I love this time of year – longer daylight hours mean I have more time to spend outdoors producing next month’s salad and generally pottering around in the garden.
One of my recent projects was to set up a worm farm to supplement my compost heap. Worm poo (“worm castings” is the proper term) is so good for the soil. The worms take food scraps, eat them and excrete them and produce pure black gold – the plants love it. If you don’t have a worm farm, now is a great time to get one setup to feed your summer harvest.
You will need a cool spot for them, somewhere on the south side of the house, or at the very least in a well shaded area. Worms normally live in the soil, so they like constant cooler temperatures and a bit of moisture – not too wet or they will drown. You can purchase commercial worm farms and boxes of worms to get you started with a bit of old newspaper or hessian as a bedding base. This is a simple way to get started and they normally come with instructions. Or you can find an old bath tub, a polystyrene broccoli box, or any other container that is deep enough for them to bury themselves in, away from the light and the heat and setup a home for them there using old hessian or shredded newspaper, some food scraps and something to keep them covered from the light and heat (an old hessian bag or wool carpet offcut works well, don’t use plastic or polyester as it doesn’t “breathe”).
Not all worms are created equal – you need to make sure you get compost worms – earth worms just won’t do the job you need. Look for tiger worms, red wrigglers or Indian blue worms.
You will need to provide the worms with a reasonably regular supply of food scraps. If you have a juicer they will love the mush which is left over from juicing your fruit and vegetables. Cut your food scraps finely or put them through the food processor – the finer they are, the quicker the worms can convert them. You will need to monitor how much they are munching through – as the population grows, they will need more food, but they also don’t like food that has sat for too long. It may start to go mouldy and the worms won’t be interested. They don’t like onions or citrus so those scraps can go in the compost.
You will also need to monitor the moisture level in your worm farm. Putting a tap at the bottom of the bath, box or container will help you drain off the worm “wee” which can be watered down at 10:1 and applied around the root zone of your vegetables and fruit trees for a quick pick me up while you are waiting for enough worm poo to harvest.
I have killed more than my fair share of worms in the past by letting them get too dry or too hot, so if you follow the “cool and moist” rule when you set up your worm farm, you should be harvesting your own liquid gold in a few weeks’ time. Give it a go – they will reward you well with free plant food and better veggies!
Helen Sampson is an avid gardener and permaculture designer, based on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. Living on 40 acres, Helen and her husband are establishing an organic mixed farming enterprise, based on permaculture principles with the aim of providing organic, grass fed meat, fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and honey to local outlets and customers. Making a significant change from her previous corporate life, you can read more about the transformation of people and place at www.thenorthglass.com, more about her gardening and cooking exploits atfoodplot.hubpages.com and purchase her book “How to Grow Low Cost Organic Veggies” from Smashwords.com.