My latest strange Kijiji adventure involved driving to some guy’s house, giving him some money and receiving a kilo of organic stuff in return. By far, most of the contents of the bag was vermicompost and worm bedding, but buried in there were a hundred or so red wigglers. Compost worms. Worms improve the overall health of the aquaponics system and require no extra feed or attention, so they are well worth the little outing to get them.
Before they can start doing their magic, they have to get from the baggie and into the grow beds, without bringing all their bedding and half-eaten food scraps with them. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I was able to find a method that worked reasonably well. Just don’t tell the family that I used the salad spinner bowl to do it. Because worms really don’t like bright lights, they will automatically seek out dark spaces by heading down whenever they are exposed. I simply placed a handful of bedding into the strainer and let the worms find their own way into the grow beds. I did end up helping by plucking worms and placing them on the expanded clay media where they soon skedaddled farther down. I expect I won’t see them again until I pull plants out and find them among the roots. Worms can live very well in the media beds, even though they are periodically flooded, because the water is highly oxygenated and the worms breathe through their skin. They will adjust their population to match the amount of food available to them.
So what is it that they do in there? Contrary to popular belief, worms don’t actually consume decomposing vegetable matter as much as consume protozoa that live on decomposing vegetable matter. But this does have the effect of helping to break it down. What this means for an aquaponics media bed is that solid fish waste, uneaten food particles and sloughed off root material will all be broken down by the worms, which will reduce the amount of time I will have to spend cleaning the beds out. While they are doing this, they are also making worm castings – that magical stuff which gardeners wax poetic about. The worm castings are going straight into oxygenated water and being continuously circulated to the plants, which means the plants are being dosed with dilute worm tea at all times. Worm tea is reported to improve plant health by making micronutrients more available to the roots and making the plant more resistant to insects and disease. Apparently worm castings are also dosed with nitrifying bacteria, which, if you’ve been following along, you know are the bacteria that convert fish waste ammonia to nitrates that plants can use.
I’ve been running the system for a month, not long at all, but some of the seeds I planted are starting to look like real plants now. The ph is still too high, which can cause problems, and I’ll talk about what I’m doing about that next time.
*Remember that song: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms!”? Yeah, I have that stuck in my head now. No actual worms were harmed in the making of this blog.