6 September 2007

The hierarchy of household waste

We found this little fellow in a bucket near our tank. It's nice and moist there and it looks like there are tiny tadpoles forming. 

In our grandmother's day, everything in the home was valued and cared for. When something was past its prime, it was sent down a chain where it kept giving value at every stage of its descent. For instance, a hand knitted wash cloth might have been used washing dishes for a year of two, when it started showing signs of age, it would be sent to the laundry to do service as a cleaning rag in the home, then a cleaning rag outside and finally it would end up in the garden, either dug into the garden for worms to feed on or in a compost heap.

hierarchy of thorough usage for all items is still being used in my home, and every day I use that hierarchy to deal with our household waste. I want to get the most value from everything at every stage of its life. We've been hoodwinked into thinking lately that products only have one life. Wrong! When something is past its made-for or bought-for use, it can be used in other ways.

We get the most value from our food waste if it is eaten by the chooks. They will turn it into lovely eggs for us to eat - our kitchen waste becomes part of an egg laying cycle. Chooks need high protein food to lay good sized eggs, so we make sure that all our high protein waste goes to the chooks. They are on top of our hierarchy. In the past week they're been given a bowl of left over vegetable soup, some milk that soured before its use by date - chooks LOVE sour milk, some stale cake and finely crushed up egg shells, as well as a lot of greens from the garden and their daily ration of pellets and grain. The chooks will also eat and turn over all the grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, so they're all put into a fenced area in the chook pen and the ladies spend a lot of time in there eating, scratching, pooing on and generally making the best fast compost possible. In our climate, that compost is ready to use in 3 - 4 weeks. The chooks also get most of our shredded paper for their nests.

The next level down in the hierarchy are the dogs. They have absolutely no food value at all but we love them, they give us a lot of joy and they keep us and our home safe and free of snakes and cats. So the dogs get a few small bits of the high protein waste that the chooks get. They get things like uneaten toast with butter on it, or little bits of cheese in a leftover sandwich, bits of egg or cracked eggs etc. If the complete truth be told, they also get their own toast and Vegemite for breakfast. ; )

Next down on the hierarchy is the worm farm. The worms will eat almost anything organic - anything that was once alive. I give them some shredded paper, cellophane, wet and cut up cardboard packets, old cotton, linen or woolen items that have completely exhausted their use, the contents of the vacuum cleaner - checked first for plastic pieces, hair from my hair brush, any overflow of kitchen waste that hasn't gone to the chooks or dogs, garden waste like old plants and leaves and some crushed up egg shells, tea bags, tea leaves, coffee grounds and a small amount of onion peels and citrus skins. All the worm food needs to be very small as it's consumed faster then, so I always chop up every thing that goes in the worm farm.

The next level down is my cold compost heap. This is just an area in the corner of our vegetable garden that is about one metre square and consists of garden waste that doesn't go to the chooks, onion skins and citrus peel, as well as a couple of containers of lawn clippings to help with decomposition and any other organic item that doesn't go to the higher levels of the hierarchy. We turn this heap when we think of it and after a few months we get the most beautiful, dark, moist compost. Following is a photo of that heap. You can see the top layers are still recognisable as lawn clippings and shredded paper, but underneath it's a black gold mine. We have been using this and the compost from the chook pen to build up our garden beds as we change from one season to the next. Compost is the best fertiliser you can use on your garden.

We never throw out any organic waste, it's all recycled either into food, dog energy, eggs or compost. Not only does it give our chooks and dogs treats they look forward to, it also cuts down a lot on the waste we put into our rubbish and recycling bins.



  1. Rhonda, do you ever have any unwanted "visitors" to your compost pile such as possums and such? Are there possums in Australia even?

  2. Hi gypsy. Yes, we have a wide variety of possums in Australia and we have a lot of possums around here. I once had an injured possum take up residence in one of our chook nests. He stayed there until he was able to walk around, and as he took the favourite nest, the chickens laid eggs next to him sitting in the same nest.

    However, we've never had problems with possums in the garden or taking from the compost. I suppose it's because there is generally an abundance of native food around here for them to eat.

    The only intruders we've had on the compost have been snakes. They like sitting there because it's usually warm.

  3. the frog photo is gorgeous :) I love frogs (but detest cane toads!)

  4. Hi Rhonda Jean
    We don't have rubbish collection, so it is important to minimise garbage. I find that we really only throw away plastic packaging from things that have been overpackaged. Everything else follows a pathway similar to your hierarchy.

  5. Rhonda,

    can't wait til tomorrow. I have an old bathtub and have been thinking of setting a worm farm up in it.


  6. Hello Rhonda. Did you know that citrus skins contain limonene which is actually toxic to worms (it is used in worming talbets and places where worms are not wanted). Google Limonene and worms and there are many sites and blogs on the two. Best to leave the skins aside until they go rotten then give them to your worms or avoid altogether.


  7. ali, I love frogs too. We have two main types here - these tree frogs and the tiny sedge dwarf frogs. I've also seen a couple of Peron's tree frogs and some dainty tree frogs. All very lovely creatures.

    Hi tracy, it's good to know that others are thinking carefully about their rubbish.

    Start your engines, Debbie. LOL Tomorrow is your day. I've got some photos to guide you along the way.

    Hello Karen. My understanding of limonene and worms is that they can take a few citrus peels, the limonene is contained in the citrus oil and this breaks down quickly when the peel is cut. I've been placing citrus peel in my worm farm for a few years now, the worms keep multiplying and I've never had a problem with using them. I have to say though, that the majority of our citrus peels are placed in the cold compost, as mentioned in the blog.

  8. Great shot of the frog! We are learning to handle our waste in the same way. My son has become the metal collector and gathers and sorts it all to take to the scrap place. Last trip he got $50!

  9. John Seymour said that the garbage man should never have to call at the homesteaders.

    I'm not there yet. Still striving to find uses for all this "stuff" that invades modern life.


  10. worms! i adore worms and can't wait for your post tomorrow! i think there's an old livestock tank at the back of the property i can get the boys to drag up for a worm farm!


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