Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

Posts tagged ‘worms’

Compost Worms. The perfect pet for the lazy gardener!

It is just possible, thanks to the humble compost worm, that I can officially label myself ‘Not quite as lazy as I thought I was’.

Why? Because I recently read in a popular Australian gardening magazine that worm farms were ‘just too much effort’ to maintain. Now that is lazy.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a garden helper as low maintenance and hard-working as a compost worm. Well, maybe an earthworm. Or a microbe…but that’s not the point!

To be fair, I think the writers were judging the effort required from the first couple of weeks of setting up the worms, which still isn’t anything like herculean, but is not really an indicator of the level of effort required once the worms are established.

Draining lovely 'worm tea' for the garden.

I put my ‘worm farm’ back into use in January. I did muck about a bit for a week or two getting the worms set up and working out how much compost to feed them. I worried that I would accidently starve them so I overfed them more than once, but I think it is a pretty standard mistake to make.  Worms eat very little when they are settling in.

If you do accidentally overfeed your worms it is easily solved. You can transfer the excess to the compost bin or add a little lime (I did read somewhere to use dolomite lime, not garden lime…but I’d already added garden lime before I’d read that and the worms are still there happily chewing away).

Worms feeding in the recently added second level tray. They will gradually move up into this tray, then the next, allowing the castings in the lower levels to be used.

Now, in early winter, I check the worms a couple of times a week (I was peeking in more often in hot weather)  and I might feed them on one or both of those occassions…or not. If there is still food they haven’t finished, I just keep going past the compost worms to the compost bin with my scraps.

There are a few basics to keep in mind for compost worms, such as:

  • Avoid onions and limit the amount of citrus and other acidic scraps (having said that, my worms seem to be quite partial to strawberry tops)
  • Avoid meats and anything cooked in oils etc
  • Keep the worms in the shade or undercover (mine have done just fine under ‘Mother Maple’ through the hot summer)
  • The worms might need a little water added if it is hot and dry, but generally the food scraps and the worms ‘output’ keep things nicely damp. It doesn’t hurt to flush them out from time to time anyway and it means you get some (slightly more dilute) worm ‘tea’ (ok, yes, wee!) a little faster.

The first tray is now almost ready to 'harvest' for castings (it does not fill all the way up as the next tray sits quite deeply into it)

Many places also recommend that you chop up worm food finely and I’ve seen pictures of people putting worm food in a blender… but I have not found it necessary to do anything but tear larger pieces of compost up a little. If you’ve got a bit of a mix of compost that is older/softer (such as overripe bananas – worms looooove bananas) and some newer stuff they will manage ok over the course of a few days without the aid of a food processor.

And as for the benefits? My plants love it! A little diluted worm wee is just the trick for a plant suffering from transplant shock, a plant that is looking a bit sad and tired, or for helping newly emerged seedlings get a good start in life.

My daughter's 'Chocolate Lily' that had almost died before a couple of doses of worm wee.

The worm wee must be good stuff, because I’ve just discovered that the little Chocolate Lily Arthropodium strictum (that has flowers about the size of a thumbnail) should flower here from September to December and I don’t think it is flowering because it is about to die!

It is recommended to use worm wee as you would seaweed preparations and suggested that you dilute it anything from one part in 5 to 10. It is good to know that even if you used worm wee without diluting it doesn’t burn plants like other fertilisers would. However, it is better to dilute it as you can make it go a lot further that way.

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Anyone for worm tea?

The only people in the world who may actually say ‘yes’ to that question would have to be gardeners!

Ever wonder what's really in Vegemite?

After just over a month, the worms have well and truly settled in and are starting to produce ‘liquid gold’. That gold is of course, worm tea, or more accurately, worm wee and manure (‘manure’ does seem like a big word for a little worm, doesn’t it?)

Rich stuff. It's recommended to dilute at least 1 part to 4 parts water. However, I've also read it should not burn plants, even if applied neat.

Anyway, here are the latest ‘worm learnings’ from my trial and error composting worm bin:

1. Lime is fine.

The air vents in my old ‘re-constructed’ worm bin were missing the inserts to exclude flies. After a couple of weeks I did have a few vinegar flies starting to hover in the bin, which wasn’t helped by my overfeeding them in the settling period. However, the problem was easily solved by covering the air vents with some flywire and sprinkling some lime in the bin.

Not surprisingly, my tomatoes are the first to benefit from the worm wee!

2. Don’t drown the worms.

My worm bin is outside under a shady tree. The worm bin, which was meant to be designed for outdoor use, has vents in the lid as well as the sides, which I hadn’t paid much attention to. Recent rain resulted in quite a lot of water getting in. Luckily I discovered this before the poor worms had to swim for it!

3. Don’t bake the worms.

At this time of year we can go from a day of rain to a week of baking heat. I’ve had to ‘water’ the worms lightly a couple of times when the paper at the top of the worm bin was looking a bit dried out, but generally they seem to stay happily damp.

Yes, the flower buds are starting to open!

If you’re interested in starting up a worm bin/farm, there is some getting started info here and some other helpful links in my sidebar.

Worm Learnings: When 499 Housemates Isn’t Enough.

Warning: Post contains images of wriggly (and out-of-focus) worms!

