HaveMore Demonstration Micro-Farm

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.

Microponics Origins

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.

Applied Microponics/WTF

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
  • Snails
  • 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. 

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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.

Why Waste Transformation Farming is the Future

Industrial farming has wrought incalculable damage on our planet.  As such, it is unsustainable.  We need alternative ways to for us to derive our nutrition without devastating our place…Mother Earth!  

Waste Transformation Farming is that method.

It also means more income, better health and greater food security for those who embrace it.

WTF is productive, resilient and sustainable.

Productivity is the rate of output that is created for a unit of input. It’s used to measure how much you get out of an hour worked – or a dollar of investment. It follows, therefore, if you don’t have to pay (or pay less) for livestock feed and fertilisers, you are more productive. WTF offers unparalleled productivity.

Resilienceis the ability for a system, entity or individual to endure stress. It’s how well you take a hit…and how well you bounce back.  If you’re not in debt to feed and fertiliser suppliers, and you have a diverse range of products, you’re in a better position to cope with market downturns and adverse weather events…while still putting food on your table (literally).  WTF is the most risk-averse way to farm.

Sustainability, in a WTF context, means deriving your nutrition and livelihood without harming the planet.  No chemical pesticides or herbicides.  No chemical fertilisers.  No production systems that produce toxins.  No discharge of effluent to groundwater.  WTF is arguably the most planet-friendly act that you could undertake.

The availability of fresh water is one of the more pressing limits to world agriculture.  WTF embraces integrated aquaculture strategies that mean that you will use much less water (than conventional farming) …or it will provide you with unparalleled productivity for the water that you currently use.

WTF provides for biological and financial leverage.

Leverage is your ability to influence the outcome of your efforts – without a corresponding increase in the consumption of resources.  It occurs when we integrate two or more food production systems.   Integrated systems are always more than the sum of the parts. They’re the agricultural equivalent of 2+2=5 (or more).

When we gather the manure from chickens and feed it to black soldier fly larvae and worms we get not only eggs but also live animal protein for chickens and fish, excellent soil amendments…for no added cost.

WTF is infinitely scalable.

You can practise waste transformation farming in your backyard.  You can set up a social enterprise to empower impoverished villagers.  You can expand a backyard micro-farm to become a commercial enterprise.

To summarise…WTF will provide more food – of better quality – in a shorter time – at lower cost.  It will give you more for less!

And our planet will love you for it.

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The next article will look at WTF from a practical perspective.  We’ll walk you through HaveMore Farm…our very own waste transformation farm.

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.

How does Waste Transformation Farming Work?

To understand how waste transformation farming works, we can do no better than to take a look at the work of Dr Paul Olivier.  This disarmingly humble man – lives in Vietnam – and devotes his life to empowering the poor through waste transformation.

He’s developed a transformation model for biodegradable (organic) solid wastes.

Waste Transformation is a 4-step process:  Wastes are identified…then they are categorised…and we add value to them…before putting them to their highest use.

4 Steps to Waste Transformation

  • Sourcing
  • Categorisation
  • Value Adding
  • Application

Sourcing

Waste is available from many sources – often just for the taking.

There are many different types of biodegradable waste.  The following list is not exhaustive, but it will provide some insight in the scope of organic waste opportunities waiting to be exploited.

  • Spent brewer’s grains
  • Bones
  • Cardboard and paper
  • Eggs shells
  • Grain husks and hulls
  • Plate scrapings
  • Meat and fish scraps and offal
  • Nut shells
  • Plant residues
  • Spoiled hay
  • Straw
  • Stale bread and pastry goods
  • Sawdust/wood shavings
  • Urine – animal and human
  • Manure – animal and human
  • Seaweed
  • Windfall wood., twigs and leaves
  • Coffee pulp
  • Coffee grounds
  • Effluent
  • Weeds and grass
  • Waste heat and expired CO2.

….and many others.

Of course, you don’t have to generate these wastes yourself.  All you have to do is find them in your area…and then do the person who owns them a favour by taking care of their waste problem by taking them back to your place.

