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Worms at the Mount Nelson

by Mary Murphy

FILED IN: Issue 11 · Reduce-Reuse-Recycle

Cape Town’s most famous hotel has embarked on a novel way of disposing of its waste: an on-site worm farm.

Cape Town’s most famous hotel, the Mount Nelson, has embarked on a novel way of disposing of its waste – it has established an on-site worm farm, or vermiculture, to process leftover food and other organic matter. The end-product – vermicast?—?is rich in nutrients and can be used as a fertiliser and soil conditioner.

The worms are currently munching on 200 kilograms of scraps of breakfast buffet and high tea – 20% of the hotel’s usable organic waste. Hopefully by next year, all of the hotel’s organic waste will be processed this way. Already, the worms – thousands of them?—?have started to produce liquid fertiliser for the Pink Lady’s pot plants.

The project was the idea of Mary Murphy, an environmental activist, and Roger Jaques, a botanist, environmental scientist, Landscape Architect and vermiculturalist; who call their company, FullCycle.

Murphy approached the Mount Nelson via their waste service provider, the Wasteman Group, with the idea, and helped set up the farm on the hotel grounds. “Waste is a huge problem. It winds up in landfills and ends up polluting our groundwater and generating greenhouse gases responsible for climate change”.
Each day’s organic waste is separated by the hotel’s night support chef, Samkelo Tumtumana, who delivers it to the farm. The trainee worm farmer, Shaun Gibbons, then feeds the waste to the earthworms, under the guidance of Jaques.

Murphy-Roger says that, “in nature, there is no such thing as waste ?—?the waste products from one organism provide the matter and energy for other organisms. We have ignored this basic principle in the design of our urban spaces.

“Earthworms are amazing creatures. They are able to process their own weight in food waste every day, turning it into the finest soil conditioner. They do not harbour any bacteria or viruses harmful to humans, and are completely free of parasites. They eat harmful organisms and excrete masses of beneficial organisms in their droppings, known as worm casts. They modify their environment by processing and aerating the waste, thereby preventing the decay process from turning ‘bad’ – anaerobic decomposition. This helps prevent the formation of carbon dioxide and methane, and keeps carbon and nitrogen bound in the soil in forms that are available to plants”.

Earthworms are able to convert in a matter of days what would otherwise be a putrid, foul-smelling mass of food waste into earthworm compost. Another product produced by this process is ‘worm tea’, the liquid that drains from the worm casts and makes an exceptional liquid fertiliser.

The eathworm farm is made up of a custom designed system built out of recycled crates, and is modified according to the availability of space and the amount of organic waste that is available. The waste is first audited and the system is then designed. The system includes electronic data management via sms, known as Emon.

Emon (Environmental Monitoring via SMS) is a shortcode data management system with defined parameters that allow for daily worm feeding and stocking information to be easily managed and analysed. Information is sent and acknowledged via SMS. Alerts are automatically triggered to facilitate quick response time to potential problems. Emon supports off-site farm management, reducing inefficencies and costs.

Some home farms are already available, and Murphy and Jaques now plan to approach other hotels and schools to convince them to set up their own worm farms.

By way of a close working relationship with the Wasteman Group, Fullcycle is able to integrate their innovative environment~friendly system with other waste management solutions. In this way waste is being diverted from landfill in compliance with the Polokawne Declaration.

The Mount Nelson Hotel is making a real difference to the environment with their waste reduction systems of recycling and now worm farming.


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  1. I have a compost bin and need information on where I can get some of these earthworms to help with the decomposition of the waste

    Comment by Colleen Murphy

  2. [...] a worm farm to make better use of our organic waste. The worm farm idea was made famous by the Mount Nelson hotel which fertilises all it’s gardens with an expansive vermiculture. Earthworms are able to [...]

    Pingback by Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Resolution | Mike Stopforth

  3. Hi Colleen
    The people to contact are the friendly folks at FullCycle: Roger or Mary

    Comment by admin

  4. I live in Namibia and would like to know if you can export these earthworms to Namibia

    Comment by Marietjie

  5. @Marietjie
    You will have to contact the people at FullCycle, as they will have the answers you need.

    Comment by admin

  6. Is it possible to get the earth worms in Zambia so we can start a farm here?

    Comment by Claire Clark

  7. Hi All. You are welcome to visit the FullCycle website http://www.fullcycle.co.za for information on earthworms, composting and recycling - or to email me at roger@fullcycle with specific questions.

    Exporting worms over borders requires a veterinary certificate / customs clearance. The earthworms in question may already occur in your area, in compost heaps and manure piles.

    Comment by Roger Jaques

  8. I sell worm farm bins stocked with redwigglers (eisenia fetida) from Cape Town and can send country wide. View my site at http://www.worms.blat.co.za or email me at info@magicworms.co.za

    All worm farm bins are proudly made in South Africa!

    Comment by Vernon

  9. I bought my red earth worms at the Tokai organic market and brought them home to JHB in the plane. They are growing quickly, I have added new bedding with new kitchen waste three times in 5 weeks. I am not sure weather to add the new layer to the top and take the bottom composted layer out or put the fresh layer at the bottom and take the compost from the top when they leave it. Are there any reasonably priced ‘boxes avaiable in JHB?

    Comment by Liz Kossuth

  10. Hi,

    I am a 13 year old girl ding grade 8 at St.Teresas Mercy School in Johannesburg. I have to do a science project this year on a subject of my choice and have chosen vermiculture. I know that your hotel is very involved in a project of this nature and would be very grateful if you could help me with mine. My email address is pintop@icion.co.za and my cell number is 0839489805, as I am at school most of the day my mother’s cell number is 0834615357.

    Kind regards,

    Comment by Helena Pinto

  11. Hi

    Just to let anyone in the Garden Route know I am a supplier of worms and bins (the neverfill type) in the George area. I also give a 3hr introductory course on vermiculture. My email is worms@vodamail.co.za and my cell is 082 404-9539.

    Kind regards
    Barry Aver

    Comment by Barry Aver

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