Cleaning out your Worm Farm

Waste is a big Buzz Word these days. How to reduce our waste, especially food scraps, which in landfill go through anaerobic (no oxygen) composting and thus produce toxic methane gas …..not good for our carbon or atmospheric overload. Okay, I’m no scientist, so there may be holes in that description but you get the idea…… we need to solve the food waste problem.

Ever thought of farming worms, or more accurately, worm farming?! We have a huge 3 bay compost bin which is perfect for recycling kitchen fruit and veggie scraps, garden weeds (yes, we do compost them, except onion weed and oxalis), tree branch prunings, grass cuttings, dried leaves etc. A worm farm can take all the cooked food scraps which shouldn’t be composted, or general kitchen waste. When you put cooked food into compost bins, it can attract rats.

So a worm farm is a grateful recipient of all cooked food, rather than popping it in the bin where it basically rots in landfill and produces this undesirable gas. A worm farm’s voracious little tiger worms (so called as they have circular stripes along their length) munch their way through kitchen waste and produce vermicast (worm wees and poos) which is highly nutritious “tea” which, when diluted with water, feeds your veggies growing in the garden.

We have had our worm farm for about 8 years, Mike being the chief worm farmer! Every week, he fills a small bucket of fresh fruit and veggie scraps and distributes them on top of the worm farm box to encourage a feeding frenzy. After feeding, he fills the same small bucket with water and sprinkles it over the surface to wash through the “poos” or vermicast which collect in the lower bin. This can be harvested and watered down to feed plants or stored for later use.

This unassuming little worm farm comes in different shapes and configurations but basically consists of two or more plastic boxes which fit snuggly on top of each other. The worms live in the top apartment, and their vermicast is collected for harvest in the lower apartment. So worm farming is a case of setting it up and basically forgetting about them except for a weekly feed. One job which can be neglected though is cleaning out the worm farm once or twice yearly. How to begin? Well, here is an easy pictorial step-by-step guide to cleaning out their apartment and setting them up for a happy life.

As you can see, a spring clean is well overdue, the food is threatening to overflow as the organic matter has become too compacted below.

The worms can be found just below the food scraps. Scoop the food out into a bucket, along with the top 10-15cm of organic matter, where most of the worms can be found.

See all the little stripey tiger worms. The small white wriggley things are baby worms. There were plenty when we cleaned their apartment this weekend. It is a problem if you don’t have any baby worms as you always want the next generation to be coming up to help with the recycling of food. Could be a variety of issues…are you feeding them enough food, or is their environment too acidic to reproduce?

The substrate layer becomes compacted and is basically….well, worm poos! This is why you won’t see many worms this far below. You wouldn’t feel comfortable living in your own waste..worms neither.

Some vermicast can be distributed around your veggie beds as compost.

The rest of the vermicast can be kept in a bucket for later use. It can be sprinkled around the veggies or it can be diluted with water and used as a compost tea to feed your veggies.

The food scraps and bulk worm layer is kept separately in a different bucket, so you can reinstate them in their clean apartment again. Note, there were heaps of worms visible when putting them into the bucket but they don’t like light, so quickly migrate down into the organic material.

Time to reassemble the worm farm apartment or living quarters. We leave a little bit of the vermicast on the bottom, then add a layer of mulched leaves for aeration. This is optional.

Next, a few scoops of sand form a layer over the leaves. Sand helps the worms with digesting their food.

A scoop of lime ensures a nice alkaline environment for the worms, as the environment can become acidic, and worms don’t thrive in acidic environments. It’s important to add a tablespoon of lime every two weeks when you feed them.

Pour the bucket of worms and remaining food scraps into the worm apartment. You can see how many adult and baby tiger worms there are.

You can see there is still space to add more food. When we started, the layers were threatening to overflow the worm living quarters.

Finally, worms like a insulating piece of wool carpet (preferably not synthetic) which helps keep the environment moist and dark. You will find that the worms will even eat the carpet almost completely, the wool and hessian backing, leaving just the plastic woven web which binds the carpet together. Clever little guys, they know what’s good to eat and what’s not! We have replaced the carpet cover four times in about 8 years. If you don’t have carpet, use several layers of newspaper.

This is the reward: liquid black gold! This vermicast liquid is the substance that makes your vegetables grow big and strong and healthy!

So from waste, you can see how these little guys work tirelessly to help create something so very beneficial for the home gardener. Brilliant!

I imagine I can hear our worms whistling a happy tune, they are thrilled with their newly spring-cleaned apartment I’m sure.

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