How I use worms to recycle my kitchen waste into fantastic fertiliser:
aka - Why I love my worm farm
If I can find a way to close the loop on my own waste and keep that waste out of a land fill, then I'm all for it. Better for me, better for my garden and certainly better for the planet.
I've been composting for years. But the day that I lifted the lid on my black, plastic compost bin and found a rat waiting for me to throw my kitchen scraps in was the last day that I ever used that particular compost bin!
I knew that there must be a better way to deal with my garden waste, without feeding the local water rats, or throwing it into a waste disposal unit, or having it rot in my rubbish bin before it got shipped to the local land fill.
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Why vermiculture isn't a dirty word
If you're new to vermiculture...yes, isn't it a wonderful word? The Oxford dictionary describes it as:
noun: the cultivation of earthworms, especially in order to use them to convert organic waste into fertilizer.
Then keeping worms in a contained space for the purposes of consuming your kitchen waste is one of the modern wonders of organic gardening.
Yes, Toni but why worms?
I don't know what it's like where you live, but here in New Zealand (back in 1997 when I first started looking at composting and worms) The Ministry for the Environment said: "The composition of New Zealand's landfill waste is dominated by organic matter (kitchen and garden waste) and paper..." anywhere from 25% to a whopping 65% of rubbish generated by my fellows and buried in our local landfills could be green/organic matter or paper.
I was staggered (and still remain so) that anyone could even consider putting their organic waste (or paper) into the rubbish.
We've since begun a "Reduce: Re-Use: Recycle" program in earnest here in good old EnZed, but there's still those kitchen scraps to be dealt with.
Not everyone has a Labrador (truly, they are rubbish bins) or chickens (terrorists with feathers) or a large enough space out the back for a compost pile. But everyone has enough space for a small worm farm.
Your worms don't actually have to live outside. They're very well behaved invertebrates and can also be happy in the garage, or basement or a shady carport. Mine currently live against a south facing fence, but they still get tons of sun and are not sheltered from the rain and they survive (thrive) quite happily. For you northern hemisphere dwellers, my south facing fence would be a north facing fence for you.
I think I'd be considered a 'neglectful worm mum' by most of the people who frequent vermiculture pages. I leave my babies out in all weathers and throw all kinds of things at them that aren't recommended--but they've been thriving in that can 'o worms for over 20 years now...so I must be doing something right!
I love my Can 'o Worms
And here she is in all of her 'glory' But she doesn't seem to be available it a lot of places at the moment.
I wish you could have seem my husband's face when we were moving in together many years ago. When I told him I wasn't going anywhere without my Can 'o worms, he thought I was joking. Suffice to say, these little babies have travelled with us from every home that we moved into and I'm sure that they're the only Can 'o worms in the country to have travelled to their new abode in the back of an Audi!
But I did find these similar bins and I'm sure that any one of them would do a fantastic job.
I have had my Can 'o Worms since 1997. Her legs may be a little wobbly but yours would be too if you'd held as many tonnes of vermicasts as this little baby has. Besides, even when her legs go, I know I can prop her up on some bricks and she'll be fine.
Common Questions/FAQ About vermiculture
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How many worms do you need to start a worm farm?
About 250g which is about 1,000 worms...are you going to count them? I didn't I bought a packet and popped them into my bin and I've never looked back.
If you have a friend who has a worm bin, then they could give you some. It really doesn't take many worms to get started.
Can dig worms from the garden and put them in my worm farm?
The short answer is, "No."
Tiger worms are the variety of worms that eat foods scraps. They basically eat their way up through the layers of a worm bin leaving behind them a rich source of castings.
Having said they eat their way up--I have found many a worm still languishing in the bottom layer of my bin when it's come time to harvest my castings.
How long does it take to start a worm farm?
If the conditions are right (i.e., your worms are cozy in their home and not sitting out in the snow or being fried in the sun) then you should have a good colony of worms established in four to five months.
By then, your worms will have eaten their way through large amounts of kitchen scraps and you'll have your first worm castings for your garden.
How long fast do worms multiply?
In theory and in perfect conditions, they can double their population in three months. But do not fear, they will grow in accordance with their food supply and they will stop growing when the food runs out.
Can you overfeed worms?
Another short answer (in my experience) is no. Their is a chance that you can oversupply them with food at the beginning, so take care with how much food you are feeding to start, but once your worm farm is established, they can eat an awful lot of household scraps with no issues at all.
How often do you feed worms in a worm farm?
I collect a bucket of food scraps in the kitchen and tend to take them out to the worms about once a week. By the time I add the latest batch of food, the first has gone.
Are coffee grounds good for worms?
I've always preferred to put my coffee grounds in the garden, but some people prefer to put them into their worm bin. I put coffee grounds in the same category that I put citrus peel and onion skins, I will put them in for the worms, but I prefer to put them straight into the garden.
Can I put compost worms in my garden?
Not unless you have a really deep mulch that is continually being refreshed. Worms eat their way up to the surface. They're best left in your worm farm where they'll happily eat and reproduce and turn your garden waste into black gold for the garden.
How do I use worm castings in my garden?
You can harvest the worm castings (once the worms have moved out) and sprinkle them around your garden, or you can soak them and make a liquid fertiliser.
I prefer to save them and drop them into a planting hole when I'm planting new vegetable or herb plugs.
The liquid that comes from your worms (often referred to as 'worm tea') can be watered down at a 1:10 ratio and watered around your plants.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about worm farming
I wouldn't be without my worms. They're one of the three methods that I use to make sure that no organic waste leaves our home.
In return for a bucket of scraps, I'm rewarded with rich, dark worm castings and an endless supply of 'worm tea'.
Add a worm farm to your garden. They're fun. When my sons were growing up they loved the worms and today (as adults) they still sort their waste for the worms.
Help to save your valuable waste from the landfill, save the planet and you'll be rewarded with fantastic growth in your garden.