Is rice grown (rice hulls)? What about nuts (like almonds, macadamias, walnuts)? 

Are there any shearing sheds in your area (the farmers will often allow the removal of sheep manure from under the sheds)…or is someone keeping horses (horse manure)? 

Are your neighbours mowing grass that they might like to deposit in a heap at your fenceline?

Do tree loppers clear trees from around powerlines and then mulch the waste?  Some morning tea or a light lunch may score you a truckload of mulched tree waste.  

Is there windfall wood on the roadsides that you can harvest?

Do you live near food processing operations, restaurants/cafes, hotels or anywhere that has food wastes?

Once you identify prospective waste sources, think about the logistics of collecting and storing the waste.

What quantities of the waste are available?  Is your requirement for this type of waste continuous, intermittent or regular?  Do you have space to store the waste?

Do you have to pay for it? How much?  What is the cost of recovery and transportation?  Even if you do not place a financial cost on your time, do you have to use a vehicle to recover the waste…or are they being delivered to you…at a cost?

Can you ensure that the waste that you collect will not create a nuisance (like odours, flies, vermin) for your neighbours?  Anxious neighbours are a clear and imminent threat for micro-farmers so you should not give them cause for concern.

Categorisation

To categorise available wastes:

Those wastes are divided into those which are putrescent…and those which are non-putrescent.

putrescent…. undergoing the process of decay; rotting

Further, split these categories into high grade or low grade.

And then rank the wastes in order of nutrient content.

Type 1 waste (e.g. fresh food and spent brewery grain) contains a lot of nutrients. Ideally this waste should be used for feed for higher animals. Lactic acid fermentation is the preferred way to transform Type 1 waste into feed.  Another simple and effective way to ensure that food wastes are pathogen-free is to flash fry them. 

Type 2 waste is food that is unfit for consumption by animals.  Arguably the best example is livestock manure. Generally, there’s no better nor quicker way to transform this type of waste than through the combined action of larvae and worms.  

Type 3 waste (e.g. leaves and coarse plant residues) is easily broken down by composting microbes into soil conditioners and amendments.

Type 4 waste (e.g. bamboo prunings, macadamia shells, wood shavings, twigs, rice hulls, etc) is the stuff that won’t quickly break down in the compost heap and is often carted to the tip – or just discarded.  Type 4 waste, however, is ideal for the production of syngas and bio-char.

Value Adding

 When we obtain:

  • grain husks and hulls – or wood shavings or sawdust – and add animal urine to them to mesophilically compost them
  • plant processing wastes and ferment them so that they become pig and poultry feed.
  • fish wastes and mineralise them to become plant nutrients
  • nut shells and burn them in a top loading updraft gasifier to get biochar and high-grade heat
  • animal manure – or coffee pulp – and feed it to black soldier fly larvae to produce high quality animal protein
  • food processing and aquaculture effluent and vigorously aerate it to produce plant nutrients
  • kitchen wastes and flash fry them to become pig and poultry feed

…we are adding value to them.  

Organic waste sources abound and the opportunities to add value to them are limited only by our imagination.

Application

Another key WTF principle is that waste should always be put to its highest use.

High-grade putrescent waste (Type 1) should not be composted or fed to larvae and worms, unless it has spoiled to the point where it can no longer be preserved as feed for higher animals.

We only burn Type 4 wastes in a device that will give us biochar in addition to the high-grade.  The effort involved making a top loading updraft gasifier (or the investment in buying one) is worthwhile in any situation where the waste is of uniform size…like nutshells, rice hulls and wood pellets.

Low-grade putrescent (Type 2) waste that can be fed to larvae and worms should not be composted.  Larvae, worms and worm castings are far more valuable than compost.

That’s essentially how waste transformation farming works.  It’s about identifying waste streams…adding value to it where necessary…and ensuring that we put all so-called ‘waste’ to its highest use…to achieve the greatest value from each waste type.

