For centuries they have been recycling and reusing organic matter. This was first recognised by Aristotle in 300BC who labelled worms as “the intestines of the Earth”. The famous scientist Charles Darwin later agreed. Just think for a moment about the amount of animal and vegetative matter that has been recycled back into soil. This process has been continued for millions of years. Worms have played an integral role in this process.
A cheap worm farm can be set up as demonstrated in the video here
Modern farming and manufacturing methods means that there are now concentrated masses of wastes. This is where the compost worm is at its best. Compost worms require a rich environment of lots of organic matter to thrive. We can all help by feeding our household wastes to worms and reusing the cast. This process is mimicking what nature has been doing for millions of years albeit now it is on a concentrated scale.
One of the byproducts of organic matter decaying in landfill is the gas methane. This is a greenhouse gas that in the atmosphere is 20 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. By choosing to use worms to eat your waste you are making a small contribution to reducing this pollution. Waste is not going to landfill and the castings are a very beneficial adjunct to your gardens etc.
In summary by choosing to use worms to recycle your organic wastes you are making a small contribution to
- reducing greenhouse gases
- reducing landfill
- returning minerals and nutrients and microbial life to your soil
- growing your own plants organically and sustainably
- preventing leaching of nutrients from landfill into the water table
How Do I Care For My Worms ?
Remember worms are animals and like the rest of us, require food, water, oxygen and suitable temperatures to survive.
Food: Anything that was once alive is potential food. Since they ingest bacteria and decaying matter, food is eaten quicker if it is in small bits (some people use blenders to break up kitchen scraps). Kitchen scraps, animal manures, cardboard, paper, grass clippings are all suitable. Do not use soil as a bedding material, use something organic. Your worms will not appreciate large quantities of citrus, meat bones, dairy products or hot spicy foods.
Oxygen: If the worm beds become compacted, loosen up occasionally with a fork or your hands.
Water: Worms need plenty of water but will drown or die of lack of oxygen if the bedding becomes waterlogged. All beds should allow excess water to drain off.
Temperature: Compost worms are a mix of species and their preferred temperature varies slightly but in general 13 to 27 degrees C are tolerable with a preferred temperature of around 23C. This consideration should largely determine where you locate your beds.
How Many Worm Should I Buy?
For a household of 2-3 people with a Can-o-Worms size bed 1000 worms are a good starting point. Worms will breed to fill their space and the amount of food they have. In ideal conditions any mass of worms will double their population every 3 months approx. This quantity probably will not consume all your vege scraps immediately. Remember my philosophy start small and learn as you go. ie how much food, what types of food, moisture levels, location to ensure a good temperature range are all factors which will affect reproduction and growth rates. Most sources state that worms devour their own weight every 1 – 2 days but this does vary considerably according to the factors just mentioned which affect the worms activity levels. Spring is generally ideal and their reproduction is at their highest levels.
Where Can I Keep My Worms?
There are several commercial bins available and they all have several redeeming features to make your worming experiences enjoyable. They are easy to move, easy to add food, generally easy to remove castings and keep vermin at bay. However anywhere that you can contain worms while protecting them from the elements, keep tree roots out of the bed and keep vermin (rats and toads can be a problem) away is suitable. Many people use old bath tubs or boxes or construct box like containers.
Will my bed smell? Can I keep it close to the house?
If cared for well, worm farms will not smell. Generally any smell means the bed/food is too wet. If so add some shredded newspaper or cardboard to absorb excess moisture and then the worms will eat this too. A sprinkling of lime or dolomite will reduce acidity. Zeolite can be sprinkled also to absorb nitrogenous smells.
What types are they? Can I put them in the garden?
Compost worms are a mix of:
- Reds (Eisenia Andrei)
- Tigers (Eisenia Fetida)
- Blues (Perionix Excavatus) which is very similar to the Australian species Spenceralia
Generally none of them will do well in your garden unless it has a high level of organic materials. These 3 species prefer slightly different conditions ie temperature range, water content but generally co-exist very well and tend to complement each other as conditions change in your worm farm.
Vermicast contains millions of beneficial bacteria and plant available nutrients for use in your garden.
What’s so good about worm castings (vermicast)?
It’s totally organic. After matter passes through a worms intestine it is enriched with millions of bacteria, fungi and protozoa all of which play a part in breaking down organic matter. The complex molecules of organic matter are broken down into simpler forms most of which become available as nutrients to plants immediately. Various forms of humates are in castings. Research has shown the humate salts are absolutely essential to healthy plant growth. Worm castings are the only animal faeces that contain humic acid. So by adding some vermicast to soil around plants , you are adding the humates salts to the root zone of plants. You are also adding plant-available nutrients help give your plant a natural boost. Your soil will benefit greatly with the addition of a biota of beneficial organisms to your soil to continue their good work of the decomposition of more organic matter. The fine particles of vermicast also aid in retaining moisture in poorer soils.
Will it burn plants?
