In the last 4 or 5 years the popularity of worm composting has exploded.
Worm composting itself isn’t a new thing, But it is new to a lot of people.
And the vast majority of people who have recently begun composting with worms have bought themselves a tiered worm farm to do it in.
A tiered worm farm, in my view as a worm composting educator, is NOT a good idea.
Tiered worm farms create multiple problems. Problems that are not reversible without knowledge and skill. And tiered worm farms don’t teach us the knowledge and skill of any type of composting.
1. Tiered worm farms encourage bad worm husbandry practices.
This happens by default. The box the farm comes in has no information on it, other than maybe to “pour water into the farm and catch the liquid that comes out the bottom”
Wrong. Don’t do that. More on that shortly.
When we don’t know how compost worms live out in nature, then we won’t know what things inside the tiered farm are meant to look like and we won’t know when the environment is becoming deadly to the worms.
Tiered worm farms are not replicating nature. And they don’t lead us towards caring for compost worms in ways that a) keep the worms healthy and producing or b) produce endless worm castings that are easy to separate out and use.
They lead us in the opposite direction.
2. Tiered worm farms increase the likelihood of the worms ultimate demise.
Tiered worm farms can be run well. But, and this is a huge but, they are difficult to run well and require that we know the conditions we’re meant to be creating and maintaining.
Over and over and over I’ve seen tiered worm farms that are in such bad condition – I’m talking about the contents, not the plastic build – that the worms are struggling to survive.
Imagine if it was a truckfull of sheep. There’d be hell to pay if we let the sheep live in such poor conditions that they eventually died out.
Why is it ok that this happens with compost worms?
I overheard someone the other day… “worm composting is probably a good idea, but it just ends up not working anymore eventually”
Yep, he used a tiered worm farm. And had no idea that he was doing it wrong.
A worm compost only ends up “not working anymore” when we don’t have the knowledge on how to care for the whole thing properly.
And when we have this knowledge, we naturally quit using tiered farms.
A worm compost can last for decades. But 9 times out of 10, what’s going on in the tiered worm farm comes to an end within 1 – 2 years.
3. Tiered worm farms promote anaerobic conditions
Back to NOT pouring water through your worm farm.
Tiered worm farms are made to pour water through them.
This is so wrong it’s almost outrageous.
Compost worms eat aerobic microbes. Thats their diet. They don’t eat our kitchen scraps. They eat the microbes that break down the kitchen scraps. And these microbes are aerobic microbes.
Aerobic microbes are what makes soil alive. This is a complete half of the point of worm composting – growing aerobic microbes in the worm compost and then getting them into our garden.
Pouring water through a worm compost reduces airflow, which kills off the aerobic microbes and enables the growth of anaerobic microbes.
When we use terms in life such as “bad microbes” or “germs” we are actually talking about anaerobic microbes. We Do Not want anaerobic microbes in our garden soil, they enable pests and disease in our plants.
And we don’t want to be handling anaerobic microbes, which is exactly what we do when we pour water through the worm farm and catch it in bottles out the other end.
Regularly pouring water through a tiered worm farm means the compost is perpetually much wetter than it should be. Anaerobic conditions are created and over time expand to take over the whole compost. The worms die from lack of oxygen and lack of food (aerobic microbes). And we never can separate the castings out of the sludge.
So don’t be thinking what comes out the tap of a tiered worm farm is “worm tea” or “worm wee”. It’s not. It’s leachate. And it is likely to contain high numbers of harmful microbes.
4. Tiered worm farms reduce the ability to remove the worm castings.
How DO we separate the worm castings out of a worm compost that is wet and sticky and clumpy?
And so we’ve both missed out on having that black gold for our gardens, and we’ve now got an anaerobic mess that is going to take months of treatment – which includes not operating it as a worm farm – to bring it back to being an actual compost.
A real compost, whether a worm compost or not, has a balance of moisture and airflow. Both are required – in balance – for the composting process to arrive at completion.
When we have that balance right in a worm compost, it’s simple to separate the worm castings out.
Unfortunately, tiered worm farms, just by their structure, reduce airflow and increase moisture.
Not to mention the instructions that tell us to pour water through it. Gah!
5. Tiered worm farms create a sludgy smelly outcome where control of the environment has been lost and is almost impossible to regain.
This is the outcome for nearly all tiered worm farms.
An aerobic mess that doesn’t progress the way a well managed worm compost does, almost no worms (when in a healthy worm compost you’ll always get exponentially more worms), and cannot be harvested ie getting the worm castings out while continuing the worm composting process.
I used to say, there is a time and a place for tiered worm farms, and that’s in a kindy where keeping the worms safe from adventurous little hands is a good idea.
But I’ve even stopped saying that now.
There is no time or place for tiered worm farms.
They are a complete have. A marketing gimmick.
I’ve had people ask me, “well how would I keep my chickens or the possums out of my worm compost if I dont keep my worms in a tiered farm?”
And that’s a fair question.
My answer is, use a bathtub, or something similar like a 44 gallon drum cut in half from top to bottom, if your worm compost will be kept outside. And use wire mesh as a cover and a board over the top of that to prevent rain pouring in.
Convenience for us isn’t a reason to keep compost worms in a way that will eventually kill them.
Why keep a tiered worm farm when it doesn’t even work?
Composting with worms is a very satisfying thing to do plus it creates the very best compost we could possibly want in our gardens and can do this for years on end completely for free.
But the only way that will happen in a tiered worm farm is if we already have the skill of worm composting that we developed by first composting with worms in an open container.
Tiered worm farms don’t teach us any skill. They do the opposite. They teach us bad habits.
Once we have the skill of worm composting and correctly managing the environment, we go off having a tiered worm farm anyway. They make the process so much harder when we know what we’re doing.
Ask anyone who’s in The Worm Course Community. They all leave the tiered worm farms behind. They’ll all tell you it’s so much easier and you get so much more final product, in simple tubs.
If you’re worm composting in a tiered worm farm, and you’re interested in looking after the worms properly, and you want to easily harvest worm castings, and you just all round want a very good worm composting experience, then take The Worm Course. These are the things you’ll learn. And you’ll come to know exactly what you’re doing. And by the time the course ends you’ll have become an expert at worm composting.
The next intake of The Worm Course & Community is open now. We start at the end of October 2023.
This is a skill that will serve you all of your gardening life.