Discovery and adventure in your own backyard

The marvels of nature.
The marvels of nature. 

 

If there is one book that all young inquisitive nature lovers must read it is the Australian Backyard Naturalist by Peter Macinnis. Its pages are full of interesting facts, stories from European settlement to recent times and projects to help kids learn and engage with the animals, birds and insects alive and waiting to be explored in their own backyard.

This book is not just for the avid reader but will appeal to kids who like to get their hands dirty. With each chapter containing do-it-yourself projects – including how to make your own worm farm, butterfly net and even build a small frog pond – kids will have plenty to keep them occupied during the school holidays.

Each chapter takes you through a different species that makes its home in your own backyard or nearby (depending on where you live). Learn about the so-called ‘dangerous’ mammals that once roamed freely throughout our country including the now extinct Tasmanian tiger and the endangered Tasmanian devil. Find out how to entice a Goanna out of a tree in the chapter on Amphibians and reptiles or discover the different ways people throughout history have used leeches to treat illnesses.

Beautifully presented with hand-drawn illustrations, photographs and historical sketches this book is as visually engaging as it is educational.

Beautifully presented with hand-drawn illustrations, photographs and historical sketches this book is as visually engaging as it is educational.

To get your child started on their backyard adventure we have an edited extract of one of the projects from the Australian Backyard Naturalist for you below.

Making a worm farm

Around half of all household waste is organic and most of this can be recycled though composting. Compost worms are excellent recyclers and will take a lot of what many people normally throw in the rubbish bin and turn it into a rich nutrient supplement for the soil in your garden.

Checklist:

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  • Two polystyrene boxes (about 30 cm deep, 60 cm wide and 90 cm long) with one lid.
  • A screwdriver
  • Flywire, enough to cover the bottom of the boxes
  • Shredded newspaper
  • A bucket of garden soil or potting mix
  • Water
  • Worm food including: cooked vegetables and stewed fruit leftovers, fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings, hair clippings and vacuum cleaner dust, stale biscuits and cakes, coddee grounds and tea bags, crushed eggshells, sawdust and soaked cardboard.
  • Don’t feed your worms citrus fruits, oily foods, meat, poultry, fish, dairy foods, vinegar or salad dressings, plants from the onion family (including garlic, shallots and leek).
  • 1000 composting worms (tigers, reds or blues available from garden centres)
  • A piece of hessian or cardboard

How to do it:

1. Use the screwdriver to make holes in the lid and bottom of one of the boxes. Space the holes out evenly.

2. Spread the flywire in the bottom, over the holes. This lets liquid through, but not the worms.

3.Dampen the shredded newspaper until it’s all wet. Squeeze out any excess and then fill the box about 3/4 full with it.

4. Add the soil or potting mix, followed by the worms.

5. Place this box with the worms over your second box (which will collect the water and worm wee from the first box).

6. Add some food scraps to the bin. Don’t overfeed your worms. To get an idea of how much food to give your worms, put a small amount in one corner underneath some newspaper and see how long it takes them to break it down. Put the scraps in a different spot each time.

7. Keep the shredded newspaper damp and lay a piece of hessian or cardboard on top of the food scraps. Put the lid on the box. Store the worm farm in the laundry, shed, garage or some other outdoor location that is cool.

8. Worm wee will collect in the bottom box over the next few weeks. You can use this as liquid fertiliser.

9. In a few months you’ll also have a layer of worm poo in the bottom of the top box. Set up a new box and transfer the worms into it. Then you can collect the worm poo, spread it on the garden or mix it with water and sprinkle the solution on your plants.

You can find this and many more fun things to do and learn in the Australian Backyard Naturalist, published by National Library Australia, $29.95. Available at bookshop.nla.gov.au and all good bookstores.