10 March 2009

Worm farm - fast maintence

Worms are a mystery to many people but if you have a small bucket of compost worms, you can create a worm farm that will help you get rid of a lot of your kitchen waste and newspapers while giving you a really beneficial end product. Having a worm farm allows us to create very good fertiliser here at home. Used in conjunction with other organic fertilisers like homemade compost, animal and chook manures and herb teas, we can grow whatever we like here without buying commercial chemical fertilisers.

Using worm castings in your garden will improve the structure of your soil, will help it retain moisture and will add microbes which help make the nutrients already in the soil available to the vegetables you plant. You will get better growth, healthier roots and bigger harvests using worm castings.

I have written about setting up a worm farm here, today I want to write about fast worm farm maintenance. The end product of a worm farm, the reason you keep worms, is for the worm casts - this is called vermicompost or vermicasts, which is just another name for worm manure. Once you've had those worms chomping away on food, paper, manure and straw for a few months, you'll want to harvest the castings. My problem was Hanno needed the castings for the garden and I didn't have time to harvest them. I wanted to empty the bathtub, sift the gravel on the bottom, because I know a lot of worms are living in there, reset the filter cloth on top of the gravel and build up the bedding again. No time for that, so I did a bit of fast maintenance.

BTW, you should never hose out your worm farm. Over time, the farm will build up beneficial bacteria, just like yoghurt and sour dough starter does. The longer it stays undisturbed, the better it gets. So your normal maintenance is cleaning the outside, making sure you don't have too many spiders, or rats, and generally checking the worms are healthy, the filter cloth is doing it's job and nothing has made a nest in there. There is little cleaning as such.

I didn't feed the worms for a month, making sure they ate every bit of food and last weekend I divided the farm in two. I wanted to create a pile of worm castings, containing the worms, and a pile of food that will draw them away from the castings side and into the food side.



When I opened the worm farm this is what I saw. You can't see any worms, they hate light and have buried themselves deep within.



I picked up the filter cloth - which is very strong - and tumbled the castings from one side to the other. Then, with my gloved hands, I moved the rest of the castings and a few worms over to that side. In the photo above, you can see the filter cloth on the bottom of the farm. Under that is gravel. Now all I had to do was create a paradise of food and bedding to lure to worms into it.



I used straw to do that, but I could also have used shredded paper, or a combination of potting mix and cow or horse manure. That mix, even without adding "food" is enough to bring them over. Worms love chewing through paper, straw and manure.



The straw must be soaked before hand. I didn't have any animal manure, and the chook poo we had was too fresh, so I added a couple of hand fulls of blood and bone to the straw and put a little worm juice over it to move it in. Last, I picked up the top layer of straw and tipped in the kitchen scraps from the day - a little bit of bread soaked in water, peelings from carrots, chopped up celery, half eaten egg and old cake. I replaced the straw, then covered it with soaked newspaper and an old towel that had been soaked in worm juice.



That is luxury accommodation for worms. I have no doubt they would already be moving from the castings over to the food. In a week or two, most of them will be on the food side and we'll be able to use the castings on the garden. I would estimate there are about 8 buckets of worm castings - the best fertiliser for any vegetable garden. That's not bad for a system sitting in a bathtub and run mainly on kitchen scraps, moist straw and old newspapers.


22 comments:

  1. Hello Rhonda,
    Great set up. How do they fair with the heat? We get dso hot here that an out door worm bed was a concern. When I looked into finding Red Wigglers it was impossible to find then locally only the night crawlers. I would have to order a half pound red wigglers at $35. u.s., it was a big hit so I declined. One day I do hope too start one up. The other thing on my mind . Carrots? Its there a tip I am missing. I am having NO success with them second try.
    My snap peas are very happy. The moon and stars watermelon is on its second set of leaves very exciting. I am having a terrible fly problem with the strawberries. A strange fly , like a house fly sorta. Well they are living in the strawberry pot. I think perhaps the bat guano may have brought them in. Have you ever had and issue with them. I placed some sticky traps (non Poison).

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  2. A worm bin is very much on my list of things to do - but haven't attempted yet. I've enjoyed reading about your growing season, and looking forward to starting my own.

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  3. We have 2 worm farms here - one for our kitchen scraps and the other for our dog poo. We have 3 medium/large sized dogs and we live in town. It's been going for about 18 months now and it's fabulous. There is no smell, and the poo isn't being sent off to landfill like it used to be. It's a great solution for dog owners who live in town. My husband was very cynical to begin with, but now he is a convert!

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  4. Good morning Rhonda,

    Wonderful information. My friend used to have her worm farm in the garden with carpet underfelt over her worms. They said it couldn't be done but she had raised gardens and each season she would not feed them for a month or so and then she would move her underfelt to the next garden late in the afternoon and put her scraps under the mat and in a few days they would have all moved over to the new set up. Their previous garden was then planted out with whatever veges she needed. It worked so well and amazed the worm experts who told her compost worms do not live in the soil. She had the best vege garden I have ever seen.

    Blessings Gail

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  5. I am so glad I found your site, you leave the most useful posts!!

    My dad tried to set up a worm system before in a plastic garbage can... it didn't work very well, though it was exciting to stick a shovel down into it to bang the side. The worms would all come up and you could grab them, it was really funny!!

    Thank you again!!

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  6. Hi Rhonda~
    Thank you so much for this post! I appreciate the ideas.
    Shannon

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  7. Hi Rhonda

    I just discovered your blog last night, and WOW! I love love love your way of life and your writing! I have gone back to the start of your blog and will slowly work my way through.