No. Cast is the byproduct of decomposed plant matter therefore the nutrients are in the same ratios essentially as in original plant form (there are some differences due to solubility rates, chemical decomposition, etc This can also mean the castings can be deficient in some areas if the original worm food is deficient of some minerals. My castings derive from cow manure and a laboratory analysis is available on request. The solid castings are best used as a supplement (no more than 20- 30% by volume) with other organic matter to allow the biota a food source. There is no concentration of minerals as in chemical fertilisers and so is safe to use in a family environment. There is no odour.
A Recent Analysis
I have had an laboratory analysis done recently . I then commissioned an independent review of the results. A few comments from the report are as follows “ ..typical problem with manure based compost is that high sodium and potassium content limit the quantity that can be safely applied to garden soil, before causing an imbalance of nutrients. .. not the case for Wormpower vermicompost,.. ..far exceeds average compost, for plant available calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. .. zinc and copper levels of Wormpower vermicompost are superb. .. The most exceptional quality of Wormpower vermicompost, from a mineral analysis perspective, is the high level of plant available silica. “ Here is the analysis of plant available nutrients. This is an evaluation of the report by an independent analyst to help make sense of the numbers.
Is there any scientific evidence to backup anecdotal evidence?
Yes but you will need to search to find evidence from people from reputable resources. Professor Clive Edwards is a British scientist (who is now based at Ohio State University in the Soil Ecology Laboratory) has been researching and producing literature as to the benefits of vermicompost for over 40 years. Statements such as “An important feature is that during the processing of the wastes (manure) by earthworms, many of the nutrients they contain are changed to forms more readily taken up by plants, such as nitrate nitrogen, exchangeable phosphorus and soluble potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The most surprising result [of our research] was that even 5% of worm-worked animal waste in the worm-worked waste/commercial mixture had a significant effect on the growth of plants.”Edwards, Clive, and Lofty, J.R., Biology of Earthworms, Chapman and Hall, London, 1977.
Locally Griffith University School of Engineering (Environment) has produced findings to further support the argument that vermicast produces significant advantages.
Evidence such as in the photo shows clear differences in plant health and growth rates of plants using vermicast (pot C) over control materials (pot A) and conventional composts of cow manure (pot B). The photo below is another trial that showed very positive results.
In their conclusions they state
Besides increasing yield, it produces chemical-free organic foods and also restores the natural fertility of soil over the years. It also significantly reduces the need of water for irrigation and use of chemical pesticides as plants become more resistant to pests and diseases. The cost of food production is also significantly reduced for farmers. It benefits both the ‘producers’ and the ‘consumers’ of food.
The whole article found here has a wide variety of photos, graphs and tables of results indicating why people would benefit from the use of worm castings.
How is it available?
Vermicast is available in solid or liquid form. I have heard of anecdotal evidence from farmers spraying liquid on crops and reporting a vastly reduced dependence on various sprays required to fight plant diseases ie avocadoes, passionfruit, macadamias, tomatoes. I have heard from several keen gardeners, some using the solid form, some using liquid form who swear by the product they use as it gives them prize winning blooms. Recently Gardening Australia featured a commercial flower farm using both solid and liquid forms of vermicast. It can be seen here and talks about cost savings in a commercial scale of fertilisers and sprays as well as improved production.
Where can I get more information?
A site dedicated to everything worms is wormdigest. Sunshine Coast Council has produced a free DVD which has good advice on composting and growing worms. Many websites espouse the benefits of ‘black gold’ as they outline the benefits of castings they have witnessed. A youtube video from my namesake in the US tells their story as well as outlining some advantages of using castings.
All products are guaranteed on delivery. We also provide free advice.
ABOUT WORM POWER
For people who wish to start their own worm farm to recycle their household scraps my philosophy is to start small and learn as you go. This is why we sell the minimum quantity to beginners and offer free advice and support. We believe worm farming need not be an expensive exercise, but an exercise that all the family can be involved in while doing something positive for the environment. It should be a relatively low maintenance activity. We are also able to supply larger quantities to commercial projects. You can check a Youtube video here delivered by an Australian gardening identity as to why and how growing worms is a simple activity.
We grow all of our own worms which is why we can keep our prices down. We pack our worms only when required and so we are able to gaurantee the health of our worms (they are not sitting on shelves in confined spaces for lengthy time periods). Most worm supplies state contents of containers are 1000 worms, 2000 worms etc. 1000 worms is widely regarded as one quarter kilogram which is how ours are packed, although we always pack an extra 5-10%
We also produce quantities of worm castings. The advantages of this material are many and are explained further in the section mentioned earlier in this page. We take considerable effort in preparing this product for sale including partially drying out to ensure customers get a quality product. The advantages of using worm castings is further explained in this clip from a US company (coincidentally with the same name as us) which I discovered years after I set up my small business. While the US company is large and mechanised and we are not, the original food ie cow manure and the end product ie castings remain the same and hence the benefits to your plants remain the same. There are lots of vidoes on Youtube now that will show you how and why worm castings are gaining in popularity for use by anyone wishing to grow quality plants. There is increasing evidence now that the carbon content in many soils is severely depleted so by reversing this process you not only improve your soils but play a small part in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.