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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.


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,

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.

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Commercial/Industrial Composting with Worms

Commercial and industrial enterprises, in nearly all cases, produce organic waste; often they are not aware of this. The most obvious is waste from processing organic materials, this could be food, baking, brewing, greengrocery etc through to canteen waste and to the less obvious of paper, cardboard and packaging, all of which are capable of being processed by worms.

Because of the locality of the majority of commercial premises, the processing would need to be in an enclosed vessel, there are several available, dealing with small quantities of waste per day (10’s of kilo’s) to much larger quantities (100’s of kilo’s). For the large industrial use there are vessels capable of processing in tonnes.

These vermicomposting vessels reduce the volume of waste by up to 80%, the material left is the nutrient rich casts that should be utilised but even if they are only returned to landfill they can only benefit the site. Small and medium sized flow through systems are now available in this country, they are particularly suitable for premises that have a relatively small output of organic waste materials such as schools, small hotels, canteens etc.

For the large producers on an industrial scale we still have to look overseas for suitable equipment. These vessels are available by importing from countries such as America, Australia and Canada where they have been developed and used successfully for many years or fabricated in the UK according to the need. In certain circumstances where the commercial premises are situated “out of town” it may be possible to use a bed system; this considerably reduces the cost over enclosed vessels particularly where large amounts of material are being dealt with.

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

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Domestic Composting with Worms

Worm composting is normally carried out in some kind of bin be it plastic or wood. There are many different makes and types on the market, some are better than others, some do not work at all. Most of the older designs use an enclosed bin, that is, solid bottom and solid sides, usually with a tap on the bottom to drain off excess liquid.

For a worm composting system to work effectively, the worms must have a good supply of air, from bottom to top, they need surface area not depth. Plastic bins generate a lot more liquid, mostly through condensation, than do wooden ones, this liquid collects in the base and unless it is drained off on a regular basis, it will become “anaerobic” i.e. very smelly and give off gases that are not good for the worm population. This liquid is often promoted as being a beneficial product and should be used as a liquid plant feed, it is true that as the liquid passes through the worm bin it will absorb and carry some of the nutrients with it, equally it may well absorb substances and organisms that have not been “processed” by the worms and these may well be harmful to your plants, for this reason Worms Direct U.K. would not recommend the use of this liquid as a plant feed. Proper and safe feeds can be made from the finished vermicompost, these are known as “compost teas” and will be dealt with later. The biggest drawback is once the bin is full, you have to remove the top layers, hopefully with the worm population, upend the bin to remove the compost and start all over again, a messy job at the very least.

More modern worm bin designs are based on stackable trays or flow through systems. The stackable trays consist of a base support onto this is placed the first tray, each tray has a perforated base, the worms are started off in the first tray and fed as you would in any other system, when the tray is full, an empty tray is placed on top and feeding continues, the worms will migrate from the lower tray into the next where there is fresh feed, this continues until the last tray is used, the one now at the bottom is removed, the finished compost emptied and then becomes the next one to use on the top. In this system it must be remembered that worms will not migrate up through a space so it is essential that the base of the top tray remains in contact with the surface of the food layer in the tray below.

Flow through designs consist of one bin but this has a mesh bottom, usually with some sort of mechanism to agitate the casts from below which fall into a collecting tray. The worms are started off in a bedding material, feeding to the surface continues until the bin is almost full, at this point the mechanism in the base is operated, casts are removed, the whole lot settles down and feeding continues. Usually made of wood, therefore less condensation, being ventilated at the bottom allows air to move upwards through the system, no lifting of heavy trays and handling of worms is kept to a minimum.

We have tried many systems and in our opinion, the flow through is generally the best.