Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Wicking bed

Finally I have a worm wicking vegetable garden bed. I first learned of this idea from a blog i follow regularly and one that has inspired me in the garden in many ways. Thanks to Scarecrows Garden

A brief description

A worm wicking bed is one which is able to wick water up from a water reservoir below. The plants are always watered at the correct rate and can never be over or under watered as long as there is water in the reservoir. This is great for worms as well as plants and with the worms right in with the plants, well that’s got to be good for them. Now I must say at this point this is all new to me too and we just finished and planted the bed out a few days ago. So for me this is all untested, but i am confident this is gonna be great. Scarecrow has had hers going for a few years now and she lives in a very hot and arid part of South Australia.

So here’s how we did it.

With the help of hubby Andrew who i must admit did most of the heavy work. We used treated sleepers to construct the frame 2.7m x 1m then we placed the frame at our chosen location taking into consideration sun and land slope etc. We excavated the soil with in the frame to about 10cm and tried to make the bottom as level as possible. A layer of medium course sand helped fill in the low spots.

We used a thick quality pond liner to line the bottom 20cm as this will retain the water. We used Agg pipe which came with a sock like cover to prevent the sand entering and clogging up the pipe.

The pipe is flexible so no elbows were necessary. I held the pipe in place with piece of old bike tube from my last puncture stapled into position. A drainage hole was drilled 15cm from the bottom and piece of irrigation pipe fitted through the hole to allow the water to drain out at that level. This hole is very important and can never be allowed to become blocked or you will risk flooding and drowning the roots. Filling up with water at this stage allowed us to test for leaks and also helped us get the sand level to the drain hole.

here comes the water trickling out.

We used an old pot held in place with rocks to retain the sand away from the drain.

Now this is the best thing. I couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing how the water level was going so i decided to install a dip stick using pvc pipe and a tomato stake. We drilled holes in the pipe and then covered with a frost cloth to allow water in and keep sand out. This basically just sits on the bottom and is only held in place by the sand and soil around it. I have since marked the stick to show full and half full levels. Now I will know when it’s time to water and can measure in time how quickly the reservoir empties.

On top of the Sand and water reservoir we put old hessian bags which have great wicking properties.

By far the longest task was mixing up the soil. I wanted to utilise the soil that came from the excavation which looked like it had a quite nice crumbly texture anyway.

The formula we used was:

4 x spadefuls of ground soil
3 x worm pure worm castings
1 x Brunnings coco fibre
1 x cheap potting mix ($2 special at Coles) no fertiliser added
1 x medium course sand (left over from the stuff we used on the bottom)

We mixed this up in the barrow with the spade. When we got to within 3-4 cm of full we just toped the rest up with the rest of the worm cast so this will more concentrated at the top.

So there...The finished product. Planted out with, butter head lettuce in the foreground also some chives, Silverbeet, Celery, seeds of Parsley and Spring onion and some Basil, Sage and Rocket to start. Yesterday i added about 500g of worms via 2 x feeding stations (described previous post). I will add another 500g worms next week. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Introducing Red Composting Worms to the Garden

Can it be done? A few weeks ago i decided to try introducing worms to the garden, after reading of the sucsess of others who have tried this method.
 I was worried about the full sun as worms are always supposed to keep cool and also being able to maintain moisture.  I had a nice composty location in mind left over from last years failed potatoes which died through lack of water and heat stress. My fault...I was really surprised when i started to turn the bed over with the fork that in fact there were already a few worms in there. Huh.. These of course must have come from the cocoons in the vermicast i used on the potatoes. The bed literally has been sitting for six months with no water and nothing in it. I figured the cocoons would have laid dormant until it started raining in a about feburary then the bed was nutritious enough to support their growth. It was pretty dry in there now though and they did look a bit scrawny.
Here is how i did it. I took a basket bought from the fish pond section of Bunnings. This is the actual feeding station. This is the where you put the worm food, home made compost or manure. Heaps of holes allow the worms to move freely between the soil and the food source. Dig a hole where you want your feeding station to be.

I wanted the worms to be as well insulated as possible. Most other feeding stations i have come across on the net are made from pvc pipe with holes drilled in the lower section. This probably works just as well as mine. Directly over the basket and worms is a wet hessian cut out from an old potatoe bag, then on top of that i put an upsidedown pot, then on top of that a hessian witches hat cut from the corner of the bag.
I planted lettuce in a circle around the worms and also put in a circle of weeper hose connected to a small water tank. Now this watering system has suprised me. I never expected to be able to have the inline tap on 24/7 i thought it would drain the tank too quick and make it too wet. but it seems to almost wick the water out of the hose when needed. At first i thought it was'nt weeping any water, as the water level in the tank doesnt seem to go down much. But the soil around the hose always seem nice and moist. The small seedlings did struggle for the first few days as it was very hot and i had to rig up a temperary shade for them and i did end up loosing a couple. After about 1 week i could tell they were getting stonger.

