Grow your own worm farm

Located on Level 6 of Melbourne’s Curtin House, Mexican restaurant Mesa Verde is at the forefront of sustainability in the country, having partnered with Worm Lovers founder Richard Thomas to carry out a huge eco-project on its rooftop, using Hungry Bin worm farms as its green centrepiece. Richard chats to MiNDFOOD about Mesa Verde’s game-changing garden and how you can grow your own one at home.

How did you get to be involved in worm farms?

I’m actually an ecological artist and work on all sorts of environmental projects. I’ve headed up two sustainability projects – one around forest conservation and the other around worms and composting organic waste sustainable food gardens (that’s a mouthful isn’t it). So a big part of what I do is bring all these elements  – design and functionality – to come up with an integrated, sustainable design, which really came to fruition on that project because it required all these different elements to come together.

How did the relationship with Mexican restaurant, Mesa Verde, eventuate?

It kind of evolved very organically. The owner of the building wanted to redevelop the top of the building. I pitched the idea – they decided to put in Mr Verde, they also needed to upgrade their cool-room to supply the rooftop bar so I said, ‘why don’t we build a food garden and a worm farm integrated with the cool-room, so that we can actually provide passive cooling to the cool room?’

What’s involved in that process?

If the cool room is in the shade, it is probably five degrees cooler than if it were in the blazing sun, so you therefore use less electricity to cool it. And so that was the first pitch, and then we started talking about the food we were going to grow for the restaurant. Some of the herbs and things they use in the restaurant aren’t readily available in the market, so we decided we could grow some of those ingredients in the garden with the right system.

We also grow herbs for the bar as well   – some of the lesser-known ones used in their cocktails, like olive bush and sage. We grow all these on the rooftop.

The other part of equation is the worm farm, so I’ve been involved with Worm Lovers for 10 years. We specialise in worm farming systems of all different scales. There are different angles to that – one of those is obviously on site organic waste management. Setting these up on site means we can process quite e a large amount of waste coming out of kitchen and turn this into high-grade  food source for the garden.


How do worm farms work, exactly?

Worms are supercharged; they turn food scraps into incredible superfoods – chockablock full of nutrients and beneficial microbes that create the ideal conditions for really healthy, very robust and successful food crops. Basically, the flavours you get out of food that’s grown in worm castings is second to none – they tend to be very disease-resistant, they increase fruit cropping (you can get twice as many tomatoes from a tomato plant grown in a worm casting). The fantastic thing about it is it is pH0 neutral so you can pretty much grow any plant in it. It’s been really successful.

We don’t use any synthetic fertiliser; we don’t use any pesticides. The whole principal of biological gardens is that if the soil is healthy enough, then the plant can actually resist a lot of the pests and diseases naturally.

Could you grow a worm farm at home?

Absolutely – all of our systems are based around the Hungry Bin Worm Farm – which are available to the general public – and we ship them all over Australia. We’ve got a really good manual that comes with it – it’s probably the best worm farm you can get. It’s a new design that’s only come out the last few months, designed by a Kiwi guy – it’s on wheels so you can wheel it around. One Hungry Bin will service all the food scraps of a family of five and probably produce enough high-grade compost to fertilise a decent size vegie garden. So they are available to anyone really. There’s a bit of know-how needed – there’s a bit of training and love that needs to go into it – it is a living system after all. You do need to manage the input to get the water and nutrients and so on, but once you get it right, it’s pretty self-sustaining.

For more information on Hungry Bins and how to start your own worm farm, click here.

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Party Season Planting

Gardening guru Matt Leacy from Landart Landscapes shares his tips on creating gardens that are both edible and beautiful for the end of year party season and Christmas Day celebrations.

Whether it’s a simple get-together with friends or a joyous banquet with the whole family, Matt has come up with these smart and easy gardening ideas to help your garden produce edible and decorative props to be enjoyed over the coming months.

1. Potted mint

Growing mint by seed can be painfully tricky, so head to your local nursery for inexpensive seedlings.  Once it’s under way, and with regular water and a little shade, mint will grow vigorously, so pots are the best option – and will ensure that surrounding plants aren’t overtaken or destroyed. With just a little TLC, you will have flourishing mint all summer long to garnish your classic lemonades, iced teas, watermelon salads or to shred through jugs of mojitos.

2. Grow rocket yourself – at home

Baby rocket is ideal to have on hand in your garden for summer salads, to add crunch to sandwiches and for side dishes. Baby rocket is sweet and nutty as opposed to grown rocket which is often quite spicy. The advantage of growing rocket at home is that it grows extremely quickly, and is also easy to grow from seed. Simply sprinkle the seeds on soil, lightly cover with seed-raising mix and water gently for a moist start to some healthy salad greens. You can’t go wrong with a light rocket, watermelon and pine nut salad as a tantalising entrée.

3. Plant tomatoes in the sunshine

Red and juicy tomatoes are always a crowd pleaser, particularly when it comes to fresh salads, pasta sauce or just a healthy summer snack.  And home grown tomatoes that have soaked up plenty of sunshine are always so much more full of flavour than store-bought tomatoes that have often been stored in cool rooms. Lots of strong and direct sunlight will also help make tomatoes nice and stocky. Planted now, you will be harvesting a good haul of garden fresh tomatoes before Christmas.

Enjoy weekend brunches of bruschetta using your diced red tomatoes mixed with olive oil. Place on top of toasted, crusty bread and garnish with a bit of basil (also from your garden!) to really be transported to the hills of Tuscany.

4. Use versatile lillypillies for festive gardening

While lillypillies are hardy and generally easy to maintain, they can be prone to pests and diseases – especially psyllids, so check for any deformed new growth, little lumps, or spots before you buy, and check regularly once you have your plant at home.  A quick wipe or spray with White Oil insecticide will cure most issues for lillypillies. Syzygium leuhmanii is completely psyllid resistant.

Lillypilly hedging and topiary are perfect for low maintenance and quick growing ornamental decoration in gardens. Lillypillies provide anything from a vibrant pink to creamy white flowers and red, purple or white berries for an added festive feel to garden settings, ensuring they are an ideal addition to all outdoor entertaining areas.  They also grow well in pots as well as garden beds, adding to their versatility.

5. Grow your own Christmas tree

Wollemi Pines are great for creating an authentic and very merry Christmas vibe around the house and garden. By having your own native Christmas tree, not only will you not need to buy another one next year, but you will also be helping conserve a unique endangered species (the Wollemi Pine is one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees and was discovered in Australia).

The look and shape of the Wollemi Pine is perfect for a decorated Christmas tree, or for something less traditional try another Australian native – the bottle brush (decorated with garlands wound through the branches, already festooned with festive red bottle brush flowers), or prune a lillypilly into a cone Christmas tree shape.

For a softer, fuller-looking Christmas native, try Adenanthos sericeus. Native to West Australia, it looks a bit like a pine tree but is as cuddly as a teddy bear.

With Christmas just around the corner, these tips will make sure you enjoy home-grown condiments for chilled drinks and summery salads, as well as bringing life to outdoor entertaining.

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