'Worms are the intestines of the earth.' -Aristotle
Are you unsure if creating a worm-home in the garden is for you? Wondering what all the fuss about worm tea is? And what about feeding them, smelling them and getting grandma to babysit them on the holidays? Then read on...
© Karen Sutherland, Edible Eden Design
WORM FARMING – WORM FACTS
- Worm farms must be stocked with compost worms – reds, blues or tigers
- Worms have no known diseases and their digestive system destroys pathogens
- Worms can eat up to half their body weight per day
- Worms can double their populations every few months
- Worm farming reduces leachate of food waste into ground water and river systems
- Worm farming reduces methane
- Worm farming can reduce landfill by 1 tonne per person every year
- The bottom tray is to catch worm tea liquid and direct it to the tap
- Next is the home box – line this with supplied bedding material if you are buying a worm farm or if you are making one, with compost, wet newspaper or wet dead leaves
- Next add your worms into the home box on top of the bedding material
- The next tray above this (the first working box) contains your chopped up food scraps
- Any gaps between the home box and the working boxes should be filled with compost, potting mix or soil so that the worms can move between each box
- Top the working box with a wet Worm blanket
- Covering with thick wet newspaper can prevent oxygen supply to the worms, who need to breathe like we do
- Finish up by replacing the lid and add a brick on top to prevent the lid blowing off or rodents lifting the lid to ‘go shopping’ for your kitchen scraps
- Coffee grounds and tea bags or tea leaves are good, but don’t add tepee shaped tea bags, they are usually not able to be digested by worms
- Crush eggshells well before adding so the worms can deal with them better
- Hair and pet hair is OK to add
- Vacuum cleaner dust is OK to add
- Never add animal products of any type to a worm farm
- Most people don’t add bread to avoid attracting rodents, but small amounts can be OK if you keep a brick on the lid
- Don’t add animal manure as it may have vermicides
- Citrus & Onion are OK to add in very small amounts – but if in doubt don’t add
- No garden clippings should be added as they are too woody for worms to break down
- Adding a few handfuls of soil on top will supply grit for the worms gizzards and help them digest
- If the weather is too hot or too cold the worms will eat less so feed them less
MANAGING YOUR WORMS
- Placing your worm farm under a shady tree is ideal – especially if it loses its leaves in winter
- Worms prefer temperatures of 20-25 degrees Celsius
- Worms can survive between 10-30 degrees Celsius and need to be protected from extreme highs or lows by keeping shaded in summer and adding blankets in winter
- Keep your worm farm moist and water the worm blanket every time you feed
- Add approximately 5L water per week to your worm farm
- Clean the bottom tray around once per month
- Keep the tap open so the worm farm does not flood – keep a bucket under the tap to catch the leachate
- Add 1 handful Dolomite Lime or wood ash to the working box every month or only every 2 months if the worms are really active and healthy
- Never use chemicals near worms
- The presence of ants means your worm farm is too dry – add water and lettuce type kitchen waste to remedy this
- Little vinegar flies hovering around the worm farm means it is too acidic – add Dolomite/wood ash, stir up. Cover food scraps with soil to prevent the flies breeding
- A bad smell usually means you are overfeeding the worms – add lime, soil, stir up the working box a little and give no food for a few days
- Maggots are not usually house flies but Soldier Fly Larvae. These are not harmful and are good bait for fishing. If you want to remove them you can entice by laying bread soaked in milk on the surface of the worm farm for 2-3 days, then remove the bread and bury in the garden if you do not wish to use them.
- Worms not moving between boxes – keep gaps between boxes filled and ensure all food is eaten and leave them unfed for 1 week before adding a box
- Holidays – it’s OK to leave your worm farm for 3-4 weeks. Feed them before going, add 5L water and 50mm wet Lucerne hay or pea straw to the top
- You can’t have too many worms! Worm farms are self-regulating.
- Before heavy rain you may notice large numbers of worms come to the surface of the worm farm – this is a survival mechanism to avoid drowning triggered by the change in atmospheric pressure.
USING VERMICAST (WORM COMPOST) AND LEACHATE (WORM TEA)
- Very little vermicast is produced as vegetables and fruit are mostly water.
- You can expect to be able to harvest vermicast after 5 months or so or you can harvest small amounts more frequently.
- When harvesting vermicast, to avoid removing worms, expose the top of the farm to sun or light at first so the worms go down into the bottom layers
- Use vermicast as a booster at planting time, or as a fertiliser. You only need small amounts as it is very concentrated - 10mm thick is ample as a top dressing around plants.
- Worm Tea or the liquid leachate is produced in much larger quantities than vermicast due to the frequent addition of water
- To use leachate, dilute with water until it is the colour of weak tea and use as a liquid fertilizer.
- Smile as only a happy worm farmer can, knowing that you’re reducing your impact on the environment by producing less landfill, as well as boosting the health of your garden!