Worm Farms Turn Garbage Into Garden Fertilizer

Why would anyone want to start a worm farm? Growing worms - what's up with that? What do you do with a bunch of worms? Well, if you speak to a fisherman, you might get some good answers to that last question, but most worm farms are actually started not to make more worms, but in order to get the product that the worms produce when fed organic material similar to that used in a compost pile. This final product is called castings, and while it's technically worm excrement, it's also a great fertilizer or amendment for garden soil or potted plants. The state of California is actually encouraging employees of both public and private sector businesses to "keep worms in your office". At the CA EPA offices in Sacremento, there's a waiting list for the sixty worm farm bins that are available.

The technical term for using worms to process compost and create castings is 'vermicomposting', and the finished product is called vermicompost or vermicast. To get high quality castings from an earthworm farm, it's necessary to start with the proper type of worms. Going out to your garden and digging up whatever you find living there may not be the way to go. There are certain types of worms that adapt well to living in a container and processing organic waste. The wrong type of worm may burrow down while not processing as much of the food into castings, so if you're just starting out, you'd probably want to buy your worms from an experienced vermicomposting supplier. After you get some experience, you may be able to identify your local worms and whether or not they'd be good candidates for populating a farm.

There are a number of different ways to build a worm farm. It's possible to situate it directly on the ground. You can also dig a trench and put the materials in there. But most people use a container or bin of some sort, sometimes stacking two or even more on top of each other.

To start the farm in a container, begin by placing a couple of sheets of shredded newspaper or cardboard inside to serve as bedding, followed by a few handfuls of soil. Moisten lightly with water. Add some organic waste for food, and then the worms. Cover with something that will keep out the light while retaining moisture, such as burlap or newspaper. Try and resist the urge to look at the worms for a couple of weeks. Then take off the cover and add some more food. Continue to do this as the worms multiply. If it starts to smell bad, you may be supplying the worms with more food than they can process. Also, be sure not to add any animal products or waste, milk products, or oils, as they can all smell or attract pests.

When the bin is about half full, it's probably a good time to harvest the castings. There are a number of ways to do this. Many people just push everything to one side, being sure to pull out any large non decomposed food. They then add the bedding, dirt, and food to the empty side, and wait a couple of weeks for the worms to move over to the new side, leaving just good vermicompost which they can then remove and use in the garden.

Other people like to dump everything out and separate the contents into piles, leaving them uncovered. The worms move down to get away from the light, and the top layer can be removed. Keep repeating till you've harvested all the castings, then start the farm over with the worms. Another method is to use numerous bins stacked up, starting the farm in the top bin, and when it is ready for harvesting, moving the top bin down and putting a different one on the top while adding all the materials and food. The worms simply migrate to the top bin, leaving only castings in the lower one.

There's a lot of specifics that we couldn't cover in this short article, so if you're interested in learning more about earthworm farms, take a look at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/envirom/wormfarm.htm for lots more detail. Just be aware that those who try it tend to become worm farming fanatics!

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