Friday, 13 April 2012

Compost & Worm Farms

You can reduce your household waste significantly and start to become more sustainable just by composting. It is easy to set up and a great way to feed your garden naturally. Remember it is safe for all pets and children with no nasty chemicals added. 

What is compost
Compost is the term used for the breaking down of organic materials with the assistance of organisms, like worms and microscopic bacteria. The resulting compost can be dug into your garden as a great source of nutrients for your plants. Mother nature at her best!  

Composting tips
1. Your compost bin should be set up on soil not concrete so it drains well and the worms and bacteria can enter. An old rubbish bin with the bottom cut out will do. Just make a flap for one side, close to the bottom, so you can access the good stuff quick.

2. All compost bins should have a balance of materials that are high in nitrogen, such as kitchen waste and chook manure.   
Contain low nitrogen, such as dried leaves or shredded newspaper.

3. Build your compost in layers (3-10cm each) alternating kitchen waste and garden waste.  E.g.

Low Nitrogen- Soil and water

High Nitrogen- Kitchen waste

Low Nitrogen- Coarse prunings

High Nitrogen- Herbs or seaweed

Low Nitrogen- Dried leaves, paper

Cold (slow) compost takes 6-12 months- just keep adding waste especially kitchen scraps and turn once a week.
If you want hot (fast) compost, which takes 3-6 months you will need a recipe from a garden store and to turn it every day. 

 The compost bin needs   
Water, but just enough for it to be moist not wet.                                   Oxygen, from regularly turning the heap. (Usually once a week)                   Warmth from the sun. But not in direct sunlight all day                               Layer of felt or hessian on top to retain heat and moisture              
And of course easy access.

Materials to add 
Fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, sour milk and yoghurt, pizza, vacuum cleaner dust, animal fur, pure wool jumpers (that are no good for opp shops) and socks cut up, pure cotton articles (cut up), grass clippings, weeds without seed heads, shredded newspaper, small amounts of wood ash, pea straw.

Ones to keep out
Fish, meat and cheese as they encourage vermin, cat and dog droppings, big woody prunings, mouldy plant clippings or food, bulbous weeds, weeds with runners (couch grass), bleached or glossy office paper, plastics.

Common problems
Too wet- add dry matter such as newspaper.  
Too dry- add water along with something high in nitrogen such as manure. 
Smelly- too much high nitrogen and not enough low nitrogen, try adding dry materials such as dry leaves or paper.

Have the feeling that you’re doing your bit to look after nature and start one today! The worms will love you for it.

Further information

Worm Farms   
You can by worms to add to an already set up compost or by a worm farm so you can use their juices as food for all your lovely plants. You can make your own with what you have around the house and garden, it can be tricky to find something with a tap but you can get creative with parts of the hose, an old drink container tap and even a wine cask tap.

Worm Farm Tips
1.Worm selection- The most common are one already in your garden but when buying worms there a two common types. Tiger worms with bands across their back and red worms. You can get them at most nurseries and start with at least 1000. They will breed fast if fed well.

2.Location- Worms prefer a cool shady spot in the garden so they can live at reasonable temperature. Under a tree or in a spot that gets morning sun only is ideal.Too hot (over 30 degrees) and they will cook, too cold (under 17 degrees) and they go to sleep. In the cold winter of Victoria, Australia people have had success keeping them in the laundry, patio or by a window in the shed, so it still gets some sun. Worms eat pretty fast so if you keep the atmosphere right there will be no smell.

3.Their home- Layered containers is the usual set up.The bottom for the juice and the next for your compost and their living space. Use a few sheets of newspaper or cardboard moistened with water on the bottom of your first layer to prevent material and worms falling through.Then put 10-15 cm of compost for the worms to settle in, too much food will shock them as they need a bit of time to get use to their new environment.

4.Feeding them- Provide a good mixture of high and low nitrogen (as listed above) If you want them to act fast chop compost into small pieces which helps them decompose it quickly.Be sure to crush egg shells into smaller bits as they take longer to decompose. Worms really like banana skins, egg yolks and pumpkin so if you want to entice them to act feed them with that.

5.Things to avoid- Pet droppings, if you worm your pets with a wormicide you will kill the good worms in your farm. Avoid all things listed above as well. Onion and citrus peel to be added in small portions as they can be too acidic and worms don't really love to eat them. 

6.Using your compost- Your worms will travel into the next layer when there is no more food to eat in the lower tray. Fill up the lower tray until it reaches the next level. The worms will climb into the next tray if you entice them with their favorite food and fresh compost. Once they are in there you can transfer the trays and use what they have made for you.Dig this into the dirt for your vegetable patch or garden bed (before the plants go in) or turn into a mud by adding water and spread over your lawn.
Warning- wait at least 1-2 weeks before putting in plants where you have added compost, as raw compost will burn root systems.

7.Keeping them safe- Inspect the bottom tray often as sometimes worms fall through and drown in the juice. Place something they can climb up in the juice tray so they can get back home.

8.Summer heat- Their home needs to be moist and cool, the best way to keep it that way is to pack the top layer with shredded paper, cardboard or straw and keep it wet. In real hot weather cover with a wet hessian bag or some spare fabric.

9. Using the juice- Their juice is a very potent form of food for your plants. Mix 1 part juice to 10 parts water and use to feed growing vegetables, herbs, pot plants and garden beds. Store in a dark place, if you have too much share with family and friends never waste this great food or all your and the worms work will be for nothing.

So there you have it worm farms in 9 steps. You should not have a problem as long as you keep the atmosphere right, not too hot or cold or too wet or dry. Regular inspection should prevent any issues and keep you and the worms happy.  

You can make money from composting but there are some strict guidelines to follow when you do this. We will do a blog about that soon.       

Further information
For everything about worms visit here
To purchase a worm farm check these guys out

"Ewey gooey was a worm, a big fat worm was he, he climbed along the railway track, the train he did not see......... Ewey gooey" 

Thank my mum for that one, she would say it when we were out hunting for worms in the garden. While writing this blog it was going through my head so though I'd share it, Shannon. 

How funny Steve's father use to say it as well, must happen in Australian gardens :)

Enjoy your composting, if we have missed anything let us know and if you have any tips or advice leave a comment so others can have the best compost as well.

Thank You For Reading


  1. Anonymous4/14/2012

    Thank you Shannon for this worm farm and composting article. I had no idea I could feed my worms banana skins, as I guessed (incorrectly) that banana skins would be too difficult for worms to break down. This article has been so helpful. My worms will be so much healthier now, as I finally have a clear idea of how to care for them properly. Wonderful. Many thanks :) PS. And my 2 little boys love peeking in on Ewey gooey too.

  2. We are glad you found it helpful, if you have any questions let us know, enjoy your worms!


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