Wriggling to start a worm farm

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Aubergines Basil Davies explaining the structure Feeding the worms - food waste - nothing acidic or animal matter Food waste close up Growing room Habaneros John Davies Lettuce and Bananas Permaculture garden Pumpkin leaf Red Chillies Red wiggler worms close up Red wiggler worms dug up from farm Sifting 2 Sifting through to retireve the worms Tea tree Tomatoes worm compost removed onto flat slab for harvesting Worm egg - gets put with left over vermipost into the permaculture garden Worm farm components 2 Worm farm components Worm harvesting 2 - worms move to the middle of the pile away from light Worm tea Worms close up 2 Worms close up 3
Rochelle Duvenage
Whether you are vegan, an environmental activist, or just enjoy fresh organic food, worm farming could be the next exciting project for you. We explored the ins and outs of vermiculture in practice. We documented the experience of Grahamstown local, John Davies – or ‘Uncle John’ as he prefers to be called – who runs a successful worm farm from his home.

Davies runs a home-made, experimental growing system, constructed almost entirely from re-used and recycled materials. The system combines permaculture and aquaponics, producing a large quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables. He has an indoor ‘growing room’, where tomatoes, bananas, chillies, habaneros, aubergines and six varieties of lettuce – to name a few – flourish. These are grown using aquaponics systems. He also has what he calls his “messy” permaculture garden, which has a little more ‘flair’. Here, Davies grows everything from tea trees to garlic, basil, and parsley.

This ecosystem would be impossible without the work of Eisenia fetida, or ‘red wiggler’ worms. Using old bathtubs, throwaway coffee grinds from places like Red Café, recycled paper, food waste, and a few egg boxes, Davies has built an impressive worm farm that makes all this possible. He explained that worm farms produce a number of useful bi-products.

The first is ‘worm tea’, which is essentially worm waste mixed with warm water. Since worms eat through compost, their excrement creates a highly nutritive environment for plant growth. The worms themselves are harvested and deposited in the aquaponics systems, where they create a nitrogen-rich environment for fish, whose droppings aerate and enrich the soil in the ‘growing room’.

At the final stage of this process, the left over ‘vermipost’ is transferred to the permaculture garden, containing worm eggs which then hatch and restart this sustainable cycle.

All the food produced on this farm is organic and pesticide and herbicide free. Perhaps even more importantly, the entire production has virtually no negative impact on the environment.

“I need to add no more than 20 litres of water per week to the entire system,” Davies explained.

Davies can provide innovative and delicious meal ideas with food grown in his garden. One suggestion is to pick pumpkin leaves while they are still young, stuff them with your preferred soya mix, garlic and chilli, roll this in egg and breadcrumbs and roast or pan fry in almond oil. In a few simple steps, you have an entirely organic, vegetarian meal with almost no carbon footprint or drain on your pocket. To top this off, Davies crushes lemon grass from his permaculture garden and mixes it with water and lemon for a refreshing drink throughout the day. He welcomes school tours of the farm and is even willing to give away produce.
“For me, permaculture is all about sharing,” he said.

Vehemently opposed to companies like Monsanto which practice genetic engineering and the use of harmful pesticides, Davies has sought a natural, community-based method of food production.
“I have cancer, and fresh organic food is essential for my health, as it is for any person in today’s society,” he said.

Across the globe, people are facing chronic environmental and lifestyle-related health issues – everything from obesity and diabetes to cancer and osteoporosis. An increasingly-prevalent idea is that people need to rethink and remodel all aspects of our consumer-driven society towards local production and community living.

Worm farming is a hot topic in this sphere. It is a natural, cost-effective method of growing one’s own food and the results are both satisfying to the individual and vastly beneficial to both the environment and one’s health.

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