We dig earthworms! Without them there would be no plants on the planet!
To see how vermicompost makes plants grow have a look at this slide.
We're no drips we don't use plastic water bottles.
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1 Ton of organic waste on a landfill site produces 365kgs of carbon dioxide emissions into. The same amount of waste composted ONLY produces 30kgs of carbon dioxide.
To read what President Barack Obama had to say at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.
We put a lot of energy into finding ways for you to reduce, reuse, recycle.
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FullCycle Case Studies excerpted from “The Beginners Guide to Earthworm Farming”, Published through Penguin Books (2010) available through all major bookstores nationwide and via Kalahari.net
Case study: Mount Nelson Hotel
Since 1899, the Mount Nelson Hotel has hosted many well-heeled and interesting visitors, including Laurens van der Post, the Dalai Lama, Tiger Woods, Bono, Oprah Winfrey and Charlize Theron. It is well known for its afternoon tea and superb gardens.
It sits on the slopes of Table Mountain and was voted Best Hotel in Africa in 2009. It is also the first hotel in Africa to use earthworms to process organic waste.
It is often difficult to remember the exact moment an idea is born. I had been working with earthworms at home for years and had used them as a waste-management tool on Mission Antarctica’s journey from Cape Town to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The idea to use them in hotels came slowly.
I had worked on projects with Peter Novella, Charlotte van Wyk and Susan Dittke in the City of Cape Town’s waste department. In 2005/6, the provincial government was encouraging businesses to reduce their waste by offering them free waste audits and recommendations. I approached Susan, who was part of that team, to recommend earthworms as a waste-minimisation tool. She suggested I speak with Peter, who had moved from the City to a waste-management company. His company had a contract with the Mount Nelson Hotel, but although they offered recycling as part of the contract, they had no solution for the kitchen waste. I asked Peter to introduce us to the hotel.
When we met with Rob Fiander, the hotel’s technical manager and the person responsible for the waste, I think he almost choked when we asked him to set up a worm farm. He certainly laughed. His courage still astounds me. Although he hesitated and had many questions, he agreed to give us a small area near the existing waste room.
We started by conducting a waste audit in the kitchens. We identified specific food preparation areas where we could capture fruit and vegetable waste. We spoke with the chefs involved and explained what we were trying to achieve. Bins were placed close to their preparation areas. We combined waste collection with a hygiene standard of using colour-coded chopping boards for different types of food. Green boards are used to prepare vegetables. Yellow boards are used in fruit preparation. The instruction to chefs was simple: if it is on a green board then place it in the green bin.
To minimise confusion and potential irritation, we collected the waste daily. We spread it out on a stainless-steel table, and weighed and analysed it. We repeated this process numerous times until we could build a clear picture of the quantity of waste.
We concluded from the audit that there was one tonne a month of usable waste. We planned the way we would process approximately 50kg of waste a day. We decided to use modular units that could be easily moved and managed, and spent 19 hours one weekend sorting earthworms into modular units at the back of the hotel, from which we would be able to harvest both the vermicompost and the liquid fertiliser produced by the worms, which is called vermitea or worm tea.
It took a few months before everyone, including the earthworms, settled in. There was a long chain of people involved in producing and managing the food waste. Suppliers delivered the fruit and vegetables to the kitchens where the chefs turned them into dishes. Stewards were then responsible for carrying the waste to the waste room, and a waste-management company transported it to the local landfill site at Vissershoek.
The benefits of the earthworm farm soon became apparent. The chefs felt better about throwing things away, the gardens were benefiting from the fertilisers and the hotel management was enjoying the attention the hotel received. This has included increased marketing, public relations, advertising and awards since the earthworm farm was established.
My favourite stamp of approval came from Paul Rice, the horticulturist at the hotel. I admire Paul. He is dedicated to his work and passionate about plants. He is not interested in notoriety and not one for idle chat. One day when we were still working out the system, Paul arrived with feedback about the worm tea. He had decided to put the earthworms to the test. A few hydrangeas had been giving him trouble. They would not flower and their leaves appeared limp and colourless. A few weeks after he drenched the soil around the hydrangeas with vermitea, the leaves appeared greener, the flowers blossomed with colour and the plants were visibly stronger. As Paul put it with his hand on his heart, ‘I have a warm feeling about this worm tea, Mary.’
That was one of my happiest moments. It gave me confidence and strengthened my belief in the work I was doing.
In September 2006, we moved the earthworms to their new home. It is an attractive building made of timber. It is airy, light, and clean. The peace within contrasts sharply with the noise of the glass bottles and tin cans that hit the wheelie bins a few paces away. Its freshness is a welcome relief from the choking smell of trucks that come to collect the waste earthworms cannot eat. It is amazing to think that the rest of the hotel’s waste travels over 40km to end up on a rotting, smelly heap. Earthworms at the hotel are fed a balanced meal of fruits and vegetables every day. This is what they live for. Everyone involved benefits from the worm farm. The hotel reduces its waste and has endless supplies of fertilisers for its gardens. Since we started, the hotel has processed more than 48 000kg of waste.
