A Step-by-Step Beginners Guide to Home Worm Farms
Worm farms are essentially a compost system that turns organic waste (in the form of worm castings and worm tea) into natural fertiliser for your garden.
Wondering how to start a worm farm or how to look after one? Read on or watch our video with everything you need to know:
Set up your worm farm
The easiest way to start is to buy a worm farm system
which comes with composting worms (Tiger worms are commonly used) and a worm bedding block. Set it up in a shady, sheltered spot.
What to feed your worms
Composting worms are amazing creatures. Did you know they can eat almost their body weight in food each day? Feed them a wide variety of diced-up kitchen food scraps - about 200 grams per day per 250 grams of worms. Add food scraps to your worm farm every 1 - 2 days.
Worms like to eat many of the same foods that you do, but balance is the key, and there are some things to avoid. They like a ratio of 70% green waste (mostly fruit and vegetables) and 30% brown waste (cardboard, paper and leaves).
Our top tips on feeding your worms are:
- Worms love food waste like vegetable and fruit peelings.
- Avoid feeding worms spicy food, citrus, onions, meat, bread, pasta, dairy.
- It is OK to add ripped up paper or cardboard. Adding whole toilet paper/paper towel rolls is good for air circulation in your wormery.
- Adding small amounts of garden waste (grass clippings and leaves) mixed with kitchen scraps is OK, but don't add woody or poisonous plants to your worm bin.
- Adding small amounts of coffee grounds is OK (and can help with their digestion) but too much will make the worm bin too acidic.
- Small amounts of crushed egg shells can reduce the acidity in your worm bin, but too many are not good for worm health.
- You can put tea bags in your worm farm if they are biodegradable but check that they don't have any plastic in them first.
When you add food, make sure to chop it up and add a mix of organic matter so that it is nutrient-rich and easy for the worms to digest. If you are going on holiday, feed your worms extra scraps mixed with damp paper and cardboard.
Using worm farm fertiliser
Drain off liquid worm tea every now and then and dilute it with water (1:10 ratio). It should look the colour of weak tea. This can be applied to plant roots every couple of weeks - they will love it!
Red worms also produce worm castings (A.K.A. worm poop!) that is like 'black gold' for your garden. Harvest the castings after about six months and dig them straight into the garden. They should look like fine dark compost at the bottom of your bin.
101: Bokashi Compost Bins for Beginners
If you are wondering what bokashi composting is, and how to start, then look no further! Bokashi is a system that 'pickles' food scraps that can then be dug into the garden or used to enrich your compost. The food is contained in a small (odourless) air tight container that fits in your pantry.
Instead of allowing area to flow around and break down food scraps (like a traditional compost system) bokashi uses an anaerobic process to ferment them. If your bokashi system is working properly, there are no rotting smells. The end product is a nutrient-rich liquid called 'bokashi tea'.
How to start bokashi composting
You need a special bokashi bin system and a bokashi bran mix to start this method of composting. (Bokashi mix should be stored room temperature.)
To set up your bokashi compost bin, sprinkle a tablespoon of the bran mix on the bottom of the top bucket. (It is better to add slightly too much than too little.) Add an ice-cream container of finely chopped food scraps and then another tablespoon of bokashi mix. Press it down to expel as much air as possible and seal with the air tight lid. Add diced up food scraps to your bin as you produce them, and one - two tablespoons of bokashi mix for every inch of organic matter.
Using bokashi tea on your garden
Your pickled garden food will be ready in about 2 weeks (it will still look like food, not compost). You can dig small amounts into your garden or pop it in a compost bin (it will break down faster than normal compost because it is already partly broken down).
The real bounty that your system will produce is bokashi tea. This is a liquid that should be regularly drained off (every 2 - 3 days) and fed to your plants. Use a dilution of 1 - teaspoons of bokashi liquid to five litres of water if you want to spray foliage, or 2 tablespoons to five litres of water if you are pouring it at the base of your plants.
What organic waste can I put in my bokashi bin?
Bokashi bins can take a wider range of food scraps than worm farms, as long as they are finely chopped up. They take:
- fruit, herb and vegetable scraps
- nuts and seeds
- meat and fish
- dairy products
- coffee grounds and loose leaf tea
- fermented foods.
Avoid adding too liquid, too much oil, rotten meat, or produce that has green or black mould. (These moulds can inhibit fermentation). It is OK to add food that has white or yellow mould (commonly found on cheese or bread).
Troubleshooting bokashi problems
If your bokashi bins smell of rotting matter (as opposed to pickles or sauerkraut) it indicates that you have a problem. A little white mould on top is normal, but green, black or blue mould isn't normal. Most bokashi problems occur for three reasons:
- Your bin isn't air tight (ie it is cracked, the spigot has been left open or you haven't pressed the lid down properly.)
- You haven't added enough bran mix to your food scraps.
- You have added food with black or blue mould that is inhibiting the fermentation process.
What to do if your bokashi smells or has mould in it? Try spreading a couple of handfuls of bokashi bran mix over the mould and check it in a couple of days. If you are lucky, the beneficial microbes in the bran may have out-competed the mould. If not, you will need to empty and clean your bin and start again.
Worm farm versus bokashi?
By now, you might be trying to decide whether it is better to set up a worm farm or a bokashi system.
Advantages and disadvantages of worm farming
Worm farms are great because they have no ongoing costs and are transportable. They produce an almost continuous stream of liquid gold for your garden as well as easy-to-sprinkle worm castings. However, you need to situate worm farms in a shady spot outside. They don't cope well with onions, citrus peel, general garden waste, meat or dairy and need regular moisture.
Starting a worm farm is is such a great learning opportunity if you have kids. Most kids just love worms, so setting up a worm farm with them is a great way to spend quality time on the weekend or in the school holidays. But the fun doesn't stop there. Giving children sole charge of feeding the worms in their farm is a simple life lesson in responsibility (and much easier than caring for a pet!) Young worm farmers will be able to see a complete ecosystem growing before their eyes - much more engaging than learning about composting in a book!
Advantages and disadvantages of bokashi composting
Aside from being suitable for apartments, bokashi systems are great because you can add food scraps that you can't compost in a normal compost bin or worm farm. For the environmentally conscious, bokashi also produces less CO2 than composting or disposing of them in the rubbish.
Bokashi bins are transportable if you move, so they are good options for renters. The downside of their small size, is that they are really only suitable for kitchen scraps - not general garden waste.
Unlike a worm farm, you need to buy (inexpensive) bokashi mix
to keep your system working. You can't add liquid to a bokashi bucket and you will need to either dig the pickled food scraps into the garden or pop them in a compost bin. You can tip bokashi liquid (neat) into your sink, toilet or shower to help with drain odour and pipe scum.
The other disadvantage of a bokashi system is that after your food scraps have fermented and you have drained off your bokashi tea, you are left with fermented waste that either needs to be disposed of or composted. You can dig small amounts of this material into your garden, but not large amounts.