No matter how prudent you are with what you buy and what you eat, there’s always something left over. Whether it’s the ends of vegetables, the limp or dirty lettuce leaves, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells or when you’ve cooked too much, there’s always these bits and pieces of scraps and off cuts which would normally be on their way to landfill.
The problem of course with all this is that in Australia, fertile land is not particularly plentiful and every time a farmer crops, you’re taking valuable nutrients out his soil which he then has to replace, probably with chemical fertilizers. And any residual nutrients in your leftovers go into landfill to be lost forever rather than being recycled back into that productive land. And you pay Council rates and transportation for the privilege, while generating greenhouse gases in the process. Doesn’t sound particularly sustainable does it?
Worm farms are amazing little things. Essentially you put your food scraps into a container with worms, they chomp away on it and give you a by product of pH balanced castings (like a top grade potting mix, but probably better) and pH balanced liquid fertilizer. And all of this happens without taking much space or any offensive odour. My first worm farm was on my balcony in the Surry Hills! With topsoil such a precious commodity, the ability to create your own is quite dazzling. Charles Darwin reckons worms are the most important species on the planet for this reason.
As far as I can tell it’s pretty difficult to get a worm farm wrong if you follow the instructions which come with your kit. You can get a worm farm and your worm starter pack at most nurseries, although they’re probably a lot cheaper at K-Mart. If I recall rightly, my worm farm cost me $79 and my box of worms cost me $39. Most councils in the area have worm farming courses – these probably don’t tell you much more than the instruction book, but you can ask questions or show off to everyone that you’ve read the book.
Some suggestions to optimize your setup based on my experience:
- Make sure you start with a box of at least 1,000 worms. You can start with less, but it will slow you down.
Don’t overfeed them – if the food starts building up, let them get through it before you add more.
- If the worm farm is out in the rain, leave the tap fully open draining into a bucket. I went travelling up the coast during some heavy rains and thought I’d left the tap partially open. When I came back the active levels had compressed and the worms couldn’t get between levels. They were okay, but it’s slowed them down a lot. (see pic – still going strong, but have got some catching up to do).
- Your worm farm is a natural incubator for seeds. If things sprout, plant them. If they take, you’ve got free plants.
- Lastly, in winter, try to keep them warm. Guidebooks suggest putting a Hessian sack over the top. We’ve got a storage hot water system at our place, and putting the worm farm next to the hot water system allows them to tap some of that wasted warmth and also allow me to capture and dilute the fertilizer with runoff from the hot water system as we go (see pic).