Everything you need to know about worm farms

20/01/2023

A worm farm is a system that utilizes worms to break down organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment called vermicompost. Here's everything you need to know about worm farms:

  • How they work: Worms consume organic waste, such as kitchen scraps, paper, and yard waste, and convert it into nutrient-rich vermicompost through a process called vermiculture. The worms live in a bedding material, such as shredded newspaper or coconut coir, and the organic waste is added on top. The worms consume the waste and excrete castings, which are rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms.
  • Benefits: Worm farms are an environmentally friendly way to reduce household waste and produce a valuable soil amendment. Vermicompost is rich in nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and can improve soil structure, water retention, and plant growth.
  • Types of worms: The most commonly used worms in worm farms are red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) or red worms. They are well suited for this purpose, as they are efficient decomposers and can handle a high-density environment.
  • Setting up a worm farm: Setting up a worm farm is relatively easy, and can be done in a small space such as a balcony or backyard. You will need a container, bedding material, worms, and organic waste. The container can be a plastic bin or wooden box, and the bedding material should be moist and made of something that can hold moisture. Once the container is set up, add the worms and organic waste.
  • Maintenance: Maintaining a worm farm is relatively simple, you need to keep the bedding material moist, add organic waste as it becomes available, and harvest the vermicompost when it reaches a desirable level. You should also keep an eye on the worm population and make sure they have enough food and space.
  • Harvesting: Vermicompost is ready to harvest when it has a dark, rich color and a crumbly texture. It can be harvested by removing the vermicompost from the bottom or sides of the container. The worms will migrate to the top as the vermicompost is removed. It is important to not remove all of the vermicompost, as the worms need a small amount to survive.
  • Potential issues: Worm farms can attract pests such as fruit flies, and it's important to keep an eye out for them and take appropriate action. Also, if the worm farm is not managed properly, it can produce an unpleasant odor due to excess moisture or a lack of oxygen.
  • Uses: The vermicompost produced by worm farms can be used as a soil amendment in gardens and farms, or mixed with potting soil for indoor plants. The liquid produced by worm farms, called worm tea, can be used as a fertilizer.

Worm farms are a great way to recycle organic waste, while producing a valuable soil amendment. They can be set up in a small space and require minimal maintenance. They are also a great educational tool for children and adults alike to learn about the natural process of decomposition and the benefits of vermiculture.

Red Worms versus Earth worms

Red worms, also known as red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) or red worms, are a type of composting worm that are commonly used in vermiculture and worm farming. They are known for their efficient decomposition of organic matter and their ability to thrive in high-density environments.

Earthworms, on the other hand, are a different species of worms that are typically found in soil and are known for their ability to improve soil structure and fertility. They are not typically used in vermiculture and worm farming as they are not as efficient decomposers as red worms.

Red worms can be found in Australia, as they have been introduced to the country and are widely used in worm farming. They are well-suited to the Australian climate and can be found in many worm farms around the country.

Earthworms, on the other hand, are native to Australia, and you can find them in many different types of soil and environments. They are known for their ability to improve soil structure and fertility, and are an important part of the ecosystem.

Building and starting a worm farm

Building and starting a worm farm is relatively easy and can be done with a few simple materials. The pictured wormfarm is one by Tumbleweed and can be purchased from a variety of places such as Bunnings. Below we give a simple guide on how to build your own, if you want multiple levels simply use stakeable tubs.

Here is a basic guide on how to build and start a worm farm:

  1. Choose a container: The container can be a plastic bin or wooden box. It should have a lid, and holes^ for air and drainage. The size of the container will depend on the scale of your worm farm, but a basic rule of thumb is to have at least 2 square feet of surface area per pound of food waste.
  2. Prepare the bedding: The bedding material should be moist and made of something that can hold moisture. You can use shredded newspaper, coconut coir, or peat moss. Mix the bedding with water until it is damp but not wet. Spread the bedding in the container.
  3. Add the worms: You can purchase red worms from a worm farm supplier or online. The recommended ratio is one pound of worms per 2 square feet of surface area. Once you've added the worms, add a thin layer of food scraps on top of the bedding.
  4. Keep the farm moist and shaded: Keep the bedding moist by adding water when it starts to dry out. Keep the container in a shaded spot.
  5. Feed and harvest: Once the worms have settled in, you can start adding food scraps to the container. Be sure to bury the food scraps under the bedding to keep odors to a minimum. Vermicompost is ready to harvest when it has a dark, rich color and a crumbly texture. It can be harvested by removing the vermicompost from the bottom or sides of the container.

It's important to not overfeed the worms and to keep the bedding moist but not wet. You should also keep an eye on the worm population and make sure they have enough food and space, and to keep an eye on potential pests and odors.

Worms may try to escape through the holes in a worm farm, especially if the conditions inside the container are not ideal or if the worms are overpopulated. However, there are a few things you can do to prevent worms from escaping:

  1. Cover the holes: Cover the holes with mesh or screen to prevent the worms from escaping. Make sure the mesh or screen is small enough to prevent the worms from getting through, but large enough to allow air and water to pass through.
  2. Keep the bedding moist: Worms prefer moist bedding, and they are less likely to try to escape if the bedding is kept moist.
  3. Keep the container shaded: Worms prefer a cool and shaded environment, and they are less likely to try to escape if the container is kept in a shaded spot.
  4. Keep the worm population at a reasonable level: Overcrowding can cause worms to try to escape. Keep the worm population at a reasonable level, and be sure to harvest vermicompost regularly to keep the population in check.
  5. Keep an eye on the bedding material and make sure it's not too wet, too dry or acidic.

If worms do escape, it's usually a sign that something is not right with the conditions inside the container. By addressing these issues, you can help prevent worms from escaping and keep your worm farm running smoothly.

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