Get a wriggle on if you want to make garden gold, writes Julie Thomson.

I liken worm farms to the fairytale figure Rumpelstiltskin, who spun straw into gold.

Worms turn food garbage into garden gold, with the liquid and castings they make one of the best feeds you can give it, because both the castings (poo) and liquid (wee) are great soil improvers and fertilisers – there is a deal of toilet vernacular in worm farming.

Worms that make compost are different to earthworms, as compost worms live in leaf litter on top of and just below the surface, whereas lovely fat earthworms chew their way deep into the soil.

Worm farms can be as big or as small as you choose. Make one from recycled material such as an old bathtub, polystyrene box or buy a purpose-built model. Mine came via an innovative friend who used two sturdy plastic buckets, one of which he made holes in to let the wee through to the bottom where he attached a tap.

Worm farms bought off-the-shelf usually come with three layers. The bottom one is where the worm wee collects and the other two layers are where the worms live. Begin with them in one layer and when that’s filled with their poo, move the worms into a new box and put the castings on the garden.

Setting up

Whether you’re going DIY or using a purpose-built worm farm, the set up is the same:

  1. Put a couple of sheets of newspaper in the layer where the worms will live to prevent them from falling through
  2. Add bedding material such as cow manure, sawdust or coconut fibre, so the worms feel comfy in their new home
  3. Add the worms, which you can buy by the box from your local hardware and online or perhaps start with a handful from a friend’s farm.  Spread them over the bedding and cover with moistened newspaper or moistened hessian
  4. Let them settle in for a week or so before you begin feeding them
  5. Store it in a cool shady place, because worms need a constant temperature

What to feed them:

Most kitchen scraps are fine, including fruit and vegies, eggshells (crushed), tea leaves, teabags and coffee grounds, a small amount of leaves, weeds and grass cuttings paper and cardboard – unwaxed and slightly wet, human hair and vacuum cleaner debris.

Avoid citrus and onion, meat, bones, grains, breads, dairy products, garlic and tomatoes.

Chop everything into small pieces because worms have very tiny mouths.

Keep them happy

Add a couple of handfuls of dolomite lime or unprocessed bran every two months.  If you’re going on holidays, pack the top tray with plenty of straw or shredded newspaper to keep them going while you’re away. If the forecasted temperature is over 30 degrees, put moistened hessian or carpet underfelt over the whole farm to keep it cool.

How to use the by-products

Dilute the worm liquid to one part wee, 10 parts water and apply it to your vegies or pot plants to really get them moving. Use the worm solids to make slurry, with a couple of handfuls in a bucket then filled with water. Pour it on garden beds and lawns to help increase your plants’ drought tolerance and make more nutrients available to them.

Your worm farm really will turn garbage into gold. What are you waiting for?