Gardening

Permaculture Urban: a simple worm farm

2 polystyrene boxes make a compact worm farm for urban use

Top box with worms and worm casting, bottom box with worm liquid.

If you want to start growing your own food using Permaculture, soil would be a great place to start. A lot of people in urban areas do not have access to soil, so they would need to buy or make their own. Making your own is very satisfying, and a quick and easy way to start is to make a worm farm. 

Worms are very industrious creatures, and incredibly useful. Worms eat more than half their body weight every day, are quick breeders and their poop creates beautiful, bacteria rich soil. The soil can be mixed with other (top) soil to create a potting mix, or you can use it neat. The worm liquid (worm wee) is a fantastic fertiliser when mixed with water at a rate of around 1:20. So the worm farm will basically create most of your needs to start planting. All you need to start the worm farm are some food scraps, 3 polystyrene boxes (ask your local fruit and vegie shop, ensure one of them has a fitting lid and that they are all the same size) and red worms.  Red worms (2 types: red earthworms or red wrigglers) tend to be the most suitable for worm farms and you should be able to find them in hardware stores and nurseries. Or you can try and find someone with an existing worm farm and get some from them. The worms breed quick enough that they wouldn’t be missed!

For our urban worm farm I decided to go with the polystyrene boxes, since I found they were compact, readily available in an urban environment, could live in any apartment where there is no outdoor area and are water proof. The poly boxes have lids that fit them, so there should be no smell (and once all the scraps are eaten by the worms there is no smell anyway). The boxes are easily shifted if they need to be moved and the worm farm was easy to make, so it should be a quick thing to do for busy people. Polystyrene boxes are not environmentally friendly, but they are unfortunately around, so we may as well use them for something good.  Due to the thickness and insulating qualities of the boxes, they provide a wonderfully stable environment for our little workers.

Worm farm with scraps

Food scraps in the bottom of the “holed” box.

Take one of the polystyrene boxes and punch a few small holes in the bottom with a pen or pencil. 8 – 10 holes should do. This allows the worm liquid (worm wee) to get out. Put some food scraps on the bottom of the box. (You can put some wet newspaper in first if you like. Our food scraps were very wet already and there was enough to cover the bottom, so we didn’t put down the wet newspaper).  Put your earthworms in next (ours came in their castings, since we dug them out of an existing worm farm). Add some more food scraps on the top straight away, or add them a couple of days later. Observe your worms and see how they cope with the amount of scraps you give them. If you have too many scraps and the worms cannot cope, you can always start a compost bin. If you do not have enough scraps for the worms, see whether your neighbours can give you some of theirs, in exchange for some produce you will be growing with the worm castings! Or maybe they would like to join you on your urban permaculture journey and you can have a joint worm farm!

Worms are added to the box in their castings, on top of the scraps.

Worms added to the box in their castings.

Once the box with worms and food scraps is full of worms and worm castings, you add the third box (with holes punched into the bottom) on top of the second box, and add food scraps into the third box. The worms will then use the holes to get into the top box. Once you can see there is little worm activity left in the second box, you can remove the second box and use the soil, putting the third box on top of the bottom box. Now you can start using the worm castings from the box to plant your vegies into! Feed your vegies with worm juice in water (1:20). Once your box is empty of worm castings, you put it aside for when the top box is full again, and add that one to the top as described above.

Our worm farm is ready. Make sure you store the worm farm in a shady, dark area. Our little friends will take some time to do their job, but just feed them regularly and soon you will have some beautiful soil to play with!

Scraps added on top of the worms every few days

Scraps are added on top of the worms every few days or once a week.

Worm juice in the bottom box of the worm farm

Worm juice in the bottom box of the worm farm

Design based on Gardening Central’s video.

Resources:

http://www.compostinstructions.com/worm-castings-how-worm-poop-can-make-your-soil-richer/

http://www.wormpoop.com/Composting/Composting.htm

http://earthwiseharmony.com/GARDENS/EH-Home-Made-Worm-Farms-How-to-Build-Your-Own-Worm-Farm.html

©2013 Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast – Sunshine Coast Permaculture Urban: making a simple worm farm.

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