Guest post by Tim Doolan

Worm farms have become all the rage recently, and I’ve been lucky enough to have received one for my birthday.

For the uninitiated, worm farms are a container where you throw food scraps and provide an environment for particular types of worms to flourish. In return they give you worm juice and castings to purportedly make your soil healthier and plants grow better. It seems to make sense, but I’m yet to experience this in practice.

The most popular at the moment as far as I can tell is the Worm Café, which is what I’ve got. The photo above shows the worm farm stack positioned in my downstairs laundry. The photo below shows the inside, covered by a hessian sack.

People also commonly make their own worm farm using something like an old bath tub or old wheelie bin.

The particular types of worms aren’t your regular earthworms. They are special little gutses who eat a lot faster and break down waste into useful garden products. There’s various types, I have read Blue Worms (Perionyx excavatus) being well suited to warm climates but there’s differing opinions, there are also cool sounding names like Red Wrigglers and African Nightcrawlers. The photo at the top of this post shows the wrigglers at work in my worm farm.

Whatever the worm, they break down waste and produce worm juice and castings. It’s not exactly fertiliser but more about the microbes that break organic material into usable nutrients and well-structured soil for plants to thrive. Worm castings are basically the same sort of thing as worm juice but in solid form to also add bulk and structure to the soil. The goods – castings from the bottom bin – can be seen in the photo below.

I’ve had the worm farm for about 10 months now, so I’m hardly an expert, but these are a couple of things I’ve found to be of some relevance trying to set up a worm farm in our climate:

Land planarian – These worm/slug flat looking things eat your worms and are apparently rife in the tropics. I had a bunch that were eating my worms so picked them all out by hand and haven’t seen any since. I think they got in there in the first place from contaminated worms.

Ants – From time to time I’ve had ants try to set up a nest or steal food, but it’s usually because it’s a bit dry in there. Add water and wah-lah, they are gone. Also helps to cover the top of the food with a hessian sack.

Acidity – There was a stage at the beginning where it smelt a bit like a dodgy seafood basket the second time around, but that was because I was adding too many acidic things (oranges, lemons, onions). Once I stopped doing that and added some alkaline crusher dust things balanced out and the smell went away. Your worm farm should magically smell pretty much like nothing, or damp soil if you really put your nose in there.

Temperature control – This was a big problem until I found a suitable place in the dark out of the wind. The worms tried to escape or retreated to the wettest coldest corners of the container away from the food (and their job!) to try to not get cooked in the heat.

Other creatures – there’s a lot of other life in my worm farm, little crustaceans, crawly things, but it all seems to co-exist with the worms just fine.

The importance of soil type

· Guest post by Timothy Doolan ·

Something to think about when choosing native plants for your garden or revegetation project is which plants are suited to your soil type.

There are a number of different soil types in the Townsville region. Higher quality soils are generally found along waterways and their immediate floodplains, e.g. Hermit Park, Mysterton, Mundingburra, and poorer quality soils are generally up on the flood free flats, eg Kirwan, Currajong, West End.

Townsville soils overall are typical of much of Australia with poor nutrient and water holding capacity, highly leached. This is yet another reason why Local provenance native plants are so important, as they are adapted to the local soil types as well as the local climate.

But even local plants can be subject to high variation in suitability given a patchwork of local soil types and the wonderful diversity of biomes within the greater Townsville region. So, which species for which soils?

Back in the 1970s there was a comprehensive soil survey of the Townsville region, with the results freely available online at the Queensland Government Publications website. Short of getting your own soil survey done, this is probably the best macro level source of information. There is also an accompanying ‘Land Capability Map’ on this site which gives brief comment on the agricultural merit of the different soils surveyed.

In general, the poorer quality soils of flood-free areas are more suitable for the ubiquitous Australian dryland species (gums, wattles, grasses), and the better quality ‘younger alluvial’ soils will more easily sustain a diversity of species and a more ‘rainforesty’ type of garden.

Of course, soil type is just one factor to consider, but it can definitely help with minimising water use, ensuring good plant growth and promoting a healthy ecosystem and native biodiversity.