How to Add a New Tray to Your Worm Farm
Expanding Your Vermicomposting System
One of the great advances in home composting was the invention of multi-level above ground worm farms by Nigel Nattrass of Tumbleweed back in the early 1990’s. There are several models available depending on the amount of organics you generate in your household, but more about that later. Whatever model you have, one of the most common issues for worm farmers is how to manage the addition and changing of trays.
When you first start a worm farm, one of the critical things to be aware of is that you need to allow your worms to acclimatise to their new home and not overwhelm them with too much food in the beginning, as this can lead to the worm farm being taken over by other organisms such as fungi, or it may become too wet and humid for your worms to thrive. If your initial tray becomes smelly or overrun with fungal growth, that is the sign that you are overfeeding and need to just back off a bit until the food you are putting in disappears within a few days. After that you can gradually step up the volume you are feeding.
As your worm farm thrives and your population of composting worms multiplies, you will sooner or later find the need to expand your worms’ home by adding a new tray. Adding a new tray not only increases your capacity to process organic waste but also provides a fresh feeding ground for your hard-working worms.
When is the time to add a new tray? Once the level of castings and food in the current feeding tray is such that the mesh bottom a new tray sits directly on the organic matter below, the worms will be able to migrate from the lower tray to the newly added one on top. If the worm population is thriving and the existing tray is almost fully converted into worm castings, it's a good indication that they are ready for expansion.
It is a good idea to have some fresh bedding material such as coir fibre or shredded paper to place on top of food you are adding to the new tray to give your worms some extra aeration in the new tray. A Tumbleweed Worm Blanket (made of coir fibre) will do the same job and can be moved up from the original tray if you have used one from the start (something we recommend). Remember to avoid overfeeding the worms and maintain a balance between the amount of waste and the worm population to prevent unpleasant odours and potential issues.
Place the lid on top of the new tray to provide a dark and protected environment for the worms. Monitor the moisture levels and adjust as needed by mixing in some shredded cardboard or paper to absorb extra moisture to ensure a moist but not soggy bedding.
IMPORTANT It is a very good idea to occasionally check the tray underneath the top one as an air gap can develop that makes it much harder for the worms to migrate between the adjoining trays. Adding some extra food or bedding material will bridge that gap.
It may take some time for the worms to fully populate and settle into the new tray. Be patient and observe their behaviour to ensure they are adapting well.
Adding a new tray to your worm farm expands your vermicomposting capacity and keeps your worms happily at work. With proper preparation and careful observation of your worm farm at feeding time, you can seamlessly incorporate a new tray into your existing system.