This system was set up on the 14/03/10 so its been about 1 month now. During this time i have only topped up the compost once and gave extra water with the hose in the first few days. I have been keeping an eye on the temperature with a propergation thermometer and on accasions i have measured the temperature to be just under 30deg C and not a worm in sight. This is a bit hot for them so i guess they got out of there and went a bit deeper. Now its a bit cooler and I'm happy to see they are back. Today i emptied the contence of the basket, worms and all around the plants and filled it up with fresh compost.
I think it's doing pretty well and we have even been picking a few leaves for our sandwich.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to make a cheap home made worm bed

I wanted to expand my worm population and needed to find a way to make a cheap worm bed which had the facility to collect the runoff and was going to big enough for my expanding population. I tried to get some ideas from the internet and couldn't really find anything to suit my needs. It needed to be easy to put together too. So....I created my own design. My friend was so impressed she built one, and now my neighbour is showing great interest too.
You will need

4 x Besser bricks
2 x lengths of wood about 2 metres long
A sheet of thick plastic or similar about 70cm x 2 metres
3 x Bread trays
9 Fencing pails or similar treated wood
Enough breathable weed mat to line the bottom and sides.

You will get more of an idea from the photo but basically the two lengths of wood act as supporting beams and just sit on top of the besser bricks. You then place the bread trays upside down on the beams push the beams out as far as the bread tray will allow and then take the bred trays off. Be sure not to let the wood slip from it's position, You will need something to hold it in place while you nail on the plastic sheet. Now you need to make the plastic hang down in the middle to form a trough which slops to one end for the water to run off. Then just sit the trays back on and but them together. You could hold them together with zip ties if you want but they are not really going to move around much. Next you need to build the sides of the bed. Construct like a little fence. Just hammer with nails or screw it to make it nice and strong as this will need to withstand the weight of the bedding material. Make this the same size as the bread trays and just either sit on top or best to attach it somehow. We broke the bread tray a little in each corner and inserted a supporting post. Next, line with weed mat and you are ready to go. (Put a bucket or container at the end to catch the valuable liquid fertilizer run off.) Once finished and loaded with worms (i put 2kg in mine) keep covered with shade cloth and or a tarp to keep off sun and rain.

If any one decides to build one based on my design i would love to know how it went.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Worm bed maintance

Feed the worms at least once per week, this is plenty of time for them to have consumed most of the last feed and i find they start to disperse into other areas of the bed.

Aerate the bed at least once per month. i do this with a fabulous tool that is designed for turning compost heaps. It looks like a giant cork screw. I just screw it deep into the bed, it goes straight to the bottom then pull. It literally pulls out a plug of bedding, worms and all, give a little tap and it all falls off. Aerate the bed to add oxygen and to bring up unprocessed bedding from the bottom. It also prevents the castings from becoming too compacted and this also allows the worms to move around easily. I do this just before i feed so as to not send uneaten food to the bottom of the bed.

Maintain moisture, I learnt this the hard way. I let the bed dry out through hot weather and lost the lot once. I find most of the moisture comes the food i feed, i always feed wet sloppy food. I keep the bed just damp not too wet not to dry. Sometimes if i feel its drying out a bit i will add water. My system is free draining so even to turn the hose it would do no harm. To help maintain moisture i keep the entire bed covered with wet hessian bags, this also encourages the worms to come right to the top to feed just under the hessian. The hessian bags are then covered with black weed mat (the breathable kind) and this keeps the bags from drying out too quickly. I re wet the bags every time i feed. I will generally keep the entire bed covered with tarp to keep the rain out (not that we have had much of that lately) but i would not allow it become saturated with rain. I have heard of worms going walk about during rain storms. This is because as the ground becomes saturated, the tiny air pockets in the soil fill with water and since the worms breath through their skin they can suffocate unless they come to the surface.

