The Worm Farm Project
The Start ….
I want to reduce the green house gases that are given off as a result of our rubbish decomposing in landfill so I have set up a worm farm. The objective of this project is about getting it to work effectively and for the whole process to be simple.
Many years ago I bought a worm farm but I didn’t get around to doing anything with it until recently. I delayed setting it up because I was concerned that the instructions on the box said that worms don’t like temperatures below about 10°c and above 30°c and, unfortunately, most winter and summer days here exceed those parameters. I wanted our worms to thrive rather than die.
About six months ago I found quite a lot of scrap polystyrene that I was able to use to make a five sided cover for the worm farm (four sides and a top but no floor). I glued the pieces of polystyrene together using expanding foam and make the lid in such a way that it was easy to lift on and off. The worms seem to have survived the extremes of temperature so the insulating box arrangement works well.
There is a local supplier of the right sort of worms (tigers and reds) for eating food scraps so off we went and bought, he tells us, exactly 2023 worms! I followed the instructions for introducing them to their new home and consulted my favorite book on caring for them. I put a sign up in the kitchen listing what worms could and couldn’t eat, supplied an open bucket for the scraps to go into, then dutifully emptied the scraps bucket when it became full (I chose a small 5 litre bucket so it didn’t get a chance to smell before I emptied it.
I rapidly realised that when the book told me that I have to balance the nitrogen levels in the worm farm for the worms to be happy, then they really mean this. I decided to use shredded paper that we can easily get hold of with the food scraps. For quite a while my worms have been very happy and busy and the liquid they produce is great for the plants when diluted (I dilute it in a ratio of 1:10).
And Then ….
It has been about seven days since I paid a visit to my worms and, as usual, I am wondering how they are faring. Uppermost in my mind is the exhortation that I read in my favorite worm book ‘If you wouldn’t consider keeping rabbits or a hamster, then a worm bin is probably not for you’. Am I a bad pet owner?
As I took the insulated cover off the worm farm, then the black plastic lid of the worm farm itself, I was greeted by the most amazing sight. Whatever it is, it is clearly alive. Fortunately, it doesn’t smell. I think it is some sort of fungus but I will have to find out. The next layer was smelly and hot with a few worms lurking around the edges. I didn’t go any further. Now I have to work out what to do about all this mess, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that something is wrong! I have left the tray that has been colonised by the fungus out in the sun, added more shredded paper to the smelly tray, turned it over with a garden trowel and reassembled the farm. I don’t want my worms to die!
The Latest ….
My latest reading tells me that my worm farm is suffering from too much ‘food’; I assume this means that we are eating faster than the worms are! The result of too much ‘food’ in the worm farm is that the scraps are starting to decompose anaerobically and are being colonised by other organisms such as fungi and, I assume, microscopic critters. I gather the ‘techo’ term for this mess is ‘souring’ and sometimes the worms get a condition called ‘Sour Crop’ whereby they have a lump behind a bit of their anatomy. They end up dying. I suspect I have killed most of my worms. Here are a few of the latest pictures including my carefully built, insulated cover for the worm farm.
I have decided that I am going to move all the worms that remain, into a nice hole in the garden with their ‘bedding’ material and a little food and wave them goodbye. I hope some of them find a nice place to live. In the short-term, I am going to put our food scraps into a series of holes in the garden which, may or may not be colonised by my worms or random worms or no worms. I still want to deal with our food scraps on site so I think I will create a new project called The Food Scraps Compost Project.
It looks like worm farm bins sell for a few dollars on eBay so I will clean it up and sell it along with the cover. I’m sure someone else will like it and probably be a whole lot more successful than I have been. I think of eBay as part of the sharing economy.
To Conclude ….
I have learnt:
- worm farming sounds simple but it isn’t!
- the two of us generate more kitchen scraps than this sort of worm farm can handle; this is not because we are vegetarian but, more likely, because we don’t eat processed food, instead we prepare it ourselves. For us, the estimate of 0.15 square metres of worm farm per person is too low.
- the worm juice that comes out of worm farms is FANTASTIC for the garden (shame that this is not going to continue).
- using worms is a form of aerobic composting but not the only form; bacteria and mother micro-organisms are also effective aerobic composters.
- all decomposition gives of green house gases but the issue is what sort and what amount; I am looking for the least potent and the least volume.
- overall, before we think about dealing with food scraps, we should be really clear that it truly is food scraps that we are talking about and not food that has become inedible because we have over purchased. Here is a great NSW site, with a charming name, that outlines the problem of food waste.