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Introducing Worms to an Established Garden

Cultivated soils, particularly in old gardens frequently suffer from compaction, bad drainage, broken and fragmented structure and devoid of organic matter, usually through bad management in the past, these conditions are incapable of supporting a population of worms, therefore before worms are introduced, these conditions must be remedied. Once this has been achieved, a population of worms can be introduced.

There are two species of soil dwelling worm currently available, these are Lumbricus terrestris and Eisenia hortensis.

Lumbricus terrestris is the large worm that most people are familiar with, it is a slow breeding worm that likes to live in deep undisturbed soils, it also throws worm casts onto the surface and can be seen on grass, particularly after warm rain at night, giving it one of its common names of “Dew worm”
This worm should only be introduced into areas where it will not be disturbed on a regular basis and where the casts on the surface will not cause a problem, many of these worms are deliberately killed because of the “problem” of casts on the lawn.

Eisenia hortensis in contrast, is a comparatively rapid breeder, lives in the top 12 inches of soil and does not throw casts to the surface, making it a good choice for lawn areas, areas likely to be disturbed and areas where the soil is not very deep.
Both species will need ongoing feed in the form of organic matter either as a mulch or not collecting the grass clippings once in a while.

Both worms are a good source of food for wildlife and can be most beneficial in this way.

Once the worms have been introduced, the use of herbicides and pesticides should not be carried out for at least 12 months and preferably not at all.

“Planting worms”

Any worms purchased to be introduced into the soil should never be just scattered on the surface in the belief they will burrow down – they won’t! If left on the surface they are likely to be picked off by the local bird population or even killed off by the sun and ultra violet light.

With both species they should be “planted” dig trowel depth holes, a couple every square metre, water the hole, put in a little natural compost, NOT potting compost, add a few worms and break up the removed soil and put back on top.
In new areas used for shrubs etc, this should be done before any mulch is spread and in lawn areas, before turf or seed are laid, if worms are being introduced to an established garden then there is no choice but to dig the holes through the mulch or grass. The quantity of worms per hole is really down to the customer but as a guide, 2 or 3 Lumbricus terrestris and with Eisenia hortensis, a very small handful or a very large pinch!

What quantity should be planted?

The quantity of worms required is not an exact science, as a rough guide you should be aiming for the following:

Eisenia hortensis – up to 20 worms per square metre, this can be increased or decreased according to budget but not by more than +50% or -50%.

Lumbricus terrestris – this would be around 5 worms per square metre minimum but again the same rule applies as above.

The quantities are governed by surface area NOT depth.

I hope this has been useful, please feel free to copy and download for your own private use. Strictly no commercial use or reproduction without our express, written permission.

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Why Dried Mealworms Make a Poor Feed

We are often asked if we supply dried mealworms in our bricks and mortar shop, sorry but we don’t, there are very good reasons for this, dried mealworms make a poor feed.
Despite all the claims made about being as nutritionally equal to live mealworms, put simply, they are not.
A very important factor is the moisture content, live mealworms naturally do not have high levels of moisture compared to, say, earthorms (80%). When they are dried (and killed)they have no moisture at all, this is particularly dangerous during the breeding season in wild birds, when fed by the parent birds to chicks this can actually cause dehydration as the dried mealworms absorb the moisture from the chick.
This is the opinion of zoo’s that specialise in bird care.

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Which worm is best for composting?

Different composting worms

At Worms Direct one subject that comes up with our customers time and time again is “which composting worm is best” this question arises due to the amount of confusion that has been generated over the years by companies selling worms and pretending they know all about worms and just repeating what others have written! some will quote scientific studies completely out of context, hopefully we can clear away some of this confusion.
First it is important to understand that different species of worms are not available in different countries, therefor you will often see, particularly on forums, that such and such worm is best, yes it is in their country but may not be applicable elsewhere when other worm species are available, as an example, an Indian Blue is an extremely efficient worm in hot climates but in the UK it will die, secondly, particularly in the UK common names are mostly used and have been applied to different worm species – Tiger worm is a prime example, often this is done by sellers who are not aware of the differences! so lets start from the beginning.

The most talked about worm (using a common name) is “Tiger worm” the latin name for this is Eisenia foetida or Eisenia fetida, this the most commonly used worm in the US also known as Red Wiggler and a lot of worm composting information on the internet comes from the US, it is stripey in appearance.

The most commonly grown worm for composting (and fishing) in the UK is “The Dendrobaena” the latin name is Eisenia hortensis or Dendrobaena veneta, it is also stripey in appearance and has therefore been called “Tiger worm” by many growers.

