Faithful readers of this blog will know how I feel about composting, or, rather, how I feel when I am unable to compost. I am living in a small place without dirt, although unlike the Little Flat, it does have outside space. What the estate agents described as a courtyard and what I’d describe as concrete. Thus, I’ve been musing on my composting options and I decided on a worm farm.
After a fair amount of reading about home-made worm farms, I decided that I certainly could make my own (rather than buy a commercially produced one, which seems rather expensive given that it’s just three plastic trays fitted into each other). Like any recipe, I just had to assemble the ingredients. The practical skills required were minimal (yes! I qualify!)
This is what you need for a home-made worm farm:
1. Boxes (at least two, but preferably three).
These can be made out of plastic (opaque, not transparent) or polystyrene or any other non-permeable material.
2. A sharp implement (for making holes in the boxes)
3. Something to raise the boxes from the ground (bricks, milk crate, chair)
6. Food scraps
7. Worms (these have to be composting worms, which are red worms or tiger worms and are definitely not plain ol’ earth worms. Poor earth worms. I bet they’d do a fine job, but sadly for them, they don’t do an excellent job of eating human food waste).
8. Somewhere shady to put your worm farm.
I got my polystyrene boxes from a tiny greengrocers near my house. I was so chuffed with the acquisition, that I grinned my whole way home, causing some strangers to smile, too.
I made a number of holes in the middle of one box. This box sits on the bottom of the worm farm stack and water drains from it into a bucket placed underneath. The water comes from decomposing organic matter and the worms. Let’s call it worm juice. Worms like damp but they don’t like wet, so the worm juice needs to drain out of their home. Apparently the worm juice makes a great fertiliser when diluted with water. I’ll get back to you on that one. For the other boxes, you need to make more holes in the bottom and place them atop the first. I’m not going to do that until I fill up my first one.
I found a dumped chair, which was perfect for the boxes to sit on. I checked the legs and they were stable, and there was no seat so there was space for worm juices to leak from the box. Underneath, I placed a found bucket. Apparently there is a ‘dumping epidemic’ (so reports my local paper. We collected some very useful things as a result of this epidemic, including a wonderful outdoor cane chair. One person’s trash etc.)
After we dissected the weekend papers (who reads the sport section anyway?), I spent a pleasant evening shredding the sport, business and travel sections to line the bottom of one of the boxes. This forms the worms’ bedding and I filled my box half-full of scrunched up, torn bits of paper.
Food scraps weren’t a problem. We had a lot of them!
A shady spot was also not a problem. One side of the house gets no sun at all, any time of day (including high noon). It’s also not too far from the exits of the house as our entire lot is so small. This is not such a big deal for me because I’m not bothered by trekking down to the bottom of a yard to dump waste into a compost bin. But if you’re not a regular composter, convenient placement of a bin is important so it doesn’t become a chore you don’t ever do.
Worms, however, were a problem. Still trying to be frugal I wanted to see if I could collect some, somehow. However, I have NO DIRT. If I had some dirt, I could roll food scraps in one sheet of newspaper, place it atop the soil and leave it under a pot for a few days. The right worms would possibly come. I thought about doing this on the vacant lot a few doors down from our flat, but worried about someone thinking I was making a mess. I thought about asking neighbours if I could rummage in their compost bins for the right kind of worms. I kept an eagle eye out for compost bins, but never could work up the courage to go make my rather bizarre request.
After a few wormless weeks, my scraps got gross. They became infested with tiny vinegar fly maggots – these actually help the decomposing process but they’re not pleasant. I fixed things by adding more shredded newspapers and some old potting mix, which reduced the number of maggots. And I spent some nights worrying about what to do.
Last weekend, my partner encouraged me to come for a run with him. I was fairly unenthusiastic but did want to get more exercise. My body is not liking the change from cycling all day to mostly sedentary. Then I realised that I could run to a community nursery garden and buy some compost worms. This was a great motivating factor!
I bought a ‘booster pack’ of 500 worms. Everything I’d read told me I should account for 1000 worms per person but 500 worms seemed fine to me, and it practically filled up my polystyrene box, so I conclude that starting with 500 is fine.
And now, I have a polystyrene box worm farm, with worms. You do not know how happy I am.