How to Build a Better Worm Farm
With all the coffee grounds and vegetable scraps coming back to my place, there came a point when I was running out of places to put it all.
Hard to believe, what with 150 kilos of coffee grounds and rotten vegetables coming in each week (and then all the lawn clippings and dried leaves from the local gardener).
I guess there is only so much compost bins can handle, especially with the onset of Melbourne’s Winter chill.
Lucky for me that I had already been experimenting with car tires for growing potatoes, which worked very well for a decent crop, and the worms had already decided to make it their home, so well suited were the conditions.
This post is about my experiences with using car tires for vermicomposting and regular composting, and with this method I seem to be able to do them both with the same assembly.
In the photo below – I’d just thrown off the top two tires, and you can see all the worms over the surface of what is potent vermicast. I stack them close to the fruit trees to provide an ongoing source of quality fertilizer, this one being the Apple Gala.
Where to Get the Tires and What Sizes to Select?
Once you start paying attention to what is left on the side of the road, car tires seem to be everywhere. It is not surprising because tires are death proof, even after the tread is ground down to the metal. This is one of the reasons why they are ideal as a compost bin, because it gives you the same long term certainty of the commercially purchased plastic equivalent.
Collecting coffee grounds from all over has endeared me to bringing home all kinds of crap (some think ‘rubbish’ – I think ‘resource’), so if foraging off the side of the road does not appeal, then your local tire shop will have a stack of them, waiting for a kind person such as you to help out.
Now for the size of tire. I would recommend 13 inch diameter tires, like the ones on small cars. They are better because a full tire of vericast is upwards of 30 kilos, and the larger the diameter (the hole in the middle), the harder it is to keep all the contents in the tire. I’ve had this happen a few times when moving the larger 15-17 inch tires, and lots of poor little worms ended up on the grass.
Make sure to get all the same size tire for each stack, because you want minimal gaps between each tire, so maybe check this before you get them home. I would recommend 3 tires to a stack, which gives you a height you can easily work with, and enough volume to keep the worms happy for a while.
Feed and Worms will Grow!
By adding a wealth of nitrogen rich organic material, these worms grow to a larger size that what I get from their sisters in the traditional plastic worm farm, even though they are fed more or less the same diet.
Fill your car tire stack with what you would normally put into the compost bin, and cover the top off with a thick layer of lawn clippings, leaves, or damp newspaper (3-6 inches will do). This keeps the smell in and the flies out, plus it forms a nice seal to reduce heat loss and allow any rain to flow through slowly.
There is more moisture in a car tire worm farm than the normal type, and they retain heat more effectively than plastic which helps break the food down quicker and make this available to the hungry worms.
Healthy slimy worms, with no complaints for the landlord. At least today…
And the view inside their rubber home.
And what would it all be without the video? There is no Shane talking in it so unblock your ears, and keep an eye out for the leaping worm at the 54 second mark!!
So now we have covered off some of the background and steps to using car tires for a worm farm or compost bin, let’s look at where I am going with all this.
The Future of Home Vermicomposting
Or is that the future of my home vermicomposting? Either way, this is the latest and greatest worm farm made from a car tire.
By using the removed side of a milk crate as a base, the vermicast stays in place when moved around.
And the view from the other end. The nylon rope keeps it all in place and acts as a carry strap to move the tire around.
Consider using discarded car tires for composting. They are cost free and are very effective at breaking down organic material into beautiful soil for your garden.
What are you doing with your worm farm?
- Potatoes in Tires (groundtoground.org)
- Vermicompost Right in Your Garden – Make a Worm Bucket (treehugger.com)
- Compost, Part One (threetenthsofanacre.wordpress.com)
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I have been composting in tires and it works great! one problem for me is keeping ants and mice out of these tasty tires. What is the best way to cap the tires to keep pests out but get air-flow in?
Hi Victoria. I find the best way to do this is to have a smaller tire at the top of the stack, and fill the middle with a plastic grate (like the side of a milk crate), and then lay a couple of sheet of cardboard on the top of that.
It is a perfect way to stop anything getting in, and allows for plenty of airflow.
Just on this one again – here is a photo of how I do it.
