Crazy about worms
Have you ever wondered how to compost using a little help from some wrigglers? Well, your in the right place.
Composting with worms is a fun and effective way to compost!
Unlike regular composting methods, vermi-compost systems can be set up in small urban spaces, are relatively odour free and require little maintenance.
Worms breakdown waste matter into nutrient rich fertilising products which are suitable for your garden vegetables, plants and flowers. Composting with worms is relatively faster than other composting methods so once you have your initial system set up, in a couple of months you'll be good to go!
Recycling helps to reduce landfill waste and emissions so as an individual you have a huge impact on the environment simply by engaging in composting methods of any kind.
Vermicomposting occurs as a “cool” process (between 15 - 25 degrees celsius or 60 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Worms digests your food scraps to produce worm castings and a quality liquid fertiliser which can be used directly onto your garden bed, soil or plants. Depending on the size of your worm farm, you can aim to create a rich compost matter in between 2 - 6 months!
Essential knowledge to get you started
The best type of worms used in vermicomposting are red worms. Otherwise known as red wrigglers or manure worms (Eisenia foetida), these little guys can be easily bought online or from your local nursery or hardware store.
You will need a functional layered or tiered system. What's this? Stacked trays that have small holes between the layers, legs and some form of tap.
How does it work? Simply place your scraps in the first level, the worms will munch away and produce their castings (worm poop). Every time you place a fresh heap of waste, the worms make their way up back to the new food scraps leaving their castings behind. The humus is left to the bottom layer and so remains your product: A nutrient rich soil mix and liquid.
Things to consider before choosing a worm farm
Space, Budget and functionality
Space - Your choosing this method because you have a decent size outdoor space for a worm farm, but unfortunately not a decent size backyard to fit a compost heap. Worm farms need to be placed somewhere in the shade.
Budget - ($) Setting up a worm farm can be relatively cheap, depending on how you do it. Alternatively, if you choose to make one yourself, you should be able to create a functional system (with a little bit of creativity) for next to nothing!
Functionality - Worms turn waste into treasure. To allow them to do so, you need to choose or set up a system that allows for aeration, has a good seal keeping unwanted pests out, a tap to reap the benefits of a liquid fertiliser and a system that made from durable materials that will last.
The disadvantages of this method
As for worm composting, there are some important disadvantages to consider...
Time: Composting with worms is a slow process. Your final product can take up to 6 months to be harvested. If this is too long for you to wait, consider an alternative composting method.
High maintenance: Unlike other composting methods, worms are live creatures and that means taking care of them. You cannot dump and leave. You need to ensure that your worms are continuously fed, don't go hungry, don't get overwhelmed and don't get too moist or too dry.
Odour: All composts will have some sort of odour. In this case, worms have more of an earthy odour. Unpleasant smells can occur if your farm becomes too wet, doesn't have enough air ventilation or there is too much food and it begins to rot.
Products on the market
What we love and why we love it
Worm factory 3 tray Composter
- Inbuilt tap / spigot for ease of emptying
- 3 Tiered system allowing for continuos cycle
- Comes with instruction booklet and filter
- Small spigot/tap will require frequent cleaning
Worm Factory 360 Composter
- Inbuilt tap / spigot for ease of emptying
- 4 Tiered system for continuos compost cycle
- Includes instruction manual, bedding and accessory kit
- Small spigot/ tap that requires regular cleaning. Not made from strong material
- Inbuilt tap/ spigot for ease of emptying
- Sleek Design
- Designed for indoor use
- Only has two tiered tray system
Hungry Bin Flow-Through Worm Farm
- Larger capacity volume
- Wheels on base make it easy to move around
- Innovative design makes it easy to harvest worm juice and castings
- One dump system does not allow for tiered technique
What you can and can't recycle
Unlike other composting methods, worms are little creatures that require care and TLC. You have to be conscious of what you feed them as it will affect the quality of your castings as well as the health of your worms. Unfortunately, worms process less food than a compost bin so you will need to ensure you don't over feed the little wrigglers.
Delicious for your worms
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Cooked leftovers (Excluding spice i.e chilli, onion, garlic)
- Juice pulp
- Tea bags and coffee grounds
- Shredded newspapers and cardboard (Including tissue paper, toilet rolls)
- Lawn clippings and prunings
- Crushed egg shells (worms won't digest these but it is safe to add to your compost)
- Small amounts of bread an pasta
Not so delicious for your worms
- Citrus, fruit peels (Worms don't like acidity). These items will change the pH of your soil
- Meat, Fish, Dairy, Bones (These cause odour and attract general pests)
- Glass, plastic, Aluminium (common sense, would you eat these?)
- Animal faeces
Tips for a healthy worm farm
- An Optimal location for your worm farm is in the shade, not too much exposure to hard sunlight as your worm farm needs to remain moist. Worms are sensitive to light and heat.
