Wormery Wisdom: Everything You Need to Know About Composting with Worms

Introduction

Welcome to the fascinating world of wormeries, where waste isn’t waste, but a valuable resource. A wormery, also known as a worm farm or compost bin, is a modern, eco-friendly solution to managing kitchen waste and garden waste. By harnessing the natural appetite and digestive power of composting worms, we can transform our daily food scraps, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, and even egg shells into rich compost, beneficial for our gardens.

This composting process is not only an efficient way to reduce waste, but also an excellent method to produce high-quality soil conditioner right in your backyard. If you’re an eco-conscious individual who values sustainability, a wormery could be a great addition to your garden.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the ins and outs of starting and maintaining your own wormery. You’ll learn about the important role of composting worms, how to feed them properly, how to create an optimal living environment for them, and how to address common problems that might arise in your wormery. We’ll also debunk some common myths about compost worms and wormeries, and compare worm composting to traditional composting methods.

So, whether you’re a seasoned gardener interested in enriching your soil, or an eco-conscious individual looking for ways to reduce waste, we hope this guide will serve as a comprehensive resource to help you start and maintain a successful wormery.

Starting a Wormery: The Basics

If you’re ready to dive into worm composting, the first step is to choose the right wormery or compost bin. There are many wormery designs available, from simple homemade versions to sophisticated commercial models. Regardless of the design you choose, the key is to ensure it provides a comfortable habitat for your composting worms and an easy system for you to manage.

To start your wormery, you’ll need a few basic components:

1. Compost Bins: These are the homes for your worms. They can be made of plastic or wood, but they should have a lid to protect the worms from direct sunlight and predators. The size of your compost bin will depend on the amount of food waste you generate, but a good start is a bin that can hold about a cubic meter.

2. Composting Worms: You cannot use ordinary garden worms for worm composting. You’ll need composting worms, specifically red worms (Eisenia fetida) or tiger worms (Eisenia andrei). These worms thrive in rotting vegetation, compost, and manure. They are the champions of composting, eating their own body weight in waste every day and turning it into nutrient-rich worm castings, also known as worm poo.

3. Bedding Material: This is where your compost worms will live and eat. Shredded newspaper, cardboard, or coir (coconut fibre) work well. The bedding should be moist but not wet. A good test is to squeeze a handful of bedding โ€“ a few drops of water should come out.

4. Food Waste: Start with small amounts of food waste such as vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags, and egg shells. Avoid meat, dairy, oily foods, and anything else that might attract pests or create unpleasant smells.

Once you have your compost bin ready and your compost worms settled in their new home, it’s time to start feeding them. Add your food waste to the bin, cover it with a layer of bedding material, and let the worms do their work.

Remember, worms are living creatures that need care. They don’t like too much heat, cold, or light. Keep the wormery in a sheltered spot outdoors where it’s cool but frost-free. If you live in a very cold or hot climate, you might need to keep your wormery indoors.

Starting a wormery is like starting a new garden: it requires some initial effort, but once it’s up and running, it’s a simple and rewarding process. In the next sections, we’ll delve deeper into what to feed your worms, how to maintain the wormery, and how to troubleshoot common problems. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast seeking natural fertiliser or an eco-conscious individual aiming to reduce waste, worm composting is an efficient and sustainable practice to adopt.

The Right Feeding for Worms

Feeding your composting worms the correct diet is crucial to maintain a healthy and productive wormery. Worms are voracious eaters and, if fed properly, they can consume their body weight in food waste every day, turning it into nutrient-rich compost for your garden.

When feeding your worms, consider the following tips:

1. Variety: Composting worms thrive on a mixed diet. Feed them a balanced diet of fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags, and even egg shells. Small amounts of bread and pasta can be added, but avoid feeding them too much of these as it can lead to souring and mould growth.

2. Size Matters: Worms eat more and compost faster when the food waste is cut into small pieces. Smaller pieces have more surface area, making it easier for the compost worms to break down the food.

3. Avoid Certain Foods: Not all kitchen waste is suitable for your wormery. Avoid feeding your worms meat, dairy products, oily foods, onions, garlic, spicy foods, and citrus peels as these can create bad smells and attract pests. Also, remember that worms don’t eat plastic, metal, or glass!

4. Don’t Overfeed: Overfeeding can lead to problems such as bad smells, maggots, and a wormery that is too wet. If you notice uneaten food, it’s a sign you’re feeding them too much. It’s better to feed your worms little and often, rather than giving them a large amount of food waste all at once.

