Taking care of worms in a garden tower
A garden tower with an integrated vermicomposting column down the middle is a great way to grow food in a living soil medium. The wormies move in and out of the tower and the surrounding soil, but will mostly stay inside the tower where there is food for them. To set up the worm tower, follow these simple steps -
1. Prepare the bedding
Bedding is the habitat for the wormies and consists of carbon rich material like leaves, paper (ink is ok), cardboard and egg cartons. You want to rip your bedding into small 1 inch chunks (smaller the better) so that the wormies can eat it easily. It's a great weekly activity to do with your class.
Bedding should be soaked in water and given a squeeze to remove excess moisture. It needs to be moist because the wormies breathe through their skin and require a moist habitat to survive.
You'll need about 6-12 inches of bedding in the column, which roughly translates to half a 5 gallon bucket of bedding.
2. Add the wormies and some food
Composting earthworms feed on rotting organic matter, aka kitchen scraps, as well as bedding. The prefer eating unprocessed fruit and vegetable peels. Anything that was recently living can go back into the worm farm to become soil, but we recommend avoiding meat and dairy as they can smell, and avoiding citrus as it can make the ecosystem too acidic for the wormies.
We recommend chopping up food scraps into small pieces and freezing them if possible before adding it to the worm farm. Freezing kills fruit fly eggs and prevents them from hatching in the farm and causing a menace.
3. What to feed and how much to feed
Start out feeding one cup a week. The wormies will keep on multiplying and eating more and more, and then consult the manufacturers recommend feeding guidelines for how to feed at the max. You don't want to overfeed the worms as they won't be able to eat all of it and the rotting food will attract flies and may cause smells.
We recommend feeding the wormies fruit and vegetable peels (no citrus), coffee grounds and tea leaves, dead plant matter, paper napkins, and other naturally derived ingredients. Their favourite foods are watermelon rinds, strawberry tops and coffee grounds!
4. Making a lasagna
Think of feeding your worm farm as you would build a lasagna - 2-3 inch layers of food followed by bedding. Always remember to add bedding after you feed to bury the food scraps and keep it out of reach of flies.
1. Ensure that you are always keeping the worm tower moist - the wormies will survive without food for long periods of time as long as their habitat doesn't dry out
2. Incase of flies, pause feeding for a few days, add 2-3 inches of dry bedding into the worm tower, identify the type of flies you are experiencing and then create non-toxic traps for them. It's ok to have a couple of flies but not okay if you have a swarm!
Keeping worms alive in the summer break
The wormies will stay alive as long as their ecosystem doesn't dry out. You don't need to feed or add bedding in the summer if you don't wish to. Simply water the central column and surrounding soil every 2-3 weeks.
The Box Of Life is a vermicomposting social enterprise in Ottawa and we design systems and processes to help people compost. We make plastic-free classroom sized worm farms that can be used as a learning tool. We also offer hands-on classroom workshops to introduce your students to the wonderful world of composting wormies.