Worm farming

compworms.jpg My husband has been busy with his chain saw carpentry again. He rescued a shower base bathtub from the local tip to make a small worm farm that could be set up in a shady spot near the house. This makes it easier for me to collect worm castings for my seedlings and pot plants. Worm farms are a wonderful way to recycle food scraps and household waste into fabulous 100 % organic complete fertiliser with a neutral pH.
Old bathtubs are hard to come by in our area, as they are popular for recycling as water troughs for horses. However, this tub was missing the plug rim and unsuitable for use as a water trough, so it was a lucky find.
Using his trusty chain saw, Brian built a simple frame for the tub, using scrap hard wood pieces from around the farm. The cover consists of recycled hardwood planks, placed side by side, across the top of the farm. Only the two end planks are attached to the frame. The loose planks allow me to expose as much, or as little, of the worm farm surface as I want when adding food or collecting castings. A large square of fly screen was placed across the base of the tub before filling to prevent the worms and castings falling through the drainage hole. A bucket is positioned under the drainage hole of the tub to catch the liquid that drains from the worm farm.

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A layer of edible bedding is needed across the bottom of the farm container for to keep the worms damp and protect them from temperature fluctuations. I added some of the digested matter from our main worm farm for bedding as this contained both worms and worm eggs to ensure that numbers in the new worm farm will build up more quickly. However, for new worm farmers, bedding can be shredded and soaked coconut husk fibre (Coco peat), or damp, aged cow or horse manure, and the starter worms are placed over the bedding where you want them to feed. I added some chopped scraps (in a 2-cm layer) to one half of the surface of the farm, so that the worms would be concentrated in that area. The surface of the farm was then covered with wet newspaper and the cover planks over the top of the farm. (A temporary plastic cover goes on when heavy rain is predicted.) Food is replaced as often as necessary. If your worm farm is new, don’t give them too much food at first or it will be a while before they eat all the food, and it will start to smell. But, if you don’t give your worms enough to eat, their growth and reproduction will be slow.

As worm numbers increase, they will be able to process larger quantities of waste. Once the worms have turned the food and bedding in their area into castings, I start putting food at the other end of the farm. This allows me to collect castings more easily from the other half and pour water through the processed bedding to collect some liquid for my plants. It is not recommended to pour water through undigested food in worm farms in case the food has been affected by fungal or bacterial disease. However, using common sense and following the organic principle of “feed the soil, not the plant”, avoids problems with liquid fertilisers.

Garden seat

Another chain saw carpentry project, this garden seat is one of my favourite spots in the garden, in all seasons. It is situated on the south side of our vegetable patch, under one of the Jacaranda trees that grow beside our driveway. It’s a wonderful place to relax for a cuppa, admire our work and discuss future projects. The seat was constructed very quickly using hardwood from a demolished shed. The “coffee table” was made from a fallen ironbark on our property.

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This unique garden seat was constructed from a fallen tree at a property we visited recently.


What’s chain saw carpentry?

It is a term my husband uses for various garden projects that are cut out using a chain saw, or where constructions are nailed, screwed or bolted together and the left over bits are cut off with a chain saw (after making sure those pieces are nail-free, of course). More refined DIYers can use a carpentry saw, if they wish. It is a useful method for people who are intimidated by precise woodworking projects, but like to build things. Basically, it utilises imagination and materials that are on hand, or from the building recycling centre. So far, this carpentry method has produced a small frog pond from the lower half of a swimming pool filter drum, a potting bench annexe attached to our shade house, a mobile hen house, and a garden bench and coffee table.

Chicken tractor

We have a lot of weeding to do on our farm and it seemed a good idea to get the chooks to help. Chooks are very good at removing weeds and bugs as they scratch away at the soil – hence the name chicken tractor. They enjoy having plenty of green feed, and a mobile hen house that could be towed by a tractor or car was the answer to getting the chooks to work where we wanted the ground cleared of grass and weeds between grape vines, around fruit trees, and before preparing beds.

My husband made this mobile hen house from a discarded farm trailer as one of his “chain saw carpentry” projects. He built the framework from 75 x 50 and 50 x 25 pieces of hardwood we had around the place. He bolted the framework to the sides and base of the trailer, and covered the frame with hardwood planks. The roof was made from alsonite sheets, but corrugated iron could be used. The sloping roof prevents rain pooling, and allows a ventilation area which was covered with chicken wire.
The back flap of the trailer was removed, and replaced with a drop-down door that is made from 10 mm waterproof ply cut to the full height of the structure. The door is hinged at the base so that, when opened, it forms a ramp for the chooks to get in and out of their house. Several rows of tomato stakes can be screwed in across the ramp for traction. Our chooks fly in and out of their home but the “steps” are helpful for chicks and pullets. The door is held closed by a piece of 50 x 25 timber that drops into a bracket on each side of the house structure.
Three nest boxes sit in the timber and plywood structure across the tow bar. This part has a hinged plywood lid for easy egg collection and cleaning, checking on babies, etc.. This trailer had timber sides, and it was easy to remove the panels from the side over the draw bar, but this section can be cut out of a metal trailer with an angle grinder.

Perches are wedged diagonally across the interior for roosting. We have had up to twenty chooks sleep happily in this sized house. The floor is covered with an old tarp that can be pulled out for quick cleaning. The hen house was constructed pretty quickly – my husband has had no training in woodworking, so it’s an easy DIY project for the average person. This hen house has served us well for quite a few years but, as you can see, it could do with a coat of paint.

The hen house is moved by tractor (in the early am before the chooks are let out) to an area that needs weeding. We set up a heavy duty chicken wire fence supported by star stakes around the weedy area, with two stakes closer together at one end to form a gate. You can use anything for a gate, really. At the moment we are using a rack from a commercial freezer (perfect). Where the ground is uneven, the 1 – 1.2m high fence is anchored with tent pegs or bent fencing wire. We always make sure the chooks have clean water and shell grit, and the area under the hen house provides shade for the chooks and their water dish if there are no trees in that section of the farm. It also provides a safe hiding place from cruising eagles and hawks.
As well as plenty of green feed, the chooks get the best kitchen scraps (except for potato and avocado), some cracked grain each day, and sprouted oat seed twice a week.