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10 May 2011

A new worm farm

Over the past few months our worm farm has gone from bad to worse. The farm was in an old bath tub (see above) that we bought cheaply at the recycle shop. I set it up a few years ago in the bush-house and since then we've been regularly harvesting worm castings and worm liquid. Then the rats discovered it. They found they could get in under the lid so Hanno attached a more secure lid for me. That worked for a while but they chewed a hole in the side of the tub where it had started to rust. There was no stopping them, and not only did they eat the food put in there for the worms, they ate the worms too! Has anyone else had that problem?

Eventually there were several points of entry.

When you have backyard livestock, whether it be worms, chickens, goats or a house cow, the feeds bins always have to be tight and secure, otherwise the rats and mice take over. We’ve always been mindful of this but nevertheless, the rats set up shop under the chook house and now that our old cat Hettie is no longer an active mouser, they’ve made themselves at home. We have a couple of pythons hanging around the neighbourhood but even they seem to have deserted this lost cause.

So I bought a smaller plastic worm farm. It’s made from recycled plastic, has four trays and best of all, it’s rat-proof. I set it up yesterday, following the simple instructions that came with it. The few worms the rats didn’t find and a new box full of worms have been installed to do their thing.

I love using worm castings and liquid in the garden and in pots. It’s the most gentle, but effective, fertiliser and adds beneficial microbes to the soil, another big bonus. We also use a lot of comfrey and now rarely have to buy any commercial fertiliser. This is a big saving when you garden almost year round and to have natural fertilisers like these means we can boost plant growth without adding anything we don’t want.

If you haven’t yet discovered how wonderful worm castings are, I encourage you to try them. One of the tricks to long term backyard vegetable production is to produce good quality organic food at the lowest possible cost. Saving seeds every year (as long as they're open pollinated/heirloom seeds) and making your own fertiliser will help you do that.

The new farm takes up a lot less room so I can use the extra space to sit more seedling trays.

There is a bit of cost in setting up a worm farm. You'll need a suitable container and worms, the rest of the farm can be set up with bits and pieces you have around the place. There are step-by-step instructions for setting up a bathtub farm from my original worm farm here. Here is some very good information and excellent photos about the value of worm castings and liquid. When you're set up, it will be one of the ways you can dispose of your organic waste and kitchen scraps instead of sending them to land fill.

If you're in the first year of your vegetable garden, it's best to grow the herb comfrey for your fertilising. Plant it on the edge of your garden where you don't want to plant anything else - it doesn't multiple out but it's difficult to remove if you want to move it. It will grow in almost any type of soil and likes a fair bit of water while it's establishing itself. Comfrey will grow quite rapidly from root cuttings that you can buy for a small cost or have given to you by another vegie gardener. Here is an old post about worm farm maintenance and making comfrey fertiliser. There is no other cost, except for your time and effort to grow it, and if you don't go ahead with your garden again next year, you haven't wasted too much.


26 comments:

  1. Have been wanting to try worm composting for awhile, and hadn't heard of comfrey. Thanks for the great info!

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  2. Very timely post as I am in the process of setting up a worm farm at the moment. Pampa has made the actual farm from plastic storage boxes that look very much like yours. I'm just waiting for the worms to arrive.

    Pippa

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  3. we must be on the same wave length cause I am just reading about worm farms and am going to purchase one

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  4. I started my first worm farm 2 weeks ago. It is in a 18ga plastic tote for now. I am a newbie and learning. The worms seem to be thriving and have grown quite a bit since added to the tote. I have struggled with it now being too wet, but wet enough. Learning curve for me. Thank you for your wonderful blog. I cannot wait for your book!!!

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  5. Worm farming has been on my long list of things to try for a while already. My problem would be that in this climate you would have to take the worm farm indoors in autumn. And while I know that many people keep their worms in a box under the kitchen sink I don't think I could convince my boyfriend of this idea.

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  6. We've had our worm farm several months now(finally) & we love it. We also have comfrey that we use. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Hello everyone!

    Angela, do you have drainage holes in the tote? You can use the liquid from the farm on your plants as well. Diluted, it's an excellent fertiliser for seedlings. If you still have problems with wetness, add some shredded paper or torn up cardboard to dry it out, instead of feeding them for a week or so. The worms will eat the paper and it will dry the bedding out for you.

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  8. I have a regular ol' compost pile was just recently intrigued by worm composting. Thanks for the timely and helpful post!

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  9. We use a plastic tote as well. Ours is in the house because red wigglers are not native to Canada and would die in our cold winters. They pretty much have to be indoors.

    I took the tote, drilled about a hundred holes (okay maybe not that many but a lot) and filled it with my worms, newspaper and veggie matter. And some soil. Every day or so I spritz it with water. I feed them once a week.

    We only have a handful of worms but they should multiple soon. I'd like to get a 7 layer worm condo that allows you to entice the worms to go higher (or lower) leaving the last tray clear of worms but full of worm castings. An easy way to not through the worms out with the castings.

