Cleaning out the worms

Athena is the cleanup crew!
Athena is the cleanup crew!

It’s lockdown here in South Australia so it’s time to get some of the chores done. Because the weather has been cold and wet, the worm castles haven’t had a thorough cleanout for a while. I like to leave an extra tray of castings in the castle for a bit of extra thermal mass and to give the worms a larger area in which to search for a comfortable place.

Eventually though, it does need a good clean so yesterday, being slightly sunny, was time to do the deed.

Athena and I got about 15 kilograms of slightly wet worm castings from the three castles. That conveniently fills three of the blue plastic tubs that we get from Boost Juice Gawler. The castings will be used to make about 150 litres of worm tea which I’ll store until Spring except for 50 litres which will go straight into the aquaponics. That’s been flooding and overflowing with the extra rain and we’ve been losing nutrients from the system, so it needs frequent top ups. I’ve been reading a bit about liquid fertilizers in Nigel Palmer’s book ‘The regenerative grower’s guide to garden amendments‘ and it seems that, if I can get the pH down to about 5, many compost teas apparently become shelf stable and can be kept for quite a while without going off.


There are always bits and pieces left in the castings – egg shells and bones that weren’t fully broken down, bits of plastic and the like. I usually pick through and remove the useless little stickers that are on fruit skins, and little bits of shredded plastic that come from when people shred envelopes but sometimes these make it into the worm beds. After picking them out, these all go into larger containers which, when full of a lot of little bits of the same type of recyclable material, go into the recycling bin. That’s been a recent change to our recycling practice after having recently been told by someone who works in the in recycling biz that if things are smaller than about tennis ball size, they don’t make it through the sorting process and end up in landfill!

One other group of things not broken down fully in this batch were a few biodegradable plastic tea bags that came from a package of Chinese herbal tea. This batch have been in the worm farms for six months now, being removed during cleaning and harvesting of the castings and moved into the active beds. They’re starting to look broken up and ragged, with a few holes in them and most of the seams seem to have degraded away. I’ll keep them going for another cycle to see what they become.

Some things just won't break down.
Some things just won’t break down.

‘Biodegradable’ is a loose term that can mean a wide range of things. Often, plastic that is ‘biodegradable’ consists of plastic particles bound together by an organic material, often a kind of starch. This means that the starch gets digested by microbes but the little plastic particles stay around in the soil or compost. I’ve started looking for ‘compostable’ on the label of things now and have found a few things that are labelled as ‘home compostable’ – a huge change in terminology which, theoretically, means that you can add the waste material straight to your compost bin or heap or to your worm farm. We still don’t have a compost bin here at Ligaya Garden ( the chooks and the worms do all that for us) but I’ll still be researching ‘home compostable’ products and will let you know what I find out.

Making a mineral booster form bones and eggshells –

In every cleanout of the worms, I end up with a pile of unbroken down bones, especially chicken bones when I sieve the castings. Worms and microbes aren’t great at breaking these down quickly and they need something chemical to break them down. I took another idea from Palmer’s book and thought about dissolving them in homemade Apple Cider Vinegar to extract some of the extra Calcium and Phosphorous from them to make a, free, mineral supplement from them. I’ll leave it soak for a couple of months and let you know what happens. Ouch! That reminds me, I haven’t checked the fish amino acid ferment for a long time! It should be super juicy by now…

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