Charles Darwin wrote:
‘the plough is one of man’s most ancient and valuable inventions, but long before he existed, the land was in fact regularly aerated and ploughed, and still continues to be, by earthworms!
It is particularly important in permaculture to establish ‘partnerships’ within the natural environment and its little critters. Even the disregarded and dishonoured EARTHWORM! The ‘partnership’ is this: from eating fruit and veg we generate kitchen scraps – this organic kitchen waste is then fed to the earthworm, which effectively eliminates us sending it to landfills – they sieve through and digest the organic matter it to create castings – the castings are used as nutrient rich fertilizer in the soil of garden and household plants – the soil is happy and healthy and thereby yields a wholesome crop or bloom – we then eat the crop and so the cycle goes on.. It’s a closed loop! Ie. Recycled and reused.
Having said that – we created a WORM FARM.
Earthworms are referred to as the intestines of the soil as they literally eat their way through the soil. Its digestive system mixes the soil and organic matter with its own enzymes and the bacteria, fungi and other organisms while feeding. It then poo’s all this out creating castings which are soluble chemical combinations containing nutrients. These nutrients are like a gazillion times richer in nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, magnesium and calcium which, when added to soil, can easily be absorbed by the plants roots and is similar to a protein shake or steroids for them. Other than the nutritional benefits to soil, worms make wonderful pets too. They don’t need elaborate housing, they create no smells or noise(!), they harbour no vermin and they don’t bite or sting. No-one will get upset about escapees and they are easily protected from predators.
There are many containers one can use to build a farm in from a wooden box to a simple tuperware container but we found an unused commercial worm bin. These usually only have three tiers but we then found an extra compartment which we added to it. The earthworms and organic matter is placed in the top compartment; once the worms have used up all the food in the top one we then prepare food in the second compartment which they will automatically migrate to through holes drilled the bottom on the container; the top/first containerwill then have humus rich castings which can be used in the soil; the juice or fluid excretion from the upper compartments drains into the third compartment which can be tapped out to make a liquid fertilizer tea and be sprayed or poured onto plants (as you can see there is a hole for a tap but we don’t have that yet); and then the bottom layers is simply a foot stand.
The materials needed for a warm farm include:
bucket full of worms
compostable materials for a bedding layer such as shredded paper and egg boxes
organic food matter
aged manure mixed in with topsoil
Here’s how we did it in 6 easy steps:
- We first created the compostable bedding by layering shredded egg boxes, newspaper and recycled printing paper from the office. These materials were first dipped lightly in water to dampen it but not making it too soggy and compacted.
2. In-between layers we threw in handfuls of mixed manure and topsoil to provide micro-organisms which soften the food as well as supply them with an alternative food source. We repeated these steps while mixing everything together until the compartment was about half full.
3. We then tipped in a bucket of our starter population. It is recommended one has 300 worms to begin with, I reckon we had over 500 and these babies duplicate every 2-3 months. And if by accident you ‘break’ one in half – it reconstructs itself into 2 worms!!
4. We had prepared a plate full of yummy organic kitchen food scraps. It’s important to chop up the food so that it makes decomposition by worms easier and faster. And big no-no’s are acidic, spicy and oily foods like oranges, onions, chillies etc.
5. Everything was then mixed thoroughly again and squirted with some water to make sure its suitably dampened.
6. Finishing it off with a breathable lid is very important to maintain a balanced temperature and a dark environment as the worms are extremely light sensitive but… Voila! There’s our worm farm!!