Worm Farms! (Vermicomposting)
Article written by Emma Urquhart
Having your own worm farm is a fun way to recycle your household waste into something you can use on your garden. For those of you with small children it is a lot of fun! The kids get a real kick out of seeing the worms and feeding them. They are also inexpensive, low maintenance, family pets that help out around the place by decomposing your household waste and creating fertilizer for your garden. The great thing about a worm farm is they don't need to take up a lot of space, you can even keep one under your kitchen sink and use their wees (worm tea) and poos (castings) on your house plants.
Tiger worms in their bark bedding
Setting up your worm farm:
You can build you own or buy one of our from your local garden center. We have two options 'Tumble Weed Worm Cafe' or 'Can O Worms'. Both with a full set of instructions on how to set up your worm farm and bedding for your worms. If you are making one yourself, it needs to have ventilation and good drainage.
To make the bedding for your worms, mix some soil and/or compost with the pre-soaked coir (provided in the kits). Then spread this mixture over the first tier, careful not to pack it down too much because that will break up all the air pockets the worms use to breathe. Wet the bedding, any excess water will drain out the tap into a bucket (that you need to place there). Add your worms and give it a mix-up. Then transfer some of this bedding/worm mixture into the next tray and place on top. The top tray should be in contact with the worms and bedding bellow but not squashing it. This way the worm can travel between the trays. Now in the top tray you can sprinkle over some kitchen scraps. Finally place the blanket over top (or some cardboard) before clipping the lid.
Tiger worms are used in your worm farm rather than earthworms because they are aggressive, fast breeding and can tolerate high temperatures of 32ºC. They also live near the surface where as the earth worm feeds on the surface then burrows down (which is ideal for a garden situation). These can also be bought from your local garden center. Earthworms in a worm farm situation often die from trying to burrow through the bottom.
Feeding your worms:
To start with, your worms won't eat very much until they settle into their new home, and it will take up to 6 months for the worms to multiply enough to fill your farm. Before you add more food scraps into your worm farm check than the worms are already eating their way though the last lot. If they haven't touched it then you are feeding too much. A rule of thumb is that worms eat half their body weight each day. So a worm farm with 250g of worms would eat 125g of food scraps each day. Cut up your food scraps into smaller pieces and crush up your egg shells so that the worms can process them faster.
Good things to feed worms: You may have heard for composting about brown and green materials, this isn't defined by colour a such but by the carbon (C) : nitrogen (N) ratio. Materials that have high levels of carbon are referred to as brown. These can be, paper, egg cartons, cardboard, dry leaves, straw, vacuum cleaner dust, hair etc... Materials high in Nitrogen are referred to as green. Such as fruit and vegetable scraps (both cooked and raw), egg shells, tea, coffee grounds, fresh leaves, aged lawn clippings, and manure. For a balanced diet you should be feeding even quantities of 'brown' and 'green' scraps.
Bad things to feed worms: Oils, fats, meat, dairy, citrus, onions, spicy or salty food or food with preservatives. Too much of these scraps could either kill off the worms or invite unwanted guests to your worm farm.
Maintaining your worms:
Worms like a clean environment, so wash out your worm farm once a week with a bucket of water – just pour it over the top, leave the tap open at the bottom to flush out all the liquid. Making sure you catch the liquid in a bucket because it will be very good for your garden. Examine your worm farm weekly and take a good sniff, the farm should smell earthy and you should see worms happily wriggling about just below the surface. If your worm farm smells like rotting food or anaerobic, you may be over-feeding or it may be too wet. Another sign that your worm farm is unhappy is when you see worms escaping. Something about your worm farm is making their environment uninhabitable. This can either be too hot, too wet, too acidic or not enough food. To prevent your worm farm from becoming too acidic you can buy a 'worm conditioner' which is lime based an will level out the pH. This should be lightly sprinkled over once a week.
Using worm wee and poo:
Your worm wees is the liquid collected out the tap in your worm farm. This stuff is a great garden tonic full of beneficial enzymes, microbes and nutrients. Worm wees are too rich to be used straight, so water it down before applying. Use 1:10 ratio (1pt worms wees: 10pt water). It should look like a weak tea.
Worm poo is the castings in the lower tier, left over after all the food has been fully eaten. This is also very beneficial for your garden. The castings will also add microbes, nutrients and increase the soil's ability to retain moisture.
Other critters that may reside in your worm farm:
Harmless insects that can end up living with your worms in the the worm farm are earwigs, beetles, slaters, various flies (though annoying for us), maggots, and ants. Though ants are rather unwanted to humans they are beneficial to your worm farm by adding Phosphorus and Potassium to your castings.
Green and golden bell frogs hanging out in my worm farm.
I opened my worm farm this evening to get a photo of the worms for this article and found two frogs sitting on my worms, while frogs do eat worms, they ware not their favourite. Frogs like the warm damp conditions of a worm farm and are beneficial in eating slugs and bugs out of the garden so at my place, they are welcome – though I will be keeping an eye on my worms to see if there is a noticeable decrease in their population.20 January 2019