My ‘re-conditioned’ worm farm has been up and running for a couple of weeks now. Here are my early discoveries:

1. 499 housemates really aren’t enough (when you’re a compost worm).

Blurry happy worms

Having read several different suggestions of how many worms a worm farm should be started with, I have since found Red Worms informative blog which told me two very  important things. apparently worms eat half their body weight each day and it takes 90 days for worms to double their number.  I realised from this that if I really wanted my compost turned into wonderful worm tea in the foreseeable future, I needed more worms! Another 500 worms have just moved in to the apartment today.

2. Strawberries are favourite.

So far the worms have tried potato peelings, bananas and few strawberries that have gone mushy. They like the bananas, but they looooove strawberries. They are not particularly fond of potato peelings, but I guess I wouldn’t take those over strawberries and bananas either! I am however a little worried that too many strawberries might be a bit acidic, so I won’t go too overboard with them.

3. Don’t overfeed the worms!!!

A little too much food. Hopefully the new worms will deal with that!

OK, so I said in the original post that I stared the worms off with about a cup full of food. Well, that was a little inaccurate. An over-generous hand of what was probably closer to three cups was too much for my newly settling worms who don’t need much in their first week or two. The compost was rotting quicker than they could munch it and this resulted in a need to distribute a little garden lime in the farm to get things sorted.

4. Learn a little patience *sigh*

Now I just have to be patient and wait for my worms to settle and re-produce and, most importantly, start producing some wonderful worm wee for my garden!

More later on how things develop!

Becoming a worm farmer

Part one – setting up the farm & moving the worms in.

The remaining parts of the worm farm. Enough to be going on with I think!

A few years ago we had a worm farm that produced beautiful ‘worm tea’ and vermacasts for the garden. Worm by-products are a fantastic rich fertiliser that doesn’t burn plants. I can’t remember why we stopped using it, but for some reason the worms were set free and the farm was packed away.

While pottering around recently I found the old plastic worm farm and have decided to give it a new lease on life. Sadly parts of it seem to have been ‘re-purposed’ or just plain lost over the years and it’s been left without it’s tap or the lid.  I had a scrounge around and came up with some things I hoped I could use to get it up and running again.

The worm farm needs to be in a fairly shady location. Shelter from frost is important too.

Before I could start moving the worms in I had to do something about the missing tap or the precious worm tea (and maybe the worms!) would leak out of the hole at the bottom. I needed something that could drain the liquid, but could also be sealed up. It had me stumped at first but then I thought the top of a lemonade bottle and it’s lid might just work…

The lemonade bottle top was just a tiny bit too big for the hole in the tub, but a very sharp knife helped widen it just enough. It fits pretty well, but not 100% snug, so I’ll keep an eye on how much leakage there is and put some silicone sealant around the hole if need be.

The old tap was narrower and used to get clogged up a bit so maybe this will flow better, if it lasts!

Once the tap issue was sorted, it was just a matter of setting up the worms new home.  As my daughter is currently keen on being an entomologist when she grows up I was lucky to have a willing helper.

Half a dozen pages of damp newspaper (worms don’t like anything dry!) went in to line the first ‘residential’ tray that was nestled above the drainage tray.

Here is the Box O’ worms! I bought them live from a hardware shop which my daughter found to be a very strange idea indeed. Compost worms are different varieties from standard earthworms which we are also lucky to have in the garden.

I’ve read recommendations that worm farms the size we are using should be started with 500 worms and others that recommend at least 1000 or even 2000. We’ve just got 500 and the hope that in a few weeks they will be happy enough in their new home to make more worms!

Below my daughter is helping spread the worm mixture gently across the tray. They go in complete with the organic matter they were boxed with to help them settle into their new home and have somewhere to hide. Worms like hiding so much we thought our box of worms had no worms at first!

If you look really closely you will see that there is more than one worm!

Every bit of information on worm farms seems to recommend only giving them a little food at first, but they don’t tend to quantify what a ‘little’ is, so we guesstimated about a cup worth of compostables, mainly old potato peelings and banana skins.  The Gardening Australia fact sheet on worm farms recommended banana skins, so hopefully we’ll be hearing contented munching noises soon!

At this stage the worms should not need feeding again for a least a week as they will be busy settling in. Definitely don’t feed worms meat or meat tainted scraps and limit use of onion or citrus in a worm farm.

Last of all we added a blanket for the worms – another layer of damp newspaper. The whole farm can be covered with wet hessian or carpet if it’s getting really hot.

I checked our worms a few hours after setting them up and already they are moving about the new food scraps, so I’m guessing they are hungry! We will be checking on them each day to see how they are going and to make sure that their home does not dry out.

I’m not sure what to do for a more long term solution for the missing lid, but my temporary solution was to out an old sign across the top and weigh it down with the spare worm  farm tray. I’ll scrounge up something more permanent soon.

Pest update

I found out what these pesky little critters were. They are a native ‘true bug’ Scolypopa australis with the common name ‘Passionvine Hopper’ . They love sucking the sap from creepers and other plants (like buddleia) that produce nice juicy new shoots.  Interestingly when I trimmed out the canopy of the buddleia noticed a lot less of these and some contented looking Red Wattle Birds.  You have to  love natural biological controls!

Last but not least, one of my favourite roses…

Double Delight