I am using around 90% coffee gorunds in my tyres and the worms have been really happy. An interesting thing I did recently is put fresh grounds in the tyre. What I noticed was even after 3 weeks the coffee was generating incredible heat!. Something to think about when the cold weather comes back for heating the greenhouse. I know the worms would not be happy so I leave the coffee in some pots for awhile till the mould grows before giving it to them. Anyone got some tips on growing mould? ( not the usual question you would ask). When I process the coffee grounds worm castings I find it hard to tell if it is coffee or worm poo but it does not have the coffee smell though. I usually dry and sift the grounds. My tip is dont put the worms out into the garden bed as they just encourage blackbirds to dig up your seedlings. Remove them from the finished castings and put it back in your worm farm
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Hi Sam! Am doing the same thing with car tires and coffee grounds with similar results.
The best way I’ve found for getting the grounds mouldy is to keep them damp and spread out outside but not in too windy a spot. After a week they are coated with it, and yes the worms take to them much quicker when the mould has already started the decomposition process.
Thanks for stopping by mate.
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Hi, nice and beautiful tire images. I am so interested in these things!!
I would hope so with your line of work 🙂
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Are rubber tire better than plastic trays as a worm bin? I am planning to start my own worm farm. Thanks! – Pauline
Well for me, I am getting more out of using the tires than the plastic worm bins. The tires are cost free, maintain a higher and more even temperature than plastic, and are tough by nature. You can also load them with more organic material, by using the top half as a traditional compost bin. The worms will move to the lower tires if there is too much heat, and move back up when it cools.
What a fun thing to do with old tires! I’m kind of sad that I live in an apartment. When we move, I’m definitely looking for a place with at least a patio that I can grow some veggies on…don’t think I could do a tire-based worm farm in an apt setting, but it’s good to know for future reference. Enjoying reading your blog and hope to find more info for us apartment-dwelling folks. (Found you on the LinkedIn bloggers forum).
Thanks for stopping by Tea. Sorry to hear that you are in an apartment however that does not mean you can do some of this stuff! A little worm bin on the side somewhere, or maybe a motorbike tire 😉
that leaping worm could be an african night crawler, as they are strong enough to jump like that. keep an eye out for how big they get, anything over 4 inches.
Thanks for the tip Dave. I’ve a look at some of the better vermiculture sites and still can’t be sure about what type of worm it is. Might get back there in better light and take some more photos of the little guys!
Thank you very much! I has been wanting to know how to start a worm farm in a tire. By the looks of the video there does not seem to be a great deal to it besides finding some old tires.
You are spot on Nisha, and thanks for writing in. Your local garage or tyre shop should have a few spare old ones laying around. Just be mindful of the size of tire you select – I would recommend you start with a small size and move up if you need more space for composting.
can they be used as a pot for plants?
Yes they can Tham, you will find that they serve well as pot plants. You could even paint the outside of the tire and decorate it, or hang lights over it.
Thanks for the post Shane. I have the tires 2 of the small ones like you say. Do i just put them on the ground or is there something prepatory that must occur prior? Pls run through those steps to help me.
No worry James. Info below:
Dig about a foot into the soil of the location you want for them and break up that soil fairly well. if possible, pick a spot with sheltered sun that is easily accessible.
Stack the tires up and ensure they are in no danger of falling over. You might even want to earthup the bottom tire to prevent it sliding. Important that the stack is stable, as you are going to have a lot of weight passing through the inside.
That is just about it. Cover whatever you put into the tires with leaves or grass clippings, or even some wood. If there are lots of flies around or bad odors, check for too much water, not enough high carbon ingredients (dried leaves and grass, sawdust, cardboard), or not well sealed enough top.
Good luck mate.
how cool is that jumping worm!
Yeah he is my favorite. I wonder how long it would take to find him again?? Thanks for stopping by Doug.
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Loved the leaping worm.
I’m thinking that a worm farm like this might be good in the middle of the fenced off veggie patch. Anything out in the yard would have the cover ripped off it by the chooks and they’d devour the inhabitants.
Leaping worm is a hero! Agree about the chooks, although I’ve seen a car tire stack with a thick wooden roof (sort of bolted onto the top tire) that they would find difficult to remove. If you want to give it a try just let me know, as I have a few spare tires hanging around 😉