Compost worms are amazing little creatures. They’ll turn all your organic waste into black gold that can dramatically enhance your garden and give you much more return for you growing efforts.
But how well they do this does depend on how well their home is set up in the first place.
In this Letter we’ll look at the key things that need to be considered to set your worm farm up the right way so your worms thrive and make you lots of vermicompost over and over.
Where will your worm farm be situated?
- It should always be shaded from the sun
- It should be sheltered enough to prevent rain getting in
- It should be safe from interested animals and wildlife
- It should be easy for you to access
I have worm bins in a side room off the house, I have worm bins in my shed and I have worm bins in the carport. I have seen people have their worm bin in a cupboard, on a shelf in the laundry, built into a deck chair, out under a mango tree, tucked into a covered corner of an outside nook of the house, and even in a modified compartment in the under carriage of a house bus.
Where will your worm farm live?
What will you use as the worm farm itself?
- Will you use a tiered, manufactured ‘worm farm’? I hope not… read this Letter about tiered farms.
- Or will you use a simple storage container?
- Or maybe you will use an old bath tub or a cut down wheelie bin or similar?
I am using long low storage containers that stack while still leaving big gaps for airflow, I am using a cut down 1,ooo litre plastic pod, I am using a huge old esky that’s come from a fishing boat, and I am using cut down wheelie bins and 44 gallon drums.
I would LOVE to have a couple of old baths! These are commonly used as worm farms and usually those who use them, really love them. I’ve also seen worm composts running just fine in a polystyrene boxes.
When you’re choosing your container to use as a worm farm, you need to consider depth. Compost worms only need 10 – 30cm of bedding depth. They won’t use anything deeper than about 60 cm and 5cm would be the minimum. 10 or 15cm of bedding in your container is an ideal starting point. This gives the worms plenty of living area and is easy for you to work with.
What will you use to house your worm compost?
What will you make the worm bedding with?
A huge part of setting up a worm farm the right way is making worm-suitable bedding. Compost worms naturally live in the microbe-rich, decaying organic matter that is on top of the soil. These little guys are not the same type of worm that you find when you dig in the soil.
So the worm bedding that you’ll put in your worm farm needs to replicate the environment compost worms are naturally found in. Here are some items you can make their bedding with:
- Shredded cardboard and paper – not glossy or colour filled
- Shredded leaves and leaf mold – shredded because otherwise they take a long time to break down, even in a worm bin
- Sugar cane mulch, hay, straw – consider whether these have been sprayed with pesticides or persistent herbicides
- Aged compost – aged meaning definitely past any heating phase as the heat will kill the worms
- Aged horse and cow manure – these are the manures that compost worms are naturally found in but they need to be aged a few months before using in a worm farm
- Coco coir – be sure to rehydrate it first
- Don’t add soil to the worm farm – compost worms don’t live in soil, they live above the soil
Ensure the bedding you make also has plenty of microbes because no microbes = no worms. Compost worms turn both their bedding and their food into worm castings aka black gold. Their bedding is food. And the more diverse their bedding – and their food – the higher quality your castings will be.
Setting up properly is really important. I go over this in a lot of depth in the Intro To Worm Composting free workshop. If you’d like to take this workshop, click here.
What about moisture in the worm farm?
Worms breathe through their skin and their skin needs to be moist for them to be able to breathe. Your worm bedding should be moist like your kitchen cloth after you’ve rinsed it and squeezed it out. Grab a handful of the bedding and squeeze it, only a few drops of water should drip off the bottom of your hand.
Too little water and the worms will struggle to live which means less ability to turn your kitchen scraps into castings.
Too much water and the whole worm compost becomes discouraging and messy to deal with, much less air circulates which brings the risk of the bedding turning anaerobic (the worms can’t live in this) and all the moisture-loving bugs will want to join the party.
Have you popped into the kitchen and rinsed then squeezed a dish cloth yet, to get a feel and a visual for the ideal worm bin moisture level?
Set your worm farm up the right way
When we start off on the right foot, managing the process is much easier. It’s easier to keep things in a worm bin under control than it is to bring things back from a failure, or worse, a disaster.
Make the bedding at least a week before adding the worms. Add microbes to the bedding when you make it. This can be done by adding a handful of good quality aged compost or healthy garden soil. Add a bit of molasses or raw sugar dissolved in water to the bedding when you make it. This feeds the microbes. By the time the worms arrive, the bedding they are going into will feel like the bedding they came from and they will quickly settle and get on with making lots of castings for you.
Compost worms are pretty hardy. When you get the foundations right, they thrive for a long long time. Take the Intro To Worm Composting workshop if you want more actionable knowledge around setting up properly and getting those foundations right.