Souping up the worm farm

While worm farms are pretty normal to find nowadays in many yards, their capacity to cycle essential nutrients and make nutrient dense soil additives available to you, for free, can’t be understated. Worm farms rock, seriously.

Our bathtub wormfarm next to the kitchen garden, with it’s built in vertigation (direct worm juice injection into the irrigation system for the veggie beds), has been going strong for a couple of years now. However Michael needs lots of worm castings (worm poo) as an ingredient for his soil block mix for seedlings, so we’re souping up production.

Worm farm vertigation setup for irrigating veggie beds with diluted worm juice – click on image for the full article on how and why

100% worm-ready lurve…

In short, we need the worms to work overtime, and produce worm castings as fast as they can. The best way to do this is to deliver their food in munch-ready form, so we’ve started blending a bucket of kitchen scraps (veggies only, no meat or dairy) every other day to work to theĀ  worm farm.

Adding scraps as a slurpy mush of brassica leaves, potato ends and beans for the back of the fridge, means the worms can get right down to ingesting the food faster. Which means in turn that they cycle the nutrients in those scraps quicker (witht he addition of the bacteria in their gut as the food passes through), and produce more worm castings more quickerer.

And more quickerer is what we’re after. In an intensive, beyond organic vegetable growing system, worm casts and worm juice are gold. They represent nutrients in a soluble form that the veggies can slurp up and turn into leaves and fruit.

And since we’re harvesting nutrient (in the form of yummy veggies) from the garden nearly every day now, that means we have to put a heap of good nutrients back into the garden regularly, to avoid nutrient depletion and to keep the system stable and growing.

Worm casts are also a part of our current soil block mix, which we use for starting off various types of crops. Worm casts are sticky, and the consistency of a soil block needs to be just right to hold the mix together. Stickiness is good. Especially when combined with nutrient.

Soil blocking mix – top right patch is worm castings

Market garden intern Zag making soil blocks… the composition of the mix is all!

If you get the mix right, everyone can have a go…

And… we have germination.

Our plan later this season is to set up more worm farms and to escalate production, to make more worm casts available. If we can design it right, this might become part of a black soldier fly larvae system (to provide high-protein feed for the chooks), as black soldier fly larvae poo is, in turn, great worm food, which doesn’t need to be blended in order to be assimilated into the worms quickly.

Will it Blend? Well we don’t have a fancy blender in this first stage of the system, but we do have an old kitchen wizz that my mum thoughtfully found at an op shop for me, and which Michael has now commandeered for worm casting production. The worms are rocketing through their food, so yes, it does blend. For now.

Hopefully in the future we can figure a way to remove the powered blender from the equation (bicycle powered blender, perhaps?), but that needs a big farm hack brainstorming session. Maybe next week….

Michael souping up the worm farm with my op-shop kitchen wizz and the daily bucket of veggie scraps

>> More posts on nutrient cycling with worms and other things in on-farm and urban systems here

17 Comments

  1. Sonja
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    I have this little system going where everything goes to the chooks, they scratch around, poo and do their thing and then after a couple of months I collect it all and chuck it through our chipper. This goes to the worms and they munch away … No big chunks of anything … Seems to be working well … Much better than just feeding them stuff straight from the kitchen scrap bin.

    • Posted October 10, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink | Reply

      Nice one Sonja! We also have a chook-scrap system, but it’s over the hill from this system – all about efficient use of energy, eh? ;)

  2. pointge
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink | Reply

    and no citrus or onions :-)

    I can’t believe I never thought about using the kitchen blender instead of using scissors… Such a good idea!
    We also add egg shells for calcium and acidity control.
    This idea will definitely help the worms going quicker through them!
    I love my worls :-)

  3. Posted October 10, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink | Reply

    My Dad does the same thing. He had an old blender lying around and now blends up veg scraps before adding them to the worm farm. Prior to that, he had an old metal hand crank mincer thing (not sure exactly what it was, it had belonged to my Nana). It mushed things up well, but needed a far bit of arm and hand strength. My Mum doesn’t have much strength in her arms these days due to a nasty fall a couple of years ago so Dad got the blender to make it easier for her to use as well. But if you’ve got plenty of fit, young folk around a hand crank or treadle option would probably work well.

  4. Posted October 10, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    If you need castings faster, I’ve found freezing those scraps before feeding the worms gains nearly a third between feedings! it breaks vegetable cell walls very effectively, and stops ‘pongy’ kitchen scrap issues – i’d reckon you’d generate a heap of kitchen waste like we do.. just make sure you thaw the scraps first…
    love that worm juice siphon!

  5. Posted October 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Wow, your veges should jump out of the ground with the worm casts your creating here Kirsten. I heard lately from our organic inspector that hessian bags from overseas are riddled with pesticides so we stopped using them for our spuds. Maybe not a good thing for a worm farm cover either. Sorry to be bearer of bad news but you would want to know I thought. Best wishes, Bee

  6. Posted October 10, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

    It seems a recurrent theme and makes sense in terms of a worm’s mouth and common experience – the worms don’t feed on food scraps, they feed on the product of whatever makes them finally worm-ready. I have had great success with recent layering of scraps with cow manure and whole bunches of beach cast weaweed (posts: http://foragersyear.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/kelp-ecklonia-radiata-on-groomed-beaches-compost-ahead-of-waste/ and http://foragersyear.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/foraging-for-cow-bos-taurus-manure-the-worm-farm-turbo-charger/). It is such a wonderful game of bio-alchemy; things that make for happy worms, but more importantly supercharged worm-product. You guys are in Sydney enough to pop down for a bucket or two of kelp, go on, why don’tcha? Or, I’m popping in to Alexandria on the 20th to pick some stuff up from Tim; I’ll bring a bit for you to try; like a stereotype pusher, seeing if I can get you hooked.

