03 Jun 2016

You might not have a high opinion of worms. They appear to be slimy and dirty, and they creepily keep living even after you chop them in half. The fact is, worms are a vital part of helping our environment by improving the composting process. Worms can eat our food scraps and produce worm castings, which is a wonderful fertiliser for any number of plants in our gardens. To encourage this process and to get top-quality compost for your garden, it’s a good idea to build a worm farm. Here’s a guide to help you make the perfect worm farm for your garden.

You might not have a high opinion of worms. They appear to be slimy and dirty, and they creepily keep living even after you chop them in half. The fact is, worms are a vital part of helping our environment by improving the composting process. Worms can eat our food scraps and produce worm castings, which is a wonderful fertiliser for any number of plants in our gardens. To encourage this process and to get top-quality compost for your garden, it’s a good idea to build a worm farm. Here’s a guide to help you make the perfect worm farm for your garden.

Choose your farm “land”

The type of farm you have is entirely up to you, although it might depend on how much space you have in your yard. You can buy layered worm farm bins that are useful if you don’t have a lot of space. You can stack them on top of each other, and they’re ready-made, so they don’t involve any work to assemble. Or, you can buy a polystyrene box with holes in the bottom. No matter what you use, it should be leaning slightly to one side to help with drainage.

If you have a bit more space or are feeling a bit more “earthy,” you might prefer an in-ground worm farm. Dig a spot in your garden and put in a shallow bucket or some PVC piping. Whatever you use, it should be at least 100mm in diameter and be easy to move once it becomes full of composted soil. When a container becomes full, you can pull it out and place the compost wherever it needs to go.

Location, location, location

Hot worms are not hungry worms, so you want to put your farm in a shady spot where they won’t overheat. Worms love it when things are moist and dark, and you want to make them as comfortable as possible.

Bedding

Composting works in layers, so your farm should reflect this. The first layer you put into your farm is the bedding, and it should be made up of carbon-rich materials such as newspaper and coconut coir. Make sure to mix it all together with water, so that it has a nice moist texture. Fill the bottom third of all your trays or containers with this mixture, and leave it be for about a week.

Worms

At this point, it’s time to add in the worms. You should start with about 1000 for each person using the garden. If you have a family of four, and the garden is to feed that family, then 3500 to 4000 is a perfect amount. The little guys and girls will then start burrowing into the bedding, which is right where you want them to be.

Food

Next up is where the food waste comes in. Keep a container in the kitchen with all of your plant-based food waste, and regularly feed it to those worms. Make sure you don’t overfeed them, as a worm can only handle about half of its body weight in food. They don’t have teeth, so it’s good if the waste is cut up into as little pieces as possible. Worms are also vegetarian, so meat products are not appropriate to feed them.

Besides fruits and veggies, worms also love coffee grounds and crushed egg shells. Leaves, shredded paper, and vacuum dust also provide nutrients. Adding a material like straw will help aerate the soil to help them breathe. Other things to avoid are dairy products, overly oily foods, and acidic foods, such as onions, garlic, and citrus fruits. Cover the food waste with a hessian bag or a damp wad of newspapers to keep things nice and moist and to protect from the elements.

Harvest

The worms will eat from the top layer of food scraps, and poop their nutrient rich castings into the bedding underneath. This means that you’ll want to get the castings from the bottom layer. Once a tray seems full, dump out its contents and separate the castings onto something you can sift through. Then take whatever’s left over, including the worms, and place that on top of the former food waste layer. This will start the cycle all over again. The process of eating and pooping enough to fill a tray can take up to 6 months, so patience is certainly a virtue in this situation.

Fertilise

Your soil will be quite happy with the yummy goodness you’ve provided. Spread it all around your garden or pots, and watch your plants thrive. If you have too much for your garden, then you can always bag it and store it for later, or, if you’re feeling generous, give some to a neighbour who doesn’t have a worm farm of their own.