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My worms are dead!

Occasionally we will get a ‘phone call or an email from a customer who has received their order for worms that they have arrived with some dead, dying or very lethargic, when we query as to what makes the customer think they are dead, the response is invariably that the worms are not moving much, many people assume that worms are very active, wriggly creatures, whilst this is true when you have just dug them up (they are now attempting to get away from a situation where they are likely to be eaten! why else would they be dug up?) but when they have been harvested, packed and then shipped out in a moving vehicle the worms response is to burrow down, stick together, stop moving, “play dead” and hopefully I will not get eaten! disturbance, movement, vibration etc are all threats to worms.

We always send out worms in A1 condition, there is no point in doing so otherwise so unless something exceptional happens to them on route it is almost impossible for them to die, the exception to this maybe when smaller quantities are sent out in tubs and they have been left out under the sun, possibly during delivery or more likely when requested to leave or some other extreme conditions, if this has happened then the evidence is very obvious and distinctive.

When the worms arrive and they do appear lethargic do not write them off, if they are composting, garden or fishing worms and you are not ready to use them straight away, give them a little water and/or wet newspaper/moss and place the closed container somewhere cool for them to get over their journey, if they are composting worms and you can, add them to the wormery straightaway do so and give a little water, this applies if you have bought loose worms or in a kit.

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How many??

Posted in Feb 2009, afcbpaul asks about the number of worms in a wormery.

“OK I am very new to this, but I am a grass care professional and I would like vermicompost to make compost tea.

I have access to large amounts of horse manure, and I know that will make good worm feed once it has completed the first hot composting.

But what I would like to know is:
1.Is it better to have fewer large worms in my wormery or many more smaller ones?”

The more worms you have the quicker the waste will be composted, also if you have a mix of sizes, you will have worms of breeding size that will be busy laying eggs, increasing the population and there will also be juveniles and babies that like all creatures will be feeding and growing. Have a look at our advice sheet,  “Establishing Your Wormery

Nigel.

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Reusing Old Bin Contents

Previously posted on our forum the following post form March 2009 asks is there any use for old composting bin contents.

“Hi,

I have two worm bins, one of which is fine and healthy, but the other unfortunately needs to be started afresh. It’s about two thirds full, the contents are dark brown but not smelly, but very wet – well, sodden really. I didn’t drain it often enough, I didn’t put in enough paper and the whole thing became wet and therefore anaerobic and that’s why my old worms died. The fault and associated guilt are all mine, and I promise not to let it happen again! My question is, can I reuse the contents? It’s surely full of microorganisms which I can’t quite bring myself to just get rid of, and I also don’t have a garden to just tip it out onto to start again. I don’t propose, obviously, to just chuck it all into a new worm environment – I thought I could drain it, then mix in paper/cardboard until it’s dry enough to store in an old compost bag or bucket, then start the bin anew and just add the old stuff a little at a time over a long period. I’m also wondering whether it could be of use to feed or mulch very hungry plants that need a lot of moisture like courgettes or potatoes (more of a gardening question I know, but if you don’t ask you don’t get), or whether I should treat it as poisonous and find some discreet place to get rid of it. I’d very much appreciate any ideas or advice.

Many thanks,
MentalMariner”

From the details it does sound as if the “compost” was heading towards being anaerobic, if it was fully anaerobic it would have an unpleasant smell about it, heading to being anaerobic could well have killed off the worms particularly if your wormery is of a design with a clamp down lid designed to prevent worms from leaving whatever the conditions! if not then it is more likely the deteriorating conditions would have caused the worms to leave, end result is no worms and dubious compost.
If the compost is truly anaerobic the micro-organisms (and gasses) will be harmful to worms and would do your plants no favours either, best disposed of the best way you can. If it does not smell then treating it as you suggest and feeding back to a new worm system should cause them no problems, use your nose for a decision!
See our advice sheet about Liquid Feed From a Wormery for more about aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

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Could I start a small wormery indoors?

In the past I have been asked by customers if a wormery can be kept inside.

Below is my response to a forum question posted by woofwoof in 2009;

“hi i am a keen angler but i live in a flat with no garden could i start a small wormery indoors, do they smell ?”

Wormeries are a great way of breeding a supply of worms for fishing and getting rid of some kitchen waste! The most commonly used worm in fishing is the Dendrobeana it also happens to be an extremely good composting worm, although “Tiger worms” are often claimed to be sold on websites for composting it is actually Dendrobaena you are likely to be supplied with.

If a wormery is running properly you will get no smell, any offensive smell from a wormery is a clear indication that things are going wrong, from this point you are safe in keeping one indoors, HOWEVER, the waste that is put in for the worms should ideally be high in vegetable and fruit waste, as this decomposes it will inevitably attract the tiny fruit fly and this could be a real nuisance so from this point it may not be such a good idea indoors, whatever the claims, there are no wormeries that exclude access to this fly, it can be controlled to a certain extent but during the warmer months it will be present. If possible I would keep it outdoors, even on a balcony or similar.
We supply a smaller wormery called the Tumbleweed and you can find it on our website under fishing mail order called “The worm breeder” it is supplied complete with the necessary bedding and choice of Dendrobaena worms and would usually be fed on the waste veg and fruit BUT there is an alternative, instead of using waste fruit and veg you could keep topping it up with the specially prepared bedding, this would not attract fruit fly, would feed the worms but, although low cost, would need to be purchased from us.
I hope this has been of some use.

Regards, Nigel.

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Composting worms a danger to UK’s indigenous species?

A question posed by  customer has lead me to clarify an issue which may be of concern to many people.

Posted by Doggymix in March 2010, and still relevant today, the question was regarding the introduction of foreign species;

“A friend recently told me that Tiger worms and other composting worms can cause problems for the UK’s indigenous common garden species. Is that correct? I see you clarify exactly what a Tiger worm is but are the worms you guys advise indigenous to the UK? I’m just about to set up my wormery and could do with being able to tackle such questions at the allotment!”

You may think that the following post is what you would expect from the company selling the worms but I assure you this is correct!

I was surprised to read about your friends comments, all the worms sold by Worms Direct and all other companies in the UK (that I am aware of) are all indiginous species and have lived together since time began! Tiger worms are indiginous, Dendrobaena are indiginous, Lumbricus terrestris are indiginous and all can be found living together all over the northern hemisphere! I suspect that your friends identification of worms has got muddled somewhere along the way or the information she/he has is incorrect, this does highlight the dangers of repeating incorrect information, anyhow – no problems.
If you or your friend need further clarification, please come back but preferably with latin names of the worms in question as it is usually using common names that causes confusion. I hope this has answered your question and put your mind at rest,

Regards, Nigel.

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Agricultural Composting with Worms

Agriculture by its very nature produces more organic waste material than any other industry particularly where livestock, including horses, is involved. The current solutions are to bury it, pile it, store it in lagoons, spread it, anything except process it. Very few farms have the inclination or are in a position to process a waste product that appears to have little value, but it can be treated with minimal outlay in capital and time. This is becoming a serious issue with more and more regulations, particularly under planning, being implemented.

The simplest methods for setting up vermicomposting in an agricultural situation is to use either a pit method or windrow method and, providing there is an area of land with access that can be used, cost is minimal. Both methods can be tailored to suit the amount and type of waste to be recycled and then all that is needed is the everyday agricultural machinery, tractor with foreloader/bucket, trailer etc. Providing the systems are basically managed there will be no smell or pest problems and the end product of vermicompost and casts can be applied to the land as a valuable soil additive.

Both agricultural and commercial/industrial systems are individually tailored to the needs and require consultancy.