Air in worm farms is very necessary otherwise a stink will soon inform you that all is not well in the state of Denmark. Worse, the temperature will rise and they'll be crawling out of your container.
Worms are aerobic creatures just like us; they need oxygen to exist. With not enough air near the bottom of the container, they won't delve deep into the feedstock and then it will rot and start to smell.
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 7th January, 2023.
To prevent this problem it is important in the first instance to add plenty of friable material. Various authorities recommend the use of cardboard in worm farms.
That also raises the carbon content which is important for the critters.
However I am reluctant to do that because of the chemicals used in the manufacture of cardboard.
Our solution is to add the outer leaves of cabbages and corn; the roots and stems too. Chop them roughly with a spade. They are plentiful here but any coarse organic material from the garden would do.
This friable material must be well-worked into the rotting food that is being used, but be careful not to make an impermeable layer to both the worms and oxygen.
Do not compact the feed-stock down; it should be as rough and crumbly as possible to let in the air.
Recent experiments suggest that best of all is to cover the contents of your worm farm with a loose array of whole cabbage leaves; they love the dark, and when you lift a leaf you'll find a myriad of creepy-crawlies just below.
Air in worm farms can be helped by regular tossing of the contents of the container.
We recommend that once a week you take a garden fork and gently work the contents of your worm farms; loosen the material, allowing air to penetrate deep into the container.
Do not try to invert the feed-stock; twisting the implement slightly will permit oxygen to get to the wrigglies nearer the bottom.
In particular look for any areas where the material is compacted; gently tossing it will help prevent anaerobic bacteria from flourishing.
Watch out for an unpleasant smell and any sign of the worms crawling out of the container.
This is especially true if it gets hot, either from the ambient temperature, or too much nitrogen-rich feed stock.
Remember that the worms can be injured; do not use a garden spade that would cut some of them in half and kill them. You will not end up with two living wrigglies, but one dead critter.
Having said all this, the worms are amazingly tolerant provided you use a modicum of common sense. The material must not be too dry, nor should it be flooded with rainwater; a proper roof and drainage at the bottom is important.
If no leachate drips from the bottom of your worm farm into the bucket, it may be dry, or the outlet may be blocked; use a watering can. If you get a lot of liquid leaking out then it is probably too wet.
I took the photograph at the top of this page; in retrospect it appears to be too damp, but the worms are obviously flourishing despite that.
Turning over a corner of your farm and seeing if the worms are proliferating is perhaps the best measure of the well-being of your beasties. Ideally there should be thick clumps of wriggling nematodes, to give them their biological name.
Building worm farms is not rocket science. It is a wonder what both the leachate, erroneously called worm wee and the vermicast (the compost formed) will do to enrich your garden.
Growing broad beans, also known as favas, is important to me, in part for the vegetable protein but also for the dopamine they provide for the tremor in my hand. Since using leachate from our well-aired worm farms, the plants grow to over six foot tall. No inorganic fertiliser is necessary.
But if they start to stink, firstly remove the leachate more regularly and secondly think about more air in worm farms.
Another way to get more air to the bottom of your container is to use cardboard in worm farms; it acts as a bulking agent.
Both the leachate and the vermi-cast have greatly improved the quality of our vegetables; getting your garden soil ready is a long, slow process that can be greatly enhanced by the use of worm farms.
Soil science is a complex subject; until I learned to define humus, I thought it was a synonym for compost.
The leachate (worm wee) also acts as an important non-toxic part of natural pest management; dilute and water it onto the leaves of your plants but not those like lettuce that you are about to eat.
Few things will kill your worms faster than becoming water-logged. If there is heavy rain expected, it would be wise to cover the farms with a tarpaulin so that the worms still have plenty of air.
Eventually we had the covers fibre-glassed; end of problem.
Remembering that the waste on which you feed your fetida is probably 80% or more water, they do not need regular attention from the hose-pipe or bucket; that will just diminish the air in your worm farms.
Don is the South African guru; you can find him at wizzard worms.
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