How to start your own worm farm for garden goodness

Recycle your kitchen scraps into garden fertilizer with a worm farm.

DAVID GOADBY

Recycle your kitchen scraps into garden fertilizer with a worm farm.

Question

I want to start worm farming, but I’m not sure how to start. I’ve been given an old, round, black stacking Can-O-Worms farm but no worms. Where should I put it and where can I get the right kind of worms?

Answer

Worm farming is easy and low-maintenance, and your garden will appreciate the worm castings and the liquid worm tea that drains out of the worm farm.

Place the bin where it will get winter sun but won’t be baked by the sun in summer. Raise it off the ground on some bricks if it doesn’t have legs. The worm farm needs to be high enough above the ground so that you can get a container under the tap to collect the worm tea. For instructions on how to assemble the Can-O-Worms click here.

Striped tiger worms can eat half their body weight in food each day.

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Striped tiger worms can eat half their body weight in food each day.

Tiger worms are the ones you need. They eat decomposing organic material, prefer damp conditions and live close to the surface. Don’t use earthworms from your garden. They prefer to eat soil and humus and won’t thrive in a confined bin. Purchase worms from a garden center or by mail order or perhaps try Neighborly to find a worm farmer nearby who will share some of their worms to help you get started.

Start off with a 7-10cm bedding layer of shredded paper, corrugated cardboard, mature compost, or coconut fiber. The bedding layer needs to be moist but not dripping. Only a few drops of water should appear if you squeeze it. Add the worms, which will burrow down into the bedding layer.

Cover with a damp piece of old sacking, carpet underlay, or a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard. Feed with vegetable peelings, paper towels, shredded egg cartons, eggshells, coffee grounds and other organic scraps. Cut or shred the material into small pieces so it will wilt faster and be easier for the worms to eat. Avoid adding too much citrus peel or onion skins at one time, but small amounts won’t harm the worms. Don’t use fatty or oily material or anything that will smell bad if it rots before it gets eaten like meat or bones.

READ MORE:
* 3 ways to recycle food waste in small spaces
* DIY project: in-ground worm farm
* All worms are not equal: here’s how to identify the ones in your garden

Our kitchen scraps are a banquet for hungry tiger worms.

Andy Jackson/Stuff

Our kitchen scraps are a banquet for hungry tiger worms.

Start with small amounts of food – just enough for the worms to eat before it gets moldy. If you start with 250g of worms, they will eat around 250g of food in a day or two. As the population increases you’ll be able to feed more scraps.

Place the food in a 5cm layer on top of the bedding but under the sacking/carpet cover. Feed again in a couple of days’ time when the first lot of food has mostly been eaten.

It can take a while before there are significant amounts of worm tea leaching out of the bedding layer. When you do get some, water it down to the color of weak tea and use it to foliar feed or water any flowers or vegetables in your garden.

The lid has ventilation holes that allow rain to get in. During rainy weather leave the tap open with a bucket underneath so that the bin doesn’t get too wet. When its dry keep the contents moist by running the hose into the bin (with the tap open) every week or so.

For more information about worm farming and managing the Can-O-Worms stacking trays visit Tumbleweed.

An in-ground worm farm takes up little space in a small garden and provides ideal living conditions for the inhabitants.

BARBARA SMITH / NZ GARDENER/Stuff

An in-ground worm farm takes up little space in a small garden and provides ideal living conditions for the inhabitants.

Other styles and shapes of worm farms are available. Top of the range are the very efficient and stylish Hungry Bins. Or make your own from stacking plastic bins or repurpose an old bath. Buried in-ground worm farms take up very little room and are easily made from a plastic bucket. Although you can’t capture worm tea from them, they do provide a source of nutrients and moisture for the plants nearby.

Unlike other pets, worms are very undemanding. If you want to go on holiday, put a layer of damp, scrunched up newspaper and corrugated cardboard on top of the feeding layer. The worms will survive unattended for at least six weeks.