Compost From The Worm Farm

Last year in October we set up our worm farm. As with many projects in our lives, this was one where the amount of love and attention it received started out with great enthusiasm and then dwindled rapidly. We got lazy about flushing the farm with fresh water, feeding them became erratic once we got the chickens, and honestly I’ve spent the past few months convinced that they’re all dead.

The soil at our new property can best be described as a sandy disaster. In three months of exploring the garden, we have found a single wild worm. We’ve spent weeks digging out building rubble from what was probably intended to be a garden bed, and there hasn’t been a scrap of organic matter in the mix that we didn’t dump there from cleaning the chicken coop. “Barren wasteland” springs to mind as an appropriate description.

We really needed Schrödinger’s Worms to be in a living state.

I chose a day when I was home alone to tackle the worm farm. After a few years of gardening I’m finally at a point where I can handle touching a worm if I’ve got gloves on, but the idea of sorting through trays full of live worms was seriously creeping me out. I also don’t handle dead things well, and I knew there was bound to be a bit of squealing involved either way. No witnesses seemed ideal.

The first step was taking off the lid and cautiously peering in. There were plenty of worms on the lid and around the edges, so I shoved the lid back on and tried to lift out the first tray. It was heavy, and there was no way that I was getting it out full. I grabbed a bucket, put on my big girl pants, and started pulling out the food scraps at the top.

After about 30 seconds it was obvious that the bucket strategy was an epic fail. The farm isn’t big, but the worms were compacting the material in those trays beyond my wildest expectations, and moving it was just aerating it. This called for a wheelbarrow, but at this point I was covered in worms and not sure how to move the wheelbarrow without killing them all. Wiping my gloves on the grass seemed to do the trick, and I got the top tray empty enough to pull it out of the farm.

compost from our worm farmInside the bottom tray was amazingly rich, black compost that seemed to be half compost and half worms. I had planned to try and put most of the worms back into the worm farm, but there were just so many that I didn’t bother. I scooped out the goo that had fallen into the collection tray, put the working tray back into the farm, and dumped the finished tray into the garden bed. Once it was empty I put it on top of the worm farm, transferred the scraps from the wheelbarrow back into it, and put the lid back on.

I was a bit dismayed by how little coverage I was able to get from the tray in the worm farm. In our previous garden that much compost would have fertilised an entire bed, but here I was barely able to spread it over half a square metre before the organic layer became too thin. This compost will be incredible for our garden once we’ve established it, but to begin with we’re going to need to bring out some bigger guns.

If you’re playing along at home…

…have you gone beyond creating a compost heap or worm farm to actually using the compost that it produces? Please share in the comments below how these processes have changed your garden.

Worm Farm

Last month we were at a community event where Frankston Council had a stand about environmentalism. Since that’s something I’m currently interested in, I decided to sign up for their e-newsletter. Everyone who put down their email address went in the draw to win a worm farm or a compost bin.

Yay for winning!

Normally I avoid entering competitions because I deem the risk of winning and having to deal with unwanted crap to be too high, but this time I was stoked. As in, there was dancing in the kitchen and the four year old ended up crying because Mummy had won and not her.

I couldn’t organise a time to pick up the worm farm fast enough. We already have a compost bin – more about that in a later post – but the worm farm was something we had been talking about and never quite getting around to. Our composting system wasn’t working as quickly as we needed it to, so the timing for this was absolutely perfect.

Worm farm

The worm farm came with a collection tray and two working trays. The collection tray is where the water drains into and the working trays are what house the worms and food.

To begin a worm farm, you need to prepare a bed for the worms to live in. This consisted of taking the cardboard packaging that the kit came in and stuffing it into the base of the first working tray. There was a block of shredded coconut that needed to be soaked and spread out on top of the cardboard once it had absorbed enough water. The worms were then dumped on top of that and food was dumped on top of the worms.

A worm farm will apparently house 5000 worms happily if it is managed well. We decided to start with 2000 live worms and an additional 1200 worm eggs. Because we have our own vegetable garden – I sense another later post – we have quite a lot of organic waste. You can also add things to a worm farm that we weren’t already composting, such as paper towels and weeds, so we definitely have enough to keep 5000 worms well fed.

We need to expand the worm farm to have room for two additional working trays based on how much is already going into the farm. Other than that one problem, which isn’t exactly an issue, the system is working very well. We started getting liquid fertiliser out of it almost immediately, we’ve reduced the load on our compost heap, and the kids finally have pets. This has meant we reduce what we send to land fill even further and the way we’re breaking down this waste should mean we’re releasing carbon instead of methane. Even though we’re attempting to reduce carbon, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas.

If you’re playing along at home…

…have you considered getting a worm farm to deal with your organic waste? They take up very little room, so they can be used in small spaces. Please share your experience with worm farms in the comments.