You now have the situation where 2 different species are being called and sold as “Tiger worms”

Apart from ourselves, we are not aware of anyone who is growing the original Tiger worm (Eisenia foetida) as a clean species, many growers will have them mixed in with their Dendrobaena stock.

You will then see growers claiming “Tiger worms” are best but which one? you will see growers claiming the original Tiger worm (Eisenia foetida) is the best and backing this with findings from scientific trials, I have yet to read of any scientific trials that were carried out in domestic wormeries using household waste by inexperienced people!
The truth is that both worm species work and breed better in different conditions:
E. foetida (original Tiger worm) work better in warmer bins, Dendrobaena prefer it cooler.
E. foetida (original Tiger worm) work better in drier conditions, Dendrobaena prefer it wetter
E. foetida (original Tiger worm) work better in denser populations, Dendrobaena need more space
E. foetida (original Tiger worm) are more delicate, Dendrobaena are generally tougher.
E. foetida (original Tiger worm) breed more quickly than Dendrobaena, yes, when its warmer

So you can see, it all depends on the conditions the worms will experience in your wormery, if you can guarantee the right conditions for one or other species then use that worm, if you cannot then play it safe and use a mix of both species (if you can get them). Do not be taken in by sales blurb.

I truly hope this has gone some way to clearing the confusion.

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What is Composting?

Composting is the means that organic materials break down, decompose and reduce in volume, without it the planet would be miles deep in leaves, let alone anything else! In breaking down this organic matter provides food for millions of different living creatures, from bacteria and fungi, through small bugs, larger bugs up to and including worms, not only is this food provided but once eaten by the worms it has to be deposited back, okay, it’s worm poo but the proper name is worm casts. These casts have now become enriched with nutrients, minerals etc and are then used by the plants that started the decomposition in the first place, a self contained, self supporting, recycling, circle of life.

Types of composting.

There are many different ways to compost organic waste but there are really only two that are of interest to readers and users of this website, these are “aerobic composting” and “vermicomposting”

Aerobic composting.

Starting with “aerobic composting” this simply is the type of composting when a bin or a heap is used to rot it all down. This method relies on the bugs, bacteria, fungi and oxygen present in the waste to decompose the material, in doing so it will generate heat as a by product, if heat is being generated (and this has very little to do with the sun) then the decomposition is working well, the waste will reduce and you will end up with a good compost .To achieve this situation, ie. bugs, bacteria etc working well, the right conditions have to be in place and this is where most compost bins and compost heaps fail to work properly. Like all living things, bugs, bacteria, fungi and micro life need a good balanced diet, in this case it is made up from a mix of nitrogen and carbons found in the waste provided for them in the compost bin along with a good supply of oxygen from the air, the nitrogen comes from all the veggie peelings, the left over table scraps, the grass cuttings etc, these are the “greens” The carbon is provided from, paper, cardboard, leaves etc, these are the “browns” The “green” and “browns” should be half and half, this should all be mixed together which also allows air into the material, not only should this be done when adding these materials but also the older contents should be stirred up to allow in more air, hence the reason for “turning the compost heap over”.

Vermicomposting (Worm composting)

Next we come to “vermicomposting” or worm composting, in this system we use the worms to do the work, instead of letting the waste heat up we keep it cold and this is done by putting it onto the worms in thin layers instead of piling it up as you would in a compost bin or compost heap, when it is in thin layers like this, the bugs and bacteria still get to work but any heat produced escapes and is not trapped in the waste, this is good for the worms because they feed on all of this and don’t get burnt doing it! Naturally, as they feed, what goes in must come out and this is known as “casts”, these casts and the mix of compost that is left behind are very beneficial to plant growth (I wonder why we have worms in the soil, living all around the plant roots?) So there we have the two main methods of composting.

But why should we compost?

If you have a garden, an allotment or even a farm you will know why, as said before it is a very simple and effective way of producing something that your plants will thrive on and the added bonus is you get rid of your green waste but if you live in a flat or house with no garden, why compost? You can always use it in tubs, baskets and troughs but is that enough?
Global warming, climate change, the planet is heating up etc are all fairly new buzz words and everybody is trying to use these buzz words to jump on the band wagon, from turning your washing machine down to buying car insurance where they will plant a tree for you!
One of the most genuinely useful ways of “doing your bit” is to first to cut down on the amount of organic waste you produce by trying not to buy so much, remember organic waste includes all sorts of things not only your kitchen and garden waste but think of the amount of paper and cardboard thrown out, certainly you can recycle it through kerbside collections but wouldn’t it be better if the dustcart didn’t have to collect it? A few facts to think on, something like 75% of all waste still sent to landfill is compostable, “ordinary” composting would reduce this waste by about 50% vermicomposting or worm composting would reduce it by up to 80%! Even if you had no option but to put the finished compost out for the dustcart to take to landfill, it would be a lot less dustcart trips and plants could grow in it once it was there, got to be worth a bit of effort.

