I’ve owned a worm farm for many years but always felt that I hadn’t got it working very effectively. There was always more food than the worms seemed to manage, a tray of compost took forever to generate and I usually massacred my worm population every summer! When I heard that the City of Vincent was advertising a Composting & Worm Farm Workshop by Transition Town Mount Hawthorn, I decided it was time to get a fresh perspective on composting. My objective was to learn how I could improve the performance of my worm farm and whether any of the other composting methods would be suitable for our house too.
The workshops complement a program by the council to subsidise the purchase of worm farms, bokashi buckets, compost bins and in-ground compost bins by residents. By composting biodegradeable waste in the home, we can significantly reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill, as well as minimise the resources required to collect it. In addition to these benefits, we can produce fertiliser for our gardens locally for free and save all the resources required to manufacture it commercially.
Transition Town Mount Hawthorn (TTMH) is a community group for Mount Hawthorn residents interested in more sustainable living. This was the first I had heard of them so I’m looking forward to participating at more Transition Town events and meeting some of my local fellow greenies. TTMH are also the creators of the distinctive leaf shaped “No Junk Mail” signs for Leederville residents.
When I arrived at the workshop I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the expert on composting was someone I had worked with as an engineer. These days Kim Frankowiak is runs SAM (Sustainable Asset Management) and is an active member of TTMH.
How does one nurture a worm farm?
Kim’s lecture was very informative and I was able to pick up on a few things that will really help me to improve the efficiency of my worm farm. The majority of the tips were things that I hadn’t heard before and I thought these would benefit others too.
1. Worms need fibre too!
I’d heard before that composts need a mixture of green waste and fibrous waste, but this is the first I’d heard that worm farms need a little fibrous material too. Kim’s tip is to add your community newspaper once a week. This reinforces that on top of food waste, you not only can, but should, add a small proportion of dry waste such as used tissues and human and pet hair. You can also add small amounts of cardboard (like egg cartons), straw and shredded natural fibre clothing. Once my worm farm population is at its maximum, I’m keen to use it to dispose of the recycled paper kitty litter we use (minus the poo – that shouldn’t go in a worm farm). In the mean time, I’m using the community newspaper and tissues.
2. Water … not so much
Kim’s revelation was that owners should take care not to add too much water to a worm farm. On top of the water naturally contained in the food waste, only light watering is required. If you are adding the right amount of water, the worm farm should produce a regular drip of worm juice (about 2-4L per week). Worm farms are best kept in a shady and COVERED area, rather than being open to the rain. Here I was leaving my worms in the rain, tipping an entire can of water into them regularly, and diluting my worm juice before collecting it.
But what about when it’s stinking hot in summer, you say?! Which brings us to our next tip…
3. Keep your worms cool with a frozen bottle of water
That’s right, during summer, put a frozen 2L milk bottle full of water in your worm farm to keep them cool.
4. Chop up your waste
This is something I think I knew before but was ignoring it because I was too lazy. The workshop reinforced with me that if I want my farm to compost efficiently, the waste really should be chopped up. I am now trying to slice and dice our scraps as much as I can be bothered before adding them to the worm farm.
5. You may need more than one worm farm
Kim said that a worm farm with the maximum worm population can handle a couple of tubs of vegie scraps a week (they looked like 1 or 2L tubs to me). If your family need more than that then you may need a second worm farm or more than one composting method. When you first get your farm the worms may only be able to handle a couple of coffee mugs of scraps of food a week. Too much food won’t hurt them, but it will result in a smelly, insect-infested worm farm.
I thought I must have misheard when Kim said that it should only take a couple of months to produce one tray of worm castings but my ears weren’t deceiving me! After 3-4 weeks the bottom tray of the worm farm can be transferred out and left to mature for another 2-4 weeks before using in the garden. I’ve never achieved that efficiency in my worm farm so I’m really looking forward to getting my worm farm up to top form.
Other forms of composting
Worm farms can’t handle all forms of biodegradeable waste, and are limited in size, so I was interested to see whether I could use other composting methods to complement a worm farm. The other types discussed were compost bins, in-ground compost bins and bokashi buckets.
A compost bin can basically handle the same type of waste as a worm farm, but are usually on a bigger scale to a worm farm. A compost bin can also handle much larger quantities of fibrous waste (don’t forget that paper or cardboard that are food-contaminated or too low a quality to be recycled can be added too). I think compost bins are probably suited to those with a lot of garden waste and a vegetable patch. If you have large amounts of waste available at once, these bins are great for doing hot composting.
In-ground Compost Bins
In ground compost bins also handle pretty much the same waste as a worm farm, and utilise worms in the ground to compost the waste and distribute worm castings directly into the garden. These are ideal if you have vegetable garden beds. The in-ground bins are much smaller than a normal compost bin, so it would be suitable for a small family/garden or to have several of them, one in each garden bed. It is also possible to dispose of pet faeces in these.
A bokashi bucket utilises anaerobic composting by bacteria. The wonderful thing about bokashi buckets is that any animal or vegetable food waste can be added to your bokashi bucket. Once fully fermented the waste can be buried in a garden bed or added to your compost to complete composting. You can also donate your fermented bokashi waste to a community garden.
I decided to get a bokashi bucket to complement our worm farm because I like the benefit of being able to compost animal food waste too. In the future, when we build our new house and garden, I shall add some regular or in-ground compost bins.
I hope I’ve inspired you to take a fresh look at composting and end all worm farm massacres. Good luck!
For more information
City of Vincent Composting Fact Sheets: http://www.vincent.wa.gov.au/Services/Environment_Sustainability/Green_Initiatives/Compost_Recycling_Initiative
Transition Town Mount Hawthorn: http://www.ttmthawthorn.org/