- You will have either a tap or a pipe at the bottom of your system. Make sure this is on a continuous drainage or emptied regularly. You don’t want to drown your worms. (If using the liquid fertiliser straight onto your plants make sure you dilute 1:10. In other words 1 part fertilizer to 10 parts water. This is a very powerful and concentrated liquid fertiliser).
- If you find that your compost mixture is too wet, adding shredded paper bedding can help to absorb some of the moisture.
- Worms can live up to 4 weeks without fresh food. If your going away for holidays, you need to make sure your worm family has enough food and enough moisture so they don't starve or dry out. Worms will eat half their weight in food each day.
- Every 5 - 10 days you should add new waste to the top layer. Be sure to evaluate the progress of your worms before you do so. Are there a lot of leftovers? Particular items that aren’t being eaten? Try cutting up your waste into small pieces so that your worms can digest quicker or cut out items that are left. Large chunks of uneaten food can cause an odour if it starts to rot.
- Be mindful that given a good environment, your worms will reproduce (every 2-3 months). So start out small and build up your farm overtime.
- If you see your worms wriggling away (literally outside of your worm farm), check your soil pH. An optimal pH for your farm should be between 6-7.
DIY (Do it yourself) worm farm
The easiest and most common type of vermicomposting system in urban settings is a tiered chamber system. Want to make your own? It's quick, easy and relatively cheap.
1. On one of the lower sides of a container, you will need to drill a hole using your hole saw so that you can install the valve. Choose the size of your hole saw to fit the valve/pipe you have chosen. Make sure you drill high enough off the bottom so that you don’t make a hole in the base of the container. This will be your base container.
2. Screw the nut on the inside of the container connecting to the pipe/valve on the outside. (Secure this with your silicone sealer to secure in place and prevent leakage)
3. Place a brick inside in the centre of the base container. This is so that the container placed on top does not sit on your valve piece and your containers do not flood.
4. In two or three of the containers, drill an evenly spread amount of holes on the base (these holes need to be the same size or slightly larger than the worms themselves). These holes are to allow the worms and castings to travel between the containers.
5. Drill multiple small holes into the sides of the above containers (These holes need to be smaller than the worms themselves). These holes are to allow for aeration and air circulation.
6. Once you have drilled all of the holes, you can connect your system. Place one container within your Base container, sitting on the brick. Fill this second level with your liner ‘Peatmoss’ and bedding, ensuring that it is damp (but not dripping wet - you don't want to drown your worms).
7. Add your worms on top of your bedding (Spread them out with your fingers). After adding your worms, gently place your third container on top of your worms.
8. Place your food scraps and waste into the third container. Place your carpet on top of your food scraps to keep your system moist and place your container lid on top.
Once your worms have made their way through to your top layer, you can add your 4th container/layer with new food scraps and your carpet on top. The worms will eventually make their way upwards again. This means that your second/third layer will be full of worm castings which can be used directly onto your garden.
Having problems with your pH?
Testing the pH of your compost soil is CRUCIAL. What do we mean by this and why?
PH is a value given to the describe the acidity or alkalinity of a subject, in this case soil.
A deranged pH level will affect the final outcome of plant growth and absorption of nutrients.
Worms do not like acidic environments.
You should be checking your soil pH at least once every two weeks. The optimal neutral pH level you should be aiming for is 6.0 - 7.0.
If you test your soil and you find that your pH is > 7.0, this means your soil is alkaline. Alkaline soils have a direct impact on plant growth (stunting) and the ability for plants to absorb soil nutrients.
If you test your soil and you find your pH is < 7.0, this means your soil is more acidic. Acidic soil, similar to the problem of alkaline soil, will affect a plants ability to absorb nutrients and can eventually become toxic. This means an acidic environment is also toxic for your wrigglers! In addition - acidic soils will directly impact the absorption of beneficial bacteria and can leave your plants susceptible to disease and pests.
There are some simple techniques you can implore to fix an abnormal pH in your worm farm
Acidic soil solutions
Neutralise by adding crushed egg shells
Avoid fruit scraps such as peels and pulp
Alkaline soil solutions
Neutrals by adding small amounts of peeled fruit skins mixed with damp newspaper bedding
How do you test pH?
There are a multitude of cheap and effective soil tester kits available these days for pH testing. You can source these from your local nursery or hardware store or alternatively, online have some good solutions, see below!
Have some questions you want answered about worm composting? Feel free to leave a comment below! Let's get our hands dirty
Composting with worms is fun and effortless. These little wrigglers will produce a rich compost matter and liquid fertiliser that is potently concentrated. Vermicomposting is relatively cheap to do, all you need is some basic knowledge and the right tools. Want to learn more?