Worm farming has become quite popular now that more people have developed a ‘green’ awareness. Now you can put your fresh fruit and veggie peels to good use, and in return, the worms will contribute to a healthy organic compost to fertilize your garden. What a wonderful cycle of giving and receiving!
- Earthworms are amazing recyclers.
- Vermiculture is the raising of earthworms in a controlled environment.
- Vermicompost is partly broken down organic waste produced by earthworms in compost bins.
- Castings are the worm manure.
- Worm tea/juice is the liquid that is collected from the bin and used as a plant fertilizer.
- Earthworms help in maintaining soil fertility by increasing the breakdown of organic waste and producing mineral rich castings (Vermicompost), therefore reducing the need for expensive and harmful chemical fertilizers.
- Earthworms breed very fast and their population doubles within 6 – 8 weeks.
- The earthworms most suited to compost bins are Red wrigglers; 6 – 10cm long, red on top and paler underneath.
- They can be found in the garden; in the lawn, leaf mould, moist rotting compost heaps – wherever there is moist organic material.
- Worms eat half their body weight in food per day.
Earthworm Saves the Environment
Setting up a Worm Compost Bin: Materials and Preparation
You will need:
- A sturdy container with a lid about 20 – 70 liters in size
- Newspaper, cardboard, hessian, grass cuttings, dry leaves, manure, straw, compost/soil, worms
- Drill holes in base for drainage of worm tea/juice
- Drill holes in side for aeration
- Place in a permanently shady and sheltered area
- Raise on bricks and position catchment container under drainage holes, slightly tilted
- Line the bottom of bin with hessian
- Make a bedding – half fill the container – always damp, not wet
- Bedding Materials: (a mix of ingredients for worms to live in)
- Shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard
- Coir, straw, grass cuttings
- Old garden leaves, mulch, manure
- 5 liters of damp compost/soil mix
- Place small amount of food scraps (veggie peels, fruit peels, fruit/veg pulp, etc.) on top
- Place worms on top – they will burrow down away from the light
- Cover with dry shredded newspaper and a piece of cardboard, to keep dark.
Feeding Your Worms
- Variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, peels, skins, pips, seeds, leaves
- Rice and pasta ... not too much, bread (moisten), cereal (no milk or dairy products)
- Tea leaves and tea bags, coffee grounds and filters
- Egg shells (crushed – 1x a week), egg boxes, shredded cardboard and newspaper
- Household sweepings, old flowers and leaves (small amounts)
- Composted or aged green waste and manure (small amounts).
- Chilies, garlic, onions, spices, citrus fruits
- Meat, chicken, seafood, pork (these bring maggots and flies)
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, yoghurt, butter)
- Oil, tinned or processed food, preservatives, cooked food
- Fresh manure, fresh green waste (garden cuttings), poisonous plants, salt, wood ash, pet’s feces, soap, chemicals, metals.
- Always keep the contents of the bin moist, aerated and cool, never soggy or too hot. Earthworms prefer a temperature around 25°C. The bin should be sheltered from the sun and wind.
- In summer, spray ½ liter of water every 3 days, if dry.
- If the bin begins to smell, there is too much vegetable waste being added (aerate gently and add shredded newspaper), or contents has become acidic (sprinkle lightly with agricultural lime).
- Worms will take a few days to adjust, so start by feeding small amounts after a week.
- Add food by burying it in different spots each time and covering it with fresh carbon (newspaper, cardboard, dry leaves). If you have enough worms and enough waste, then spread thinly over the top, covered by fresh carbon material.
- In order for the organic waste to decompose quicker, cut into small pieces before adding it and keep relatively constant.
- Do not disturb the worms – a worm family is colonizing inside the bin. If a larger number of worms are moving up the sides, it’s usually due to stress, overpopulation, heat or toxins.
- You can make the liquid fertilizer (vermiliquid) more potent by pouring collected liquid over the bedding. Ensure that drainage is good. This will produce a more concentrated liquid. The liquid should be used immediately for best results as it is a live microbial product (or it can be oxygenated before use).
- When using the Vermicompost, mix with compost and cover with mulch to protect nutrients. Add Vermicompost to your potting/seeding mix for maximum results.
- Other creatures to be found in the worm bin are snails, centipede, rove beetles, ground beetles, white worms, millipedes, sow bugs, beetle mites – all useful in the decomposing process.
- Creatures to look out for: maggots, flies, ants, rodents – these are not useful! – But please do not use pesticides!
Harvesting and Uses
Harvesting Vermicompost and Uses:
After 6-9 months, the vermi-compost will be ready to be harvested:
- Remove the top layer of undigested wasted and set aside.
- Spread the remaining compost onto a large piece of black plastic/canvas and place in sunlight.
- After 10-15 minutes worms will burrow down, away from sunlight (during this time, prepare the bin with fresh bedding).
- Remove the top layer of compost that is worm free and place in a separate bucket. Be careful as the heat and drying out of soil may kill worms, so you will have to work quite quickly.
- You can then hand pick the worms from the bottom layer of the compost and place them back in the newly prepared worm bin.
- Add to the soil
- Place in the hole before transplanting seedlings
- Use as topdressing around plants.
Harvesting Worm Liquid Fertilizer and Uses:
After about +/- 8 weeks, fluid will begin to drain from the worm bin – Vermiliquid. This liquid revitalizes existing soil, and is good for stressed or diseased plants. This should be used immediately or stored in bottles (oxygenate).
- Container plants (dilute 1:1 with water)
- Spray leaves of plants
- Use full strength or diluted for plants in ground
For greater potency and effectiveness, aerate/oxygenate the liquid before watering plants (using an aquarium air stone, oxygenate for 5 minutes).
There are several ready-made Earthworm Composting Bins on the market. However, it’s cheaper and much more fun to make your own!