Lets talk worm farms!
A few months ago, our garden team was harvesting the last of the season’s pumpkins. As they worked their way through the garden picking up plump orange gourds, they noticed worms tossing around the moist topsoil beneath. This got the team thinking – if we’re harvesting the pumpkins, why don’t we harvest the worms too?
So, with an old bathtub found on the farm and a handful of worms from the ground, our team created a DIY worm farm in the Zin House gardens – adding another incredibly useful compost system to Tinja Farm.
Worms play an important role in soil health, creating nutrient-rich environments where fruits, veggies, and other plants flourish in (this is moreso earth worms, compost worms create rich soil for us to enhance the soil health of our gardens). Having a worm farm is a great way to get rid of food scraps and quickly turn them into nutrient-rich compost that can support your gardens at home.
As I spoke to Lydia Blocksidge, our head gardener, about the process, it became clear this was a garden trick we wanted to share with all of you at home.
What is a worm farm?
A worm farm is a compost system where worms consume and transform kitchen scraps and garden material (like leaves, woodchip and other organic matter) into rich castings that can be added to the garden to improve and maintain soil health. Worms are incredibly efficient workers and can transform your scraps into rich soil in a quarter of the time it would take for a standard compost pile – making it a quick and effective home and garden tool that anyone can use!
Worm farms use compost worms, also known as red wrigglers that live on top of the soil under decomposing plant material and other organic matter. If you’re lucky you’ll find these worms around your garden at home, under leaf matter or any decomposing garden material. They don’t like sunlight, but they stick close to the surface to eat and transform all the material and scraps that fall to the ground.
It’s an amazing way to utilise your kitchen and garden waste while nurturing your garden and plants with nutrient-rich castings! The worm castings are microbial-rich and are living and breathing, which makes them full of nutrients and more beneficial than any compost you could buy in a bag.
How a worm farm works
The goal of a worm farm is to create two outputs – the solid (worm castings or poo) and the liquid (worm juice or wee) – by composting kitchen and garden scraps and eliminating excess waste in your home. The worm castings look like soil or fertiliser and once finished, you can add to your garden beds to improve your soil health.
The worm wee is the liquid that filters through the castings, catching lots of microbial life on its way through and draining into a bucket or other vessel underneath. The worm wee will be the colour of a dark cup of tea and you can dilute it the colour of a weak cup of tea (usually 1 part juice: 5 parts water) and water your gardens with it to introduce even more rich nutrients and microbial life to your plants and soil.
The active side is where the worms are being fed, where you put your kitchen scraps and garden material to be broken down. The worms here are working hard to turn our food scraps and garden material into worm castings (the material the worms excrete after eating), which we can then be put back into the garden to nurture and fertilise the soil.
The resting side is your finished material, where the worms have consumed all of the food, excreted it and now move to the other side to find more food. It takes about 7 weeks for the worms to completely break down and transform all the scraps into the worm castings. So, after you’ve been feeding your farm, filling it up with all sorts of material, you want to then let one side rest so that they can give you the finished product – the castings. At this point, you’d start to only feed one side of your farm, turning that into the “active side” while you let the other side rest. You’ll know the resting side is ready when the worm castings look like soil the whole way through, with no visible scraps of compost and hardly any worms left. The worms will naturally work their way over to the active side once they’re done.
A worm farm can continue to work as a composting system by rotating between your active and resting sides. Once you’ve used the finished worm castings and wee on your garden beds, you simply let your active side rest and start feeding the empty side to get it working again.
How to create a DIY worm farm at home
- Find your vessel. Bathtubs work great because they already have drainage built in, but you can use any type of container so long as you can create drainage for the worm wee. Just consider that if you have a lot of kitchen scraps to add in each week, you’ll want a decent-sized vessel to be able to keep up.
- Place wood chips as the bottom layer to help with drainage and create a solid base (worms also love woodchip! Our garden team constantly finds worms in the woodchip pile).
- Add shredded paper or chopped cardboard and moisten (the worms love this!)
- Add your scraps and a handful or two of worms and let the magic start. You can harvest worms as we did straight out of the ground around your house, or there are ways to buy composting worms to get yourself started. (Most garden centres now sell worms or ask a neighbour or a community group online in your local area).
- Make sure to cover and keep out of direct sunlight. Too much sun/heat can cause the scraps to rot before the worms are able to digest them, which will be a stinky mess. Keeping it covered helps protect it from the other element and maintain a good amount of moisture in the farm. Hessian sacks are perfect for this or something sturdy but flexible to close your farm up.
- Cover with a solid top like an old door or a plank of wood (to keep excess water out)
Important things to know
- You always need an active side of your worm farm. If the farm stops being fed completely and the worms have nothing else to eat and nowhere to go, they won’t be able to survive.
- A worm farm should never be dry, and never too wet. We like to dampen ours once a week by spraying it with a hose. It should be moist, but never sopping wet.
- This also helps flush the worm wee out, which you can start using on your garden while you wait for the castings to be ready
- Keep your worm farm in the shade to avoid it over-heating
Tips for feeding your worms
- Worms love moist cardboard or shredded paper, leafy greens, and coffee grounds. Even if you only add those things in you can have a thriving worm farm!
- Avoid putting any citrus peels or alliums (onions, garlic) in your worm farm.