From bowl to chooks to garden… and back to bowl again!

From bowl to chooks to garden… and back to bowl again!

by Samantha Hawker & Frank Deveson

We have both been around the Co-op for some years, particularly on a Saturday when we come in to town to pick-up scraps and volunteer at Cycle Jam, Repair Café and the Co-op! And in recognition of Compost Week we’d like to share with the Co-op community what happens to the food scraps when the wheelie bin gets rolled out the door each week!

Compost is central to our whole ecological system. The ecological cycle simplified (a lot) goes like this:

  • Plants need solar energy, water, carbon-dioxide, and nutrients in soil (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus).
  • With this, they grow carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins, and extract minerals from rocks along the way. A by-product of this growth is that they transpire water and oxygen into the air.
  • They are then eaten by animals, insects, fungi and bacteria who need the nutrients in the plant as well as the oxygen and water to grow. Their by-products include carbon-dioxide, water, nitrogen and phosphorus.. aka plant food! 
  • And so a cycle is created..

To thrive on these inputs however, both plants and animals need bacteria, who transform the various inputs into the exact needs of either.

Some bacteria are vegan, and turn plants back into plant food! However as they need oxygen and water, they often need animals to bring them a drink, and bring them up for air! Particularly in dry places like Canberra, bacteria do best in the guts of animals, where it’s a nice stable temperature and humidity, and they can be fairly sure of a regular meal! It’s why, depending on the inputs, local compost heaps often need watering with a hose and turning manually.

And so this is why we have chosen to give all the food scraps not eaten by humans at the Co-op to a flock of chooks. Anything the chooks won’t eat is left to the bacteria (and bugs and worms) where they’ll also get an all-you-can-eat buffet of manure, a nitrogen-rich by-product of what the chooks DID eat. And, while they’re at it, the pile is constantly being turned by the chooks as they scratch to find bugs and worms to eat (unlike the Co-op, chooks aren’t vegetarian). This creates the conditions for a bacteria party! which allows us to add gum leaves (that are in abundance here) to the compost which are otherwise quite slow to break down!

The end result is beautiful soil without the hard work of turning compost piles, as well as fire hazard reduction from the removal of excess leaves, a freegan egg supply, and the special-occasional roast chicken (we’re not vegetarian either 🙂 )

We bring the finished compost up into the garden, continually topping up the nutrients in the areas where we grow food for ourselves. Slowly, slowly the soil that we are working on is changing: becoming less compacted, holding more air, more water, more nutrients – all things that plants need to thrive.

Composting is like watching magic happen (slowly), turning “waste” into plant food, that becomes food for us, then that “waste” being turned into plant food, and again into food for us.. as the cycle continues.

Check out more about what we get up to at AWOL (Another Way of Living) here.