Worm Composting and the Worm Hatchery
Worms and all living insects in the soil do the work of making compost, which is basically new, richer soil. To contain these worms into a smaller area in order to harvest them into the garden permanently you must have any largish container with no escape route as your breeding bin. They will need some of the soil they are growing in, and some humus to feed on with regular watering, but monitor this as with no drainage they could drown. Kitchen waste is ideal and is composted so quickly back into the soil, but anything will do to feed these ‘hungry’ creatures. In fact it seems they don't actually eat it -- they consume it, sure enough, but what they derive their nourishment from is all the micro-organisms that are really eating it. And yet -- mystery! -- their casts (waste) contain eight times as many micro-organisms as their feed! And these are the micro-organisms that best favour healthy plant growth. And the casts don't contain any disease pathogens -- pathogenic bacteria are reliably killed in the worms' gut. This is one of the great benefits of worm composting.
Worm casts contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus, and 11 times more potassium than ordinary soil, the main minerals needed for plant growth. The casts are also rich in humic acids, which condition the soil, have a perfect pH balance, and contain plant growth factors similar to those found in seaweed. There's nothing better to put in your garden! Worms are one of the largest and most beneficial of the soil organisms. They are also one of the most sensitive. When we get things wrong with our soils, they are the first things to disappear; when we get things right, they are the last things to come back. Thus they are a good indicator of the health of our soils – if we have earthworms, we have got most things right.
Worms proliferate rapidly, having grandchildren within 3 months! So there is a need in your worm hatchery to remove some every few weeks and replace the space with more top soil and humus or kitchen waste for the remaining stock of worms to feed on. Growing worms is hugely satisfying. You can transform the soil profile in your garden from sandy soil to rich, composted, dark soil. Worms enrich the soils, carry surface nutrients underground, and provide passages within the soil for the penetration of both air and water. The more you make, the more satisfying the results.
Once you have your worm hatchery in place it can be used to ‘feed’ your compost heaps, turning them into worm compost.
*ANY grown matter, branches, leaves, grass, fruit, grains, stalks (don’t throw away garden waste!)
* ANY animal waste
* TOP SOIL that will provide more microbes to help in the decomposition process.
*WORM COMPOST from a worm bin
A suggested size for each compost unit is 3m wide, 2m long and 1.5m high above the ground for ease of turning and maximum aeration. You can repeat this unit as many times as you wish. Don’t forget to leave a space at the end of your ‘row’ to take the first turning of the compost. (Successive heaps can be turned where the last one has vacated.)
Make a layer of the humus matter, a layer of animal manure, and a layer of top soil 1.5 metres above the land for good aeration purposes. Water for a week every few days and then make a bowl in the top of the heap and introduce a pile of worms and their soil from your worm container.
Ensure a space of about 10cm is left between each 2m compost heap for optimum aeration. It is good aeration and watering that speeds up the decomposition. As the ripening process begins the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen takes place. Under favourable conditions as much as 25% of additional free nitrogen may be secured from the atmosphere.
Compost heaps should be watered every few days to make all the life and activity in the heap possible. But don’t over water. Sodden is not good. A wooden stake should be inserted into the heap to gauge moisture levels. If it is warm and moist you know it is moist enough. Leave off watering if it is too wet. You will soon gauge how warm and moist your stake should look. If it has mould on you need to water more.
Foreign chemicals or plastic of any kind must be carefully put elsewhere. Fertilizers make the soil acidic. This condition depletes the soil of the right micro-organisms and thus nutrients in a self sustaining way in the soil. Conditions must allow for optimum nutrition to be transmitted into plants and this is where it starts. Strong chemical fertilisers by comparison provide nutrients for plants, but kill the soil organisms, thus preventing them from turning plant and animal waste back into plant-food. Compost will take four months with one or two turns for sufficient decomposition to have taken place.
Diagram of row of worm compost heaps with a worm bin.
*70% of all household waste is organic matter and can be used to good effect.
*Preparing your own compost is cheaper than buying chemical alternatives.
*Has the capacity to improve water retention and properties of the soil.
*Contains many trace mineral elements not normally found in fertilizers.
*Vegetables and crops grown with the use of organic worm compost give you optimum nutritional value than the same vegetables grown in soil depleted of micro-organisms through the use of fertilizers.
Growing biomass for compost.
Worm compost is a great fertiliser, but acquiring the materials to make compost can be a problem. It is possible however to grow certain crops specifically for compost production. These crops include grasses, legumes and other plants such as Russian comfrey. The choice of plants grown will obviously depend upon the soils and climatic conditions, in which they are to be grown. These are then harvested on a regular basis, and turned into a very high quality compost. It has been estimated that the compost from one hectare of such a mixture will yield compost for some fifty hectares of crops.