Once upon a time, a long time ago in a house far from here, we started a worm farm. We bought a little tub of worms and a black plastic stacker system, and duly fed and watered our babies. All went well until a heatwave struck and the worms became a stinking mass of rotten, dead meat. Yuck.
But the dream of ‘liquid gold’ persisted, so buoyed on by youthful energy and enthusiasm (yes, all of 3 years ago in those heady pre-parenthood days), Andrew set out to construct worm heaven. He procured an old bathtub, built a frame to suspend it with its top at bench height, made two hinged lids to fit on top, lined the tub with shadecloth, with gravel in the base for drainage and coir fibre on top for habitat, and hey presto, added worms.
My god, did those worms thrive! Their home was sheltered against the southern wall of the house, and in midsummer we draped more shadecloth over it to keep out the very early and very late sun. We shredded newspapers for the worms and sprinkled them with water every few days. We kept a little scrap bucket on the kitchen bench and fed them whenever it was full. And pretty soon we had so many worms that we held a worm farming workshop here and started giving away worms to anyone else in the neighbourhood who wanted to try the same thing. Some have even been back for seconds! My favourite request was from a gentleman who asked if he might have ‘a breeding pair’…
The worm farm has had its moments. Like when a family of mice took up residence in it and I, dripping with milk and maternal hormones, declared that as the least sensitive soul in the household I was best placed to exterminate them. I’ll spare you the details, but it was neither well planned nor well executed. However, where humans fail in their task, Nature often succeeds, and in this case she most certainly did. The mice were soon under control – thanks to a rat. Amazingly, those protein-packed worms just kept on breeding fast enough to outpace the breeding cycles of their predators. Every now and then with the aid of various traps and a lot of peanut butter we have got the worm farm rodent-free, but the real culprit was the saggy lid… it leaves just enough space for a full-grown furry thing to squeeze underneath, and its days are numbered.
This summer – perhaps even this month (but let’s not jinx it) – is Worm Farm Renovation Season. Our house has had its makeover – now it’s the worms’ turn. Not only is the lid the equivalent of a welcome mat for mice, but the bathtub beneath has rusted to the extent that the worm wee – the whole jolly point of the thing as far as I’m concerned – is leaking out everywhere but the drain hole. So we need to make a lid that fits and keeps the sun off (but still lets the worms breathe) and line the whole kit and kaboodle with a waterproof membrane before restocking it with the worms and their habitat.
So, inspired by my Mum’s recent worming adventures involving recycled laundry troughs positioned under trees, I am planning to decentralise and distribute our wiggly friends all around the fruit garden. This will probably be only a temporary measure, until their home is restored to its former glory, but hopefully it will give the fruit trees a boost in the meantime. I plan to use polystyrene broccoli boxes with perforated lids and with drainage holes punched in the base, and to stand them amongst the mulch in the full shade of the stone fruit trees, where the microclimate is cool and moist even on warm days. As a further precaution against marauding mice and whatever unforeseen events may befall our babies here, I’m also offering mini worm farms to friends to agist in their own gardens – and if ours thrive then they can of course stay on to start a new population.
Anyone got a spare broccoli box?