Maintaining Your Wormery
Now for the fascinating part – maintaining your wormery so that your worms are happy and well fed.
Here are a few simple tips on suitable food:
Your worms will eat just about anything organic. the list below gives you some ideas, but there are many more. Just do not overload your wormery – take it gently – feed little and often:
- ground-up egg shells,
- animal or human hair,
- coffee grounds,
- tea bags, (not plastic ones, though)
- grains, both cooked and raw.
There are certain items it is best not to put in your wormery. This second list includes:
- dairy products
- meat and fish products
- oily and fatty materials
This is not because these materials would not eventually be broken down, but because it would be a slow process and these items would begin to smell foul before they were decomposed. A little amount of cooked meat, or a small amount of pasta and bread is fine – experiment and see how it goes. Be aware that, as in conventional composting, excessive amounts of fat and oil can also choke off the oxygen needed by the micro-organisms that work on food waste.
Some say that there can also be a problem with citrus, onion, chillis and tomatoes, that there are chemicals in these that can be toxic to worms and they should be used judiciously or not at all. There are also those who maintain that their worms eat these things with impunity. I will be testing small amounts and making my own observations. (Maybe not the chilli.)
A PROBLEM OFTEN ENCOUNTERED.
One of the main problems with managing a wormery is the tendency to over-feed the worms. You will do a lot less damage if you under-feed your flock, so ‘least is best’ without a doubt. It is said that the average worm, on the perfect day, can eat its weight in scraps each 24 hours – depending on the species. Theoretically, this means that for each 1 lb (500 grams) of worms, you need to supply around 400 grams of food. I have read that there are approximately 1,000 worms in 500 gms. All those hungry mouths……. and remember that if your worms are happy, they WILL MULTIPLY, so you will need to provide extra food.
When preparing your food scraps for your wormery, cut large pieces up into small chunks or even grind it in a food processor. This will help your worms and microbes to access their food more efficiently (they have no teeth) thus accelerating the process of decomposition considerably. If you have excess food, store it in a covered canister until you are ready to use it. If it starts to decompose or goes a bit mouldy, do not worry. This is good, as again the partial decomposition makes it easier for workers to do their work.
Be careful, however that you do not add too much juice and liquid to your farm. This can easily happen if you ‘process’ all the food you provide. An excess of moisture will accumulate, depleting oxygen for your micro-organisms and, maybe, drowning your worms. If you do make this mistake, tear up strips of newspaper and cardboard and add this to your bin to soak up the liquid. You can avoid the problem altogether by squeezing out some of the juice out by hand before putting the solids into the wormery.
If, on the other hand your worms begin to dehydrate through lack of moisture, add some extra juicy food, or spray a half-cup or so of water over them. Carefully monitor their condition and add more liquid for as long as it is necessary.
Remember the moisture test – squeeze a handful of bedding. You should produce just a few drops of liquid. Anymore and your farm is probably too wet.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEDDING.
If you are already an ‘outdoor’ composter, you will have noted , that as with conventional composting, your wormery needs two types of composting materials i.e. ‘browns’ and ‘greens’. The ‘browns’ supply the carbon for energy and the ‘greens’ provide nitrogen as protein for your micro-organisms. In your wormery, the bedding mix is your supply of browns so it is very important not to skimp on the shredded paper and cardboard. If you slip up and over-feed, that is if you add too much in the way of ‘greens’ to your farm, you will find that it may begin to smell of ammonia and the contents will rot. Your worms will not appreciate their environment being polluted and will try to escape. If there is an excess of water, they will drown. If this happens, you could try adding extra bedding in the form of perhaps shredded newsprint. this will soak up excess moisture. However, if the situation is dire, you may find it better to extract your worms, toss the rest and start all over again.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#D8E2BC” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#d8ddeo” ]Worms thrive in dark, moist places. They will die in the light and they will die if it’s dry.[/dropshadowbox]
WHY IS VERMICOMPOST SO SPECIAL AND WHAT DO I DO WITH IT?
Once you extract the compost from your wormery, you should let it cure for a couple of weeks before using it. It can be stored in hessian sacks until needed. You also may want to sieve it to remove bits of material that have not been totally broken down.
Vermicompost is special because of the way it has been processed in your wormery. The interaction between the worms and the microbial life within the wormery results in a finished product, the structure of which markedly improves drainage in your soil, enhances water retention where needed, and boosts aeration. The nutrients in vermicompost are easily accessible to the roots of plants, so that adding it to your soil ensures a superior medium for root development. It is considered superior to the compost produced by conventional composting.
You can use it as mulch, as an amendment to your garden soil, as a fertiliser or use it for container planting. It is particularly beneficial when used as an additive in potting mix and when raising seeds. Do not use it ‘neat’ as it loses its efficacy if used in its refined, pure form. It is best used in smaller amounts, mixed directly into your soil or added to your conventional compost pile. Worms excrete an enzyme that enhances the efficiency of the micro-organisms present and using it in this way can speed up the rate at which that compost matures too.
ABOUT WORM TEA
The liquid that you have taken from the drip-tray is known as ‘worm tea’ and is fantastic for spraying onto plants as a source of nutrients and as a deterrent against disease and bacteria. It is particularly useful when germinating seeds. View our video from Cornell University Waste Management Institute (make sure your sound is turned up) to appreciate the benefits of this almost magic liquid. Mix it with water at a ratio of 10:1 and spray it on the leaves of your plants. Oxygenating the tea will provide extra potency.