We asked renowned ecologist and worm farm expert Peter Rutherford, to provide answers to the most commonly asked questions we receive from composters around Australia and the world.
Where can I obtain compost worms?
Fresh, healthy composting worms are available for purchase through the Tumbleweed online shop. If you aren’t in Australia, contact your local Tumbleweed retailer for details of your local worm suppliers. We recommend you purchase a minimum of 1,000 compost worms to give your worm farm the best start.
How much will my worms eat?
This depends on how many worms you have. Worms can eat up to half their own body weight every day and can double their population every few months. If you start your Tumbleweed Worm Farm with 450 grams of mature worms (the ones with a distinct ring-shaped swelling around their body) they will consume up to 225 grams of food waste per day. After a few months, you should have doubled your worm population and you can feed them more. The baby worms won’t eat much and will take about three months to mature. As you become familiar with them you will learn their rate of food consumption.
If you are feeding your worms too much, the excess food will go anaerobic and begin to smell. Stop feeding them for a few days or even a week and sprinkle the contents of the top tray with a teaspoon full of Tumbleweed Worm Farm & Compost Conditioner, then mix it in with a small fork or spike.
How can I help my worms eat more?
Worms will feed at a faster rate once they have adapted to any new food source, but there are some things you can do to help them along:
- Mash, blend or cut up the food scraps into small pieces;
- Control the temperature to around 24°C (70°F) to improve the farm’s overall performance.
- Worms will leave very acidic food such as onions and orange peels until after they have eaten their preferred foods. To overcome the effects of acidity, add a handful of crushed oyster shells or ashes from a fire. Alternatively, sprinkle the contents of your farm with a teaspoon of Tumbleweed Worm Farm & Compost Conditioner once a week.
What shouldn’t I feed my worms?
Be careful what you feed your worms, particularly if you are unaware of its source. Manure from horses, cattle or dogs often carry vermicides intended to kill parasitic worms in the animal. These vermicides can kill all your worms in one day.
Can I feed my worms garden refuse?
Not usually. Tumbleweed Worm Farms are designed to break down some organic food scraps, however slow composting organic wastes, like garden refuse, are best dealt with by conventional aerobic composting methods. Use a Tumblweed 220L or 400L Compost Bin or 220L Compost Tumbler designed to compost garden waste.
I’ve had my Tumbleweed Worm Farm for a month now. Why aren’t the worms eating any of my food scraps?
Your worms may still be eating their Worm Farm Bedding material. If you have used compost in addition to your Worm Farm Bedding Block, the worms will eat through this before eating any introduced food.
Should I add water to the Tumbleweed Worm Farm?
Worms love an environment with a moisture content of 70% or more.
Food wastes usually contain about 80 per cent water and this will be released as the worms break down the food scraps. However, it will remain in the bedding for a long time before eventually draining out, so it’s important to add water as well.
Once every week, pour about five liters of fresh water into the Top Working Tray, which will flood down through the lower trays, ensuring the entire worm farm remains very moist. The sudden ‘flood’ will not harm the worms.
Adding water is especially important in the hotter months of the year. Leave the tap open so that excess water can drain off and your farm does not become ‘stale’ (ie anaerobic). Place an empty bucket under the open tap and you will have a constant supply of liquid fertilizer.
To enhance the moisture content, pre-soak any dry material such as newspaper or cardboard before you add it to the farm. Keep a Tumblweed Worm Blanket placed over freshly added food will provide a dark damp shelter for your worms and encourage them to move up to the surface to feed.
Can I put compost worms in the garden?
Compost worms require moist conditions all year round because, unlike Earth worker worms, they don’t tunnel deep to find moisture. Before adding compost worms to your garden, layer it up with mulch.
Why aren’t my worms moving up to the top working tray?
This can happen for two reasons:
1. You may be adding new food before the worms can eat through existing supplies. Stop feeding the worms for at least a week and once they’ve eaten the existing food add a new tray. Your worms will move up to eat from the surface as this is their natural pattern of behaviour.
2. You may not have waited for your top working tray to fill with enough castings before adding the next tray. This will have created a gap between the trays, which prevents the worms moving up. If you have a gap between any two working trays, simply lift off the top tray and add some organic soil or organic potting mix to the tray beneath, then put the top tray back in place and continue.
Can worms survive severe temperatures?
