Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Worm Farms - a how to guide

As I mentioned earlier in my reducing your rubbish post, after reviewing some of the options out there I decided a worm farm would work the best for me. When I started I knew absolutely nothing about worm farms but thanks to my local community centre I was able to learn the basics and from there it has just been a bit of research and hands on experience. So I would like to share what I know, starting from the complete basics.

Setting up the bin

 

The first step for most people is to buy a bin. You'll see the type I bought on the left so I will explain using this example but they all work to the same principles. Firstly the black bin on the bottom is used to catch the worm tea (also known as worm urine). It comes with a tap that can be used to extract the tea. Notice this is a cheaper variety of bin so there are no legs but you can simply prop it up on some bricks or on a low table to make it easier to remove tea from the tap.

There are two green layers also known as working trays, this is where the worms live and where you will get your castings (essentially worm poo). The idea behind the stacking layers is that you can easily remove castings when a bin is full by giving the worms another bin to move into where they feed.

Between each layer is a lid with holes in it. In the bin shown there are large holes which go between layers and a lid with smaller holes which sits on top. Also in the black bin you place an upside down bucket (which comes with the bin). This allows any worms that might fall through the holes into the black bin to climb back up into the green layer and reduces the risk that they might drown in the worm tea.

Step one: You only need one green layer to start. Sit the other one in the garage or somewhere out of the way, you don't need it until the first layer is full. Make sure that you have the lid with big holes between the black and green layer and the lid with small holes on the top.

Step Two: Now you need to create a bed for your worms. One of the most popular is coconut husk/fibre. They love this stuff and it gives them just the right diet to get them started. You should be able to buy this where you get your worms. Other options are hay, shredded damp paper or cardboard. With coconut husk it comes in a hard lump. You need to soak it in water (it will expand a lot) and then you can place it in the bottom of your green layer. Once you have the bed, spread your worms evenly over it (here in NZ we most commonly use Tiger worms). You will need about 1000 (250g) worms but you can use 2000 if you want to get your worm farm up and running faster.

Step Three: After the first couple of days start feeding them. The most important thing at this stage is not to overfeed them. Worms eat approximately their own weight in food a day. So for 250g you should only be giving them about 200g of food a day. It can be exciting to finally have your worm farm and it can be tempting to put all of your food scraps in the bin, but I have learned from experience that this is not a good idea as you will end up with rotten food and your bin will start to smell and attract fruit flys. So start slow!

Step Four: Cover up. It is a good idea to cover food scraps with damp newspaper to limit bugs and odour. Also a worms diet needs to consist of 30% carbon so it is important to feed them ripped up damp newspaper  and small dry leaves.

Step Five: When your first layer is almost fill place your second green layer on top (make sure to switch the right lids around), add another worm bed and then start adding food. Your worms will slowly migrate into the top bin where the food is and when the worms have left the lower bin you can remove it to get the castings, switching the top layer where your worms are to the bottom.

That's it! You should now be ready for some great benefits including a lighter rubbish bin and some great fertiliser for your garden. Here are some tips that might also help you along the way.

Tips
  • Choose a well sheltered spot for your worms. They need to be away from sun, wind and rain. Carports or sheltered porches are ideal locations for your worms.
  • Chop up food into small chunks. Most food has a natural barrier (example the skin of apples) which protect it from things like worms. So to make it easier for your worms chop all food into small pieces providing easy access to the fleshy parts of the food.
  • If it gets really cold in winter wrap some old carpet around your bins to keep the warmth in. This will help your worms stay active over the winter season.
  • When using your worm tea dilute it about 1:10 so it gets the colour of weak tea
  • Worms need air but not light (which is why they will hide away when you open the lid)
  • Worms need a moist environment. Dampen any newspaper, leaves or coconut husks you add.
  • It can get too wet though (which is why you keep them out of the rain). If you grab a handful of castings and squeeze them and water pours out then it is too wet. Add some dry newspaper strips and leaves to get it back to a moist level.
  • Worms are best in a 10-30degC range so be careful if where you live constantly goes out of this range.

Worms Like

Worms Don't like

Most fruit and veggie scraps     

Spicy food, onion, garlic
Coffee grounds and teabagsCitrus/acidic food
Aged Horse ManureMeat and milk products
Dirty PaperShiny Paper
Crushed EggshellsFlour products
Vacuum cleaner dustGarden Waste
Hair / nail clippingsLarge amounts of cooked food

Okay that may seem like a lot to remember but worms are a bit more resilient than you think. They aren't going to die if you throw in the odd lemon wedge or onion piece, it will just sit there for a rather long time before they eat it.

Common worm farm problems


Problem

Cause

Solution

Rotting food     

Too much food / wrong food / pieces too big
Feed Less and chop smaller
Fruit flies or small white bugs and wormsToo acidicCover food with damp paper. Add lime to increase pH
Worms climbing up sides. Worms fat & pale.Too wetAdd paper and dry leaves
AntsToo dry or acidicAdd water/lime
No worm teaNot enough waterAdd water

So there you have it. A step by step guide to your worm farm. I hope it has helped you and it encourages you to take that step to starting a worm farm of your own. Just remember you don't have to buy a worm farm, you can make your own but that may need to be a post for another time.
Anybody else have some great tips for worm farms they want to share?

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