Compost Worms – Adventures in the Toxic Environment

The topic of using newsprint in the edible garden is one that raises its head on a regular basis and is something that I like to monitor. I use newsprint in the garden with the following considerations.

  • I don’t like to burden an area with either a great heap of newsprint at any one time or over a period of a year or so.
  • My main indicator to the health of my soil is the soil life itself – and the most visible, easily identifiable  and more immediate indicator for me personally is the compost worms. If there is an abundance or even seemingly an over-abundance of worms in areas of composting with newsprint then I am relatively assured that there be no harm.
 This piece of information is from the Ecobaby website. I like it because it explains the process of conversion quite simply.

“As long as the worm composter is working properly, the worms will be able to handle these substances. Heavy metals become soluble and therefore potentially toxic in acidic environments. Worms prefer a relatively alkaline environment. Normally ground garden limestone is sprinkled into the composter. (Only use garden lime, NOT Quicklime, of course!). Worms carry out fine grinding of the lime particles. This neutralises any excess acidity and liberates plant nutrients stored in the rock. Heavy metals are also fixed in the soil and released slowly avoiding toxicity. Worms develop and maintain a culture of effective aerobic bacteria by culling pathogens, fungi and anaerobic bacteria. They also ensure the organic mass is well aerated.”

My own experience is that newsprint and cardboard are exceptional materials for building up soil and are enhanced by the actions of soil microbes and worms. This is from my own observations of the materials breaking down, the abundance of worms found in the compost and the masses of tiny, tiny worms and cocoons which more often than not is found in conjunction with cardboard, particularly corrugated cardboard where the worms can move into the ridges and tunnels. There are many gardeners who have used newsprint and cardboard in their gardens for years now, particularly since the shift to soy-based inks and more environmentally considerate paper products and processes.
I choose to put the coloured printed material in the recycling bin instead of the garden mainly because it takes longer to break down and I personally have a dislike to the stuff and don’t trust it. The other consideration is that the worms are not as attracted to it either because it takes a while for water to penetrate it and assist in breaking it down or because of the coatings used.
I also found an interesting article on the Mercola website which features the use of GE crops and soil fertility.

 GE Crops Affect Soil Fertility –

And this here is the link to an article with a little more depth to it than the normal articles found, but I still am having to scratch around to find some real statistics or studies indicating the dangers of toxic build-up in soils, particularly dioxins. There is some research into heavy metal conversion by compost worms and microbes, but dioxin appears to be a different matter.

City Food Growers article on “Is newspaper toxic for my organic garden?”

The other method I have found very efficient for converting large quantities of newsprint is ripping it into long shreds, a few cms wide and putting it into the chicken’s strawyard where they dig it into the soil and scratch it up. The worms get to it a lot faster along with the action of the chook manure and it breaks down with a regular, gentle wetting. I like to do this in autumn when light showers keep it damp but not saturated.

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