Worm composting update: Inching closer to closed loop

Worm composting

An update on my foray into worm farming, 3 months in. Plus, a progress report on my attempt at a closed loop composting system in my small apartment.

The worms get a real home

Back in November, I got worms. While they were doing okay in my makeshift setup, I’ve since updated their digs to a commercially produced worm farm, a secondhand find acquired via the good folks at the Sydney Sustainability Centre.

This proper worm farm is larger than my quick fix of a reusable bag inside a milk crate, so eventually I should end up with more worms and more composting capacity.

The worm farm comes with several stacking trays that all have drainage holes on the bottom. They sit overtop a non-draining bottom tray with a tap.

The worms are actually in the middle tray, munching away.

I started with just one draining tray over the bottom tray. You only need to add another into the stack when the tray where the worms are fills up.

A month on and they’ve already filled one tray to capacity, so I’ve added another on top. I lined the new tray with a cutting of a hessian sack that was part of last year’s halloween costume. Worms can move through this loosely woven material just as easily as I can party in it. I’ll let them finish their meal in the bottom tray before I add anything up top though.

worm farm stacking trays
The trays are the same dimensions, an optical illusion makes them appear different.

When they do migrate up to the new tray, it’s time to harvest the castings as rich compost to use in the garden.

Maintaining a worm farm over summer

The worm farm is pretty low maintenance, except on those scorcher days.

It was 38 degrees last week and 35+ earlier this week. This might be normal for the outback, but it’s hotter than usual for Sydney. And as we’ve come into summer I’ve noticed my south facing patio actually receives a lot of sun. I keep the worm farm in what has become the only sheltered area of the patio.

On those hotter days, I’ve been adding a palm-sized block of ice right into their bedding to keep them comfortable. I check them to see that the bedding (a mix of dirt and coir) is neither too wet nor too dry. So far, maintenance has been simple.

Happiness is a black sludge

In doing a general check of the worm farm, I had a peek at the catch tray and noticed sludge, liquid and a few worms.

There is no way to make this look better than what it is. But trust me, it’s exciting!

The liquid could simply be a result of the ice I’ve been adding that has melted and pooled rather that true worm ‘pee’, but the castings are the real deal: worm poo. I added the half trowel-full to the base of my two raspberry bushes.

Would you be surprised to know that the worm composting set up doesn’t smell at all?

I drained the liquid and left it to aerate for a good while. I diluted it with water and gave it to some daggy ornamental plants as an experiment. I’d like to research the use of this liquid a bit more before using on food plants.

Closed loop composting in an apartment?

My goal is to set up a closed loop system where my kitchen feeds my Bokashi, my Bokashi feeds my worms, my worms produce fertilizer for the garden, and the garden feeds me. And then back go the scraps through the compost system.

Closed loop apartment composting

Why bother? Curiosity partly. I do have places to drop off solid waste from the Bokashi, so it’s not like I’m stuck. However, in my strange visions of the future, we all have some growing space (like oh say, the swaths of dead lawn surrounding my apartment building), and we don’t need to rely on vehicles to get the nutrients from one place to another. So I want to get the hang of the nutrient flows and reduce my overall external inputs and outputs. Build resilience. I already don’t have to buy any herbs – except cilantro, to my ongoing dismay.

But these are early days and I haven’t yet fed them any fermented waste. The worms are, however, already producing useful fertilizer for the garden. It’s going kitchen -> worms -> garden.

I’m okay with this. It actually makes most sense to feed the worms as many scraps as possible directly. It’ll give me more, better fertiliser, faster, and I can use Bokashi as an overflow for the stuff worms don’t like to eat fresh from the chopping board, like garlic and onion, or the cooked leftovers from making broth.

Besides, I can always bury the Bokashi into a trench in my back bed, donate to a buddy or dispose the solid waste into the food scraps bin I discovered in our building. Turns out my building is part of the Randwick Council pilot program. Go figure. I could put my scraps directly into this bin, but what fun would we have then?

Randwick's Food scrap recycling program

Right now I have a full bin of Bokashi that I’m leaving as long as possible to ensure it gets broken down enough for my wriggly friends to feast on.

Free range v. farmed worms 

Some of you may be wondering about my partner’s ‘free range’ worms released into our back garden bed. I’m not saying his worms are weird, but one evening I found one that’d climbed up an eggplant seedling. I regret not taking a picture.

buried bokashi

There were also heaps where I’d buried a full bucket of Bokashi into a trench in the back garden bed. This nicely proves that worms do like Bokashi, which I sort of already knew. Since my own numbers are low, I stole some and added them to my farm. It was a crime of compassion. They will be guaranteed a good feed every couple of days at the farm.

That’s my worm composting update, nearly 3 months in. I’m not ready to add ‘Worm Farmer’ to my CV, but I’m mastering the basics. Do you compost with worms? How is it working for you?

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