Earthworms to the Rescue!
The best way to convert organic kitchen waste into a power tonic for your plants and soil is to farm earth worms.
Earthworms play a vital role in creating healthy, living soil, and gardeners need to incorporate them into our cultivation practices. First, to attract them into your veggie beds you should:
- apply frequent mulches of compost that provide an attractive, moist environment for them;
- avoid using inorganic pesticides and fertilisers that might kill them;
- avoid disturbing the soil by excessive tilling as this exposes them to sunlight which may kill them if they cannot burrow back into the soil quickly. Excessive tilling also destroys the microorganisms that give the soil life.
To complete this practice, you could 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 worm farm, or ‘wormery’ is a means to getting a relatively large population of special worms in a container to convert organic waste into vermi-compost (containing worm castings) and vermi-leachate (worm ‘wee’). You can either buy a ready-made worm farm or make one yourself out of old containers you may have, such as wooden or plastic boxes, a bath or drum. If you upcycle a plastic container, ensure that you punch holes in the container to aid aeration. 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 must be populated by earthworms that are able to cope in the conditions particular to this man-made environment. There are over 3000 varieties of earthworms and only a few will survive in a wormery. For this reason, one cannot simply dig up a few worms in a corner of the garden and expect them to thrive in the wormery. Red wrigglers (Eisenia fetida) are used to populate wormeries as they process organic matter into compost at a remarkable speed. Vermiculture specialists supply suitable species, and in any one 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 wriggler 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) 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. Fresh manures or fresh green grass clippings should never be included in their food as these will generate heat that will kill the worms. In summer take care to put your wormery in a spot that will be shaded during the hottest part of the day, and, in winter, move your wormery indoors if you live in a cold part of the country.
What to feed your worms
Any fresh vegetative matter from the kitchen
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 vermi-leachate 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. The leachate or ‘worm wee’ should be diluted half strength with water and sprayed directly onto the foliage as a feed or added at full strength to the soil as an inoculator.
Starting your own worm farm
What you need
Worms (red wrigglers) – these can be ordered and delivered to your door
What to do
- Line the base of the container with a layer of straw;
- Add the worms;
- Add a cup of kitchen waste, making sure not to overfeed them until they start multiplying;
- Cover the worms with a layer of wet newspaper and wet this paper every time you feed them;
- Place your worm farm in a sheltered position out of the sunlight or indoors. There is no smell;
- Place a jug underneath the tap to catch the vermi-leacheate.
- When the container is full, separate the vermicompost from the worms and place the worms back in the container to repeat the process.