Worm Farming to produce organic compost

Worm farming produces the very best type of compost you can make. Yes, worms have been shown to produce the most amazing compost for organic gardeners. Worms feed on organic matter and excrete castings which help to improve soil drainage and aeration as well as being high in nutrient content for plant growth. These castings also increase the water-holding capacity of soil. The worm ‘wee’ is also a sought after source of plant nutrients and can be diluted to form a liquid organic fertilizer.

Not all worms have this ability, so you need to get hold of the specific type of ‘red worm’ known as Eisenia foetida. This little fellow can eat 4 times his body weight in a day, which is a lot of compost when you have thousands of them working together at one time as happens in a wormery. This specific species of worm does not do well directly in the soil and needs to be housed in a wormery, which you could make or buy.

Commercially sold worm farms often utilise the fact that these worms move their way towards the surface, so once they have eaten the organic matter at the bottom, they will migrate to a higher level, therefore commercially sold wormeries often come in a tray system allowing the worms to migrate to a new tray when they are finished with the previous one, leaving behind rich, dark moist compost.

You can make your own wormery using a plastic bin or stacking tray system, as long as it is dark in colour and has a lid. Your wormery should be placed in a cool place out of direct sunlight. You will need to prepare a home for your worms before you place them in the bin. You do this by preparing suitable bedding for the worms to live in which could include shredded damp paper and newspaper, straw, torn-up egg boxes or cardboard, grass cuttings, old leaves and some soil to act as grit. Soak all the bedding well and then squeeze off the excess moisture before placing it in the bin.

Start with as many worms as you can get your hands on as the more worms the more compost they are making. But your worm population should double every 3 months due to the fast rate at which the worms reproduce.

You will then need to feed your worms food scraps on a regular basis. As soon as you see that they have started on what you added last time, add a little more in a different part of the tray.

Worms will eat:
• most fruit and vegetable scraps and peels, except citrus fruits, onions, garlic and chilli’s;
• tea bags and tea leaves;
• coffee grounds and filters;
• crushed egg shells
• shredded newspaper, cardboard, egg cartons and pizza boxes;
• old flowers and some garden waste;
• small amounts of pasta and rice
• moist bread & cereals

Worms don’t like:
• onions garlic citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes and mandarins) and chillies;
• meat;
• seafood;
• dairy products;
• oil;
• too much bread, pasta or rice;
• pet droppings.

You should be able to harvest compost from your wormery every 6-8 weeks, but I was only able to harvest my first compost after 3 months. However, now that the worms have settled we are able to harvest every 6 weeks. Although you are not able to harvest very large quantities of compost from this method, the compost you get is of a very high quality and be divided up into your vegetable beds immediately for excellent results.

The way to harvest the compost can be a bit tricky if you are not keen on getting your hands on your slimy little friends. A tray system does make is easier as most of the worms will have migrated to the next tray so you can harvest the older one, but you will still have to separate some worms who doesn’t want to migrate upwards.

Another method that I read about is to tip the contents of the bin (with the worms) into a temporary container and to put new bedding into the wormery. Then place shade cloth with big enough holes for worms to crawl through over the new bedding and food container. Then tip the temporary container on top of the shade cloth. The worms don’t like light and so will move through the shade cloth and burrow into the new bedding and food. Once all the worms have moved out of the castings, the shade cloth can be lifted and removed and the compost harvested for your garden.