By treating waste in this way, we produce valuable farming inputs (feed, biochar, compost/fertilizer/plant nutrients at little to no cost.

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The next article will look at the benefits of WTF.

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.

Fish and Salad…Again?

Integrated aquaculture is the centrepiece of any waste transformation farm (WTF).

Not only is it an excellent example of the WTF principle of making use of the waste products of one organism as the feedstock of others, but it’s also the fastest way to put homegrown food on your table.  You can plant the seedlings of Asian and salad greens today and sit down to your first homegrown food about eighteen days later.  

The first time you eat fish and salad – grown by your own hand – is a great day.

But, even barramundi and a Greek salad, gets monotonous once you’ve had it a couple of dozen times.

People often refer to aquaponics as being an eco-system. For as much as that’s true, it’s a very skinny and unstable eco-system.  The ‘fish and salad’ approach to integrated aquaculture (iAVs or aquaponics) is not only dull from a culinary perspective – but it’s also limited in terms of its waste transformation potential.

Aquaponics generates wastes other than fish poop and metabolic ammonia. There are all of the plant residues that result from those vegetables we eat. Sometimes, we grow more fruit and vegetables than we can eat.

But it doesn’t end there.

Periodically, fate takes a wrong turn and you end up with a tank full of dead fish.   Even when the gods are with you, you’ll end up with a bucketful of heads, guts and scales after a couple of hours of cleaning your fish harvest.  I almost cry every time I hear somebody say that they buried their dead fish – or the processing residues from their fish.

The very least that should happen to a dead fish is that it should be made into fish hydrolosate – a potent organic fertiliser that can also be used as a high protein feed additive.

Fish mortalities – and the processing wastes from fish – are very high in protein. Fish (in any one of several forms) – and plants  – are 2/3 of a chicken’s diet. 

Once you integrate chickens into the food production system, your menu is looking so much more interesting for the eggs and meat that they will provide…and they cost you far less than normal because you’re getting most of their food from things that would be discarded or (at best) be thrown onto the compost heap.

And chickens are just the tip of the waste transformation iceberg – where even your plate scrapings have value.

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.

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WTF is Waste Transformation Farming

Waste Transformation Farming (WTF) is a productive, resilient and sustainable food production system.

It’s about identifying and categorising organic waste streams – and adding value to them – before using them to produce clean, fresh organic food– while reducingthe need to purchase feedstuffs, fertilisers and soil amendments.

The secret to WTF is integration. Integration, in a farming context, is where food production systems are linked to each other to enable the waste from one organism to become the feedstock for other organisms.

Aquaponics/iAVs is an example of integration in which aquaculture and horticulture are combined.  The fish are fed and produce waste that is converted to plant nutrients. The plants take up the nutrients and, in so doing, clean the water for the fish.

Integrated systems are always more than the sum of their parts. They’re the combination of leveraging elements that are the functional equivalent of 2+2=5 (or more).

In the aquaponics example, we get fish and vegetables for the same amount of fish feed that it would take to just grow the fish.  We also get two crops for the same amount of water – a cost saving…and a huge environmental benefit.

Of course, WTF is not limited to aquaponics.

It’s an infinitely scalable food production system which embraces many ‘organisms’ including:

  • Vegetables and herbs
  • Freshwater fish and crayfish
  • Japanese Quail
  • Chickens
  • Fruit and nut trees
  • Ducks and other waterfowl
  • Bees
  • Aquatic plants – duckweed, azolla, water spinach, Chinese water chestnuts
  • Fodder plants and trees – pigeon pea, amaranth, comfrey, Chou Moellier, tagasaste and moringa
  • Live animal protein – Black Soldier Fly larvae, feeder roaches, mealworms, worms
  • Farmed rabbits
  • Snails
  • Fungi
  • Pigs
  • Sheep and goats
  • Cattle

The thing that all of these organisms have in common with each other is that they generate some type of waste that eventually presents as a problem. WTF turns problems into opportunities.

The next article will address how waste transformation farming works at a practical level.

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.

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