A healthy worm farm has so much to offer. Worm wee can be used as a liquid fertiliser. Their castings can be used to enrich your seed-raising mix or as a nutrient-rich soil conditioner. And handfuls of worms can be fed to your chooks as a high-protein treat.
The healthier your farm, the faster your worms will reproduce and the more wee, castings and worms you can harvest.
There are plenty of apparent rules about what not to feed your worms. Some suggest you should avoid citrus peels, onion, cooked food and meat. I tend to ignore the rules and don't stress too much about what ends up in my worm scrap bucket. A healthy worm farm should be able to cope with any kitchen scraps in moderation. If my kitchen scrap bin is extra full of citrus peels, I simply toss its contents into the compost bin instead of the worm farm.
You can speed up how quickly your worms eat their food by chopping, pureeing or freezing your kitchen scraps. I am not that precious and feed my worms scraps as they come. Large pieces are fine, they will simply need to decay a little before the worms can eat them.
Worms love horse and cow manure. I feed my worm farms a bucket of horse manure every fortnight and it helps to keep worm numbers up. When using manure you need to consider the risk of it containing deworming medication. The last thing you want to do is deworm your worm farm. If in doubt, age the manure for a few weeks to allow any deworming medication to break down.
It is important to not overfeed your worms. Feed your worms too much and you will attract pests, cause their bedding to overheat and become too acidic. If the worm farm starts to smell, slow down on the feeding.
Worms like their home to be moist, but not waterlogged. A lack of moisture can kill worms really fast. I ensure their bedding is free draining and flush the farm with water if it looks too dry.
Worms are sensitive to extreme heat or cold. Ensure your worm farm is somewhere warm and sunny in winter and somewhere cool and shady in summer. On very hot days, you can insulate your farm by surrounding it with straw bales or keep it cool by draping it in old towels and keeping them moist.
If you take good care of your worms they will produce plenty of vermicompost - a mix of worm castings (worm poo) and broken down organic matter.
Vermicompost is commonly called black gold and for good reason. Vermicompost enhances plant growth and productivity and also improves seed germination and seedling growth. Compared to synthetic fertiliser or even regular compost, it has better moisture and nutrient retaining capacity and a higher level of beneficial microbe activity. I use it in my seed-raising mix (at a rate of 10 to 40 per cent of total growth medium) and scatter it around my vegetables.
How you harvest your vermicompost will depend on the type of worm farm you have. To harvest from my laundry tub worm farms I move all the compost to one side and add fresh bedding (straw, dry leaves or aged manure) to the empty side. Most of the worms will move to the fresh bedding and after a few days I can then remove the vermicompost withourt harvesting worms.
I also regularly add handfuls of vermicompost, worms and all, to my chicken tractor to treat the chickens and enrch the soil ready for my next crop of vegetables.
Worm wee, or the liquid that drains out of the bottom of your worm farm, is an extremely potent liquid fertiliser. It needs to be diluted with water before use, ideally to about the colour of tea.
Wandering around the garden with a watering can of diluted worm wee and selecting plants to fertilise is strangely one of my favourite garden tasks.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 1st September 2014.