How to Start a Worm Farm

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Love worms

Handy Worm Farm information and care guide to happy healthy worms

Worm farming, otherwise known as vermiculture (vermis from the Latin for worm) is the process of harnessing earthworms to convert organic waste into the world’s most nutrient-rich fertiliser; worm manure. Worms are nature’s unique and natural recyclers, by having a worm farm you can make your own cost-effective organic fertiliser which is the very best homemade fertiliser for your veggies and plants.

Why Farm Worms?

Climate change, depletion of natural resources, and mass urbanisation present unprecedented threats to global food security and human survival. Worm farming provides solutions that help us, as individuals, communities, institutions and businesses, to meet and address these challenges in our own backyard. Worm farming is suitable for city, urban environments and even indoors. It is low tech and a cost effective way of reducing household waste.

Charles Darwin worm quote

Worm farming is an environmentally sound and economical solution for organic waste management and suitable for organic farming. Worm farming is also a great educational tool for children and teaches the basics of recycling in nature, and educates kids to be responsible for their waste.

Preventing Food Waste

Food waste emits the green house gases methane and nitrous oxide that are 31 and 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2). At an individual level, worm farming has the ability to minimise green house gas emissions by substantially reducing the amount of landfill-driven food waste and in effect alleviating the need for fossil-fuel-driven collection vehicles.

Worm Farm Bins

Worm Farm Bins come into their own in limited spaces, because even on a reduced scale they are self contained and are just as effective. Small bins do not produce a huge amount of worm compost, but because it is so concentrated in nutrients and minerals, you don’t need to have much.

Worm Castings (worm manure) can be used on everything from houseplants to vegetables in pots and in seedling trays or directly in the garden. It has excellent moisture-retentive properties, and it is great for naturally supporting disease and pest control, containing fungus-eating nematodes and protozoa as well as high levels of chitinase (one of nature’s natural insect repellants). Just make sure you feed it to your plants and don’t rub it on your skin!

Worm Farm Kits vs. How to build a DIY Worm Farm

Pre-made worm farm bins are available and make worm farming clean and simple to get started, but you can make your own from plastic storage bins or catering-sized food containers (10-litre plastic food grade bins). Ensure you install ‘layers’ to encourage worms to move between trays so you can harvest your compost without loosing too many worms in the process. You’ll also need to afix a tap at the bottom to drain excess moisture.

Once you’ve got your worm farm bin set up, you need to get some worms and food starter mix. You cannot dig up earthworms from outside (they would hate to live in a bin); you need special compost worms, which you can get online or from some shops.

How to Care for your Worms

Worms are fairly easy to please but need a certain amount of attention and care. Worm farming at home is the perfect environmentally conscious solution for handling your kitchen scraps. Worm composting helps to keep valuable organic waste from landfill sites while producing a very special product which makes your plants very healthy.

Worm Farm Placement

Place your worm farm in a cool, sheltered position in afternoon shade. Morning sun is fine. Worms thrive at a wide temperature range of 10-30c. Keep your worm farm out of direct sunlight in the summer to avoid over heating and during the winter add layered cardboard to stop the cold air getting inside. Your worms will slow down during the winter. Worms do require a moist environment to thrive so it’s importand to keep the farm damp. Each week flush your worm farm with water but ensure the tap is open to avoid flooding but use a bucket underneath to collect the worm tea. If you’ve got a healthy worm farm, worm tea is a great fertalizer for all plants. Flushing each week prevents the water in the bottom from going stale, prevents ants from moving in and keeps the bin environment for the worms healthy and fresh smelling.

Food for your worms

Worms do not actually eat your food waste, they live off the microorganisms that break it down. It is always better to add partially decomposed kitchen waste as it is easier for the worms to eat and chopping food finely or whizzing in an old blender helps to break your scraps down faster. Add food in thin layers to avoid compaction or bury in the worm bedding. Avoid acidic and oily food, as well as meat and dairy.

Worms are voracious eaters, but they only have very small mouths. Allowing your kitchen scraps to partially break down in a caddy, mashing or chopping their food first, will mean they can work faster to make useful compost. It is always better to under feed your worms rather than over feed them and if the food is not being eaten stop feeding them for two weeks. Worms like all sorts of things, but stay away from anything acidic as worms do not like acidic conditions so avoid too much citrus, onion and coffee or it will make your worm farm a toxic environment for your worms. Also keep out oily food, worms breathe through their skin and grease will suffocate them.

