There are about 1000 native species of earthworms in Australia and, as unappealing as they may be, they are a necessary part of the soil and play a vital role in the health of plants.
They work tirelessly beneath our feet to produce rich castings, called vermicast, which are the essential building blocks of soil.
We rely on them to mine the soil and recycle nutrients to provide the right environment for plants to grow.
Compost worms can also be used to recycle kitchen scraps, and farming worms is an ideal method of recycling.
This type of worm is different to an earthworm as it lives closer to the surface, eats fresher organic materials and likes wetter conditions.
How they work?
Worms improve the structure of the soil and increase the air supply in it. This makes it possible for bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects and micro and macro-organisms to survive.
Earthworms burrow into the soil and break down root mats, opening up tunnels for oxygen and water to penetrate the soil.
Coated with nitrate-rich mucus, the roots of plants quickly take advantage of these tunnels, getting nutrition from the mucus.
Earthworm castings are far richer in minerals than the earth they ingest and, when deposited into the soil, act as a fertiliser.
Did you know?
Aristotle called earthworms the intestines of the soil and Charles Darwin wrote, ‘Of all animals, few have contributed so much to the development of the world, as we know it, as earthworms.’
It’s easy to naturally attract worms into your garden.
ENSURE the soil is moist but free-draining.
GARDEN organically and always use organic mulches like leaf mould, lucerne hay or pea straw. You get a twofold result, as organic matter not only keeps these workhorses happy, it also conditions your soil as it breaks down.
ADD compost and manure regularly to the soil.
Charles Darwin wrote, ‘Of all animals, few have contributed so much to the development of the world, as we know it, as earthworms'
Compost worms are the ultimate recyclers, and even apartment dwellers can make good use of their capabilities and receive fertile compost for their pot plants in return.
Just add all your vegie scraps to the bins and the worms do all the work, producing a rich concentrate oozing with nutrients that can be used as a fertiliser on pot plants and garden beds.
Feed your worms a handful of scraps twice a week for the first few weeks, then increase the quantity gradually as they multiply.
DIY TIP Add a trowel full of castings to a watering can, fill it with water and stir, then use it on your vegetables or pot plants.
Add all your vegie scraps to compost bins and the worms get to work
How to care for compost worms
Place the bin in a cool area that doesn’t receive direct sunlight and keep the contents of the bin moist.
Worms eat coffee grounds, tea leaves, crushed eggshells, all fruit except citrus, cooked grains, bread, pasta, chopped fresh and cooked vegetable scraps and newspaper.
Don’t feed them citrus, onions, meat, cheese, oil or too much dairy.
If lots of worms are hanging out of the sides or lid of the bin, it means the contents are too soggy. Mix in some dry shredded newspaper to help dry it out.
The rich castings will build up and worm juice accumulates in the base of the box. It can be dug into moist soil or added to potting mix.
Mix the worm juice with nine parts water and use to water pot plants, flowers and vegetables.
Don’t feed worms citrus, onions, meat, cheese, oil or too much dairy. Image: Thinkstock
How to set up a worm farm
Worm farms offer a genuine alternative to traditional composting, especially if you have a small garden.
You can buy a readymade worm farm, such as the Worm Café, and set it up yourself. After a few months, you’ll be harvesting the castings.
Attach the legs to the base of the collector tray and screw in the tap. Insert a working tray into the top of the collector tray and add a piece of cardboard. Hydrate a coir brick and spread it evenly over the cardboard.
Gently spread the worms over the coir with a trowel and cover with a worm farm blanket or hessian. Close the lid and let them settle for a few days, then feed, keeping the farm moist. Use the tap to extract the worm juice.
After 2-3 months, the tray will be full of castings. Add the next tray and half fill with compost, shredded newspaper and a handful of scraps. The worms will move to the new tray and the castings can be removed from the lower tray.