Gardening > Worm Farms - Shedding Light on a Hidden World

Worm Farms -
Shedding Light on a Hidden World

By GREGG CALLOW
Published: March 17, 2009

Earth worms are mysterious to most people. They can either be a gardener's best friend, a fisherman's bait or simply forgotten about underground. Either way they work hard for us by breaking down green waste and releasing nutrients back to the soil.

Now we can get the benefits from worms in our homes or gardens by using worm farms. These farms have been around for a while and provide conditions for worms to do their work which is to recycle organic waste.

Most farms are made of plastic chambers. The top chamber is for food scraps. In the next chamber is a bedding material made of shredded coconut husks. This is where the worms breed and deposit their castings (poo). The bedding captures the castings and prevents worms falling through to the bottom chamber. The third chamber is where the liquid is collected. A tap releases this fertile worm juice which you can use to water and feed your plants.

Almost anyone can have a farm, even if you live in a unit as they are tidy and self contained. If the worms are not over fed then there should be no offensive odour, just the smell of a rainforest floor. They do not take up much space and do best in the shade and left alone. The farms are sold with everything you need including an instruction manual.

It's not a matter of buying a farm kit and digging up worms from your garden. There are two types of worms; Composting and Earth workers. You need the composters which are available in worm starter kits which are available at hardware stores and sold seperately. You need at least 1000 worms to get the farm started. A list of local suppliers may also be available from your worm farm outlet.

It is an interesting hobby for kids and will teach them how nature recycles green matter and are virtually free to keep as pets. You can even go on holidays for 3 to 4 weeks with out feeding them. Just give them some food before you go.

Once the farm is established you will have a constant supply of very rich liquid fertiliser that is three to four times stronger than commercial plant food.

Josie Townsend from worm farm manufacturer RELN says, "The liquid draining from a worm farm is not theoretically a 'fertiliser' because it does not have enough nitrogen, phospherous or potassium to be classified as fertiliser. Instead its the living and dead microbial bodies in the worm juice are where most of the nutrients are residing. The action of the microbes in the soil and the plants is where the growth comes from".

Another interesting fact is that worms are hermaphrodites. Josie explains how worms reproduce. "Worms have an organ called a clitellum, often called a collar or saddle. The appearance of the clitellum indicates the adult status of the worm. From this collar a mucous material is secreted onto the outside of the worms body. The worm then reverses slowly, sliding this mucous ring forwards along its body, like sliding a ring over your finger. When the ring moves over the ovary ducts the worm pushes out eggs into the ring. The worm continues to slide the ring further forward over the male sperm ducts. Sperm is then released into the ring and fertilses the eggs. The worm then slides the ring off its nose and the egg capsule is completed."

Worms are not the fastest reproducers. They are able to regulate when the babies will hatch. "The egg capsule can last for 5 to 10 years in dry condition and hatch when there is enough moisture," Josie said. "The egg capsule usually has about 2 to 6 babies inside it, although some CSIRO research has found up to 22 babies inside one capsule. Worms can live from 5 to 10 years.

It is a shame worms are ignored as they do so much to help us. They are the hidden, quiet underground workers. Now with worm farms we can see the process in front of us and appreciate what worms do for us.

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