Organic Gardening: Vermicomposting: SAVE THE WORMS!



Hating so soon? Come on now, don't hate.  Worms are people too ya know! Okay, maybe not, but if you are considering a new way to grow your food without using chemically charged fertilizers and you can at least stand to look at a worm, vermicomposting just may be the ticket for you.  It took me several months of reading about all different kinds of worms, their way of life, and their usefulness to us humans before I decided they really weren't so bad after all.  So, let me encourage you to do the same, and you will change your mind from "ewww" to "ooooh" when it comes to the benefits this little fellow has to you and your garden. 
And the best news is, it is not as gross as it seems.  If done correctly, worm farming is actually a very clean and productive process which takes up little room in your garage, basement or wherever you decide to homestead your worms.  Your hungry worms will rid your kitchen from a lot of food scraps that otherwise would go into the disposal and reward you with a very nice well balanced soil amendment that will have you wiggling in your boots come harvest! So, why not use the nutrients from those kitchen scraps to further your own health through organic gardening.  Worm castings aka: wormie poo has many organic gardening benefits.

I read a lot of  blogs and organic websites before setting up my worm farm.  I watched a lot of YouTube videos on benefits of vermicompost and how to set up the farm.  I realized early that you can spend a lot of money on a worm farm.  BUT...you don't have to.  The "you don't have to" route is what I took and have had good results with my happy little farmers.  I will list below the easiest and most cost effective way to build your farm that I have learned simply by doing.  And here are a few listed benefits of vermicomposting that I learned about from one of my favorite organic gardening and experimentation learning spots, San Diego Hydrophonics and Organics site. 

  1. Wormie poo has over 60 micronutrients and trace minerals, including calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphates and potash.  
  2. Wormie poo wraps around your little plants like a sweater to protect them from soil that's not quite perfect.  If the pH levels are too high or too low in your soil your plants get really grumpy.  Wormie poo is sort of like the bouncer who keeps the rif-raf out of the party.  
  3. The humus in the poo sucks out the toxins and harmful fungi and bacteria from the soil, therefore having the ability to fight off plant diseases.  Kinda like a ninja! 
  4. Wormie poo has the ability to store extra metals that are in soils so that young plants can go shopping for those extras when they need and can handle them instead of when they are too young to consume heavy metals.  No underage drinking allowed when wormie poo is on duty! That's always a good thing!
  5. Wormie poo is your garden's Super Man, as it is an effective way to repel white flies, aphids and spider mites and any pest that feeds on plant juices. I've heard that scattering the poo (and scratching it in a little) about the soil around your plants actually wards off these little critters from the base of the plants.  I imagine a blue cape with a big red "W" right here! 

Seriously, if you like all these good notes about vermicomposting, and want to give it a whirl, I have put together instructions and some photos below of how to layer up and feed your farm.  You know if I can successfully farm worms and get past my ewwy feelings about worms, you can too!   
One more note about the CONTAINER
Make sure it is not a clear container. (mine is green) I think worms must have a complex about their appearance.  They are adamant about their darkness, and shy away from light.  They are happiest in the dark, so do your best to keep it that way. 
Build The Farm :
First and foremost, of course, obtain your worms.  There are several species of worms to farm.  I happen to choose red wrigglers (Eisenia foetida).  Some call it the trout worm, California red, or tiger worm.  I'm not sure why so many names for one wormie, but they are just little wrigglers to me.  You can get your worms a lot of different places.  I have heard that you can just go to a bait store and buy a few cups there, but I wanted to make sure I had good healthy worms to begin my farm so if things went south at least I could rule out the initial health of the actual worm.  I ordered my worms from Jim over at Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  I love his website.  It's cute, full of good information and a great source for high quality worms and other organic gardening and worm farming.  I ordered 500 little wormies for a very reasonable price and they were shipped promptly and arrived in good health.  But I have to say, if I could have gotten an old coffee can full of worms from my own uncle who is a worm farmer, I definitely would have.  

 If you online order your worms expect them to be a bit jetl lagged when they arrive.  They have just went through a pretty rough transition from worm paradise to being tossed about in a bag for several days and will not be so wiggly for a day or so.
  So... assuming your worms have been obtained, I will now finish the instructions on how to set up your farm.
 
Wormies love to snuggle! This is the bedding for your worms. Paper, coconut core, and peat moss will be added AFTER the holes are drilled in ONE of the tubs.  The holes do not have to be large.  I think we used 1/4' bit, drilling the lid and the bottom of the the tub in the same pattern as well as a few holes about 1" from the top all the way around the tub for air circulation.  The holes in the bottom of the tub are for drainage.  Don't worry, if your worms are happy they won't even want to leave the farm so don't worry about holes being in the tub.  They are a good thing. 
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Layer the bedding.  About 1" (or so) of coconut core in bottom, then DAMP paper strips.  Notice that says DAMP, not wet.  Your worms are not good swimmers.  They like their farm damp but not wet.  
On top of the paper strips put about an inch of peat moss.
Now the farm is ready for it's residents! YAY!
Gently add your worms to the farm.  Mine came in a bag packed in peat so it was quite easy to just untie the bag and slowly pour them in.  You can see where I poured in the worms on one end and added the food scraps on the opposite end.  JSYK! This much food was not necessary on Day 1 of worm farming since they were still laggy from the plane ride.  I later took over half of this out, so just know to adjust this food addition at first.  After a couple weeks your worms may be ready for this much food. Had I not learned this was too much my farm would have probably become a big wet mess.  It's better to error on the not enough food side than on the too much food side.  

I put an upside down plastic cool whip bowl in the bottom of the second tub, then placed the farm inside the bottom tub so that the liquid that seeps from the drainage holes can be contained to make worm tea for feeding veggie plants.  

Also, to be clear, I always "dig in" the food deposit.  Just dig a little hole and dump in the food then flick dirt on top of the food to cover it up so to not attract too many ants and unwanted pest to the farm.  

Once your food has been deposited, cover the entire bed with another nice thick layer of damp paper. When it's time to feed the farm just push back the paper and make your deposit into the soil then cover it back up with soil and put the paper back into place.  

Your worms will eat more as time goes by, but for now, fight the urge to overfeed! Within a few weeks your worms will be eating between 1-2 pounds of food. But for now, just put small deposits every few days. 

Locate your worm farm in a fairly cool environment.  Ideal temps for them are between 40°F and 80°F.  I have mine in the corner of the garage sitting on a short stack of magazines just to keep air circulating around the tub. I moved them to the garage after having them sitting under the bay window on my deck during the hot months.  They did ok initially, but in the heat of the summer they got really slow and lethargic and I noticed they were not reproducing very well.  Through research I learned I was probably giving the poor little fellers a heat stroke! DOH!  Moving them quickly to the cooler environment seemed to do the trick.  They have fared just fine in the garage location through our very cold winter months.  

So that's the quick and quirky scoop on Worm Farming.  I really do enjoy watching table scraps turn to garden fertilizer.  It is fun to vermicompost.  You really should try it. I think you will be happy you did.  And if it ends up not being for you, just dump the worms into your garden spot or under a bush somewhere.  Worms don't care where they live as long as no more plane trips are in their future! 

Let me know how your farm fares! 

Until then, flip that dirt and flour Y'all! 

Blessings!, 

~PJ
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