Swedish environmentalist and freelance writer living in Perth.
Published December 9th 2012
Do you ever think about all the organic waste you throw away, all that stuff like food scraps, fruit and vegetable peel, bread crumbs and used tea bags? Worm farming is an environmentally friendly, and fun, way to recycle these things instead of just using them as filling in your garbage bin.
A worm farm is pretty much a container made up of plastic, wood or any other lightweight, waterproof material. Inside this container you keep your compost worms that efficiently turn organic matter into worm castings which can be used in the garden or to feed your pot plants (in other words the worms eat your organic waste and poop out great, nutrient stuffed dirt).
The great thing about worm farming is that you very easily can make your own. And it doesn't take up much space. I actually live in a small unit and keep my worm farm in a corner on the balcony. It doesn't smell (I promise!) and itīs easy accessible (this is important, or else you might get to lazy to see to it on a regular bases).
So you basically need two things to get started, the worm farm itself, and of course the worms.
Get the worms
As it might feel like a slight waste of time to build a worm farm without any worms letīs start with them. Now you canīt, unfortunately, just go out and dig some worms out of the ground as you need special composting worms. There are two types (as far as I know), Redworms or Tigerworms. Iīve got Tigerworms and they are very friendly and diligent.
If you (like me) are living in Australia it might be possible to get worms at a discounted price from your Local Council (you could also be able to get the actual farm from there, but that of course takes out the fun of building one yourself), so it can be a good idea to begin with checking with them. If no luck there they sell composting worms (and for the not so eager home builder, farms as well) at Bunnings. Or just see your local yellow pages under worm farm.
Ok, now that youīve got an idea about how to get your hands on the worms, hold that thought, and build the farm.
Build the worm farm
1. First thing you need to do is to get two foam boxes with lids (one lid is enough) from your local green-grocer.
2. Make holes in the bottom of one box to let liquid drain (I simply used a screwdriver to make the holes).
3. Place box with the holes over another box (no lid) without holes as shown in the picture below.
If you like you can also make a tap in the bottom box to let liquid out. I though do not have a tap (I am not that great at making taps) but just occasionally remove the top box and pour away the liquid from the bottom tray. This liquid (or "worm juice") is actually a really strong fertiliser. If you wish you can dilute it about 20:1 and use it as a folio feed (i.e. spray it onto leaves), or as a liquid fertiliser, especially for productive trees.
Worms however, breathe throw their skin and will drown if they by mistake fall down the holes in the top container and into the liquid (no, they will not be fertilised and grow into giant man eating worms). To prevent any sad deaths of this sort you can put an upturned ice-cream container or a brick in the bottom box. This will form an island for the worms and help them to climb back up into the upper box. I have put two bricks in my bottom container (plus an old newspaper to suck up some of the liquid):
4. Now it is time to create a nice and homey environment for your new pets. Make the bedding by tearing up some leaves, newspaper and cardboard to make a layer of bedding about 20 centimeters deep in the upper box. Compost can also be used. Soak the bedding before it is placed in the box.
5. Add about two handfuls of worms to the top.
6. To feed the worms add food waste to the top of the bedding regularly but in small amounts. A common beginner's mistake (I surely did it) is to overfeed the worms, adding more waste than they can handle. This will just cause the stuff they donīt have time to eat to mold, so try to restrain yourself (though itīs hard, I know). Over time, as more worms breed, you will be able to give them more to eat. Worms can eat up to their own body weight in one day, so you just need to have some patience. After a while it will look something like this (here I just fed them some rice):
7. Finally cover the worm bed with newspaper or a piece of hessian (I use newspaper). This will help keep a constant temperature in the worm farm. Put on the lid of the top foam box, and live your worms to it.
Add water to the box whenever it starts to dry out. It should be the consistency of a lightly squeezed sponge. Recycling friendly as I am, I personally use an old plastic milk bottle in which I have made holes in the lid (again, the screwdriver a slightly smaller one this time though) to create a "spraying bottle" (some artificial rain for my worms).
During summer (if itīs hot) it is also a very good idea to put old plastic bottles filled with water in the freezer, in the morning take one out and place on top of the newspaper (or whatever you use as cover on your worm farm) and slightly open the lid. Leave it there and during the day the ice in the bottle will melt, cooling of the worm farm off and allowing cold water to slowly sip down through the newspaper. See picture below:
Of course, you should also make sure to place the worm farm in a cool and shady spot.
8. After some time (I have not yet gotten to this point) it will be time to harvest the worm castings. You easily do this by moving all content to one side of the box, and then add fresh bedding to the empty side. Most of the worms will move to the fresh bedding in a few days. As described earlier, use the valuable worm castings (which looks like crumbly soil) to feed houseplants, or add to seedling mixes and potting soils.
Taking care of your worms
Ok, now that youīve got your worm farm up and running it is important you take good care of your worms. They become like pets you know (even though I donīt exactly snuggle up with them in the couch I do care about their welfare).
First and fore mostly it is good to have some basic knowledge of a compost worms preferred cosine.
Worms love to eat stuff like fruit and vegetable scraps, tea leaves/bags and coffee beans, vase flowers, crushed egg shells and vacuum cleaner dust. I also regularly give mine left over pasta and rice.
There also are some things they are not so fond off like raw potato (cooked is just fine), citrus fruits, raw onion/garlic or chilies (itīs not like it will kill them, but they wonīt eat it until they are starving picky little creatures). And they are vegetarian, so donīt feed them any meat, bones, fatty food or dairy products.
Other than that, just treat them with the love and respect that they, like all living creatures, deserve.