Why should I compost with worms?

  1. Our soils are rapidly degrading. The levels of organic matter decrease year after year and we are supplementing it with harmful fertilizers instead of using natural solutions, like worms, to rejuvinate soil. The worm’s castings are the most amazing natural soil amendments.
  2. Organic waste sent to landfill is covered over and rots in the ground. In the ground it does not get enough oxygen and turns anaerobic. The leachate produced leaks into the local ecosystem where it can cause all sorts of damage.
  3. They are an excellent tool for teaching kids about recycling organic waste and the environment. What kid DOESN’T love getting dirty and playing with worms?
  4. Nutrients, including minerals and trace elements, consumed by the worms are reduced to their most usable form. The castings have a neutral pH of 7.0. The worms are actually refining the organic materials it consumes.
  5. Worm castings make soil more absorbent, making moisture more consistently available to plants and preventing soil from completely drying out.
  6. Worm castings are extremely beneficial in that they stimulate plant growth more than any other natural product, enhance the ability of your soil to retain water, and also inhibit root diseases such as root rot. Worm tea (made properly) can also help discourage harmful insects from your plants.
worm compost soil amendments improve bad organic test water
You want to know why we need soil amendments?

Worm bedding. What’s hot and what’s not?

Bedding is so important for your worms. It’s where they hang out when they’re not eating. Or they’re eating their bedding. It provides a safe place for them to hide if the conditions in your worm farm are less than favourable.

So what do you put in the bin for your worms to live in? The following list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. Regardless of what is used for bedding, it should always be prepared. Typically this means soaking it in water for (about) twenty-four hours before putting it on the farm and then leaving the bedding for a couple of days to settle down. If you can add a bit of bedding from another farm, it will kickstart the microbe population.

worm farming bedding paley100 gentleman vermiculturist breeding more mixing bedding

  • Leaves collected and kept dry.  For new worm beds, soak the leaves in non-chlorinated water for a few hours then pour off the excess water. Dried leaves are both eaten by the worms and decompose naturally. This also serves as a pest guard when adding food. And they add a fresh, forest floor smell to the bins.
  • Shredded brown cardboard. Be careful of using “shiny” cardboard as it can contain chemicals to make it shiny. Corrugated cardboard works very well. You can either shred it or tear boxes up into small scraps. About 10-15cm square is fine.
  • Used office paper, pieces of cardboard, shredded newspaper. Paper is an interesting one. Inks used on paper used to be potentially harmful to worms. More often than not, the inks are soy based and fine for worms.
  • Coconut Coir. Most store bought farms ship with a block of coir and worms are commonly sold in peat. Coconut Coir usually has to be soaked in water for a while so it expands. Ideally, non-chlorinated water is best, but using tap water and leaving it to sit so that the chlorine evaporates is fine too.
  • Used coffee grounds. Coffee plus worms? High-speed vermiculture, anyone? Used coffee grounds contain nitrogen and are a great food source if properly balanced with carbon like dried grass clippings.
  • Torn up egg carton. Seriously, worms can’t get enough of this. Making a bed entirely of torn up egg-carton and feeding it a cup of kitchen scraps each week and you’ll have some very happy worms!

Don’t forget that variety is the spice of life; even for worms. While all the bedding listed above is awesome bedding by itself, mixing up bedding ingredients makes your happy worms even happier!

Is there anything that you use that your worms just love? Let me know in the comments below!

Do you need to ask why we need soil amendments?

worm compost soil amendments improve bad organic test water
Do you want to know why we need soil amendments?

This was a simple mason jar soil test taken from a couple of locations around our garden. The mason jar test is a pretty simple and cool experiment to see what the quality of your soil is.

The Mason Jar Soil Test

  1. Use a clear, clean, empty jar with a tight lid. A pint or quart Mason jar works fabulously.
  2. Fill the jar half full with garden soil. You can use soil from different areas of the garden to get an overall view or make a test for each garden bed.
  3. Fill the jar nearly to the top with water. Leave room for shaking.
  4. Tighten the lid and shake the jar for several minutes so that all the particles are in suspension.
  5. Set your mason jar soil test aside for several hours, so the particles have a chance to settle. They will separate into clay, silt, and sand layers.

The results of the Mason Jar Soil Test show that there is a LOT of sand in the soil and that’s about it. There is some floating stuff that is assorted garden detritus.

Do you want to know why you need soil amendments? THIS is why you need soil amendments!!

How to Make a Worm Compost Sifter

how to build tools worm compost sifter final assembly wire

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A NEW IDEA. IN FACT, IT’S A BUILD OF A COMPOST SIFTER I SAW HERE:
http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s4561569.htm

Simply put, it’s three second-hand bicycle rims screwed to some batons and mounted onto a frame that sits on top of a wheelbarrow. You load up the cylinder with compost and as you spin the cylinder smaller bits of compost ready to go on the garden fall through the wire mesh. Larger bits are deposited out the end for further composting.

Costa’s video is straightforward and easy to follow. In need of more detail, I have undertaken the build and recorded it here in my own worm compost sifter.

WARNING: I have a year 8 pass in woodworking, so some of the steps can probably be done better! Also, be careful with the tools kids and use the appropriate safety gear.

The compost sifter is ideally used as a faster way to sort worms from worm compost. The 6mm wire I eventually used, should be small enough to stop worms dropping through into the finished vermicompost. However, some smaller worms and also cocoons in the worm compost will fall through the wire. You can either sort through the sifted worm compost to retrieve the worms or leave them where they are.

