Vermiculture – Composting With Worms

A few months ago, I attended a free Island wide workshop on different composting methods. This course was funded by Auckland Council and was presented by Caity from Okiwi Passion, an organic market garden in the northern settlement of Great Barrier Island. The participants of that workshop could chose a free composting kit (worm farming, Zing Bokashi and kits for traditional cold composting). I opted for vermi-composting, a suitable addition to the other forms of composting that are taking place on BENIsLAND.

Composting can be essential to off grid living and although I haven’t had the success I envisaged, progress is being made. At this stage, I have a container for cold composting, produced a big heap for hot composting, use a closed bin system for decomposing fish frames, rats and similar organic matter. I also utilize the ash from the wood burner. Further, I empty sacks of sea weed into the chicken coop and when they have finished eating the mini-organisms and turning it over, I collect and distribute it around my fruit trees.  Using worms to produce compost is yet another addition.

The worm farm kit I received consists of three containers, three lids, a bucket, a tap and tiger worms. In NZL, red worms and tiger worms can be used for vermi-culture and I’ve been told that you cannot just use any type of worms.

worm_farm_kit

Benefits of Vermi-Composting?

As the worms process organic waste, they excrete solid (vermi-cast) and liquid castings (worm-tea). These are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) and used to fertilise plants. Further benefits are of course recycling organic waste, increasing soil aeration, water holding capacity, fertility, beneficial microbes and producing humus. Vermi-composting can be done in even small house-holds or in apartment environments in the city to grow better plants.

How To Start?

Independent of the kit you utilize, the worm farm needs to be sheltered from sun, wind, and rain. Worms need a porous bedding like hay, shredded paper, coconut fibre, etc. They need air but are photophobic and do not thrive in hot or cold environments (10-30 deg. Celsius is okay).  Worms can be mail ordered, or ask your friendly neighbour for a few handfuls.

worm_farming_bedding

Ongoing Process

Food scraps should be added regularly and cut into small pieces (less than 2 cm). The environment needs to be moist (not wet, not dry). If too dry, add water, if too moist, add shredded newspaper. It takes a bit of practise, my bedding was too wet and the worms moved up the sides and hung around the lid. Then it was too dry and they went down through the bedding into the wet collecting container.

They eat about their own weight each day, it is, however, beneficial to start with little food. If overfed, uneaten food will rot and you’ll end up with more problems than benefits.

The Worm Diet

Like: Egg shells, green garden waste, comfrey, animal manure, scrap paper, newspaper, grass cuttings, rice & other left over grains, bread, coffee grounds, tea bags, leaf tea, fruit and vegetable peelings, hair, vacuum cleaner dust.

Don’t Like: too much food, fatty foods (oils), onion, garlic, chillies, capsicums, spicy foods, dairy products, citrus fruit, meat (will cause maggots, flies, and make the thing smell), large amount of cooked food, flour products

How To Use Castings?

The worm-tea should be diluted (about 1:10) and used to fertilise plants. Once the first layer (bin) is full with worms, you add food to the second layer and the worms will migrate into the top bin. The solid waste (castings and humus) can now be used to form a slurry (also about 1:10) and applied around plant roots monthly. The worm-tea seeps through the solids and is collected in the bottom bin. This should be fitted with a tap for ease of use.

Problem Solving

  • rotting food – feed less
  • food not processed – wrong organic waste has been used
  • ants, fruit flies, small white bugs – too acidic, increase pH
  • worms climbing up sides – too wet
  • lots of ants – too dry

wormfarmingwormfarming2wormfarming3After going through all possible mistakes (too dry, too wet, too much food, too hot, etc.), I think I’m starting to win here. The population is growing, although there should be much more worms and they do appear a bit pale as well.

Hopefully, I’ll have a good working setup with a significantly increased population for the new gardening season. Will keep you informed.

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