You want your garden to be as gorgeous as possible, but how do you achieve this? One way is to harness the amazing effort of worms and create your own organic matter.
Worm farming: In the ground, worms naturally work away, so it makes sense to harness their power. Worm farming takes special worms, gives them plenty of kitchen scraps to eat, and then collects their castings, or poop. These castings make for a rich, organic matter that will help make your garden healthy. You can use one worm farm in your garden for your own purposes but if you have enough space, you can actually turn the entire operation into a small, profitable business.
What is Worm Farming?
Worm farming is not about breeding worms, as you may expect, but rather harnessing what they leave behind. Worms will happily eat through leftover kitchen scraps and what they leave behind is called worm castings.
In essence, these worm castings are actually worm poop. This might sound gross but by processing kitchen scraps, worms produce an organic matter that is amazing for your garden.
Worms naturally live in your garden and are already practicing this method, just below the surface where you can’t see it. With worm farming, you create an artificial environment that concentrates the process.
How does a worm farm work?
There are many gardeners that might have their own backyard worm farm. This is usually a pre-made structure that helps worms to break down scraps and then gardeners use it as a form of compost.
Worm farmers, however, scale the whole process up and then sell the final product. As any gardener knows, soil and nutrients need to be added to your garden every year and if you can find a completely organic product, all the better.
How do you start a worm farm?
Choosing a Worm Farm
Those that are handy are best to decide if they want to build their worm farm. You can find many different plans online and create a custom-built design that suits your space.
While this is a cheaper alternative, it can be time-consuming, especially if you plan on building a large worm farm.
There are many pre-made worm farms that you can purchase, either from a local gardening center or online. The benefit is that they are already perfectly made and you can get started right away.
However, if you want to scale your business up, this is a high overhead cost. If you are naturally handy, it may be better to build your own setup.
Choosing the Type of Worm
Yes, worms already live in your garden but for a proper worm farm, you need a special type. Vermicomposting, or using worms to create soil, works the most efficiently if you find worms that thrive in the environment.
Red wigglers, also known as Eisenia fetida, and redworms, also known as Lumbricus Rubellus, are the best options. They prefer moist areas with compost, instead of your regular garden worms that better prefer soil.
You can check with your local gardening center but there are many online options that will ship the worms right to your home. This is the better option if you want a lot of worms and want the cheapest option.
The good news with worm farms is that they are fairly vertical. One bin, pre-made, will have multiple layers to it and will roughly be the size of a compost bin.
However, if you want to really make this a business, you will need many bins. All of this requires space.
Those starting out with just a backyard worm farm should look for a space in the corner of their yard that doesn’t have anything growing in it. You should also look for an area that you can expand, in case you want to add more bins.
Another consideration is access to the bin during the winter. If you live in a very snowy area, how far do you want to travel in the snow to dump your kitchen scraps, and how convenient will it be for you?
Worm Farm Design
The process of a worm farm is pretty straightforward but it’s best to understand exactly what is happening.
There are usually two trays to a worm farm. The top one contains your food scraps and your worms. This is where all the magic happens.
Underneath this top try is another tray and there are small holes in the top one. This is so that any liquid (worm pee) can filter out into the lower tray.
Attached to the lower tray is an outlet with a tap or bucket underneath. This liquid is called leachate.
Although some people are able to use the leachate for other purposes, such as worm tea, most farmers simply dispose of the substance as it can be toxic.
Finally, on the top tray will be a cover. It should have air holes to allow the worms to breathe but should not have too many openings as pests might get in.
What to put in your worm farm
Knowing what you can put in your worm farm is incredibly important. If you start with the wrong ingredients, you won’t get the right substance at the end.
Fruit and vegetable scraps
This is an incredibly common substance that most people who have composts already use for their compost. As you prepare a meal, there will naturally be wilted leaves or carrot tops and you can easily put these in your worm farm.
For those wanting to scale up their business, talk to local restaurants. There’s a good chance they will have plenty of vegetable scraps and you can provide a pick-up service for them.
If you live in an area with local orchards, you can also talk about taking bruised fruit that isn’t sellable or even picking windfall fruit from the ground.
