Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Can’t Afford Camp? Start a Worm Farm With Your Kids

When I was little, my mother used to count down the days until summer like it was her job.  Me off in the wilderness being told scary stories and not having access to a telephone was a huge gift, according to her. Because she could garden her little heart out. And she’s not alone: even parents who love their kids need some time apart to tap into their hobbies, and finally hear that little voice inside their head again.

An economic recession, however, is not very good for alone time. Which is to say, most people can’t afford to send their kids to camp this summer. But for all you parents about to tear your hair out…there’s hope yet. There is a way to combine your two loves. And I’m not talking about pizza and Pixar. I’m talking child rearing and gardening. That’s right. This summer: you, your kid…and a worm farm!

The following is an excerpt from Composting: An Easy Household Guide by Nicky Scott:

This system requires a bit more effort but is great fun and children love it!

Worms eat rotting matter and are particularly useful because they will eat your food waste, paper, and cardboard. Their manure, called ‘worm casts,’ is very beneficial for all soils and plants. It is used more as a fertilizer than as a bulky soil improver.

Worm farms also produce an extremely valuable liquid fertilizer, which is drained off at regular intervals.When diluted with water (at least 10 parts water to one part liquid), it is an excellent feed for flowers and vegetables. If you don’t regularly tap off the liquid, the container will gradually fill up with it and drown all your worms – and knock you out with the odor!

Worms like it to be cool and moist, but not too cold.They will not be very active at low temperatures, and if it gets too hot, they will climb out if they can. If they get too wet, they may drown or migrate.

Buying your worm farm

Starter Kits – If you know nothing about worm farms, consider buying your worm farms complete with a starter kit – this will contain all you need, including worms and instructions, to get you up and running.

Worm Farms – The majority of worm farms are made out of plastic, and there are many to choose from – from single containers to stacking systems that are designed to make it easier for you to extract the worm casts.Whatever type you buy, make sure there is a tap at the base to drain off excess fluid.

Your sanitation department may offer a specific type at a reduced price, or you can easily research types and sources from one of the many sites available on the Internet. For starters, try:

You can also buy wooden worm farms.

Making your own worm farm

A Container – When you are starting from scratch, as with any animal, you have to provide a suitable living environment. If you want to make your own worm farm, many large containers (such as old garbage cans and barrels) can be adapted to become worm farms.

See various on-line sources for making your own worm farm.

Bedding – No matter which container you use, you must start the worms off with a generous bedding layer. Bedding can be leaf mold, finished compost (preferably sieved), shredded-up newspaper and/or cardboard,well-rotted sawdust or woodchip, or a mixture of any or all of these. Whatever it is, it must be thoroughly wetted – especially paper and cardboard, as worms will die if they dry out.

Getting your Worms

Now that you’ve got somewhere for them to live, all you need is your worms! Don’t be tempted to dig worms out of the soil in your garden for your worm farm; they will not be the right ones.You need compost worms, such as tiger worms or dendras, which live naturally in compost and manure heaps – but you need an awful lot of them.

The best way is to buy enough worms to really kick-start your worm farm into action – at least 500 but preferably 1000 worms should do the job.Most of the companies that supply worm farms will also sell you worms.They arrive in a container through the mail, ready for action. See any of the suppliers above.

Feeding your worms

After you have introduced the worms into the container, let them settle down for a day or two.They will be quite happy eating their bedding.

Feed them only small amounts at a time; they don’t want a great pile of stuff dumped on them, as it can compost and generate heat – and they like it cool! Little and often is best.

Worms can eat about their own weight in food each day. The more worms you have, the faster it all happens.

Be patient – your worm farm will probably take at least a year to get up to full speed as the worms breed.You can expect 15,000 – 20,000 worms in your worm farm by then!

What to put in your worm farm

Worm farms are ideal for small amounts of ‘difficult’ kitchen materials – food scraps, cooked leftovers, meat and fish, cheese rinds, bread. Avoid large amounts of raw fresh fruit, vegetable trimmings, and garden waste (ideally these will go in your garden composting system, if you have one).

If you separate out your materials so that fresh vegetable trimmings mostly go in your compost heap and the kitchen scraps go in the worm farm, you won’t create masses of liquid.

Harvesting – collecting the worm compost

Worm farms take a long time to fill up with worm casts.When they are getting pretty full, remove the freshest material plus the layer immediately underneath – this will contain most of the worms. Put this to one side. It can all go back into your worm farm when you have harvested the worm casts – the rich, dark material at the bottom.

If you have a stacking system, such as the popular ‘Can-OWorms,’ you merely remove and empty the bottom container and place it back on the top of the worm farm.The whole cycle then starts again. See:

Using worm casts – Worm casts (the name given to the finished worm compost) are the crème de la crème of composts and are best used by the handful rather than the wheelbarrow load.Think of worm casts as fertilizer, not compost; a little goes a long way. Give all your potted plants, window boxes, and hanging baskets a top dressing.Water them thoroughly first, and then top dress with a handful or so of worm casts.You can do the same with garden plants.

Using the liquid fertilizer – The liquid that you drain off from your worm farm makes a wonderful liquid feed for all your plants, especially fruit – dilute with about ten parts water before using as a foliar feed or to water your plants with.

Ask the Expert: Andrew Mefferd

Before writing The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture, Andrew Mefferd spent seven years in the research department at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, traveling around the world to consult with researchers and farmers on the best practices in greenhouse growing. Andrew has graciously agreed to offer up his expertise to our […] Read More

Top 10 favorite goat facts (with gifs)

New this month from author Gianaclis Caldwell, Holistic Goat Care is the essential resource on caring for your herd. Goats have provided humankind with essential products for centuries; indeed, they bear the noble distinction of being the first domesticated farm animal. From providing milk and meat for sustenance and fiber and hides for clothing and shelter […] Read More

New French edition of The Resilient Farm and Homestead available

Great news for French-speaking fans of Ben Falk’s The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. The French language translation is now available from Imagine Un Colibri, from French booksellers, and on Falk’s book is a technical manual that details the strategies he and his team have developed for […] Read More

How to Make Biochar

Doing some spring cleaning around your property? By making biochar from brush and other hard-to-compost organic material, you can improve soil—it enhances nutrient availability and also enables soil to retain nutrients longer. This excerpt from The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume 3, explains how to get started. To make biochar right in your garden, start by […] Read More

Generosity as Activism, and Other Homesteading Principles to Live By

“Like everyone I know, we occasionally find ourselves faced with a decision to which there is no obvious answer,” says Ben Hewitt, coauthor of The Nourishing Homestead. “Do we borrow money to build a bigger barn, or do we keep getting by with what we have? Do we spend our meager savings on trees and […] Read More