Once you’ve become aware of the sheer volume of material we send to landfill day in day out, you soon become wary of throwing anything away, even if it can’t be recycled.
Food waste, for example, generally makes up a large part of what we end up sending to landfill sites. Whilst, we can’t ‘recycle’ food waste as such, we can still find alternate uses for it.
One of the most common solutions amongst the environmentally minded is composting, which sits very well with other sustainable lifestyle choices, such as growing your own food.
Of course, this is all well and good if you actually have a garden, if however, like me, you live in a city apartment, where space is very much at a premium, it’s not a particularly viable option.
However, worm farming (or vermiculture as it’s also known) can allow you to make good use of your plate scrapings, and doesn’t take up much space, especially if you go for a mini wormery, which is essentially just a small plastic bin in which your worms will live, with a tap at the bottom so you can drain away the nutrient rich liquid that’s produced.
With this in mind, I purchased myself a worm farm and, for a while, all was well. The inhabitants seemed perfectly happy with their home until, suddenly, a couple of months later I found that, sadly, something had gone wrong, and all the worms had died.
Having learnt some important lessons, I am currently embarking on my second foray into vermiculture. Here are a few dos and don’ts I’ve picked up which you’ll find helpful if you’re thinking of starting a worm farm;
Pay Attention to Temperature and Moisture Levels
Probably the biggest reason for the failure of my first worm warm was that I inadvertently allowed it to dry out. I bought the farm in January when the days where very short and generally overcast, so it didn’t occur to me that where I’d placed it (next to my kitchen bin) might be problematic.
When we had an unexpected burst of bright, hot weather in the spring, it turned out that whilst I was at work, my worms where sat directly in the sunlight coming through my window.
This undoubtedly caused problems as, for one thing, most species of worm you’d use in vermiculture (red worms or tiger worms) will only breed in temperatures between 18-25 degrees Celsius (64-77 degrees Fahrenheit).
By the same token, you shouldn’t overcompensate by watering the farm too much. You’ll know if it’s too wet as it will start to smell and you’ll probably find the food rots quicker.
Use Coffee Grounds
Of all the waste I’ve used in the farm, used coffee grounds have been one of the most successful.
The worms love it as a foodstuff and, as the grounds are wet, they help keep the farm moist. I even found that if I mix things up so that the coffee grounds are a sort of top layer, the worms will eat through the other scraps to get to them quicker.
I have a friend who works in a café near my house who brings me a small bin bags worth of used grounds at the end of every shift, and if you go into your local coffee shop, they’ll usually be willing to let you have used grounds as they will only throw them away otherwise.
This means more landfill dodging!
Use it as a Shredder
I was really pleased to learn that worms will eat small pieces of wetted paper, which is great as, even in this supposedly paperless age we all have documents that we need to dispose of now and again, and throwing them in the recycling can potentially leave you open to identity theft from unscrupulous individuals if they contain personal information.
One more benefit of keeping worms!
This is very tempting, especially when you first get your farm and it is still something of a novelty. Worms can eat over half their body weight in a day, which is pretty impressive, but is no license to go crazy.
Only refresh food supplies once they are running low. Keep an eye on the population, though. If numbers are dwindling it could be that more food is needed.
Use Acidic Foods
I made some freshly squeezed orange juice one morning and assumed the pulp would make a nice, zesty addition to the farm.
Worms are not fans of citrus, or even slightly acidic vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions. Pineapple is a killer and definitely one to avoid as it contains an enzyme that is fatal to worms- indeed, doctors often recommend consuming pineapple as a tapeworm cure!
Forget to Mix the Soil
Worms need oxygen, so remember to get in there and give your wormery a bit of mixing up every now and again.
This will also help to stop the soil compacting into inhospitable clumps.
Steve Waller writes on a number of environmental topics on his blog GreenSteve.com, all based from his personal experiences, from problems with wormeries to eating a low carbon diet.
No paper products for my wormies! I know they are wood fibers, but the chemical composition of the processed paper, along with the inks used are enough for me to avoid using any paper in my worm bins.
I use fall leaves from the yard instead. They are natural and are perfect for keeping the smell down as well as soaking up any excess water from veggie waste.
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Thank you for such a plain and simple DOS n DON’TS.
I am always concerned about the health of my worm farm.
I am now more relaxed and reasonably comfortable after reading your in depth explanations.
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40 plus years ago we lived out in the country. My folks bought two old claw footed bath tubs and we buried them in the ground up to the curl of the sides. We covered the holes and filled each tub with a mixture of sawdust, peat moss and potting soil. My father ordered a few thousand English red worms which we split between each tub. We placed an old sheet of tin across the top secured by a cement block to prevent rain from drowning the worms. We fed them a healthy sprinkling of bone meal each week. After a year, the tubs were teeming with worms and eggs. We bought some bait boxes and went into the worm business. We filled an old snuff can with worms for each bait box. Inside each bait box was a handful of wet peat moss wrung out by squeezing. People used to stop by the house every Friday- Sunday to buy our worms. Those unsold were returned to the main tubs. We did that for many years. It allowed us the money to buy our first console color TV when they came out. The only real issue was you had to be careful whenever you flipped the tin off the tubs as sometimes there would be a copperhead snake underneath enjoying the warmth. Really enjoyed raising those worms. We fed a few to our chickens as well as a treat on occasion. Ah the good old days…
Help, my worm farm has been infiltrated by pincher bugs. They are really bad this year and there are nests with larve in the worm farm. how do I get rid of the pincher bugs without harming the worms? I heard diatomaceous earth will kill the pincher bugs but not the worms? Another site said the opposite? what can I do, does Anyone have a solution? I need to know what to do before fall comes so I don’t bring these critters into my basement in the winter.
Hi Judy, you should hand pick as many worms as you can and start over – dig a hole in the backyard and dump whats left into it.
Thanks, I was waiting till cooler weather to do just this. My basement is at 60 degrees and the larve aren’t turning into full grown ones, I guess because it isn’t warm enough for them? But I figured this is the only way to take care of them….Thank you for your suggestion. It reinforced what I thought I may have to do…
No rush Judy – they will grow in their own good time.
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I also keep a worm farm. I have kept one for years both at home and in my classroom. I use a large rubbermaid container and keep the lid on it. Solves the sunlight problem and I frequently have so many worms that I split them up to start friends with their own farms. One thing I have learned is that they love shredded paper but any paper with colored ink will make them ill, make sure to only use paper with black ink.
A large container is a great idea and something I am trying now for myself. Can’t say I have used shredded paper that often but will give it a go along with all the coffee grounds thrown in there. Normally use cardboard but will try the paper…
I’m wondering–how do you keep a more or less stable population of worms on a farm? What is the lifetime of an individual worm? What happens when a worm dies? (I’m not currently doing this, obviously, but am interested.) Thnx
The great thing about keeping worms is that they are self regulating, meaning they will keep their population numbers in-line with their environment. As for lifespan, expect 2-3 years, although there is less quantitative information about this than I am happy with. And when it dies, well it becomes food for the worms.
Thanks Shane, that’s very helpful!
Anytime. And if you ever need helP let us know.
hi I am feeding on almost 100% coffee grounds. I sift them first and what I find is when they are finished they simply fall though to the drip tray. I dont get any liquid with this system as if you do your research this worm wee (lechtate) may actually be doing your plants harm
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Would love to get a look at that Sam.