Worm Farm Series – Part Five – Maintaining Your Worm Farm
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If you’ve been following our Worm Farm Series, and setting up your new worm farm, my hope is that you now have a happy, productive worm family churning through all your organic waste and starting on the process of creating rich, dark compost.
How do you know if you have a happy, healthy worm farm?
If you have little to no smell, have a large number of worms, your organic waste is being broken down efficiently, you’re getting good quality castings and the worm tea is the colour of strong tea with no smell then you’re probably doing everything right.
If you’re not getting these results, then this article is for you. Below are some of the common things you need to do to maintain your worm farm, as well as some basic troubleshooting tips that might help you improve conditions in your worm farm so everything ticks along beautifully.
Although worm farms are reasonably low maintenance, you do need to keep an eye on your farm to make sure nothing is going awry. An unhappy farm will slow down or stop working all together, leaving you with a big moldy, mushy mess, and dead or AWOL worms, if you’re not on top of it.
Maintaining Your Worm Farm
Obviously the main maintenance you need to keep up with for your worm farm, is to keep feeding your worms.
As mentioned in the Feeding Your Worms part of this series, you need to feed your worms regularly, but not too much and too often so that the farm gets overfilled with unprocessed food.
Make sure you add your waste in amounts that are appropriate for the number of worms you have, and their efficiency. Don’t allow food to build up and turn to rotted mush in your farm. The worms won’t enjoy it as much and you may find they start moving out.
If you find that you’re not able to process all your organic waste with your current farm, either add more worms to bring their numbers and efficiency up, or start another farm to deal with the higher load.
Balancing Out Acid Levels
If you’ve fed your worms more acidic foods, like tomatoes, kiwifruit or even citrus that you put in before reading the tips on feeding your worms, you can balance the acidity of your worm farm out by adding in the following materials:
- Agricultural Lime granules
- Egg shells
- Fibrous material such as shredded paper or cardboard
- Wood Ash
You may wonder if you need to add water to your worm farm, to keep it moist and enjoyable for the worms.
Generally the answer is no. If you’re feeding your worms a good balanced organic diet with food scraps that have a high water content then the bin should have the correct moisture levels.
If you’re adding too much dry matter like paper, saw dust etc then you may need to add a little bit of water to balance out the levels again but make sure you don’t add too much. You could drown your worms.
If you’ve set things up right, chances are you’ve created a suitable home for not just worms, but all sorts of other creatures as well.
The problem is, you don’t necessarily want these other creatures to move in. If you find your worm farm is being over taken by extra guests such as white fly, spider mites, white worms, or fruit flies, your bin may be too acidic. Add in more fibrous material or try other options for balancing out acidity as above.
On the other hand, if your farm is too dry, you may end up with ants in the farm. Maintaining the right moisture levels will help to deter ants from making their permanent home in your worm farm.
There are extra guests that are useful for your worm farm though, such as slaters and maggots, so don’t stress too much about getting rid of these cohabitants. They will actually help in the process of breaking down the organic matter in your farm.
Pale And Skinny Worms
If your worms are becoming pale in colour, or are skinny rather than nice and fat and healthy, your worm farm moisture levels are probably too high. Slowly add in shredded paper or card to reduce the moisture in the worm bin.
No Worm Tea
If your farm isn’t producing any worm tea, then you need to balance your moisture levels back the other way. Add more organic waste with a higher water content, or lightly dampen down your worm farm. Sprinkle in a small amount of water so that your worm farm is damp, but not wet.
My Worm Farm Smells!
A healthy, happy and productive worm farm shouldn’t smell. If your worm farm has become anaerobic with rotting food or sour with high acidity levels, then you will get a smell from it. Depending on how bad it has got you may need to either add more fibrous material to balance out the acidity, or ‘refurbish’ your worm farm with new materials and then add your worms back in.
Start with trying to remove any bulk amounts of rotting food, then add in the fibrous material and aerate before going the whole way and starting again.
Worms Trying To Escape
Usually the only reason your worms will try to escape your worm farm, is because the conditions in the farm are less than ideal, and your worms are trying to make their way to somewhere that has better living conditions.
To combat a mass exodus, work out what needs to change in your worm farm to make it a better worm home (and more productive) and make some adjustments.
In the meantime, while your farm is being refurbished, move the worms trying to escape back into the layers of waste, or transfer as many of them as you can to a temporary container with more suitable conditions (processed compost with a bit of fresh food) and then rehouse them once you’ve stabilised your worm farm.
But before you start scooping up all of your worms into temporary accommodation, ask if your worms are actually trying to escape, or are they just crawling up the sides of your farm but not actually trying to leave the farm.
This often happens when there is rain imminent, or it it has been raining.
But why would worms try and get out of their farm when the rain comes? To avoid drowning. If the farm becomes flooded with water they will obviously perish, so they start making their way to ‘higher ground’ to avoid an untimely death.
Dead Worms : (
If you’ve had a rummage through your worm bin, wondering what’s going on in there, and found either dead worms or no worms, you’re probably feeling a bit disappointed.
There’s really only one reason why your worms will die in your worm farm, and that is that the conditions were so unfavourable, if not toxic, that it killed your new friends.
But it could be any one of the many intolerable conditions that caused the death of your worms, from the farm being too wet, to too dry, having too much (rotting) food, or not enough. Even the temperature of the worm farm has the potential to kill off your worms so consider each of the possible problems and correct just one thing at a time. Take your time to get your worm farm back into balance before adding new worms, rather than bringing in new worms and then sorting out their home. Tiger worms aren’t overly cheap so you don’t want to keep buying them, just to kill more of them off.
It’s All Worth It In The End
It takes a while to get everything ticking along well in a worm farm, so don’t feel disillusioned if you aren’t seeing a lot happening in the first few weeks or months of having your farm set up. Just keep following the steps for feeding your worms, and the maintenance tips above, and soon you’ll start to reap the rewards for your efforts.
Well, we’re nearing the end of our Worm Farm Series. In the last article (coming soon) we will focus on harvesting the castings from your worm farm, and also harvesting excess worms for sale. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up below to get this last installment of the Worm Farm series, and all future Growing and Gathering articles, directly in your inbox.