A more thorough sorting method is to take the finished worm compost and place it under a light source. Worms are photovores and will naturally burrow towards the centre of the pile. After giving the worms ten to twenty minutes to burrow begin scraping the worm compost away. It should be devoid of worms or only have a few slow coaches left behind.


A high schooler’s knowledge of woodwork? What could possibly go wrong?

Checkout Page Two – Tools used
Checkout Page Thee – Build instructions

Worm Tea or Not Worm Tea?

worm-tea-making-brewing

This is the big question that keeps coming up in forums, on Reddit and various Facebook groups.

  • What do I do with the run-off from my worm bin?
  • Isn’t that the Worm Tea that we’ve all heard so much about?
  • Do worms actually wee?

Many people believe that the runoff is the worm tea that we’ve all heard about. This is incorrect and can be dangerous!

To start with, worms have neither kidneys or a bladder, so it’s not worm pee.

The runoff in the reservoir is moisture that has collected and drained through the worm bin. Leachate is the result of the decomposition of the organic waste that’s fed to your worms. It may contain phytotoxins (that can harm plants AND humans) and are created by bacteria that aid the decomposition process. This waste liquid is being released from the cell structure of the organic waste as it decomposes.

Don’t worry!

Every worm bin has a mix of good and bad microbes and as long as the good outnumber the bad, everything is okay. The danger with leachate is that it hasn’t been processed through the worm’s intestinal tract and can contain pathogens.

Leachate should NOT be used on plants that you intend to eat.

Just to be on the safe side.

The Gentleman Vermiculturist leaves the spigot open on his Worm Cafe. If there are more than 2-4 ounces of liquid in a week, the worm farm is probably too wet. Make sure you keep a container under the open spigot and check it regularly to make sure the collected leachate doesn’t overflow.

Well, does it have value as a fertilizer or not?

The short answer is sort of. While it can have value as a liquid fertiliser, it should be treated with caution. There are as many good stories about using it as there are bad. Just take some precautionary steps before using the leachate in your garden.

  • If it smells BAD just get rid of it. Pour it out somewhere it can’t harm living plants, like a driveway.
  • Dilute it heavily before using it in the garden. Ten parts water to one part leachate seems to be the common recommendation.
  • Aerate it for twenty-four hours with an air pump or aquarium bubbler
  • Use it outdoors on shrubs, ornamentals or flowering plants only. DO NOT use on plants you intend to eat.

So how do I get Worm Tea (and what is it really)?

Worm tea (like compost tea) works by boosting microbiological activity in the soil as the bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, and protozoa in the worm tea are introduced.  The microbes delivered in worm tea help plants by out-competing anaerobic and other pathogenic organisms and by occupying infection sites on plants’ root and leaf surfaces.

You brew by either soaking a porous bag full of worm castings in water or simply dumping the castings into a container of clean chemical free water. Molasses is then added to the water. This works as a food source and as a catalyst to stimulate the growth of the microbes. The molasses can be replaced by brown sugar, honey or maple syrup if you like.

Lastly, install an air pumping system to increase the oxygen in the environment for the inoculation of the microorganisms.

Making Worm Tea
REF: https://www.redwormcomposting.com/

Worm tea is so amazing because the brewing process creates an incubator for microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes to massively grow their numbers. The resulting worm tea that you apply to your garden is also absorbed more rapidly than worm castings alone, which are more a time release fertiliser.

Adding worm tea to the garden is not just feeding the plants, but increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the soil. The beneficial bacteria should aggressively compete and crowd out the bad. There is a heap of research out there that proves the tea and the worm casting can significantly increase plant growth, as well as crop yields, in the short term (a season) and especially the long-term over a period of seasons. [1]

Worm tea will also improve a plant’s immune system. This makes them more resistant to parasites and disease. It will also aid the plants to produce hormones (like the jasmonic hormone) that insects are driven away from.

When applied to a plant’s leaves and foliage, disease-causing microbes are outnumbered and cannot populate to the levels of taking over a single plant. The worm tea also aids the plant in creating the “cuticle”, a waxy layer on top of the epidermis, or plant skin. This waxy surface protects the leaves from severe elements and reduces attacks by certain harmful microorganisms and insects.

Worm tea is not hard to make, and evidence shows it will boost crop yields and the resilience of your garden!

I’m interested to hear how you go with your brew of worm tea in the comments below.

[1] David Murphy, Organic Growing with Worms (this should be mandatory reading for anyone considering setting up a worm farm).

An army of tomatoes

I tried something that I saw on the internet.

What could possibly go wrong?

How do you grow tomatoes? From seed? Why not straight from the tomato itself?

Go on, check it out on Youtube.

All you need to do is cut a tomato into slices, bury it just under the surface in some potting mix and water regularly. These were store brought tomatoes, nothing special at all. You’re pretty likely to get shoots come through in a few weeks.

Now let’s add one simple ingredient; worm castings. Add about 20% worm castings to the potting mix. More than that has no major improvement to plant health or growth rate. Less than that will still have some benefit. I simply added one cup of worm castings to four cups of potting mix.

Did it work?

There are bout fifty tomato seedlings (above) that I have had to separate after six weeks because their roots were starting to grow together. Seriously, one tomato cut into four slices and planted in potting mix and worm castings.

One warning: Make sure you place the ends seed side up otherwise the seeds can’t grow through the skin of the tomato. I think that this was a good thing for the experiment or I’d be up to my eyeballs in tomato seedlings!

Regrettably, these seedlings have gone to the compost pile as there was just no space left to plant them. As it stands, we only need four plants in the family vegetable patch.

Does anyone want some tomato plants?