Earthworms to the rescue
The best way to convert organic kitchen waste into a power tonic for your plants and soil is to farm worms
Earthworms in nature “What’s all this business about worms and wormeries, and how can they help my food garden?” Of course, being a ‘worm farmer’ I’m asked this question all the time. To answer, I always start with nature and the vital role earthworms play in creating healthy soil.
Healthy soil, healthy plants
Earthworms play such a vital role in creating healthy, living soil, and we need to incorporate them into our cultivation practices. First, to attract them into your veggie beds you should:
- avoid using inorganic pesticides and fertilisers that will kill them;
- avoid disturbing the soil by excessive tilling, as this exposes them to sunlight that kills them and destroys the microorganisms that give the soil life;
- apply frequent mulches of compost that provide an attractive, moist environment for them.
And then, to complement these practices, you should start a worm farm that will give you nutrient- and microorganism-rich humus and worm ‘wee’ to apply as concentrated fertilisers to your soil and plants.
What is a worm farm?
A wormery is a contained way to get a large population of special worms to convert organic waste into vermi-compost (containing worm castings) and vermileachate (worm ‘wee’). You can either buy a ready-made worm farm or make oneyourself out of old containers you may have, such as wooden boxes, baths, or drums. If you upcycle plastic containers, make sure you punch holes in them to aid aeration. You need to determine what will suit your needs, both in terms of shape and ability to accommodate the volume of waste that is generated in your kitchen and garden. The wormery has to be populated by earthworms that are able to cope in theconditions particular to that man-made environment. There are over 3000 varieties of earthworms, and only a few will survive in a wormery. For this reason one can’t simply dig up a few worms in a healthy corner of the garden and expect them to thrive in the wormery. Like most worm farmers, I have populated my wormeries with red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and they process organic matter into compost at a remarkable speed. Vermiculture specialists supply suitable species, and in an order you can expect young and mature worms plus egg capsules, all contained within a mix of organic matter.
How to feed your worms
To keep a wormery functioning optimally one must remember that each red wiggler is able to consume the equivalent of its own weight in food each day under ideal conditions. If you start a wormery with about 250g of worms (up to 1000 worms) then they are unlikely to be able to deal with more than that weight of organic waste to begin with. As their numbers increase they will be able to convert more and more ‘scraps’ into compost and leachate, eventually dealing with all your kitchen waste and some of your garden cuttings
Keeping your wormery healthy
Worms need a moist, well-aerated environment. Unrotted manures or fresh green grass clippings should never be included in their food as these will generate heat that will kill your worms. Likewise, in summer take care to put your wormery in a spot that will be shaded during the hottest time of the day, and in winter rather move your wormery indoors if you live in a cold part of the country.
What to feed your worms
Green veggie peelings and plate scraps
Tea bags and coffee grinds
Paper and cardboard (wet and shredded)
Well-rotted cow or horse manure
What NOT to feed your worms
Onions and garlic
Meats and bones
Fresh sawdust, manure or grass clippings
Processed foods with salts and vinegars
Used cooking oils
Using worm products in your garden
Remember that vermicompost and vermileachate are concentrated fertilisers, so you don’t need to use as much as regular compost to get super results. It can be used as a mulch around established plants, or added to planting holes for new seedlings. Worm ‘wee’ can be diluted with water and spayed directly on the leaves of plants as a tonic, or added at full strength to the soil as an inoculator.
Start your own worm farm
What you need
(These can be ordered and delivered to your door – yes, even the worms! Worm farms come in various designs and are made of different materials. Some contain a series of trays or compartments with holes in the bottom for the earthworms to migrate through. The size of the worm farm is determined by the volume and type of organic material to be processed, and your budget.)
What you do
1. Lay a layer of newspaper on the bottom of the container and then a layer of straw.
2. Add the worms and feed them the box they came in.
3. Add a cup of kitchen waste, making sure not to overfeed them until they start multiplying.
4. Cover the worms with a layer of wet newspaper and wet this paper every time you feed them.
5. Place your worm farm in a sheltered position out of the sunlight.
6. Place a jug underneath the tap to catch the vermileacheate (worm ‘wee’).
7. When the container is full, separate the vermicompost from the worms and place the worms back in the container to repeat the process.