  7. Posted October 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

    love the worm irrigation setup – such a good idea.. What’s the name of the tool Zag is using to make soil blocks?

  8. Posted October 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    You need a hand crank blender like this one http://www.peddlerswagon.com/p-74-vortex-hand-crank-blender.aspx

  9. Posted October 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on X_trous Notes.

  10. Anne
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I love your website!

    I’ve been growing Black soldier fly compost for 11 years in Darwin.
    I think they are wonderful.
    So fast & requiring so little of my energy.
    Maybe my observations will be helpful.

    I’m so impressed by their speed.
    Late Dry season ( not humid) I tossed a dead mouse on my tiny compost pile – size of a heaped dinner plate.
    8 hours later, when I was considering playing a mouse joke on my friend, all I found was a writhing mouse skin, no bones, no skull left, with full sized larvae jostling beneath it.
    That morning they were about half the length & a fraction of the size !
    The larvae could not have migrated there through hard packed, dried-out dirt, which means they can grow incredibly fast.

    Later in my standard black plastic compost bin I found that they thrived in a fairly anaerobic sloppy layer with my fruit, veg & paper scraps falling directly on top. I guess this slop was their poo. I never noticed a smell.

    This kept them fairly safe from ants, major predator, who hated getting yucky feet.
    Everything loves to eat them.
    Cockroaches love them but won’t dig for them.
    Mice will dig & eat every last one, while they are cleaning up the cockroaches.
    Interestingly, I saw house fly larvae occasionally, but they didn’t last more than a couple of hours…. I never did find out who ate them.

    Soldier fly eggs were eaten by ants, if they could find them.
    Generally they were laid on the underside of leaves,or the compost bin lid directly above the food scraps.
    The eggs that my ants usually missed were squeezed between the lid & the parallel top edge of the bin.

    The young hatch and fall onto the offerings& wriggle down away from the ants. Others don’t like to jump. they hurry down the black plastic side of the bin, but my ants grab these.

    My soldier fly larvae love cane toads as much as mice. Poison is no obstacle.
    I didn’t bury the cane toad properly, & it’s back legs were sticking out of the compost pile.
    8 hours later I went to check.
    I lifted one little webbed foot. Nothing but compost beneath it. The other foot was sticking up too, not attached to anything.

    So I guess they cannot pull food down like an earthworm does. though they’ll happily feast on a watermelon half that has been anchored in slop, which involves climbing up above the slop, as long as the ants can’t get access to them.

    In Darwin, eggs are laid seasonally.
    I do not know if that is an issue where you live.
    Visiting mice ate all my larvae in the Dry(your winter) & eggs weren’t seen again till the rain started-months later.
    The compost never filled more than one third of the bin when it was colonised bythe Soldier fly grubs. Fantastic, no shovelling or stirring required. I trust the nutrients were feeding my over-hanging bananas.
    After the mouse visit, compost started piling up. Odours wafted around.

    I was conflicted because I wasn’t sure when my next Soldier flies would turn up, and, Soldier flies survive in opposite conditions to conditions favoured by aerobic (non-smelly) bacteria.

    I love my Soldier Flies.
    No work for me. And they don’t hang around me, my guests or my kitchen, indoors or outdoors.
    They even look neat & well-groomed.
    What’s not to love. :)

    Anne

  11. Anne
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sorry, I didn’t link my previous post to worm farming.
    Would it be possible to design a system that breaks down the chunks of food /cane toads, etc, using soldier flies instead of a blender. This is like take-away for worms. I haven’t ever tried feeding it to worms. Do they really like it?

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Yep that would be the ultimate :) we just have to get the BSF system going

  12. Barry
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have used an old hand mincer & it seems to work. takes a bit of effort for some of the harder veges

  13. Sharn
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    After making a green smoothie I blend up all the veg scraps with water- worms love it and it cleans out the blender too. Saw a smoothie bike on the weekend that was imported from the states but I think it wouldn’t be powerful enough to do anything other than fruit. Maybe you can create a different attachment for the clay seed ball maker :)

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Tips on Wet and Smelly Worm Farm - | on October 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    [...] Souping up the worm farm [...]

  2. By Worm wrangling up at the ranch | Murrindindi on January 10, 2013 at 11:28 am

    [...] inspired by some of the very excitingly enterprising worm farm pimping folk out there (including the amazing Milkwood!) we are learning to make our own fancier version of the above this coming [...]

  3. [...] There’s no such thing as waste, only stuff in the wrong place. We catch and store the embodied energy in food scraps with our many worm farms. The worms process this ‘waste’ energy back into nutritious, organic inputs for our market garden. More… [...]

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