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Biomass: Worm Farms

Known for being tasty fishing bait and for helping to keep garden soils healthy, worms are gaining popularity as an environmentally-friendly solution for garbage disposal and compost-manufacturing. Worm farms, both private and commercial, are springing up all over the globe as people become more aware of the differences between recyclable garbage, kitchen and garden waste, and land-fill refuse. Whilst they can't solve all of our garbage disposal problems worm farms do at least allow us to process biodegradable waste and reuse it in our gardens, and this in turn decreases the burden on land-fill and garbage processing facilities. Worm composting, as it is known, is becoming increasingly widespread as more and more people turn to growing their own produce.

Basic Principles And Benefits

Worm farms, sometimes known as vermicomposting systems, rely upon a simple premise - worms (usually red earthworms or red wrigglers) are good digesters of biodegradable waste, particularly that which has come from kitchen scraps and clippings from the garden. The final result, known as vermicompost or worm casting, can be used to enrich soils much in the same way as a fertilizer might, but without the chemicals that fertilizers rely upon. Vermicompost is known to help soil retain water for longer periods, as well as enriching the soil with enzymes and plant hormones. Crops fertilized with vermicompost are reported to have higher, healthier yields.

Different Types

Worm farms come in several shapes and sizes and can be built from scratch or bought ready to use. For home use worm farms can be constructed from bricks, used styrofoam boxes, plastic or metal containers, or from specially manufactured worm-farm kits or worm bins.

There are three styles of small-scale farms: non-continuous (all of the organic waste matter, worms and bedding are held in a single chamber, making it harder to harvest but easier to build), continuous horizontal flow (the worms are held in one chamber, slowly migrating their way horizontally towards new food sources as they are added into adjoining chambers) and continuous vertical flow (the worms are encased in the bottom chamber and work their way up the bin as they process).

Whilst non-continuous flow chambers are much easier to construct initially they will be harder to harvest as the worms will remain in the single level of compost rather than vacating it in favour of another tray, and they will also need to be stirred regularly to allow for oxygenation; for these reasons it may be worth investing in a continuous flow system. All systems should also have a tap or drainage system (such as holes drilled in the bottom of the container) included to allow the liquefied worm waste to drain. This 'worm water' can be used as plant fertilizer.

Effective Maintenance

The most important aspect of creating and caring for a worm farm is the balance of foods that you give the worms to digest. Worms need both nitrogen and carbon to survive and without the correct amounts of both the vermicompost system can putrefy or worse, the worms can die. Paper products like newspaper are high in carbon, whilst food waste from the kitchen tends to be high in nitrogen.

It is also important to make sure your worm farm receives small amounts of protein - usually through sparing use of meat scraps. Maintaining the moisture and soil levels of the farm is also vital - soil contains grit which helps the worms to digest, whilst the right level of water helps the microbes in the waste to break down the food for the worms to digest further.