Worms will tolerate a wide temperature range from about 10°-30°C/50°-90°F. If it gets much hotter than this, make sure your Tumbleweed Worm Farm is in a shady cool position. Take the lid off and hose the whole unit down, keeping the bottom drainage tap open to release excess water. If it gets much colder and freezes, put your Tumblweed Worm Farm in the warmest possible position, eg your basement, laundry or shed. If your Worm Farm is on a balcony or out in the yard, cover the unit with a couple of old carpets or blankets to retain some warmth.
It’s raining and the worms seem to be gathering in the lid. What do I do?
What you are noticing is the worms’ sensitivity to air pressure changes in the weather. They will often go up into the lid, even before it rains. In their natural environment, moving to a high position nature takes them out of the soil to protect from them drowning.
Are the little white worms in my Tumbleweed Worm Farm baby earthworms?
Baby earthworms are initially clear or opaque, before developing a reddish colour. The ‘white worm’ is a type of worm called entrachyadids and while they will not hurt compost worms, they do indicate acidic conditions. This can be overcome by adding a teaspoon of Tumbleweed Worm Farm & Compost Conditioner each week. To remove the white worms, place a piece of moist bread in the top working tray of your Worm Farm. They will be attracted to the bread for easy removal. It is important to know that many organisms that appear in your Tumbleweed Worm Farm (such as large populations of minute red mites and large soldier fly larvae) are beneficial to the break down of organic material, so there is no need to remove them.
How do I keep ants out of my Tumbleweed Worm Farm?
Ants will enter your Tumbleweed Worm Farm if you have a lot of them in your backyard and particularly if you have let the bedding become too dry or acidic. The Worm Café model has ant caps on the foot of the legs to deter ants. If you do get ants in your worm farm, simply add water to raise the moisture level, and a liberal quantity of Tumbleweed Worm Farm & Compost Conditioner to where the ants are gathering then dig and disturb the area where the ants are. This should discourage them. If they persist, remove them physically and smear some Vaseline around the Worm Farm legs or place each leg in a container of water to isolate the system. Never use insecticides near a worm farm.
Will my Tumbleweed Worm Farm attract flies?
All Tumbleweed Worm Farms are fly-proof against household flies and if managed correctly, will not attract flies. Sometimes the very small vinegar fly (often mistaken for the fruit fly) gets in, but in small numbers, these do no harm. However, very large numbers of the vinegar fly may indicate that you are feeding your Tumbleweed Worm Farm too much and may be a prelude to problems such as offensive odors. To eradicate vinegar flies, reduce the amount of food you give your worms to what they can eat on a daily basis and be sure to sprinkle a handful of soil over the tray each time you feed them, then cover the tray with a moist Tumbleweed Worm Blanket.
What about maggots?
An influx of maggots, is most likely soldier fly larvae. Soldier fly larvae grow up to about 2cm / inch. They start out white but soon turn dark grey with distinct ribbing bands. Fishermen say they make great bait. Don’t be too alarmed if they appear – they are beneficial to the waste breakdown. If you want to remove them, do so by liberally applying Tumbleweed Worm Farm & Compost Conditioner, or placing bread soaked in milk on the surface of the compost. Larvae love bread and should infest it. Remove the bread (and maggots) after two to three days and bury them in the soil somewhere.
Will my Tumblweed Worm Farm smell?
A well-maintained Tumbleweed Worm Farm will have a pleasant rainforest odor. An offensive smell indicates that anaerobic bacteria have built up in the system in uneaten food scraps. Stop feeding the worms, add Tumbleweed Worm Farm & Compost Conditioner, and stir it and the food scraps in the top tray lightly with a garden fork. This will aerate the organic material and allow worms to move through it more easily. Repeat the aeration procedure regularly to prevent recurrence. Start feeding again when all smells are gone.
What about holidays?
You can leave your established Tumbleweed Worm Farm for three to four weeks without constantly adding food – just feed the worms some extra food before you leave. A good ‘slow release’ food for holiday worms is a 50mm layer of wet Lucerne/alfalfa chaff, or pea straw hay. Flush the worm farm with at least five liters of water and make sure you leave it in a cool place under cover with the tap open and a container under it. Putting a soaked newspaper on top of your Tumbleweed Worm Blanket will help prevent their bedding from drying out.