The earthworm farm has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world. One day a young woman from New York contacted the hotel to say that she had read about the worm farm in the New York Times. She was so excited at the idea of meeting earthworms living at a hotel that she contacted her dad and asked him to bring her for a visit. She had never been to South Africa before. I felt very proud meeting her.
The Mount Nelson Hotel’s worm farm has inspired other people to farm worms at home, at their schools and at work. Worms are easy to please and don’t need much more than a stable home and lots of decomposing matter to survive. In return, they make gardens thrive.
Case study: Noordhoek Farm Village
Our offices are in the valley of Noordhoek in Cape Town. We work in the Noordhoek Farm Village, a few minutes from the start of the scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive, and the only commercial hub in what is essentially a rural area. The Noordhoek Common, for instance, is a piece of shared land where locals graze their cattle and horses. In the 1700s Noordhoek was known for its fruit and vegetable farming. The house I live in was built in 1820 by the Smits, one of the first families to live in the valley. They were great gardeners. The soil is rich and full of earthworms.
The valley has an active environmental community, and one of its focuses is the Western Leopard Toad (Bufo pantherinus). It is the largest South African toad, the females reaching a length of 140mm. Noordhoek is one of its last remaining breeding areas. It is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red Data List.
The Farm Village has three restaurants, a pub, a hotel, a nursery, a beauty salon and shops. As a service to the community, we collect the organic waste every morning from the restaurants, hotel and pub, using a bicycle and trailer. The trailer has a simple caption: waste + worms = compost.
We feed the waste to our worm farm in our greenhouse and use the fertilisers in the allotment garden we established for the inhabitants of the village. The allotments are the size of a standard door and built out of wooden frames. We use the raised bed method, which uses layers of organic material to grow food.
Case Study: Ivory Tree
The creation of the Pilanesberg National Park is considered one of the most ambitious programmes of its kind to be undertaken anywhere in the world. Fencing of the reserve and the re-introduction of species began in the 1970s.
Ivory Tree Guest Lodge is in the Pilanesburg Nature Reserve. The lodge specialises in guiding people through the park and educating them about conservation. This is not an easy task.
The guides are passionate about the environment they work in. I arrived shortly after they had released the first family of wild dogs into the park. Like the earthworm species, wild dogs have a hard-to-pronounce Latin name, Lycaon pictus. Oblivious to that, they once roamed in vast numbers across the park. Now they are so close to extinction we may be witnessing the last view of them. With an estimated 5 500 wild dogs now left in Africa, it is not surprising that they are hard to find. They love to play, chasing, jumping and pretending to attack. Now, however, they spend most of their days hiding.
People who work to conserve animals like wild dogs deserve Nobel Prizes. I wonder whether guides know how many earthworms are also near extinction, but I did not want to add to their list of animals to save. Instead, my visit focused on showing the links between the waste produced at the lodge and their conservation work.
When we met, we discussed how waste and climate change affects their work. Conservationists show that everything is interconnected. From the dragonflies to the rhinoceros, every leaf, insect, mammal and tree is dependent on each other. The Pilanesburg is not agricultural land; the reserve is an ecosystem designed to sustain a host of animals. It is home to dazzles of zebra, nurseries of impala, paddles of ducks, and prides of lion.
If waste were to end up on this landscape many of these animals would die. Without the home that the lodge built for their composting earthworms, they would have died, too. The worm farm is close to where the guides park their vehicles, and it is part of the guests’ tour.
The night after we finished installing the earthworm farm I slept to the sound of a lion’s roar. I hoped the two-day-old impala I saw in the nursery would survive another night. By the end of the week, he would be stronger and more likely to survive to adulthood.
By the end of the week, the banana and apple skins we had given the earthworms would be gone, changed forever from something potentially harmful to the environment to something beneficial.
Case study: Falls Resort, Zambia
The Falls Resort project began in September 2008 when Sun International offered its support to a community organisation called Care to Care. The non-profit organisation had 35 members in 2007. HIV/AIDS had brought them together. As their main aim was to find ways to grow vegetables that would provide increased nutrition for their members, they needed to learn how to grow food. Inspired by their commitment, Sun International funded the project’s expansion.
Widows, entrepreneurs and blind members joined the original 35. Collectively, the project has numerous partners, represented by Sun International, Care to Care, ASNAPP, (Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products, a USAID-funded NGO), the University of Stellenbosch, Top Turf and FullCycle.
We set up Phase 1 of the earthworm farm in November 2008. A year later we increased its capacity by adding 30 more earthworm-farm units. The farm is producing 300 litres of liquid fertiliser a week, and 900kg of vermicompost a month. The liquid and solid fertilisers are used in the hotel's pot plants, herb garden and rose garden. The rest is sold to other members of the project, who produce 80 per cent of the fruit and vegetables used at the hotels. The earthworm fertilisers have replaced all inorganic fertilisers used at the hotel.
