Worm Farming for Beginners - Your Guide to Getting Started
Our Beginner’s Guide to Worm Farming
Worm farming is one of the best ways to reduce your food waste. Not only is it very low maintenance and environmentally friendly, but it is also provides you with a near endless supply of rich, organic fertilizer for your garden. Running a worm farm is very simple, requires very little time and effort, and can even be set up in a small space in your backyard. Read on to find out more about worm farming for beginners.
What is Worm Farming?
Worm farming, or vermicomposting, is the process of raising worms to create a natural, nutrient-rich compost that can be used on your garden or plant at home. They can turn just about any sort of organic waste into the world’s most nutrient-rich fertilizer called worm castings (also referred to as worm poo). These castings help plants grow strong, healthy roots, and help to suppress disease. Just one tablespoon of worm castings is enough to feed a small plant for three months. That’s why farmers and gardeners often refer to it as “black gold.”
Check Out Our Worm Farm Buyer’s Guide Here!
Best Worms For Composting
There are at least seven species of earthworms that are suitable for worm farming. These are part of the epigean family of earthworms that are primarily found in the top layers of soil. Their role in nature is to recycle all of the organic matter that ends up on the forest floor, which makes them perfect for worm farming. The most common varieties are Tiger worms, or red wrigglers (eisenia fetida), European nightcrawlers (eisenia hortensis), Indian blues (perionyx excavatus) and African nightcrawlers (eudrilus eugeniae).
For beginners, we recommend going with red wrigglers for the greatest chance of success with your worm farm. They are very adaptable to any environmental condition and are generally the easiest to acquire. They can also double their population every 60 days and consume up to half their body weight per day, making them an excellent choice for disposing of your food waste.
How to Start Worm Farming
1. Choose your worm bin
Most worm farms are of the stackable tray design, so they are easy to move around and do not take up much space, making them ideal for small households. However, if you are looking for a larger worm farming system, then maybe consider getting a flow-through system such as the Urban Worm Bag or Hungry Bin. These larger worm farms are ideal for places where there is a lot of food waste, such as schools, workplaces, or even just for larger families. It is important that you choose the right size worm farm to handle the amount of food waste you produce. For more information about the types of worm farms on the market, check out our buyer’s guide here.
2. Find a perfect location for your worm farm
Worms are seasonal creatures. Keep them in a cool, sheltered place in the summer and out of direct sunlight. During the colder months, move them to a sunny location to keep them productive when temperatures drop. If possible, place them near your kitchen for convenience when you need to add in your food scraps.
The Can-O-Worms stackable worm bin.
3. Fill the bin with a suitable bedding material
The next step is to add your bedding. Coconut coir makes a great bedding for your worms and is readily available to purchase from most garden centers. Simply mix it with a bit of plain soil and shredded newspaper to create the bedding. You’ll need to soak the coconut coir for about 20-30 mins before use, ensuring that you wring it out so that it’s not dripping wet. It should feel moist but only drip lightly when squeezed. You can also add eggshells to the soil (if you have any) to help provide some grit for the worms to use in their digestion of the food waste.
4. Add your composting worms
This part is easy. Place your worms in the bedding you created and cover them with a few sheets of damp newspaper or a hessian bag if you have one to protect them. You can also purchase a worm blanket which is specially designed to protect your worms from the elements and keep moisture in the bin. Do not worry about putting in too many or too few, as the worms will quickly self-regulate their population. Ideally you want to wait for about a week before you start feeding them, to let them settle into their new home.
5. Add your organic waste
Anything that decomposes naturally can go into the farm, from your food scraps to dry leaves and lawn clippings. However, there are certain wastes that you should avoid putting in your worm farms, such as dairy products, meat and bones, excessive citrus (lemons, limes, and oranges), onions, garlic, spicy foods, fats, oils, highly processed foods, and dog or cat feces. Dairy products and meat are harder for the worms to digest and can cause bad odors. To effectively dispose of these types of scraps, consider using a traditional compost or a bokashi bin instead.
6. Maintain the farm
Avoid overfeeding the worms, as worm farms process less food than traditional compost bins, and at a slower rate. Uneaten food will begin to smell and may attract unwanted pests. A worm can consume approximately its body weight in food each day, which means the amount of food you feed your worms can depend on how many you have in your worm farm. As a general rule, feed them at least once a week or a small amount every few days depending on whether they are getting through it all. Once your worm farm is established and the worms are multiplying, you can try giving them more food. Cutting the food into smaller pieces will also make it easier for the worms to eat, which should speed up the composting process.
7. Harvesting the “black gold”
Worm farms will produce both liquid and solid fertilizer. The liquid, known as leachate, is what you collect from the bottom of your worm farm. To harvest it, simply open the tap at the bottom of your farm and empty it into a container. Always dilute the liquid with water before using it in your garden, as it can be too strong to pour on directly. Dilute the liquid with 1 part leachate to seven parts up to 10 parts water depending on how rich you want it to be.
