farm (plus worms!).

They quote that the total waste diverted from land-fill under their program is 3,455,494 kg equivalent to 28,795 standard wheely bins.

Given the large number of apartment buildings and with the many food outlets in the CBD, it seems that reducing the cost of processing waste, could free up public money to be spent on furthering other city amenity projects, like beautifying laneways and adding green areas to soften, oxygenate and cool the concrete jungle.

Composting via food waste could also lead to realizing the dream of more balcony and roof top gardens to make our city even more beautiful.

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