I went to visit the resort in February 2010 to do follow-up training and set up Phase 2. Their worm farm is in a rustic hut beside the rose garden and the greenhouse.
Although its proximity to the equator makes Zambia hot, the 600 000 earthworms are well protected, kept cool and moist under thick layers of dampened strips of newspaper.
We spent two days training at the resort. It was wonderful to awaken to the sound of the Victoria Falls thundering over the rocks. I was eager to find out how the herb and rose gardens were responding to the earthworm fertilisers. One afternoon I walked to the Royal Livingstone to meet with the executive chef, Alexander Coupy. He was busy preparing the afternoon tea. What a feast. Tea is served in a huge room with books, carpets, couches you could sleep in and memorabilia in honour of Dr Livingstone. Stacks of china and silver plates contained macaroons; pear, strawberry
and gooseberry tarts; marble cakes; chocolate éclairs; chocolate cakes; lemon meringues and lovely little sandwiches.
I was apprehensive meeting with Chef Coupy. I knew he was busy and time was precious. However, I wanted to hear how he used the herbs and if he had noticed a difference in their flavour since their worm-tea feeds. Alexander is French. You can tell from the way he speaks that his soufflés are marvellous. You can also tell from the way his tiny tarts seem to smile at you from the plate that he loves food.
After a hasty but positive chat with him I went to visit Musowe Davis, who tends the 40 bushes that make up the rose garden. Musowe looks like he was born in a garden. He is gentle and moves just as a daisy does following the sun. His friends have named him ‘the rose guy’. He has more than 50 roses in his home garden. People come from all over to enjoy them. ‘I discovered roses ten years ago when I was studying in Kitwe town,’ he told me. ‘I walked into the Agricultural Science College and saw my first one. It was maroon. I fell in love. Maroon-coloured roses are still my favorite. When I look at the colours, I feel happy.
‘You have to grow them from cuttings. I always cut the stem at an angle to prevent stem rot. I take very thick branches, about one to two feet in length, and place them in water for three to four days. Then I move them into bags with 20 per cent vermicompost and the rest potting soil. At the first sign of new life, I plant them in the garden. Sometimes rose leaves appear yellow, a sign they are lacking nutrients. Now that I use the vermitea the leaves are always green and the colours of the flowers are bright and beautiful.’
Musowe wandered off to prune some dead flowers from his plants. After a few minutes I could barely notice him behind the large rose bushes he cared so much about. I turned and walked to the herb garden to meet Stain Musingaila.
Stain runs the entire programme. He is extremely excited to see how healthy the plants are, how quickly the seedlings grow and how green the herbs are. The project is managed like a business and generates income for all members. The vegetables are sold to the hotels at competitive prices, and the hotels also save on transporting produce from Johannesburg and Lusaka.
We ended our visit by throwing a layer of vermicompost on top of two by two metres of hardened soil. It took us 15 minutes. We all sang as we worked. We did not plant or water the ground. In three days, we had seedlings produced from the waste in the kitchens. There were enough seedlings to share among 23 members of the team.
Stain keeps us regularly updated on the growing garden.
Case study: Spier
The Spier estate is a historic 1 000-hectare wine estate near Stellenbosch. It has a four-star hotel, conference venues, and one of South Africa’s most comprehensive contemporary art collections.
Spier is regarded as one of the world’s top responsible-tourism destinations, and hosts two important wildlife-awareness projects on the estate. It has donated the use of land, water and electricity to the Cheetah Outreach Project and to Eagle Encounters, a raptor-rehabilitation programme.
The Spier Hotel was the first luxury hotel in South Africa to win Fair Trade in Tourism (South Africa) certification and the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association certifies Spier Wines.
In 2006, I worked on a waste-paper project for Spier. The idea was to find a way to convert their used white office paper into paper hand towels. Our research concluded that it had not been done before. I worked with a local paper maker, Joseph Diliza, who had been making paper by hand using alien weeds. We trialed many versions until we found the right process and technique. The paper-from-waste business unit now supplies paper towels in the bathrooms of the hotel at Spier.
In 2007, FullCycle established a vermiculture unit to address the waste from 16 waste sites on the estate. We converted five sewage-treatment dams. Reusing more than 11km of coredrain from the dams, we designed a system that processes approximately 10m3 of waste a month. The dams produce more than 2 000 litres of vermitea and approximately 8m3 of vermicompost every month. The project sustains itself through sales of vermicompost and earthworms. (See image below of our refitted coredrain design).
In 2010, Spier was shortlisted in the Sustainability category for the Green Awards run by the UK publication The Drinks Business. The awards highlight and reward leadership on environment, sustainability and climate change. Spier is truly committed to sustainability and I am honoured to be associated with it.