I had my first worm farm back in the 90’s. A dear friend gave me a gift voucher for our local garden centre and it was such a generous amount I was able to buy a, then novel and thus expensive, worm farm.
This expensive system was really just a wheelie bin with a tap at the bottom, and compared to the systems available today, it was not all that clever, but it did its thing and was quite a curiosity back then.
Worm farms are just brilliant. They are the perfect solution for turning kitchen waste into the best quality compost, and as an easy bonus there is a constant supply of nutrient rich worm tea on tap too.
I have just invested in Worm Farm number three, they are all the same model, the Worm Cafe by Tumbleweed, the largest of their domestic worm farms.
Worms are the eco-warriors of the garden, slowly but surely munching their way through debris and waste that arrives in the soil. The outcome of their munching is worm casts, basically worm manure, the black bits you see in soil. It is moist, and humus rich making it a superior solid improver.
The action of worms in the soil alone is vital to soil health, they aerate by burrowing about in search of food, they slowly turn the soil over as they eat and poop and this poop, the worm cast, provides a perfect environment for soil microbes that in turn provide a healthy environment for plant roots.
The earthworm we see in our gardens is a type of hard working “Earth Worker” worm and he/she (yes, they have both sexual organs being hermaphrodites), but these are best left in the earth. With some 350 plus different species of earthworm in Australia not all are suited to the worm farm environment.
Composting worms suitable for the worm farm are Tigers, Reds and Blues. These are bred in captivity for their ability to turn food waste into rich soil, or for the fishing bait market. If I were a worm, I know which end product I’d rather be, the one that involves lots of yummy food rather than a sharp hook and a hungry fish!
These composting worms must be keep in an organically rich captive space, they are not seen in the garden soil as they would simply struggle to survive.
Keeping and managing worms is known as vermiculture, and there is a lot to know about the worm, but we won’t dig into that right now, all I am concerned with at this point is how to get the best out of worm farms.
Worms can live up to 15 years, so buying a box of 1000 worms and taking good care of them is a good investment, especially as given the correct environment they can double their population in just 3 months!
Setting up a worm farm is quick and easy, and buying a kit such as the Worm Cafe makes it even easier.
The kits comes with a base, composting trays and a block of coir. You buy your worms in a separate box.
The first thing to do is get the block of coir into a bucket of water, this will break down and turn into a moist substrate for the worms to start out their farm life.
The box that contained the kit is used to line the bottom of the first tray, or what is known as the “working tray”. Worms love paper and card and this will provide food in the early weeks living in their new home. The coir is added over the card and now the farm is ready for the worms. 1000 worms is the best option to get things started. I have bought a box of 500 as I have a good growing population I can bring in from one of my other worm farms.
As tempting as it is, don’t load up the newly established farm with food scraps straight off, let the worms get settled for a few days.
After the initial few days getting the worms settled, you can start adding kitchen scraps. You can add most things, but don’t add meat, dairy or bread as this will attract flies and vermin, plus it will stink! Onions and citrus are best avoided too, worms do not like an acid environment at all. If you do add these in error, sprinkle the farm with compost conditioner to neutralise the acidity.
It is better to chop the kitchen waste finely and to crush egg shells. I failed to crush some a while back and found quite large bits a shell left in otherwise gorgeously rich worm compost.
We drink a lot of tea and the worms love the tea bags, they also adore coffee grounds too. Plus, as a bonus they will recycle paper for you. The fact that sending your paper to be recycled into more paper is actually still a very polluting activity, putting it into your worm farm and letting the worms feast and poop it out as rich soil is a much better use of resources, and involves no further pollutant production.
If you shred your household paperwork and still worry, as you put into your recycling bin, that maybe someone will tape your credit card bill back together and have a shopping spree on you, then don’t. Shred your papers and give your worms a treat, they love paper. And paper absorbs water and keeps the contents of your farm moist, just perfect for the worms. It’s a win-win situation!
We rarely purchase packaged meals, we cook from fresh local produce and we manage to compost a lot of our kitchen waste. We have two small bins (well, they are old plastic food storage boxes), one for the worms, in which we pop teas bags, coffee grounds, chopped veggies, and crushed egg shells. The other takes larger bits of veg and onion waste, this we put into out regular compost bins.
For us, we could very easily overload the worm farm. They ideally need little and often, if you overload the farm the food can go “off” before the worms have a chance to eat it.
Hence, we are on worm farm number 3. The cost to set up is about $150 which may sound expensive. But with organic fertiliser at about $12 a bottle and organic compost $10 for 25 ltrs, the farm will pay for itself in time.
The Tumbleweed Worm Cafe is very well made, it is good and sturdy. I have had farm number one for a year now and it’s still in great shape, so hopefully it will give many years of service. I like the tray system. This gives you a convenient way to harvest the compost without loosing the worms.
The first tray you pop on is the working tray, this contains the cardboard, the coir and the worms. Food scraps are added and the worms munch away. When this working try is full, you add the second tray and add some food scraps and shredded paper. When the worms cannot find anymore food in tray one, they will pass through the holes in the bottom of tray two and work their way up to eat the food in the new tray. This continues and tray three comes into action. At this point, you can take out tray one and harvest the compost, give it a wash and this becomes tray three. Brilliant!
So its that easy, get the farm set up in a cool shaded spot, feed, water, monitor and use the products of your hard working worms.
So, if you don’t have a worm farm, what are you waiting for? Get a wiggle on and let the worms work wonders in your garden too!