Maintain temperature. Now this is one i don't really have much control over. My worm beds are outdoors under a giant Poinciana tree. Its mid winter here in Rockhampton which is located right on the Tropic of Capricorn. The temps range from around 5degC/40degF early in the mornings to a beautiful top of 25degC/78degF during the day. This is ideal for worms. Summer on the other hand is not so worm friendly. Its not uncommon to have 3 weeks straight of 38degC/100degF with the nights rearly dipping below 20degC/70degF. The only thing you do in this extreme is to ensure the worms have enough depth in the bed to bury themselves to a level that is cooler, it needs to be at least 30-40cm/12-15inches deep. A small bed is going to heat up quicker than a large one. Even the dog will dig a hole to lay in to keep cool.

I cant really advise on those that have the opposite to deal with although i have seen photos of an insulated outdoor worm bed covered in snow with active worms inside and a thermometer showing 20degC. You could also use compost that is in it's heating stage to help warm the bed.

Maintain these four elements to have your worms flourish and multiply.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I think i got interested in worms about 20 years ago (late 1980's)when i went to a worm seminar in Adelaide. It looked at medium scale worm farming for profit. If i remember correctly it was a scheme where you paid a sum of money, They help you to get set up and offer advise and then you can sell your worms back the same man. It wasn't really an option for me at the time, but it did spark an interest which has been on going ever since.

My first worms came about 15years ago (early 1990's)when i bought a Reln Worm Factory. I loved that thing. I read the little instruction book from cover to cover several times (no Internet back then). It did work, in that the worms did multiply but i never really progressed to get that top tray on and working. and i never did any harvesting of castings either. I felt the bottom tray was always full of precious worms i couldn't harvest.

I kept them out the back under the verandah and one hot night i went out to check on them and found they were in the process of vacating. No kidding they were every where up the walls on the ground, everywhere. It was just too hot in there. That's also when i realised i had too many in there its a wonder they could even breath. I dint know why i just didn't buy another one. Probably because i still hadn't got anything out of the first one yet.

I also lost the lot one time by putting the food over the entire surface area and that caused it to heat up as well.

I leave it a few years, (late 1990's)pull the thing out of the shed, scrub it up a bit. Start again, this time i lose interest and let the thing dry out... worms again. I think i did that twice.

We moved to Queensland in 2005 and in 2008 i try again. Pretty determined this time. I buy one of those big worm farms this time, with the little sliding doors at the bottom to get the castings out. The 2000 worms i buy from Bunnings are really slow to start. My initial bedding is not deep enough. Every time i try to get some castings, I pull out worms as well.

I decide i need to go bigger, more worms equals more food consumed and more castings produced. A Christmas holiday project 2008 sees me buying four big fishing tubs, I drill holes, install taps ect. I have new knowledge now from the Internet. I order 8000 juvenile worms 1.2kg from Kizan worms online and now i dreaming of being a weekend worm farmer, with the worms themselves being the main product.

Today i harvested 2kg of worms for a new bed, i have two big tubs of castings set aside to hatch cocoons and then finally ...i have my first castings. And guess what? plenty more where that came from .......I have a long way to go. but stay tuned and we'll see.

A recipe for worm food

Normal kitchen food scraps, (no citrus, onion, meat or dairy) i collect this in a bucket over about a week. Then with a big 600w food processing wand i will process it while still in the bucket, might have to add some water at this stage too. It doesn’t have to be too fine. Then i take it down the back to where the worms are. Tip this slop into another bucket, (just so my kitchen bucket stays nice a clean) Then add the same amount of finished compost from the tumbler and another amount of horse or cow manure or any aged manure really. Mix with water to make a nice sloppy consistency. I plop this stuff on top of the bedding in a few places, never cover the entire bed just in case it heats up. i don’t bury it. I cover it with wet hessian bags then on top of that i put plastic weed mat (the type that breaths) this keeps the bags from drying out too fast. You can then walk away and leave it for a week. But i can’t resist checking in on the progress. After 48hrs the worms are massing all over the food. it’s so cool.

What to use for the bedding

I make the bedding from expanded core peat bricks (excellent moisture retaining spongy fibres), Sugar cane mulch, which is a bit like a bale of dry grass but flatter this just helps to fluff things up a bit, a good helping of beneficial bacteria in the form of homemade compost or finished castings or both, and then a generous amount of horse or cow manure. Mix these all together, no layering. Make it at least 30cm/12inch deep, to help maintain temperature. Don’t pat it down at all, it’s really light and spongy and will hold heaps of oxygen for your worms to breath. I have never used paper or cardboard in the bed but according to the reasearch i have done a small portion of the bedding could be paper, i guess you could substitute sugar cane mulch for paper but i recon i would put it through a shredder first.