Worms, wonderful worms

Intro: Pat Featherstone met Dawn Kennedy at the Soil For Life Resource centre and garden in Constantia and explains how worms work wonders in the garden.

COPY: Pat Featerstone, a striking red- haired Amazonian earth mother, founded the NGO Soil For Life in March 2004. It teaches people to grow their own fruit and vegetables, which she believes is the simplest and cheapest way to good health.

The first thing that Pat shows me is not her prize cabbages, or abundant crop of tomatoes. She beckons me away from the impressive vegetable patch to look at an inconspicuous tyre contraption, which turns out to be a worm bin.
I’m hoping that I’m not expected to drink the jam jar full of urine coloured liquid that she pulls out from under the tyre and offers in my direction.
“Its worm tea” she says.
Thankfully it’s not intended for human consumption but used as a wonderful fertiliser for the plants.
Pat lifts the lid of the worm bin. Inside a Hieronymus Bosch -like scene presents itself: a heaving, writhing mass of wriggling worms are merrily eating their way through food scraps.
Next, we visit the worm baths, a kind of worm factory. Six baths, rescued form the rubbish dump, are full of worms and kitchen scraps and covered with straw. Pat assures me she does not bathe with the worms, not even on full moon.
Pat refers affectionately to the worms as her “silent workers.” She says, “Worms have been a very big money spinner for us. They earn us a couple of thousand rand a month. They are useful, valuable creatures that turn waste into rich dark hummus, as good as gold to add to soil. They have no smell and eat what people usually throw in the bin.”
“It’s the red-wriggler, or Erisinia fooetida you want. These amazing creatures have five pairs of hearts. They eat half their own body weight daily and multiply rapidly given the right conditions. They produce hummus, the vital ingredient for good soil, which is what every gardener needs to aim for. Soil in SA is in bad shape – tired, depleted, and poisoned form chemicals. This affects the quality of our food. Soil is the basis of life. For a healthy world, we need healthy soil.
After graduating in zoology and biology, Pat worked firstly as a teacher and then lecturer at UCY. In the 1970’s she read an article in the Kenyan gazette that claimed people would be fighting for food in her children’s lifetime. This thought struck her deeply and changed her outlook entirely. “I began to start pushing people to become more aware of what they were doing.”
Pat says that growing vegetables is “incredibly easy. It all boils down to building soil.” Pat advocates a no dig method of gardening. After initially digging a trench 1 ½ metres deep you never dig again. From then on, you compost a lot and mulch, mulch, mulch. Pat swears by mulching. “Mother nature mulches – look at a tree shedding its leaves in autumn. Mulch with anything that is brown and dry.”
Mulching provides a habitat for predators such as grass snakes, lizards, frogs and spiders, which do the work of conventional pesticides in an organic garden.
In Pat’s world, nothing goes to waste. Everything is turned to good use. Plastic soft drink bottles become irrigation filters; the netting from oranges offers protective shade to seedlings.
Pat believes in “growing” people as well as vegetables. She has spawned a multitude of enterprises: from hand-painted stepping-stones for the garden to seedlings from the nursery. From the surplus of vegetables grown in the garden, she has created a range of chutneys, which were awarded a prestigious Eat In merit ward.
Want to learn about worms? Soil for Life offers a morning course in vermiculture. For details contact 021 794-4982
Do you want some worms for your garden? Soil for Life sells worm bins for R300. Just add scraps of food from your kitchen, sit back, and wait for the hummus. For those looking for a cheaper option, (this is Cape Town, after all) you can buy a 500 ml yoghurt container full of worms and compost for a mere R50.00. Just toss it onto your vegetable patch or compost heap and let the worms go forth and multiply.
Pick your own fresh, organic vegetables from the Soil For Life garden at Brounger Way Constantia contact 021 794-4982
Want to learn to grow your own vegetables? Attend a Grow for Life weekend workshop. Visit www.soilforlife.co.za for course details
Organic Soul Food Jams, chutneys and pickles are available at Sage Organics 021- 461-7868
Potted plants and seedlings are available from the Soil For Life nursery at Brounger Way, Constantia 021-794-4982.

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