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  10. We have had a worm farm now for 5 years. We havehad to replace the container once, as yes rats chewed their way in. At times I have been a bit neglectful like they got a bit dried out or flooded a bit by the rain. But the castings are so rich and great for the soil. The diluted worm juice is agreat alternative to seasol. I agree the cost of liquid fertiliser and such does add up over time.

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  11. I have 2 worm farms....one is for the veg scraps, the other is for the cat poo. I keep my 3 cats indoors, and they have a secure outdoor run built into the trees they can access from the house...the birds love it, they can scold and tease, and are safe... but it also means there's a lot of solid contents of litter trays to be disposed of. I've found the worm farm to be the best, and when I add comfrey leaves, the worms break it down very quickly with no smell, no flies. I use the resulting compost for the ornamental and flower beds...it's probably ok on the veg garden , but I feel a bit squeamish about that!

    The comfrey root you sent me is growing well, thanks Rhonda. I found out a friend has a huge comfrey patch, so she brings me armfuls now when she comes to town to supplement until mine is bigger and producing more leaves.

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  12. We haven't had a specific "rats in the worm bin" problem but with rats in general: where there is food, they will come. We've noticed the chicken feed diminishing more quickly than it has in the past so we're considering building a rodent resistant chicken feeder where a chicken can access their food by stepping onto a platform that opens the feeder lid using their own weight. The weight required to open the lid is more than the weight of a rat. I suppose the rats could still access it if they applied teamwork and tried to open it together but likely not a rat on its own. If you go to youtube and search for "eastbournediver" you can see videos of one in action, including one with a rat.

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  13. Wendie, we have one of those chicken feeders. Rats can open it by a couple of them standing on the step together. It can also be opened by possums and lots of other animals in the night. The trick is to put a brick under the step at night and remove it in the morning. It's the only way it can't be opened.

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  14. Ah rats! They ruin lots of good intentions that's for sure. We haven't got a worm farm, but do have chooks. We built the chook house off the ground to allow droppings and bedding to fall down underneath so we could gather it for the garden, but alas, the rats still got in to eat their feed. We have had to put wire all around it. Of course they still try to find ways in. The rats have chewed through the lid of the bin we kept their food in too. The lid is totally ruined. I hope they don't try to chew the plastic of your worm farm. They are so distructive. Jacinta

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  15. I love my worm farm- this one is almost 2 years old, and I've never put anything on our garden other than worm juice. The kinder has one too, and over the next holidays it is coming home with me to get some maintenance, and I'll get some castings! I've never worried about comfrey though, but I might start thinking about it.

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  16. I didn't know rats ate worms so that's another piece of valuable information. We keep our feed in old deep freezers (mechanicals removed) and 44 gallon metal bins with lids. Our horses won't eat the food if there's been rodents running around in it even if we can't detect it.

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  17. Love the idea of the worm farm and I can see it being very beneficial here. BUT, will the rats eat through the plastic? We have rats galore here, living on acreage.

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  18. Love the new worm farm Rhonda! And a big congratulations for finishing your book. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Xo

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  19. Thank you for the response on the feeder, Rhonda. I appreciate knowing that ahead of time! Luckily, we don't have to worry much about the other creatures of the night getting into the feed as only the rats are small enough to get through the fence. We live on six primarily wooded acres and to protect our chickens from the raccoons and coyotes at night, we have them completely fenced in (even on top!) with the gates locked tight. We have to protect our family, you understand. :)

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  20. Hi Rhonda, that looks great. Wow python's that sounds dangerous. (I'm very afraid of snakes, eventhough we don't have a lot of snakes here in The Netherlands).
    I can't imagine having such large snakes so closeby ; )
    It's great that you have more space for new plants now. Good luck with the worm farm !

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  21. I have that same worm farm, i haven't had any problems with it except for a couple of cockroaches in it. I think i need to get more worms for it as i lost quite a few when we had the really hot weather back in February.

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  22. I've been running my worm farm for the past 11 years. It's a round 3 tiered plastic one (similar to your square one). I've had lots of solid and liquid castings and haven't once regretted setting it up. I've found though that you have to be careful of the sun if you're farm is outside, so ensure it doesn't sit in direct heat. If it's too hot the worms will cook. Also you must ensure that the lid is on snuggly (if you overload the food and the lid doesn't close properly you will find an infestation of cockroaches and mice). I'd highly recommend a worm farm to anyone.

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  23. Thanks for the reminder about comfrey, Rhonda!

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  24. Have you considered getting a small terrier dog to take care of the rats? We had a rat terrier that kept all small critters out of our gardens, chicken feed, etc.. We never had rats or rabbits or even mice in our house. She was a wonderful little dog! :)

    -Randi

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  25. I think thats the same worm farm as mine is it the worm cafe? its fantastic and whilst I have only have mine for just over a month its been a fantastic resource. My old worm farm was an old fridge layed on its back and whilst rats were never an issue it just wasn't effective.

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