Composting and Worm Composting

Establishing a wormery

Siting your wormery

If you are siting your wormery outside, it must be in the shade for the summer months, worms hate being heated up! In the winter, it should be in an area where it will not freeze, a bit of frost and ice is not a problem but heavy freezing will again, cause problems for the worms.

Other considerations, how far do you want to carry your waste to add it to the wormery? If it drips will it stain your new patio slabs? When its full, it will be heavy, are you going to need to move it when it comes to emptying? In the summer, the little fruit flies can be a nuisance.

Wormeries can also be sited indoors in a garage or shed, this can have a lot of advantages, the temperatures are more stable and the worms will tend to be more efficient.

Setting up your wormery

Once you have sited your wormery, the next step is installing the worms, all worms need to be put into a bedding material this is not the waste you are feeding them, it is a layer below, this applies to all wormeries irrespective of the make or type.

The bedding material is where the worms will live, they do not appreciate being forced to live in neat waste food! Wormery manufacturers and suppliers recommend a whole range of “suitable” materials but most are far from ideal, these recommendations and often supplied with the wormery are materials such as shredded newspaper, torn up cardboard, moss peat and coir in brick or blocks.

The reason why worms are unhappy in taking to this type of bedding is because it is alien to them, it will have none of the beneficial bugs, bacteria and fungi that worms need to survive, ie to them- no food! so they tend to leave to find better conditions elsewhere. By far the best bedding is compost that the worms have been living in, it is home from home, it will have high levels of the bugs, bacteria and fungi, i.e. food already present and unlike the sterile ingredients above, will inoculate the new food waste to get the whole system off to a flying start. This bedding needs to be 8 inches deep or more.

The worms, there is much written about the “right” type of worms, there are many different common names given to the same worms, there are many suppliers who are supplying worms with the wrong names, there are many suppliers who actually don’t know what worms they are supplying! Basically the worms that are used in a wormery have to be composting or litter worms not soil dwelling worms such as Lumbricus terrestris or Lob worm.

There are really only two types that are offered in any quantity by suppliers for wormeries and these are Dendrobaena (Eisenia hortensis) by far the easiest to buy and Brandlings (Eisenia foetida). Dendrobaena are grown in huge quantities mainly for the fishing trade but often unwittingly passed of as Brandlings, a common name for Brandlings is Tiger worms hence you have a lot of Tiger worms for sale which are actually Dendrobaena, doesn’t help when the Dendrobaena are stripey, similar to the Tiger or Brandling worm! In our opinion, it makes very little difference which worm is used, both have “fors and against” and I am sure the arguments will continue for some years to come. At Worms Direct we supply a mix so you can have the best of both worms.

The quantity of worms to start with does really depend on the size of wormery, usually the minimum to start with is about 0.25kg around 250 worms, for the average size wormery 0.5kg would be a better start. If you try to put in too many worms they will feel overcrowded even though this is not the optimum population of the wormery, when they feel overcrowded the worms have a natural tendency to disperse.

Feeding your wormery (Vermicomposting waste)

Feeding your worms is the same as vermicomposting your kitchen waste, simply put, it is putting your kitchen waste onto the worms who will then feed on it and pass it out as worm casts. When the worms are established in their bedding material, the first layer of kitchen waste is put on top, this should only be a couple of inches thick, if it were any more it is in danger of composting on its own and producing heat, its the production of this heat that we want to avoid.

When the food waste is in contact with proper, active bedding it will be inoculated by all the bugs, bacteria and fungi in the bedding, this will then start the waste to decay and the worms will move in to feed, as it decays and is being eaten, more waste is added, a couple of inches at a time, it is crucial that the worms are given time to really get stuck into the kitchen waste before adding the next layer lest it should all start to heat up!

Over a period of many months you will notice that the layers are turning into compost and the worms are moving up to the fresher layer, at the same time they will be breeding and increasing the population. There are a few points that should be noted with the feeding. Green waste, i.e. kitchen scraps should not be the only food, added to this should be an equal amount of paper, cardboard and/or dead leaves, this makes a balanced diet for the worms. Tough woody or straw based waste takes a long time for worms to deal with and is best left out along with bones, meat, fish, oil and fats. Certain green wastes should also be avoided and these are raw onions and members of the onion family, citrus fruit skin and not too much citrus fruit itself. Do not feed large amounts of green waste at a time, it will have a tendancy to heat up, driving the worms out, do not be tempted to add grass cuttings at all. The ideal condition of the kitchen waste should be chopped up, but don’t waste too much time and well mixed up before adding to the wormery.

Help! my worms are leaving!

You have set up the wormery exactly as advised and yet the worms are crawling up the sides and out of the lid, why? worms can be unsettled by many things, a constant vibration (nearby air conditioner) unsettled weather particularly low pressure, rain and storm conditions or the most common reason – they just do not like the bedding you have given them, if this is the case and you find the worms are wandering then leave the bin with the lid open under a low level light at night, just for 2 or 3 nights this forces them to stay and then they should settle, its also a good idea to place a wet cloth under the bin whilst doing this to catch any stragglers.

Harvesting the compost

At some point your wormery will need emptying of the compost that has built up, with the flow through system this has been a continual process since it was set up. For the multiple tray systems the theory is that the worms will have moved up to successive trays allowing you to empty the compost from the lower tray – not always the case! see article on “problems”.

For the simple box, single tray or a worm bed in the ground you have no option but to clean out the compost. There are several ways this can be done from feeding them on one side to encourage the worms to move over to up ending the lot and sorting by hand. You can just put the whole lot into the garden, worms and all and start from fresh, this is probably the easiest way but some people like to get their hands dirty and save every last worm!

The best way is as follows: A few day before harvesting is necessary feed plenty of the favourite food (you should know this by now) but any soft fruit always encourages the worms, after a couple of days, choose a bright day, quickly remove all the uneaten food waste, including worms from the surface and put to one side in a bucket, on a clean sheet either on the ground or preferably on a large table up end the box or if its too big, carefully dig out all the compost and pile it into a pyramid, you will notice the worms will burrow away from the light towards the centre of the pyramid, carefully remove as much compost from around the pyramid until you come to worms, leave it for 30 minutes or so and repeat, do this as many times as necessary until you are left with a large lump of worms and compost ready to go back into the wormery and start again, you will not need new bedding just use as much of the harvested compost as necessary and that’s it! it really is the best way and technology has not helped much in this case.

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