HaveMore Farm is my own waste transformation demonstration farm.
It’s located on a 900 square metre (just under a quarter acre) residential block on Macleay Island in Queensland’s Southern Moreton Bay. As such, the climate is sub-tropical.
Currently, we have:
- 360 square feet (about 33 square metres) of wicking beds
- Moringa and neem trees – and various types of bamboo
- Fruit trees
- Chickens and Japanese quail
- Aquaponics and hydroponics systems
- Black soldier fly larvae and redworms
- Duckweed and kangkong
- Native bees
- Biochar production
I describe what we do as Microponics – it’s waste transformation farming at the backyard and small-to-medium enterprise level.
The challenge when designing small integrated food production systems is to see every output as a resource…even waste body heat and expired carbon dioxide.
When I first set out to describe a concept of small-scale integrated food production, over a decade ago, I called it integrated backyard food production (IBFP).
Integrated Backyard Food Production became too much of a mouthful and so, in 2008, it became Microponics. The name suggests its own origins – the combination of micro-farming, micro-livestock and aquaponics.
Some years later, I made the acquaintance of Dr Paul Olivier – a waste transformation expert. To my delight, his waste transformation model accommodated (and complimented) Microponics. He provided me with fresh insights into the integration of organic waste and I showed him how to integrate aquaponics/iAVs into his model. He persuaded me that using organic waste to make biogas was wasteful and polluting…and he designed the gasifiers that I now use as the alternative to biogas digesters. Suffice to say, I value his friendship and knowledge…and our collaboration is ongoing.
The best way to get a sense of how waste transformation works on our micro-farm is to accompany me on my morning routine.
The day begins with a quick trip around our various food production systems to confirm that fate has been kind to us overnight. Don’t laugh, we’ve encountered a carpet python (full of quail) in our quail pen and equipment failure has killed a tankful of freshwater fish.
At the same time, I feed any fish that we may be growing, collect any eggs from our chickens and quail and gather ripe fruit and vegetables from my various wicking beds or aquaponics and hydroponics systems. I also harvest moringa, perennial peanut and duckweed.
I check my BioPod and gather any black soldier fly larvae that have self-harvested overnight. BSF larvae are the favourite food of chickens and they disappear within seconds of them hitting the floor of the chicken pen.
I fill our small gasifier with wood pellets and flash it up. A few minutes later, I have boiling water for a cup of tea which I drink as I sort through the fruit and vegetables that I’ve just harvested.
I take the best of this bounty to the kitchen. I gather any kitchen scraps that may have accumulated in the preceding 24 hours and add some organic chicken feed and the remaining boiled water, to create a warm hot mash. This, and some duckweed and perennial peanut foliage, is also fed out.
By this time, the gasifier has burned out and the wood pellets that were used as fuel have now become biochar. Our biochar production is an excellent example of where you take something of low value (the wood pellets), add value to it (the gasifier) and end up with high grade heat (to boil the water) and biochar for our gardens (and other uses). In this example, we’ve got the hot water at no cost and the biochar is worth much more than the cost of the wood pellets from which it originated. Where wastes, like rice hulls and nut shells, can be obtained for nothing, the biochar is free.
Smaller quantities of mash, duckweed, and peanut are also fed to our quail.
We’re gradually transitioning our birds from the expensive organic ration that we feed them to homegrown feed…so that the birds continue to lay at capacity while the change happens. Sudden shifts in the feeding regime will often be reflected in reduced egg production.
Any manure that has accumulated in the chicken and quail pens is removed and fed to the BSF larvae. Counterintuitively, the manure quickly ceases to have any odour once the larvae get hold of it. For every kilogram of manure and food scraps that are fed to them, we get 200g of larvae in return.
Even though we continue to use the purchased ration, the supplementary feeding has reduced the amount of the bought stuff that they consume – so our overall cost of feed has reduced. When the transition to a home-grown ration is complete, we’ll be feeding our birds for no outlay save our labour.
Once our chickens have had breakfast, we let them out into a fenced space that we use as a soil pit. It provides them with shade, protection from predators and space to run around.
It’s also where I throw all of the garden residues, grass clippings and bamboo trash. The chickens break this material down…spreading their manure…to create an excellent growing mix for use in our wicking beds and other soil-based gardens.
Other periodic farming tasks include:
- transfer of BSF waste to the worm farm – ‘larvicast’ retains 50% of its original protein levels and is excellent worm bedding
- processing fish, ducks, quail and chickens
- harvesting and drying moringa leaves to make powder – for human and animal consumption
- gathering bamboo trash to make garden mulch and mesophilic bedding
- harvesting bamboo for trellising poles and fuel
- planting out seedlings and propagating plants
All of this activity produces a series of waste transformation “cascades and loops” (as Paul Olivier calls them) that result in reduced inputs and increased outputs…more food for less money.
- The fish provide nutrients for plants (including duckweed) and the plants clean the water for the fish.
- Plant residues and fish processing wastes are fed to Black Soldier fly larvae. The larvae are fed to fish, chickens and quail.
- The chicken and quail meat and eggs go to the kitchen and the viscera (guts) are fed to the BSF larvae. The feathers are composted.
The castings from the larvae (which retain up to 50% of their original protein level) and kitchen scraps are fed to worms.
- The worm castings are mixed with compost and used as a soil conditioner for trees, vegetables and fodder plants; while the worms are fed to fish, chickens and quail.
- Chickens fertilise the trees and eat weeds. They also eat spoiled fruit and the fruit fly larvae that it contains.
- Other chickens and quail eat the fodder plants and provide manure (and eventually feathers and other processing wastes) for worms, black soldier fly larvae and composting systems.
- Bamboo gives us poles for trellising and light construction. The leaves and twigs become fuel and mulch.
- Low value crop residues (like rice hulls, nut shells) produce high-grade heat for cooking and yield biochar.
- The biochar is infused with beneficial micro-organisms and mixed with our homemade garden soil. We’re even adding it to our livestock rations.
The development of HaveMore Farm is a journey rather than a destination. Just when the end is in sight, new prospective integrations reveal themselves.
Our project list includes:
- Hybrid energy production
- Wastewater treatment
- The integrated aqua-vegeculture system (iAVs)
- Organic hydroponics
- Fruit and nut trees
- Aquatic plants – azolla, Chinese water chestnuts
- Fodder plants and trees – pigeon pea, amaranth, comfrey, chou moellier, tagasaste and moringa
- More live animal protein – feeder roaches and mealworms
- Guinea pigs
- Mushrooms and fungi
If we weren’t constrained by zoning laws, we’d also keep meat rabbits, pigs, goats and even miniature cattle like Dexters.
As it is, HaveMore WTF yields fish, quail/chicken/duck meat and eggs, worm castings/tea, duckweed, free livestock feed, vegetables, herbs, flowers and honey. We also get pollination, pest control, cultivation and weed removal as an added bonus.
The integration of fish, plants and micro-livestock leverages the volume and quality of the clean fresh food that we grow – and it makes for a healthier and more resilient food production environment. Income that would otherwise be used to buy food becomes available for other sustainability projects.
In short, HaveMore Farm allows us to have more for less.
In the next (and final) article in this series, I’ll offer some insights into how Waste Transformation Farming might work from a business perspective.
If waste transformation farming interests you, and you’d like to talk about it with other like-minded people, feel free to take up membership of my Have More For Less forum.