Composting worms do need a regular source of carbon to absorb moisture and act as bedding: you can use either coconut coir or shredded paper, toilet rolls, and egg cartons. As with regular composting 30% carbon should be added to your Worm Farm which also absorbs excess moisture. Shredded paper, toilet rolls or egg cartons are a great source of carbon, and worms especially love ripped up corrugated cardboard.

Do not overload your worms, adding food in thin 2cm layers avoids compaction and suffocation in the worm bin. Lightly sprinkle a little sand or bird grit every two weeks. Using a little sand aids digestion and helps break down the food waste in the worm’s gizzard. Finely crushed eggshells can be used for this purpose, which also balances the alkalinity. If your worm farm becomes smelly, you are most likely overfeeding your worms. If the food you’re providing is not being eaten stop feeding them for a few weeks. If your worm farm attracts a fly infestation sprinkle a little diatomaceous earth on the surface of the worm farm. This stops the flies from laying eggs in your worm bin.

How to Harvest Worms & Worm Manure

After 3-6 months your worm farm should be ready to harvest some worm manure. The by product of worm farming commonly referred to as worm castings or worm manure is a superior, nutritionally rich compost and fertiliser, teeming with minerals and nutrients. Empty the worm manure on to a plastic mat, the majority of the worms will be living at the top in the fresh rotting waste. The worms will gradually migrate to the bottom to avoid the light, manually seperate the two. Make sure you give trays a good clean ready for reuse.

Worm Manure for your garden or house plants

Worm manure – also worm castings or vermicompost – is full of minerals, nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms essential for healthy plant growth, root development and disease suppression. Due to the nutritional superiority of worm manure, farmers and gardeners often refer to it as ‘Black Gold’, with one tablespoon enough to feed a small plant for three months. For best results mix at a ratio of 2:10 with regular compost, it’s superior water holding capacity is excellent for hanging baskets and vertical gardens
which often loose moisture.

Worm Tea

The liquid collected from the bottom container of your worm farm is a sufficient liquid plant feed when diluted 1:10, however this is called leachate and should not be confused with worm manure tea. Leachate can contain microbes harmful to plants if your worm farm has become anaerobic.

To brew your own worm manure tea seep one handful in an old pair of tights in 2 litres of water, leave for 24 hours and stir occasionally. For use as a natural insect repellent use as a foliage spray. Repeat every 3-4 weeks throughout the growing season

Composting Worms

Worms have both male and female sexual organs their hermaphroditic biological nature enables earthworms to reproduce very quickly and has the capacity to double its population every 60 days! Your worms will regulate their population to the available space and the amount of food you give them.

Lifecycle of a Worm

1) Golden cocoons are laid 4-5 days after mating
2) Juvenile worms hatch in 23-30 days
3) Worms are sexually mature in 60 days

Worms can be divided into two broad categories; ‘Composters’ and ‘earthworkers‘. Among the thousands of species of earthworm, only a few types are suitable for use in worm farming. These special worms are red in colour and are near-surface dwellers, thriving on fresh rotting organic waste. Throughout the world, the most common composting species are Tiger Worms, also called Red Wiggler or Californian Red (Eisenia Fetida). Originally from Europe, the Tiger Worm has adaptability and tolerance to a range of food sources, temperature variation and moisture content. The Tiger Worm can consume up to half its body weight a day, making them very suitable for disposing of organic waste.

Worm Farming Tips

  • Worms have tiny mouths, always break down their food or pulp in a blender
  • Do not feed worms farmyard or pet manures as these often carry vermicides for killing parasitic worms
  • Avoid drowning worms by keeping the drainage tap open with a bowl underneath to collect the liquid fertiliser
  • Do not put garden earthworms worms in your worm farm bin, use a composting species only
  • Avoid putting garden waste in your worm farm. Your worms prefer soft kitchen food – throw these in your regular composter.

By setting up a worm farm you are helping to protect the earth, and the great thing is you don’t even need a garden to get started, your worms will happily live on a balcony or even under your kitchen sink. Worm farming enables us to regenerate the earth, producing nutritionally rich fertiliser and compost from our waste to support the production of home grown food.

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