Worm Farm Composting
Worm farm composting, as a means of re-cycling kitchen waste, is becoming increasingly popular.
Using a worm farm for making compost is all the rage both on the home front and increasingly, in the corporate environment. For example, hospitals and schools, in all parts of the world, are moving towards this method of dealing with their own organic waste material and by all accounts, under certain circumstances, it is just about the best way to deal with domestic kitchen waste also. Worm farm composting, in a domestic situation is a particularly good option;
- if space is limited,
- if you have no garden, or
- if you do not generate large enough quantities of material to compost in a conventional compost bin.
That having been said, the compost produced in a worm farm (known as castings, or vermicompost) is so potent a fertilizer and such an effective soil amendment, that many gardeners/composters with full-blown out-door compost systems will run a vermiculture operation as an adjunct to their other activities.
Children mostly love the whole idea too, once they have come to terms with the livestock. It offers an opportunity for youngsters to take on a responsibility that is not too onerous, but which has rapid and visible consequences if it is taken too lightly. i.e. a pile of dead worms ‘down on the farm’. [dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#D8E2BC” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#d8ddeo” ]This is a method of ‘cold’ composting. ‘Hot’ composting would not be kind to your worms![/dropshadowbox]
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Basically, worm farm composting entails providing the participants in our fascinating project with an environment that offers ventilation, food, warmth, darkness and moisture. Research now reveals that the worms’ main food source is actually the myriad of micro-organisms and fungi that inhabit the kitchen waste that we add to our farm and they will devour these voraciously. They will also eat a small amount of the compost material, turning it and breaking it up as they squirm through it, making it more accessible to the micro-organisms and speeding up the process of decomposition. Once again, a natural relationship that is mutually beneficial. The effect of all this action is that the worms ‘poop’ and this is the miracle product we are looking for as pay-off. Those little piles you see on the path after worms have come out in the rain, are a refined version of what we are aiming to collect from our vermicomposting activities. Worm casts are bursting with good things that plants love. They are stuffed with nutrients and micro-organisms, making them a first-class fertilizer, a top-quality soil amendment and the basis for a potent liquid plant food known as ‘worm tea’.
WHAT SORT OF CONDITIONS DO WORMS LIKE?
Worms like it dark, moist, and well ventilated. The require an equable temperature of around 15 degrees, + or – 10 degrees (See details below) If you are worm farm composting outside, do not place your container in direct sunshine, but in a sheltered, shady spot. If your farm is inside, do not put it next to a radiator where it may dry out. If this happens, sprinkle a cup or so of water evenly over your ‘flock’ to moisten them. Conversely, in winter, you may need to insulate your worm farm as extreme cold is not a worm ‘thing’ either. Generally, they are happiest in temperatures around 13 – 25 degrees Celsius (55 – 77 degrees Farenheit) Different sources quote slightly different numbers, but sticking within this general range should see you and your brood right! They prefer an evenly balanced pH factor, maybe slightly acidic, around 6.5. If the soil in your farm becomes too acidic, sprinkle a little lime to re-balance it. Again, there are slight variations in the figures used, but you will know when things are not going well!
WHAT FOOD WILL THEY EAT?
You will find that a wide range of kitchen waste will be suitable for your worms, but it is best to avoid substantial quantities of meat, dairy and oily or fatty foods. Most fruit and vegetables are fine, but worms are not keen on large quantities of onions or citrus and in some cases, tomatoes. You can also use grains and the odd bit of bread and cooked food. Vermiculture is a bit more relaxed about these things than conventional composting. The bedding you add to your bin will also be a source of food, providing the mix with the necessary carbon. The organic waste will, of course, provide the nitrogen. As already mentioned, when vermicomposting, your worms’ primary source of food is the population of microbes and fungi that will be working on the raw ingredients, not the ingredients themselves. They may eat a little in the process of moving about, but only a little, so you need to be aware that it is also the microbes that you need to attract and to keep happy.
WHAT CONTAINERS ARE SUITABLE?
You can keep your worms in simple containers that you can build yourself, or you can purchase commercially manufactured bins.
WHAT WORMS DO I USE?
It seems that there are over 28 species of earthworms in the UK, but for vermiculture, the most commonly used worm is the Eisenia Foetida. (Am. Fetida) Common names for this worm are; red wrigglers, tiger worms, red worms, fish worms, and manure worms. The main alternative in the UK is a close relation, known as Eisenia Hortensis. Worms are usually sold by the same people who sell ready-made worm farms or by companies that raise vermicomposting worms as a business and they may be purchased by the kilo, or parts thereof.
WHEN DO I HARVEST?
When the processed materials in the base of your bin look like dark brown coffee grounds and the worms have migrated up to the next level of the bin, is the time to harvest. This can take 2 to 6 months, depending on temperatures and worms.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH THE FINISHED COMPOST?
- You can store it until it is needed.
- You can use it as a soil amendment.
- You can use it as mulch.
- You can use it to improve your conventional compost.
- You can mix it with other ingredients and use it as a potting mix.
- You can use the worm tea, watered down, as a plant food and disease deterrent.
This is just a brief over-view of the basics of starting along the path to successful worm farm composting. Please use the links to read further and to discover in more detail the finer points of this fascinating method of dealing with organic waste. We are sure you will have found the video above of interest. Produced by Cornell University Waste Management Institute in the USA, it shows exactly why vermiculture is so valuable to gardeners and in re-cycling.