I hope this has been of some help and I hope you now feel that composting is worth a go.

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The Different Types of Wormery

There are many different types of wormery on the market and several different means of working (or not, as the case may be!) The following advice sheets are designed to help you choose the right one if it is your first time or to offer advice on how to improve on a “difficult” one if you already own one and are struggling.

The simple box

A simple box is a very good starting point, ideally it would be of wood but often plastic can be more practical, to be efficient it would need to be no smaller than the kerbside recycling box as supplied by your local council, with a lid.The main considerations for any wormery are surface area and a really good air supply, drainage holes in the base will be necessary, particularly with a plastic box.

The single tray

This the next step up from a box, constructed from plastics, it consists of a base box with a “working” tray that sits just inside the base box, the lower box acts as a drip catcher and usually has a spout or tap to drain off any excess liquid that may be produced. The working tray has a perforated bottom to allow any excess moisture to drain away.

The multiple tray

The multiple tray wormery is the next step up from the single tray, the idea is that when the first tray is full a second tray with a perforated base is placed on top of the full one and waste is added to this second tray, the theory being that the worms will move from the first (now full) tray, via the perforations up into the second tray to continue feeding. There are also systems with 3 or more trays. An example of this system is the Worm Cafe as sold on this web site http://www.wormsdirectuk.co.uk/product/worm-cafe-kit/

The Flow Through

The flow through system is considered to be the Rolls Royce of worm composting systems, it is usually based on a wooden box but the bottom is replaced by a riddle mechanism, this mechanism, usually produced out of galvanized steel allows the operator to riddle the finished worm casts/compost from the bottom, settling the contents and creating more space for adding waste feed, the theory being a continuous cycle of feeding, riddling and feeding removing the need to separate worms and compost when the bin is full.

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Worm Compost and Worm Casts – is there any difference?

This article will hopefully explain the difference between worm compost and worm casts and the use and benefits of both, as the names suggest, both of these are produced by worms.

1. Worm compost

Composting worms live and feed on organic matter that range from fresh to really decomposed! this can be anything from natural heaps of leaves, dead grass and vegetation to the garden and kitchen waste we put in our compost heaps, bins and wormeries, as the material starts to break down it is invaded by a myriad of different bacteria, fungii and 101 different bugs and creatures it is these fungii and bacteria that the worms actually feed on, in doing so they continually move up and down through the layers looking for better food, somewhere to rest up and somewhere to lay cocoons (eggs). To enable them to do this they exude a mucuus allowing them to wriggle through the compost, this mucuus is full of benefits to plant root systems, of course, all the time they are feeding they have to get rid of their waste, basically worm poo and this is left in and eventually all mixed up in the compost, if the worms are removed before they have consumed (several times) all the organic material we then have “worm worked compost.”

2. Worm Casts

Worm casts are a different product entirely from worm compost, casts are essentially the pure poo from worms. When worms are living in a compost, they feed on it, if no more green waste is added they will eventually have eaten all the waste available, continually replacing it with an increasing percentage of casts, as the waste becomes less available they will also feed on the casts themselves, in fact, they can do this many times over (waste not – want not!) eventually all the material left is almost entirely worm poo, this is proper worm casts.

The use and benefits of each.
We can now see that there is a difference between the 2 products and this means there is a difference in the use and benefits of each.

It is easier to understand if we deal with worm casts first, as originally stated, casts are produced only when the whole amount of waste (or near enough) have passed through the worm, in doing so it is ground up into tiny particles and mixed together with different secretions, the resulting casts are not necessarily high in nutrients as often claimed but after they have “matured” they are absolutely jam packed full of hugely beneficial bacteria, fungii and other organisms. these qualities are utilised directly by plants via the root system providing the plants are already planted in soils with good structure, that is the job of the worm!

Now we can see that worm compost, due to its lower levels of processed material is not going to work in the same way as casts directly with plants, however, being a compost, they create a highly beneficial environment regulating air and moisture around the root system of plants particularly where the existing soil structure is not so good this in turn allows the roots to benefit from the casts within the compost. Because there is still compost (uneaten worm food) in and around the plant roots this will encourage worms to stay or even move into the area to feed and in turn they will raise the level of casts for the plants to utilize! As can be seen, it is very important that the right balance of processed and unprocessed material in the compost is achieved otherwise the conditions created for the plant will be wrong.

Whichever you use, worm worked compost or pure worm casts your plants can only benefit.