Sunday, September 24th, 2017

How to Setup and Maintain a Worm Farm

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What exactly is a sustainable environment? How does a worm farm help create one? Plenty of websites are out there that answer both questions, and what they have to say is pretty convincing. If we don’t take care, we’re going to run out of places to use as landfills, our methane production from garbage decomposition will add exponentially to the greenhouse effect, and our landfill practices have already contaminated ground water supplies. Worm farms are an incredibly easy alternative to current hazardous methods of managing organic waste. How? They recycle food scraps into a fertiliser that can be used in a small garden, on an apartment balcony, and even indoors. The average red worm consumes its own weight in food every day, and converts this into a non-toxic (and sweet-smelling) fertiliser that can be used immediately.

Following a practice that encourages sustainability is a lifestyle choice. It is a conscious decision to participate in a way that increases our own health, but also that of the planet. Creating and managing a worm farm becomes a habit that brings us in touch with like minds and connects us with our community, encouraging a co-creation of an environment that enhances the way we live together.

That said, does a worm farm really do the job? I decided to check it out for myself.

Creating a Worm Farm

I set off to the closest hardware store to find a worm farm. Fortunately, there was only one option, a Worm Café, for $84.90 AUD.

worm cafe

The worm farm didn’t come with worms—it was housing only. I found the worms on another shelf and opted for the box that contained 1200 of them.

worm cafe

I noticed a bottle of worm farm & compost conditioner, decided it would be good for the worms, and added it to my trolley.

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When I got home and tore off all the wrapping, there were four black boxes. I had no idea how to convert this series of black boxes into a thriving worm farm. I was forced to read the instructions.
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One of the four black boxes was different from the other three. This box was designated as the collection tray for the worm farm and housed the tap that pours the worm farm end product into a bucket. The idea that this arrangement could work was intriguing.

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I attached the legs that were supplied in the packaging to this box and selected a place to set up the worm farm that was out of the sun.

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Next, I pulled out the worm farm bedding block that was inside the worm cafe.

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As per instructions, I placed this bedding block, paper and all, into 7 litres of water, and let it soak for 15 minutes.

bedding block

Once the bedding block softened, I broke up the bedding block into a slushy mass.

bedding rock mush

Following the instructions, I flattened the cardboard box the entire worm café came in and placed it in the tray I had put above the bottom collection tray. The instructions stated that the worms would eventually eat the cardboard, too (Yum!).

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The bedding block slush, along with the paper wrapping, is poured on top of the cardboard bedding in the same tray. You can see how I spread the paper wrapping from the bedding block on top.

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NOW FOR THE WORMS! I read the instructions on the box of worms very carefully. These are living creatures and I wanted to do it the right way.

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Inside the box when I opened it was a yellow plastic bag of worms.

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As instructed, I tipped these worms in a single pile onto the bedding mixture. They aren’t fond of light, so they all burrowed into the bedding and were out of sight in seconds.

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I then placed a piece of hessian sack (purchased from the hardware store) over the worms and put the lid on. I left the worms alone for two days to give them time to settle in.

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I was advised that if I wanted worm fertiliser more quickly that it is better to blend the vegetable and fruit scraps before pouring them over the worms. This helps them to eat the food faster. On the third day, I blended the scraps with water, lifted the hessian layer, and poured the blended scraps over the worms, who were still out of sight. I sprinkled potting mix over this. It helps to prevent the wet food sticking to the hessian cover.

Some foods change the acidity levels of the worm farm and should be avoided. These include: onions, citrus fruits, fish, meat and chicken, garlic, dairy, vinegar, and oils. However, unexpected items like tea and coffee grounds, tea-bags, egg shells and torn-up newspaper and cardboard are acceptable fodder for feeding the worms.
I used just one tray for the worms. The other two feeding trays can be added to expand the worm farm. They have holes in the bottom and the worms can travel up into higher trays as long as the bedding is high enough in the tray below to permit this.

I left the worms for a week, feeding them only twice during that time with the blended scraps. Too much food in the tray can upset the balance for the worms. Overfeeding is not a good idea, since they cannot process it all and it means unused scraps can begin to smell and attract pests.

At the end of the week, I turned on the tap and to my absolute delight watched the bucket fill with worm juice. I diluted the worm juice with water on a 1:10 ratio (until it had the color of weak tea), and poured it on my plants.
It’s a good idea to drain your worm farm weekly.

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Below is some additional information you will find useful.

Worm Compost and Building Your Worm Farm

As you feed the worms a compost forms. This compost is largely composed of worm castings and the soil you may have added into the farm.

The first working tray will take about 3-6 months to fill. It is considered full when the base of the working tray that will be placed above it touches the worm compost.

The way you harvest the compost depends on how many working trays you have operating.

If you have one tray, to harvest the compost, move 50-60mm of the surface material on one side of the tray to the other side. Harvest the compost that remains, placing it on your pot plants and plants. Once the compost on one side of the worm tray is removed you have two options. One option is to spread out the remaining compost and worms and continue feeding the tray. The other option is to only feed the side of the tray you have removed the compost from. The worms will move across, allowing you to harvest the other side of the tray.
If you have extra working trays, once two are full, you can remove the bottom working tray and place the compost in it on your garden or pot plants. Clean this and put the empty working tray on top of the worm farm and start feeding this tray. This starts a rotation process for generating worm compost. You are then in the worm farm business!

Hints for Maintaining your Worm Farm

Worms love a moist environment. To maintain moisture, lift the worm blanket and pour about 5 litres of water over the compost. Keep the tap open with a bucket under it to collect the water. You can pour this on your garden.
If the trays develop a smell this could be a sign you are overfeeding the worms. To reduce the smell, stop feeding the worms for a few days and aerate the compost by gently tilling the top 50-60mm.
Drain water out of the worm farm at least weekly to avoid smells.
Using the worm farm conditioner (photographed above) weekly will reduce acidity and lessen potential odours.
Don’t forget to clean out the collection tray when you empty a working tray. Worm castings can collect in this lower tray.

Outcome?

You have a liquid compost as a result of 1200 industrious red worms. It is rich in nutrients, has a pleasant, earthy smell to it, and helps condition plants, potting soil, and lawns. It is even being used to fertilise golf course greens. You also have a rich source of worm compost.

The advantage of becoming a worm farmer is that you are recycling your food scraps and reducing the chemical load we currently impose on the planet and on ourselves. The added benefit is the feeling you get when the process works and you know you have participated in making something wonderful happen.

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