Having a worm farm is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you send to landfill. A worm farm is easy to keep and maintain, the kids can be responsible for it. A healthy worm farm will recycle your kitchen scraps into fertiliser, both liquid fertiliser (a.k.a. worm wee) and solid, soil type stuff called 'castings' (at our place this is called worm poo). If you are a dog owner, refer to the last pargraph for extra reasons why you should be a worm farmer.
Some issues you may have about Worm farms:
Is a worm farm heavy or hard-to-lift? At Eco At Home we have a modern 'worm cafe'. It has three worm traysand is easy to manage. If you can't lift the trays, just remove some of the contents out with a trowel, perhaps straight into a garden pot, until it is light enough for you to manage.
How many worms do I need? We usually encourage families to buy a 1000 worm pack, but if you are single 500 might be ok.
Is it smelly? Worm farms only smell for 2 reasons: 1: if you overfeed them, and the food goes off before the little wrigglers get a chance to eat it; easily fixed by regulating their food when establishing them. This problem rarely occurs once the worm farm is established. or 2: You don't empty the bottom tray, the liquid wicks up through all the levels and the worms all drown - which means you have dead worms = dead meat = smell. If you know that you are not going to give the worms priority in your life, (it's not hard to find more interesting things to occupy you), then set the worms up so they can cope with your inattentiveness. You can leave the drain tap open, and place a bucket underneath to catch the worm wee. Or you can leave the tap open and just let it drain into the soil. Then, when you do have a stint in the garden, relocate the worm farm and plant something where the wormwee has been boosting the soil.
What is the best place for a worm farm? Location, location, location. To find a spot for your new pets, remember that shade is all important. The plastic trays can get very hot in the sun, and the worms will get cooked. Cooked worms = dead meat = smell. So full shade, on the south side of the house, or behind a shrub, or under a tree etc. From a practical point of view, put it where it is readily accessible, and somewhere that is frequently visited by you. Near the back door/kitchen door is good, but it must be in the shade. On a balcony is fine, you can drape a cloth over it, put a little flowerpot on it and it can double as a coffee table!
I don't like having a sloppy scraps container in my kitchen. This problem is solved beautifully by the Max Air Bin. This bin and liner were developed in Norway. The flip-top bin has vents in the side and top, and the liner is breathable, waterproof cornstach. This combination allows air to flow though the bin, which dehydrates the food a little, so that you don't have liquid pooling in the bottom of the container. The movement of air slows the growth of mould. You can collect food scraps all week, then take the bin liner out and throw it, contents and all, into the worm farm. The cornstach binliner is 100% biodegradable, the worms eat straight through eat. Place a new liner in the bin, and you're ready to collect next weeks worm rations.
There are a lot of worms in our compost, can I use them in the worm farm? Your compost worms have most likely come out of the garden, and are the burrowing variety. They are great to have, they indicate a healthy soil and abundant soil life. They are in the compost only if the compost has 'finished', or if it is anaerobic, and the worms are helping it along. These worms, being burrowers, are not suited to a worm farm, which needs 'surface feeders'. Worm farms work on a tray rotation system, with the worms constantly moving up to the top tray. To save buying worms you can get a handfull of worms from a friend's worm farm, and feed them up until you have the numbers you need.
Do they attract pests? No. If you are overfeeding them, then any rotting fruit might attract little flies. These little flies are commonly called vinegar flies; they are attracted to an acidic environment, and they are your messenger to let you know that you need to add some garden lime to your worm farm. Garden lime is an alkaline, and will bring the pH of the worm farm back to a level that the worms like. This is just a short-term problem, if you continually overfeed them, they will breed up to cope with the volume of food, they're very obliging little fellows.
What happens if I go overseas for a holiday, do I have to get someone to feed my worms? If you remember to think of them at all, you're a very conscientious worm owner! Just place a few layers of wet cardboard or newspaper (or any other paper, but not glossy magazines) in the top tray. The worms will make do with that in the absence of your delicious scraps. Should you forget them altogether, and arrive home to find very skinny, starved worms, just feed them up (soggy bread is easy for them to consume, they don't have teeth and have to gum their food). Should you come home to a mortuary in the worm farm, check if the 'soil' is still moist. If it is, put small amounts of food in, the remaining eggs will hatch when they sense the famine has passed,(up to 12 hatchlings per egg), and you can breed up your wrigglers back to their previous numbers in a few weeks. The eggs remain viable for a very long time, so long as they are kept moist. If the 'soil' is dry, there is nothing to do except toss it all into the garden and start again with a fresh batch of worms.
What can I feed them? It's true, if worms could have their 'druthers, they would rather have soggy, easy to gum/suck food such as tropical fruits - mangoes, bananas, melon. Worms, however , are pretty low in the pecking order (especially when there are chickens around), and will eat just about anything.
There are a few things we don't recommend putting in the worm farm, I'll list them with the reasons why
eggshells - worms simply can't eat them. They will still be there when you remove the worm castings, and you'll have eggshells in the garden. Eggshells are good for the garden, so if you crush them up, and put them in the worm farm, they'll end up adding calcium to your soil. Eggshells don't harm the worms, but can look a little unsightly in the gardenbeds. It's up to you whether you put eggshells in.
meat or bones - these tend to attract vermin (rats and cats and dogs), who can wrestle the lid off your worm farm to get to the meat. We give the meat straight to the dog.
citrus peel - citrus is very acidic, worms prefer alkaline. A bit of citrus in amongst the rest is fine, but if you've cut oranges for the cricket team, that's probably a bit too much citrus for your worms. Likewise if you have a juicer, you probably have a lot of orange peel. Better to bin it.
onion - the dry flaky skin from the onion has no nutrtional value, even to a worm. It will still be there when you empty the tray.
Worm Farms for Dogs As a responsible dog owner, you no doubt pick up after your dog, both when out for a walk, and in your back yard. This presents you with a problem, how to dispose of it. What to do with dog poo? Flushing it down the loo is a great option, but not very practical. Tying it up in a plastic bag and binning it is not such a good idea. Plastic bags can take 300 to 500 years to break down. Who knows what germs will be breeding in that bag a few generations from now!
In nature, the dung beetle, with the help of insects, microbes and germs, breaks down the poo and returns it to the soil. You can speed up this process, and move it out of sight, with a worm farm. There are enough nutrients left in doggy doo to sustain worms. You may want to establish a worm farm especially for the dog, so that the worms don't get distracted by the tasty morsels in your kitchen scraps, and leave the do-doos till last. Having a separate worm farm will also enable you to be selective on where to put your worm castings and worm wee - keep the doggy worm castings away from the herbs and veggie patch, for instance. To make the worm farm even more practical, we have 100% biodegradable cornstarch 'doggy' bags, which your dog can take on walks, and you then throw the bags, contents and all, into the worm farm. The worms will eat the lot. In return for this effort, you get free fertiliser for the garden.