Start a vermiculture project

Have you ever thought of making free fertiliser from your kitchen scraps with worms?

Worms! Our garden’s recyclers! Without them, our soil would not be as rich and aerated, and our plants would not grow as abundantly.

What is vermiculture?
This might sound like a fancy word, but basically, it is just worm farming. I suppose the next question going through your head is, what is so important about worm farming? Well, these wriggling red worms are used mainly for the production of compost, in fact amazing compost, and this is referred to as vermicompost.

How is it different from compost?
Vermicompost is similar to plain compost, except that it uses worms, in addition to microbes and bacteria, to turn organic waste into a nutrient-rich fertiliser. To put it in laymen terms, they eat the veggie scraps and poop out great compost. Vermicompost, or vermiculture, uses specific worms; the ones we can use in Zimbabwe are Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) as they are adapted to the special conditions in rotting vegetation, compost and manure piles. Similarly, you feed the worms the same organic waste you would toss in a compost pile, which includes just about all of your food waste, except the animal leftovers, cooked foods and a few other exceptions.

What is all the fuss about vermicompost?
I remember a friend starting her first worm farm, which was tucked away neatly in her garden garage, at first it was fascinating to watch as they devoured their way through her  scraps and then it got even better, as she never had to buy any fertiliser for her small garden. The worms made her natural, chemical free, organic fertiliser for free. All she had to do was remember to feed them – it is as simple as that! For those of you who want the more hard and fast facts about the benefits of vermicompost, here we go:

  • Organic – The most important aspect of vermicompost is that it is 100% organic and it does not need to be mixed with anything.
  • More Nutritious – It is naturally designed to benefit plants in several different ways. The most significant benefit is that the nutrients in earthworm compost are very easily  absorbed by the roots of plants. Unlike chemical fertilisers, vermicompost is not easily flushed from the soil because of the worm mucus that it contains. Thus, plants have longer to obtain the nutrients and get the maximum benefit. The exact nutrient components of the vermicompost will vary depending on what types of food you feed your worm farm.
  • Micro Organisms – As the compost is passing through the body of the worms, it is enriched with bacteria and microbes. These help plants to become more disease resistant and also repel some plant pests. The presence of increased microbial activity can make the area much more attractive to birds, which also help to remove plant pests.
  • Healthier Plants – As the compost works on the plants and they become healthier, the need for pesticides is reduced. Continued use of chemical fertilisers inevitably leads to a breakdown in the soil.
  • Plant Growth – Among the hormones that vermicompost contains are hormones that help plants to grow. Germination of seeds is encouraged, the growth of the plant is stronger and the crop yield improved. This natural support for the plants is not available with chemical fertilisers. The distribution of the compost through the soil also helps to encourage healthy root growth.
  • Water Retention – Vermicompost holds up to nine times its own weight in water. This can make a huge difference when there is a dry spell. The water is held at an organic level so tends to evaporate slowly while still being available to the plants.
  • Slow Nutrition Release – Vermi compost holds the nutrients in place and releases them slowly so that the plants receive what they need over a prolonged period. Overall,  using worms creates a product that is natural and behaves naturally. The cycle of regularly over-dosing the soil with chemical fertilisers is broken. Plant health is promoted by long-term exposure to nutrients and the soil condition will continue to improve.


How to use vermicompost

Vermicompost can be used in the following:

  • Potting soil
  • Germination mix (Never use it directly – it must be mixed with another medium)
  • Lawn dressing/ Flower beds (as much as you want)
  • Vegetables ( I use a handful for each veggie when planting)
  • The leachate, which is also collected, can be used as a liquid fertiliser – this is not the same as Worm tea. The leachate is collected from the bottom bin of our worm farm, which allows for easy leachate draining. Dilute it 10:1 with water before adding it to your garden. I think worm tea should be left to a completely new article itself!

I hope that the benefits have swayed you into starting up your own worm farm and you are now toiling with the idea of giving it a go, well at least I hope you are. It is very easy to set up your own fertiliser factory, in fact all you need is a Saturday morning, which includes time to go to the shops.

Setting up a worm farm bucket tower

What you need:
Three buckets
A tray (I use the lid from the bucket)
A handful of compost and scraps of
A drill
A handful of Red wriggler worms – you can either ask someone you know who has a worm farm or ask the worm vendors on the side of the road. Make sure they get the Red Wrigglers not the big grey earthworms.

Where to keep them
Make sure you keep the worm farm in a shaded dark area out of the rain; the worms like to be kept moist and warm so make sure they are out of direct sunlight and never get soaked. The best place is just outside the kitchen so you can remember to feed them your scraps.

What to feed them
You can feed them most vegetable scraps, tea bags except any citrus, onions or chilli. Or if you have don’t have any scraps, a handful of regular compost is just as good. Do not over feed them with scraps as the veggie scraps need to decay before they can be eaten – to help the veggie scraps decay quicker make sure they are cut into smaller bits. Some people put their food scraps, including eggshells, into a blender and make a slurry. The worms seem to love this, but it is not necessary. Worms need to adjust to their new home and new foods so do not over feed them in the first few weeks.

How the tower bucket system works
The concept of the bucket tower is that the worms move upward looking for food and the moisture drips downward. There are several important aspects to making this tower work.
A. Tray of water at the bottom
The bucket tower should be placed in a tray of water at the bottom so ants and other insects cannot climb in and upset the worms.
B. Bucket one
The first bucket in the tower should not have any holes in it – this bucket is used to collect the leachate.
C. Bucket two
The second bucket has small holes at the bottom so that the leachate can be drained through to the bottom bucket. This bucket is where you also put the worms in. You feed them from the top so they move upwards, leaving the vermicompost behind them. Worms need air so you need to put a few smaller holes around the bucket.
D. Bucket three
When the second bucket is about three quarters full you place another bucket on top – this bucket also has holes in the bottom. Then place a few food scraps with a bit of compost mixed in it so the worms move up into this bucket towards the food. Once all the worms have moved into the top bucket, remove the full bucket of vermicompost below. It’s ready to be used in the garden. Bucket three is moved down into Bucket two position.
E. Cover
The cover is important to keep it dark and prevent it from drying out. The cover must allow air to go through so you can use moist  newspaper on the top, which will keep the tower moist and dark – never put a closed lid on top, as they need air.

How to make it

Step one
Get a tray and fill it with water. Place the First bucket in it making sure it is surrounded by water. Then place aheavy rock/brick in it.
Step two
Place the Second bucket on top of the first.
Step three
Add a layer of torn moist newspaper at the bottom, then the worms, the compost and finally add the top layer of moist newspaper.
Step four
Place in a dark, shaded corner where you can feed them scraps easily.
Step five
When the bucket is over half to three quarters full, add the third bucket.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


One Response

  1. I love all the information supplied. Each topic taught me something. Especially the worm farm, I did mine all wrong, but thanks to you I’m on the right track now. Thank you so much for sharing.

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