Louise deVarga, someone who first inspired me about worm farming and composting in general (the original "worm lady"), had this posted on her old Composting for Shore website. I am glad I saved this, and can re-publish it on the web through my blog.
(Although after you get the "feel", it far more simple! All you need to remember is to keep churning the contents of the layer you are adding food to around, round and round, to help the process, and also add lots of paper regularly. I just tear up my pizza boxes now, that's enough paper-- simple.)
One thing I loved from visiting Louise's garden (which has won awards in the past from "Create Your Own Eden") was her comment about how her garden, with worms in it, was compared to a neighbour's grass yard. Her garden was full of native trees and plants, with steps made from railway sleepers going through it. It was full of insects, worms churning up the soil, and birds and all kinds of life. Compare this garden to the sunbeaten grass yard, chemically fertilized-- with only one species, grass.
From Louise deVarga and Composting for Shore:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR WORM COMPOSTER
How should I start operation of my Worm Composter?
Add to the bottom of your worm composter old compost, vermicast, peat moss, palm peat/coconut block (available from Composting for Shore). Empty your worms from the packaging on top of this bedding. Place a small amount of worm feed on top (a light covering on the surface). Cover with an old piece of carpet or woollen underfelt. This allows the worms to feed at the surface while remaining protected from light and the carpet holds in the moisture.
The more worms you have, the more kitchen waste you can dispose of organically. We recommend that you purchase a minimum of 500g (2000)worms.
The more worms you start with the quicker your Worm Composter will reach its full working potential. If you choose to start with 250g worms it will take a fairly long time to reach full working potential. On the other hand 1kg worms from the start would see your Worm Composter fully up and running in a matter of weeks rather than months.
Do I need to dilute the liquid that comes out of my Worm Composter?Yes, dilute it 1-10 with water. It is a leachate and should be diluted. It is a wonderful plant food.
Will I get to the point where I have too many worms in my Worm Composter?No, you can never have too many worms. They will regulate their population to the confines of available space. Worm concentration should reach capacity after 2-5 years depending on space and feeding.
Worms will eat pretty much anything that was once living. This includes left over vegetable scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings, tea leaves/bags, coffee filters and grounds, vacuum cleaner dust, hair and nail clippings, scrunched up envelopes and broken up egg cartons, soaked shredded cardboard, crushed eggshells. The greater the variety of material you use, the better the vermicast.
What is not suitable to feed compost worms?
Onions, meat (attracts flies), dairy products, bread and citrus peel, fat.
Can I feed my worms garden refuge?
Yes, although your Worm Composter is designed to break down soft organic waste. Garden waste is best dealt with by conventional composting. You can add some compost to your Worm Composter for the worms to break down into vermicast.
I’ve had my Worm Composter for a month now, but the worms don’t seem to be eating?
The worms may be eating your bedding material if you used aged manure or compost. They will eat this before eating newly introduced feed.
How much will my worms eat?
Worms will feed at a faster rate once they have adapted to any new food source. Worms will also eat more if food is offered in a digestible form (i.e. moist and without large clumps is best).
The worms will eat their body weight every 1-2 days, but it will take 8-10 weeks until they have fully adjusted to their newenvironment and able to eat at maximum levels. As you become familiar with them, you will learn their rate of food consumption.
How can I help my worms eat more?
Although not a requirement of operating your Worm Composter, you may choose to make a regular addition of worm fattener. This will encourage stronger, fatter worms. Mix together proportionally – 50% chicken layers pellets, 10% wheat or corn flour, 10% powdered while milk/skim milk, 20% bran or wheat meal, 10% agricultural lime or Dolomite. You can sprinkle lightly over food wastes about once a week.
Can I overfeed my worms?Yes.
If you have overfed your worms and the feed has become smelly, the worms will stay lower in your Worm Composter and may die. The best test of whether you have overfed your worms is simply by the smell. The only smell associated with a well maintained worm farm is a pleasant earthy smell.
What do I do if my Worm Composter smells?
If your worm Composter has an offensive smell, it is an indication that anaerobic bacteria have built up in the system in uneaten food wastes. Either: remove the old food and start with a very small amount of new food, or stop feeding the worms and stir the wastes with a garden fork, adding garden lime as well. This aerates the organic material and allows worms to move through it more easily. Repeat this aeration procedure regularly to prevent recurrence. Start feeding again when all smells are gone.
What about temperature changes?
If you get much hotter than this, make sure your Worm Composter is in a shady place. By watering through the top, this will help to maintain the temperature when in a shady place. During winter months, particularly in Otago/Southland, it pays to place your worm farm under cover. The best temperature range for worms is between 18-23 degrees C, though Otago/Southland temps get lower. If temperatures are very low in winter it pays to keep your composter in a shed or good shelter.
Should I add water to my Worm Composter?The contents of your Worm Composter should always be moist. When adding your kitchen scraps, add some water to it before it goes into your unit, alternatively use your watering can to add some water if you feel it is too dry. Worms work better when their conditions are moist.
Can the contents of my Worm Composter be too moist?
If rain continues over a period of time, e.g. 1-2 days or longer, or is very heavy rain, if you Worm Composter is outdoors you should cover the top of it. Use plastic sheeting held down by a brick. The reason for this is the worms work better in moist rather than waterlogged conditions.
Will my Worm Composter attract ants or flies?
You may get ants in your Worm Composter if it becomes dry or acidic. Add water to increase moisture levels and a sprinkling of garden lime. Flies may indicate overfeeding. Offensive odours would also indicate overfeeding. To eradicate vinegar flies, slow your rate of feeding and ensure freshly added wastes are covered with a layer of old carpet. A sprinkling of lime will control vinegar flies entering your Worm Composter.
What about maggots?If you experience any influx of maggots, it will most likely be the soldier fly or vinegar fly larvae. Don’t be too alarmed if they appear, they are actually beneficial to the waste breakdown. If you want to remove them though, do so by liberally applying lime.
What are the little white worms?These look like baby worms but are completely white. They are enchytraeids although some growers incorrectly call them nematods. Don’t worry about them, they do not harm composting worms, if you want to reduce the numbers don’t feed bread or floury products. They are part of the recycling system.
Can I put compost worms in the garden?
Only if you have a thick surface layer of mulch in your garden. Compost worms require moist conditions all year round. This is because they do not tunnel deep like earthworms (flat tailed worms) to find moisture. If you cannot provide this environment in your garden, do not introduce compost worms into it.
What about a holiday?
Leaving an established Worm Composter for 1 week without constantly adding food is not a problem. Just feed the worms a good quantity of food waste before you leave. Make sure that you leave your Worm Composter in a cool place with a layer of old carpet on top of them, to protect them from dying out. If away for 1-2 weeks add dried grass clippings. Purchase a bedding block if away for 3 or more weeks.