Worms are important stakeholders in the environment. Millions of years ago they were as they are now, efficient creatures of the earth. They eat biodegradable items in the ground and excrete nutrients needed for plant growth; they aerate the soil and pull water into it by moving around, thereby improving soil quality.
Worms provide a straightforward and efficient way to breakdown and assimilate biomass with the environment. By diverting biodegradable waste – particularly food waste – from landfills and setting up worm farms, we reduce the pressure and our dependence on landfills, where biomass has to decompose in the absence of air creating methane – known to trap more heat than other greenhouse gases.
Chemical fertilizers cause the deterioration of soil health – killing beneficial microorganisms and making the soil pH more acidic – while supplying nutrients to plants, creating endless need for plant growth. Worms, on the other hand, provide vermi-compost by feeding on the waste of others, speeding up the biodegradation process and repurposing the existing nutrients for plants without harming the soil.
Challenges in worm farming
Worm farming comes with challenges of its own. Here are some common problems with advice on how to deal with them:
Enthusiastic worm farmers toss all available scrap into the bin. When the worms can’t keep up, it starts to stink. Theoretically, a worm eats up to its weight in a day though due to temperature and other factors, the amount decreases.
- Feed them every 2 to 3 days and be conservative in the quantity. The worms should start eating one feeding, before the next is added.
#2 Type of foods and size
Worms need a healthy diet. Whole vegetables and watermelon rinds will take too long to break down. Oily, salty or spicy foods, processed food, yogurt and pineapples can spoil the bin.
- A suitable diet can consist of non-acidic fruit and vegetable scraps, grains, bread, coffee grounds/tea bags, eggshells and even hair. Paper and wet cardboard are acceptable in small quantities.
- It is helpful to chop or grind all items into smaller pieces to speed up the breakdown process. Doing so also helps reduce odor and discourage pests.
#3 Too Wet or Dry
If over-enthusiastic, one may over-water. If the bin is too wet, the worms may drown or the bin may stink. With less water the bin will dry out, such that the worms can’t tunnel effectively and may dehydrate. The bedding must remain balanced.
- Best way to check: Pick up a handful from the worm bedding and squeeze it. It should feel like a wrung out sponge.
#4 Forget to harvest the compost
Avid gardeners look forward to getting fresh compost from their worm bin. Non-gardeners are more likely to focus on reducing trash and odor, viewing compost as a mere by-product. Not harvesting the compost will lead to the bins filling up thus creating the need for additional or larger bins. Separating the compost and the worms may be viewed as a time-consuming task. 2 common methods of separation are:
- Use a mesh/sieve to filter the worms out.
- Place the bedding in conical piles in the light. Worms dislike light and will burrow to the bottom of the piles leaving worm-free bedding on top.
#5 Too Hot or Cold
Worms thrive in an ideal temperature range, roughly 15-30 degrees Celsius. Any colder and the worms slow down and eventually die. Any warmer and they die quickly.
- Bin and bedding help regulate the temperature inside the bin, so it is advisable to have a lid or cover for the bin as well.
- In summers, keep the bin in a cool dry place and regulate bin moisture. In winters, use insulation, keep the bin in a warm place or put dry leaves and grass on top to add more heat.
Worm farms can be set up in all shapes and sizes, be operated by individuals, communities or organizations, indoor and outdoor. Here are instructions for making your own small worm farm.