A worm tower is a simple and effective way to take any garden bed from average yield to gloriously abundant. Simple to build, with materials you probably already have, a worm tower is the perfect addition to any garden bed, in any climate.
It will bring increased fertility to your plants, improve your soil, make every living thing very happy and process organic waste to boot.
We’ve been adding worm towers to garden projects for a couple of years. We love them because they are so simple to make, are energy efficient and they are so beneficial. Who came up with the idea originally we do not know, but it’s a darn good one.
Essentially a worm tower is an in-garden worm farm that allows the worms and their nutrients to interact directly with the surrounding garden bed. It consists of a vertical pipe, placed half-submerged in a garden bed, with holes drilled in it.
The pipe contains a bunch of compost worms, and you periodically feed the worms with handfuls of organic matter (kitchen scraps, leaf litter, weeds, etc).
The worms do their wonderful wormy thing and convert that organic matter into rich worm poo and worm juice. The worm juice leaches out the holes and into the surrounding garden, bringing increased soil moisture, microbiology, fertility and in turn yummy vegies, for very little effort on your part.
The worms can venture out into the soil of the garden bed if they choose, and come back to feed (compost worms will tend to stay put, though, which is fine). Every 6 months or so you can clean out the worm tower and harvest the rich, fertile worm poo, using it as you choose on your garden.
You will also have created a bunch more worms (they double in number every month, usually), which you can then distribute to other worm towers, or give to friends.
It always amazes me how much little nudges of fertility can benefit an entire system. It’s that whole 1% rule, yet again. And though you do need to keep feeding them, a worm tower is an incredibly effective and low energy-input way of increasing the goodness in your garden, and they’re very easy to get going and to maintain.
To make your own worm tower, you will need:
- A piece of wide plastic pipe (150mm wide or thereabouts) about 50cm long.
- A drill, to make holes in the pipe
- A saw, to cut the pipe to your desired length
- Compost worms! 50 would be plenty
- Newspaper and water
- A terracotta pot (or similar) to fit over the end of the pipe
And here’s how to do it:
- Give the pipe a wash, and drill it with holes which are at least 5mm in diameter
- Choose a spot in your garden bed for the worm tower. Allow for easy access (for adding organic material) and for maximum benefit to the plants around it.
- Decide how deep you want the worm tower in your garden bed. This will depend on your soil and how you’ve made the bed. Let’s say 30cm deep.
- Cut your pipe so its entire length allows for your desired depth plus 20cm above the surface of the bed.
- Dig a 30cm deep hole, a bit bigger than the diameter of your pipe, in your chosen spot.
- Place your pipe in the hole, and fill in around it so the pipe stands steadily. You should have roughly 20cm of pipe above the surface.
- Add a thick layer of dry carbon material (straw, dry grass etc) in the bottom of the pipe, to a depth of 10cm
- Tear your newspaper into strips and soak in a bucket of water (or use some other carbon-rich material for this step – straw, dead grass, etc).
- Place a thick bedding of wet newspaper strips in the bottom of the pipe, maybe 15cm deep.
- Add your worms!
- Add another layer (5cm) of wet newspaper to bed the worms down, and help them get over the excitement of becoming worm tower residents.
- Place terracotta pot on top of the pipe, as a lid to exclude rain and keep critters out of the worm tower.
- In a couple of days, start adding handfuls of organic matter, and off you go!
- Now that you’ve got the hang of it, make another 5 worm towers and scatter them throughout your garden beds.
You will soon get a feel for how often to add more organic material to the worm tower – the worms will process the material at different rates depending on the season and temperatue. So sneak a peek every couple of days, and add accordingly.
One of the other great things about this system is that, because the worm tower is half submerged in the soil, its ambient temperature is relatively stable – something the worms appreciate greatly. They will soon be munching away, breeding up and creating highly nutritious soil food for your garden.
Another great thing about worm towers is depending on what sort of lid you use, they can be a very discreet and aesthetically intergrated addition to any garden, unlike a worm farm, which usually looks like a big black box.
Speaking of black boxes, here’s another version of an in-garden wormfarm we’ve tried out, which apparently worked very well. The above in-garden worm box is basically the same idea as a worm tower (with holes in the bottom only), and was installed in a wicking bed we made in Alice Springs.
A worm tower takes no more than half an hour to construct and install once you have all the bits, and will bring significant and lasting fertility to any system. We plan to use them extensively in the Milkwood Farm kitchen garden, and every garden we’ve seen one installed in has always been blooming marvellously.
Yet another example of slow, small solutions adding up to provide complexity, stability and abundance.