How to Start a Worm Farm

Starting a worm farm

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Worm farms are fabulous. They are so easy to keep and have many benefits in the garden. Not only do they munch through your kitchen scraps, turning them into wonderful compost, and reducing landfill, but they also produce vermicast and liquid fertiliser – or, as our house calls it, “worm wee”. These rich by-products are full of nutrients your garden will enjoy.

Benefits of vermicompost

Worm castings are packed with essential nutrients that plants need, and improve soil structure by increasing soil aeration, drainage and water retention. They add beneficial microbes to the soil, which can protect plants from certain diseases, and unlike chemical fertilisers, worm castings won’t burn plants, even when applied in large amounts.

How to start a worm farm

Starting a worm farm is an eco-friendly way to reduce kitchen waste and produce rich compost for your garden. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you establish a successful worm farm:

Choose the right worms:

Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are the most common and efficient for worm farms.

Select a worm bin:

You can purchase a commercial worm bin or make your own from wood or plastic containers. Ensure the bin is not transparent as worms prefer darkness.

Choose the right location:

Place your worm bin in a location with a steady temperature between 13°C-24°C. Avoid direct sunlight or excessively cold areas. A garage, basement, or shaded area in a garden can work well.

Prepare your worm farm bedding

Shred newspapers, cardboard, or coconut coir to create bedding for the worms. Avoid glossy paper. Moisten the bedding until it’s as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Fill the bin with the moist bedding to a depth of about 8 inches.

Add your worms:

Place your red wigglers on top of the bedding, they will burrow down on their own.

What to feed your worms:

Start feeding your worms slowly by burying small amounts of kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and tea bags. Avoid meat, dairy, oily foods, onions and citrus. As the worm population grows, you can increase the amount of food.

Maintenance:

Keep the bedding moist but not soggy. Every few months, or when the bin is mostly castings, you can harvest the worm castings (vermicompost). Push the compost to one side, add fresh bedding and food to the other side, and allow the worms to migrate.

Harvesting the vermicompost:

After a few months, the worm bin will be full of worm castings—a dark, soil-like substance. To harvest, you can either gently scoop out the finished compost, ensuring you leave the worms behind or use the migration method mentioned above.

Troubleshooting

  • Too wet: Add more bedding or leave the lid off for a while to let it dry out.
  • Too dry: Moisten the bedding with a spray bottle.
  • Foul odour: It’s likely due to overfeeding. Reduce the amount of food you’re adding or make sure to bury the food scraps well.
  • Pests (like fruit flies): Bury food scraps deep within the bedding and avoid overfeeding.

How to use vermicompost

Vermicompost is rich, in organic fertilisers and soil conditioners. They contain a mix of worm castings, decomposed organic matter, and beneficial microorganisms.

Gardens: Spread a layer of worm castings on top of your garden beds. Then, work them into the top couple of inches of the soil using a rake or your hands.

Potted plants: Sprinkle a thin layer (about 1/4 inch) of worm castings on top of the soil.

Seed starting: Mix worm castings with a seed-starting mix. A good ratio can be 1 part worm castings to 3 part seed-starting mix.

Transplanting: When transplanting seedlings, add a handful of worm castings to the hole before placing your plant. This provides an immediate nutrient boost.

Lawn care: Using a spreader or by hand, distribute worm castings evenly across your lawn. This can be especially beneficial after aerating your lawn.

Compost boost: Mix worm castings into your traditional compost pile to introduce beneficial microbes and speed up the composting process.

Making potting mix: Create your own potting mix by combining worm castings with other materials like coconut coir, perlite, and compost. A simple mix might be 1 part worm castings, 1 part compost, 1 part coconut coir, and 1 part perlite.

Liquid fertiliser (worm tea): Fill a bucket or container with water and add worm castings (a good ratio is roughly 5 parts water to 1 part worm castings). Stir the mixture and let it sit for 24-48 hours. Optionally, you can aerate it with an aquarium pump to encourage beneficial microbial growth. Strain the liquid to remove solid particles. Dilute the strained liquid with water (usually a 1:1 ratio) and use it to water your plants. This “worm tea” provides a quick nutrient boost.

Remember, worm farming (vermicomposting) is as much an art as it is a science. Observing and understanding the needs of your worms will lead to a successful worm farm. With time, you’ll become more adept at maintaining the right conditions for your little composting helpers!

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