Unlike your backyard compost, you can even use cooked vegetables. Just make sure there is no meat included.
Coffee grounds and tea bags
Another carry-over from standard compost bins, coffee grounds make for great worm food and as long as tea bags are in paper and not plastic, they can also be used.
Talk to local coffee shops as they will have plenty of used coffee grounds that they no longer need.
Even though the newspaper has ink on it, it is made out of vegetable ink, which is compostable and will easily break down. You can also add unprinted cardboard but it shouldn’t have any glossy parts to it.
For cardboard, break it into smaller pieces and soak it in water beforehand so that it is easier for worms to eat.
Although you can’t use whole eggs, eggshells are a great source for worm farming. They are full of calcium which your worms need to stay healthy.
Again, talk to local restaurants that serve breakfast as they will have a lot of leftover eggshells that you can collect.
What not to put in your worm farm
Meat and fish
Your worm farm will be outside and while you can’t avoid the odd pest, you can do your best to prevent them from exploring. Meat and fish are far too smelly and will quickly attract unwanted rodents.
Even though your compost bin needs a mixture of green and brown matter, with a worm farm you want to focus more on the green matter. Garden trimmings can take too long to break down, so it’s best not to add them.
While you might think you are helping your worm farm along, manure often comes from animals that have been treated for worms. These agents can still be live in the manure and if your worms come in contact with it, they can be killed.
How to Build a Worm Farm
Set up your system
By now you should know if you are able to construct your own worm farm or if you’re better off purchasing one. Whatever you decide, put it all together in the area you want it to live in.
Add the liner and bedding
The top tray will have small holes to allow liquid to run through so you will need to add a liner to prevent too much matter from going through. Newspaper or a piece of cardboard will work well as this can soak through, allowing liquid to pass through.
On top of the liner should be a layer of bedding. This can include coconut coir or shredded newspaper.
The bedding area is where your worms will live so it should be loose enough for them to move through. Dampen the coconut coir or newspaper to get it started.
You will be surprised at how many worms can fit into one home. Think between 500 and 1,000 worms. It is best to order them online as you can find a better bulk deal.
Give your worms a few days to become familiar with their surroundings. This will lessen their shock, especially if they have been shipped to you in a container.
Start feeding your worms
After a few days, you can start to feed your worms. Don’t shock them by dumping a ton of food. Instead, give them bits at a time and after a few more days you can add more.
Try to place your food on one half of the tray, in order to allow your worms the option of eating or not. After that food has been half-eaten, you can then place more food on the cleared tray.
Keep alternating sides so that one side is mostly clear.
How to collect castings
As your worms eat, they will poop, and this is called castings. You should wait until all the matter is broken down. Most farmers harvest in spring and fall, which is the ideal time to put compost into your garden.
Is worm farming profitable?
Most people use worm farms as an alternative to a compost bin. The worms are able to break down more food and do so rather quickly.
If you are looking to make some extra money and have the space, then you can indeed make worm farming profitable. The key is to find enough scraps to feed your worms.
There will almost always be a market to sell your product but creating it may be the hard part. Remember that kitchen scraps are the main ingredient and it is not recommended to use gardening scraps as they take too long to break down.
Before you scale up your operation, contact local restaurants to see if you can set up a waste pickup system. They may be into the idea but you will have to stick to your pick-up schedule or else it can get smelly.
Once you have a dedicated system of picking up scraps, you can then purchase more worms and bins and expand your worm farm.
How much do worm farmers make a year?
Like any job, how much you scale up will determine how much you make. Because you will be paid by how much casting matter you can sell, the more worms you farm, the larger your profit.
Generally, worm farmers can make between $30,000 to $110,000 per year. As you can see, this is a very large range.
There’s a good chance that your first year will not be very profitable as you will need to purchase equipment, build your setup, find a market, and advertise your services. However, if you stick with the business, there is most definitely room to make a living.
For those that want worm farming to be more of a hobby, simply scale the business down. This way you can still make extra income but don’t have to devote as much time to the business.
To perfect your garden, you need a steady increase in organic matter. Worm farming allows for this and while you can simply create one worm home for your personal needs, you can also choose to create a large worm farm and make a real profit from it.