    You are very inspiring and your blog is just what I need right now as I want to head in the 'simple life' direction :o)

    Thank you for sharing.

    ps. you live in my DH & I's most fave place!! We'd love to live there but won't move from our families. We're about 3 hours south of you (just in NSW). One of my dearest friends lives at Beerwah, so we do go up there often!

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  8. What a great set up you have and great use of an old tub. I love those tubs and this is a great use.

    Can you tell me how you get the worm water out of the bottom so it can be used?

    This is on my list for spring I'm going to also use my worms to feed my new chickens when they are old enough.

    Thanks for posting about this again.

    Karyn

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  9. hey Rhonda~
    i have started one in a tote... with another tote on top. i don't really know if i started it right because all the tut i have read said to use a "handful" of dirt... that just didn't sound right to me. can you elaborate on how much of everything that you used in yours? that would be most appreciated!!! thanks

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  10. We are just starting out with our worm farming, will keep this tip in mind for when we need to seperate worms from castings.

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  11. Hello everyone. I'm very busy at work today. I'll answer these questions tomorrow.

    PS: It's pouring!

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  12. Living in the northern United States, I want to start a worm farm this summer (if it ever comes!). Will the worms live through the winter? I am thinking they probably will but what do you think?

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  13. We have 5 worm farms...the upright black ones...that have all been passed onto us when their previous owners tired of worms but I love them.My husband tells friends that I spend a great deal of time talking to the worms. I was distraught in the hot summer we have been through when I lost two farms. Really angry with myself for being so careless.I use all the worm juice but a friend tells me it is not much use but no-one has told our pot plants that and they just thrive on it.I sprinkle pollard onto the worms food as a treat sometimes and they seem to like it and its soon gone.

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  14. I love seeing your old bathtub worm farm! It so cool.
    I'm just getting ready to harvest my worm castings from over the winter as a matte of fact. I didn't know that the worms liked straw though, that would be way easyier to use than the shreded paper. That seems to clump to much for my likeing. Thanks Rhonda!
    P~

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  15. I must be incredibly dozy, but please what is worm juice? My mind is boggling right now!

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  16. Excellent! This is just what I need right now. My worm farm is still slightly intimidating (in terms of maintenance), so these are great tips to bookmark.
    Thankyou Rhonda!

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  17. When I was a little girl my dad had a worm farm. I had forgotten everything about how we cared for them (if I ever knew) so thank you for the information and the memories. I forget sometimes how different my life is now from when I was small. We raised most of what we ate (in the big city) we had rabbits and a large garden.My father also hunted and fished a lot. My grandparents had a larger garden in the country with chickens a hog and a couple of cows. We all shared the bounty of the gardens and the milk, eggs, and meat at slaughter time. We made jelly, dried fruit and had the best time (I was a child so I don't remember how hard it was). Reading your blog reminds me of these things and I am thankful to you as I no longer have my family just memories.

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  18. Hello everyone.

    Donetta, they're fine up to about 40C degrees (104F). When it is hotter than that, I make sure they have a moist covering of newspaper over them, and I wet it again every day. Thy must be in the shade though. Carrots can be difficult to germinate. Soak them in hot water for 20 minutes before sowing the seed, then cover them with a mix of fine sand and soil. Carrots hate manure in the soil. Sowing them with radishes is also another good way. The radishes will be up in no time and will be harvested to give the carrots room to grow. Just mix the carrot and radish seeds together.

    Karyn, Hanno drilled a hole in the bottom of the bath tub and fitted a tap. You can see it here: http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com/2007/09/worms.html

    Carmell, the amounts don't really mean much, you just add it according to the container you're using. So, for instance, in your totes, you'd add mostly shredded paper or straw, or a combo of both. That would take up about ¾ of the space in the totes. The ¼ would be taken up with manure, food, and a covering over the top. In my bath tub, I have a layer of about 2 inches of gravel, then a filter cloth over the top, then about 6 - 9 inches of moist straw or shredded paper, to which I add manure, food and then cover it.

    Debbie, I've never farmed worms in a cold climate. Here the lowest the temp would go would be 0C. Our worms slow down and don't reproduce during winter, but they get back into it in spring. If you make sure your farm is well insulated, full of straw or shredded paper and manure, that will generate a bit of heat while it's breaking down. But if you know it will freeze, you should move it somewhere where it won't.

    Boveybelle, worm juice is the liquid that works its way through the worm farm then falls out the bottom. I collect it in a bucket. It's a combination of water that is used to keep the worm farm moist and the general run off from the materials in the farm. After the worm farm has been going for a while, the worm juice is full of wonderful microbes and nitrogen from the manure. It needs to be diluted before being used on the growing vegetables like a compost tea.

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  19. We have discovered the very favorite food of our red worms to be eggshells. There will be two or three worms curled up in each shell when we sort the compost. And we sort by hand, kids pick out enough worms to start the next go-round.

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  20. I set up a worm bin in my basement about a year ago and they are doing great! I have already harvested the castings a couple of times and am saving them in sealed ice cream buckets until I can use them in my garden here in Minnesota... just a few more weeks! I wanted to post a link to the site I used to set up my bin. I hope everyone gets to enjoy the benefits of vermicomposting!

    http://urbanext.illinois.edu/worms/neighborhood/index.html

    Jodi

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  21. thanks a lot for this post. I've had a mini bin with some worms ( see my post: jaquelinekyoda.wordpress.com )and was still trying to figure out a good way to get them going. now thansk to these instructions I'll be looking for the adequate bathtub. thanks a lot!

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  22. Very nice post. I really like the pictures...thanks!

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