When it’s organic gardening that we are after, the crux is creating good soil for the plants. Good soil is fertile, full of microorganisms, and has quality texture. Nothing makes soil quite so good as worms do. They process the organic material in the earth and deposit rich castings with all the soil needs to make healthy plants. Healthy plants are more resilient and give us more nutritious food. In other words, worms are great!
Vermiculture, the intentional use of worms for the garden, is becoming more and more common. There are many methods for doing it at home, including worm towers and under-the-sink worm bins. But, for those looking to work on a grander scale, bathtub worm farms might be the way to go. They can be put together very inexpensively and will provide both valuable worm castings and worm juices to soup up your organic garden.
The Old Bathtub and Other Stuff Needed
Old bathtubs are pretty readily found in classified listings or places like Habitat for Humanity Restores. They usually won’t cost much, and they are the perfect vessel for making a big worm farm.
In addition to the bathtub, worm farmers will need to gather up some wire screen, scrap wood (a couple of pallets would be great), and a bucket to catch worm juice. The tub should also be elevated. It could be on bricks or a basic wooden frame.
Additionally, the tub will need to be covered with a porous material like landscaping cloth or even an old sheet or towel. Some people like to go the extra mile and put a piece of corrugated tin over that.
Putting the Worm Farm Together
The first step will be building the draining frame for the farm. This is just a wooden deck that fits down into the bottom of the tub. A couple of slats running lengthwise should be joined with four or five slats stretching the width. This will keep lifting the material so that the juice can drain out of the tub. Staple the wire screen to the topside of this to prevent worms and debris from falling through.
Next, the tub should be put onto some sort of platform. A couple of reclaimed cinderblocks will work, or something made out of scrap wood will suffice. The tub should be lifted and slightly tilted so that the worm juices run toward the drain, under which a bucket will harvest the awesomely fertile liquid. Check out how to make fertilizer teas
Finally, the tub should have some kind of cover. Worms aren’t huge fans of sunlight (or birds), so the cover needs to block those out. Some form of cloth works great. If there is a lot of rain in the area, covering the farm with a more solid roof is probably a good idea.
The Organic and Living Elements
Obviously, there is more to a worm farm than just the hardware, and that’s a mix of organic material and worms. Most of this can be acquired for free or very cheaply.
Some straw or hay sits atop the draining rack. In this case, look for whatever is available. Lots of places have bales that have gotten wet and ruined, but they are fine for the worm farm. Or, dried grass clippings from mowing the lawn will do the job as well. Shredded documents, newspapers, and cardboard boxes will work as well.
Next, a bag of manure should be spread out over the straw. Pretty much any animal manure will suffice. In urban areas, this might mean a trip to a nursery or home improvement store, but in the country, some neighbor is likely to happily part with a bit of excrement.
Atop the manure is kitchen scraps. Worm farms are much more efficient for getting rid of kitchen scraps than composting. The worms will eat it and process it far faster than what happens in a compost bin.
Finally, add composting worms. These can be ordered online, or they’ll probably be free if requested in the wanted section of a classifieds website. The worms multiply like crazy.
Maintaining the Worm Farm
Maintaining the farm is pretty simple. Just make sure the stuff inside the tub stays moist and add food scraps as they come. The worm juice can be harvested daily (or less) and mixed with water to make liquid fertilizer. When the tub fills up, it’s time to empty it and “harvest” the worm castings. These can be put directly into the garden as to add fertility back to the soil. After the castings have been harvested, fill the tub up again the same way.
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