Starting the worm farm

For a long time now, I have wanted to start a “worm farm”, because with our focus on improving our soil health, it is one of those things we should just do, no questions asked. However, it was only recently through an interesting combination of circumstances, that the project got underway.

When I did my PDC in January 2018, one of the last things we did was to write a letter to ourselves, in which we included our objectives for the next six months. Our trainer, Hannah Maloney from Good Life Permaculture in Tasmania, then kept those letters and kindly mailed them out to us six months later. Great was this eager beaver’s embarrassment on receiving the letter and noticing that he hadn’t achieved points 2 or 3 yet… one of which was to establish a worm farm.

But I got my kick under the butt recently. Firstly while reading the The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery, I realised that we should start the worm farm now already as we are preparing for chickens (now that’s another long drawn-out story…) Secondly, a good friend of ours recently borrowed my xTrail to tow a trailer full of “stuff” to the local tip. She has a lot of “stuff”… but anyway, in discussing the logistics for a possible next trip, I dropped the “b” word, and behold, the good soul that she is, when she came back she brought with her – a bath! A nice sturdy cast iron bath. I didn’t even describe what I wanted – I only mentioned what it would be used for – and clever, practical lady that is, she brought a very suitable one back from the tip. I couldn’t have asked for better. So the worm farm project was instantaneously born.

Luckily, before I started construction, I went to the green shed to get the necessary plumbing fittings. The place where it will be standing is quite windy, so I can’t just leave a bucket under the hole – it is sure to be blown over. And my maths said, a few fittings would be cheaper than a heavy cast iron bucket. I thought I needed a plug, an elbow and a valve. Easy hey? In the end it was a plug, an elbow and a valve, as well as two screw-to-pipe fittings, two reducers and two 1m lengths of pipe of different diameters. (Luckily I had pipe cement and silicon from our previous rainwater and grey water projects.) This all assembled together made the outflow quite a bit lower than I expected, but at least I could design accordingly.

Worm - plumbing

Worm farm plumbing

A few rudimentary sketches later and construction began, using the wood we still had left over from old the strawberry terrace project. Nothing dramatic to report about that, just a rectangle frame with a “bed” for the bath, and high enough posts to attach a lid and to cover it with some shade cloth. The lid took a bit of varnishing, as it would have to withstand rain, sun and whatever else Mother Nature would throw at it, while keeping mice and whoever follows the mice, out of the worm farm.

Worm - farm closed

Worm farm in closed position

The shade cloth required another opening frame on the sun side, so that it is easy to open and close and work in the “farm” when we need to. Quite easily done, and it was all assembled on one of the most windiest days ever – which, irritating as the gusts were, it was a good test of how it would work in wind and rain.

Worm - farm open

Worm farm in open position

The next step was to fill the bath in preparation for the worms. My PDC course notes were a bit “thin” in content – a reflection of my inconsistent note-taking, not of the course content – so I consulted a few other forums. I read quite a thick ebook on Kookaburra Worm Farm’s website, which is quite a resourceful site about all things worm-related (and an interesting family story too.) I also watched two YouTube videos on filling the bath, namely one by Costa Giorgiadis on Gardening Australia and one from Adobe Loos and Worms. They had very different approaches – the one from Adobe Loos and Worms required that you cut slits in the bath and use a lot of heavy pebbles as filtration medium. Costa’s approach was a lot lighter, simpler and cheaper, I had most of the materials available and neither did it require me to angle-grind slits in the bath, so I went with a mostly Costa’s approach.

For the worms’ “bedroom” I used a combination of torn cardboard pieces covered by some damp expanded coconut coir that we use in our seedling mix. I didn’t use such finely shredded cardboard as in the video, because if I shredded it through the chipper, it would have been blasted unrecoverably all over the place. Personally I don’t think the worms care how fine the cardboard is shredded – they’ve get some high quality coir in there already!

Worm - bedroom

Worm bedroom – during construction

To kick-start their “dining” room, I filled it mostly with our own 90% processed compost as well as some bits of say 60% processed compost, in which there were even a few worms of our own (applying the principles of accelerated succession and evolution as well as proximity – a la Bill Mollison). This whole lot was dampened, and very importantly must be kept damp from now on, especially through our hot dry summer.

Worm - dining room

Worm dining room

Lastly we needed to add some acquired worm stock to accelerate the process a bit. I ordered a mix of 3 types of compost worms from Kookaburra Worm Farm – 1000 worms in total (applying the principle of “value diversity”) They were very quick in sending it – nothing like a bit of added pressure of 1000 hungry worms to get things done…

So one day as I was working diligently on the compost, which is right next to the worm farm, Patricia came bouncing down the vegetable garden path with a box in her hands. Our worm mail had arrived!

Worm mail!

Now how do you check that they actually sent you a 1000 worms – who’s counting? But so without any pomp and ceremony, they were let loose and set off to work in their new “farm”. No rest for the wicked in this place… OK worms, off to work you go!

Worm - turn em loose set em free

Turn em loose, set em free (rather set them to work!)

Throughout our hot dry summer, our diligence to keep the worm farm cool and damp is going to determine its success or failure, and we don’t want to be without chicken protein, nor would we want to have a 1000 or more deaths on our hands, now do we?

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

19 Comments on Starting the worm farm

  1. Wow! That looks like a very competent set-up!

  2. You’ve constructed a soil improvement powerhouse. Good work Martin. A tick off the list too.

  3. Is it true that one can harvest the ‘worm wee’ and use that as a fertiliser? Apparently it’s the best there is.

    • For sure Jannes – a wee bit of worm wee (diluted with water) is an amazing fertiliser! Technically it’s a blend of worm wee and compost tea anyway, as it ciphers through the compost layer too.

    • Jannes, I got an online lecture today by Mr George Mingin from Kookaburra Worm Farms 🙂 Worms don’t wee, the liquid is called leachate. Leachate is often rotten veggie liquid and that is not good for plants. You get it if your worm farm is running too wet. What you want is the liquid made from the worm castings – he says “A better method is to just grab a handful of finished worm cast and dissolve it in a bucket of water or watering can and use immediately.”
      So we learn!!

  4. Great piece of upcycling as well as engineer

  5. -ing!

  6. “B”?

    • If it is what I think you’re referring to Tony – it’s coming! Restarting the alphabet soup posts on Thursday 🙂

      • Oh, that. I was actually wondering what the ‘B’ word is, if it is something other than ‘bath’.

      • Ha ha oh that Tony! (I was so focused on producing the next post, which is of the alphabet soup type…). I tried to phrase it in a fancy way that I didn’t even say I wanted a bath, but that I may need a future trip to the tip get one, like just in passing… and she picked it up from that brief mention and ran with t!

  7. janesmudgeegarden // October 23, 2018 at 7:25 pm // Reply

    I’ve had a worm farm for years, the same one, probably for about 20 years. I’m amazed at how it keeps on going and the worms keep eating the green waste in heat and cold, with nothing more than a drink of water and a handful of garden lime. Your farm is a very sophisticated setup compared to mine which consists of a few plastic boxes!

  8. Hope you’re worms are thriving. I’ve nominated you for sunshine blogger award. Thanks for sharing.

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