It’s important to note that this is different from “worm tea”, which is brewed by using the worm castings themselves. Leachate may contain bad bacteria if the health of your worm farm is out of balance as it hasn’t been properly processed by the worms’ digestive systems. If the liquid smells pungent, don’t use it on your plants. As a rule, try it out on ornamental plants first, and generally avoid using it on consumable plants.
The solid worm castings will look like like a rich, dark soil. It takes longer for worm castings to accumulate but they can generally be harvested every 4-6 months. Simply scrape off the top layer to harvest the castings whilst taking care as there may be some worms in the castings that you want to avoid harming. From there, just use the castings on your garden as you would any other fertilizer and you should start to see stronger healthier plants in no time!
Our list of form farm supplies makes caring for your worms even easier!
Helpful Tips for Starting a Worm Farm
Once you have everything you need to start worm farming, there are a few guidelines that will help ensure your worms stay healthy and reproduce.
1. Give your worms space
Worms like to live in dark spaces with lots of dirt. If you don’t give them this kind of environment, they can become stressed and die prematurely. This is why it is important to give them a good bedding, with good ventilation. Over time, your worms will self-regulate their population based on the size of their environment, so you shouldn’t need to worry too much. If you think your worm bin is getting a bit crowded, you can simply remove some worms and place them in your garden.
2. Keep the pH just under 7 (slightly acidic)
Worms like a very slightly acidic environment with a pH level of between 6-8. Using a pH meter can be an easy way to monitor the acidity of your farm. To help maintain the pH, you can sprinkle a bit of compost conditioner or dolomite lime from time to time. Your worms may become stressed, stop eating and reproduce less if the pH level stays too high or too low.
3. Give them enough food
Worms like to eat, but even they have their limit. If you give them too little, they will starve and likely look to escape (see below), too much and they may not be able to get through it all and your worm bin will start to smell. The best way to avoid this is to periodically check to see how they are managing. You should quickly get a sense of how much to feed them based on whether there is still a lot of uneaten food when you check on them, or none at all.
4. Keep an eye on the temperature
Worms like it to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too high or too low, they will become stressed and could potentially start to die off. You can monitor this by checking on your worms regularly and moving them to an area with ideal temperatures if need be. Using a thermometer is a great way to quickly check the temperature of the worm bin and takes the guess work out of the equation.
Some Common Problems You May Encounter
A well-run worm farm should smell pleasantly earthy. If your farm smells bad, remove any food that may have gone moldy and make sure you are not overfeeding your worms. Gently aerate the castings with either your hand or a garden fork and add some shredded newspaper to help counteract any changes in acidity levels. What generally tends to happen if there is uneaten food, is that the scraps start to rot and break down anaerobically (without oxygen), producing smelly gases. Mixing the food in with the castings helps aerate the bin to allow aerobic decomposition to occur. If you’re finding a lot of uneaten food, try refraining from feeding them until they get through the uneaten stuff. You can always freeze your food scraps to give to them at a later date.
A well-managed worm farm should not attract flies, as they have difficulty reproducing if the food is quickly consumed by the worms. If flies bother you, reduce your farm’s feeding or cover them with a jute bag. You can also bury the food in the castings to speed up processing and make it harder for flies to get to the scraps.
Insects such as slugs, beetles, springtails, and mites are part of the natural decomposition cycle and may well be present in your worm farm. Ants often indicate that your worm farm is simply too dry. You can try adding adding some moisture by giving your worm farm a light spray with some water to solve the problem. You can also place the legs of your worm farm in bowls of water to prevent them from getting into your bin.
Going on a Vacation
Worms can live up to 4 weeks without fresh food. However, before you go, you may want to feed them a little bit of extra food and mix some of it into the castings so it doesn’t go off too quickly. Place damp newspaper in the worm farm and put it in a cool place to protect it from the elements (if outside). Empty out the worm leachate before you travel, leaving the valve open and a container underneath to catch the liquid. The worms should be quite happy and manage just fine until you get back.
There could be a number of reasons as to why your worms are trying to escape your worm bin. The most common reasons are to do with the conditions inside the bin itself. If the acidity content has gone up (lower pH), then you may want to refrain from putting any citrus scraps like peels or even tomatoes for the time being. Add some more carbon such as newspaper or compost conditioner to help your bin return to neutral.
Extremes of temperature can also trigger a mass exodus of your worms. Remember to try and keep the worm farm around 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures are higher than that, you may want to consider moving the worm farm to a cooler, more shady spot. If they’re much lower, then moving your worm farm inside may offer your worms some more protection. Ensure your lid is on securely to prevent any escape attempts. You may even want to try a worm blanket as an added measure to keep your worms in the trays. It also adds a layer of protection for the worms, making it safer and more desirable to stay inside the bin.
So there you have it! Our worm farming for beginners guide to help get you started on your way to making your own high quality, organic fertilizer out of your old food scraps. You’ll be doing the planet a huge favor, all whilst reaping the benefits of having a garden full of strong, healthy plants and a lower carbon footprint. Let us know if you have any questions, or check out some of our latest articles for everything you need to become a successful worm farmer at home!