5. Monitor Moisture: The food you put into your wormery adds moisture. If the wormery becomes too wet, it can become anaerobic, causing bad smells and making it harder for the worms to breathe. If the wormery is too dry, the worms can’t move around and eat. The bedding in a wormery should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

6. Remember the Bedding: Bedding isn’t just a home for your worms, it’s also part of their diet. Worms eat the bedding as they compost the food waste. Good bedding materials include shredded paper, cardboard, and coir. Keep adding fresh bedding to your wormery as the worms compost it.

7. Crushed Egg Shells: Egg shells add grit, which helps the worms digest their food. Crushed egg shells also help to neutralize acidity in the wormery.

Feeding your worms properly not only keeps them happy and healthy, but it also ensures that your wormery operates efficiently, producing a steady supply of high-quality worm compost and worm tea for your garden plants. In the next section, we’ll discuss how to maintain your wormery, providing a safe and comfortable home for your composting worms.

Foods to Avoid in a Wormery

While a wormery can handle a wide variety of food waste, it’s important to note that there are certain items that are not suitable for worm composting. These items include meat, bones, and fish which can attract pests, cause unpleasant odours, and are too difficult for the worms to break down.

However, these materials are not waste โ€“ they can be effectively broken down in other types of composting systems. For example, hot composting or Bokashi composting are methods that can handle these tougher materials.

In hot composting, the pile reaches high temperatures that speed up the decomposition of more complex materials like bones and meat. Similarly, Bokashi composting uses a specific type of bacteria to ferment and break down food waste, which makes it ideal for composting items like cooked food, dairy, and even small amounts of meat or fish.

Also, avoid citrus fruits, onions, and garlic in a wormery. These foods are acidic and can harm the worms. However, these can be handled effectively by hot or Bokashi composting. Always remember to respect the dietary preferences of your composting worms for a thriving wormery and a rich, fertile compost.

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Maintaining a Healthy Wormery Environment

A wormery, much like any other ecosystem, requires balance. Maintaining a healthy environment for your worms is key to successful worm composting. Here’s how to ensure your composting worms live in a thriving, productive habitat:

1. Moisture Management: Worms breathe through their skin, so it’s crucial to maintain the correct moisture level. As a general rule, aim for the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. If the wormery is too wet, add dry bedding like shredded cardboard. If it’s too dry, add water or moisture-rich food waste.

2. Temperature Control: Worms prefer temperatures between 55ยฐF and 77ยฐF (13ยฐC-25ยฐC). Insulate the wormery in winter and shade it in summer to prevent extreme temperature fluctuations. If you live in a climate with harsh winters, consider moving your wormery indoors to protect your worms from freezing.

3. Adequate Ventilation: Worms need oxygen to survive. Ensure your wormery has plenty of small holes for ventilation. Drill holes in the lid and sides if necessary, but make sure they are small enough to prevent pests from entering.

4. Regular Feeding: Feed your worms in small amounts and only add more food when the previous batch has been consumed. Overfeeding can lead to unpleasant smells and attract unwanted pests.

5. pH Balance: Worms thrive in a pH neutral environment. If the wormery becomes too acidic, it can harm the worms. Adding crushed egg shells can help neutralize the acidity.

6. Harvesting Compost: Regularly harvest the finished compost from your wormery. This rich worm compost, also known as ‘black gold’, is a fantastic soil conditioner and plant fertiliser. Don’t worry about separating every single worm from the compost; a few stragglers will enrich your garden soil.

7. Managing Worm Population: Worms multiply on their own in a wormery. If the population becomes too high, you can start a second wormery or share some worms with a friend. If you notice the population dwindling, it may be a sign of an issue with the wormery environment.

8. Regular Check-ups: Finally, keep an eye on your wormery. If the worms are active and the compost smells earthy, your wormery is healthy. If you notice any issues, such as foul smells, the presence of pests, or inactive worms, troubleshoot to identify the problem and rectify it.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to troubleshoot common wormery problems and keep your wormery running smoothly. Remember, a healthy wormery is a productive wormery!

Troubleshooting Common Wormery Problems

Even with careful maintenance, issues can arise in your wormery. The key is to address these problems promptly to keep your worms healthy and the composting process efficient. Here are some common wormery problems and their solutions:

1. Worms are Escaping: If your worms are trying to escape, it may be a sign of an uncomfortable environment. This could be due to overfeeding, excess moisture, or extreme temperatures. Adjust feeding amounts, moisture levels, and keep the wormery in a location with moderate temperatures.

2. Bad Smell: A healthy wormery should smell earthy. Foul odours usually indicate overfeeding, excess moisture, or lack of aeration. Reduce the amount of food, add dry bedding to absorb extra moisture, and ensure the wormery is well-ventilated.

3. Presence of Flies or Maggots: This is typically a sign of overfeeding or exposed food waste. Bury food waste under the bedding and reduce the amount you’re feeding the worms. If flies persist, consider adding a layer of moist newspaper on top of the worm compost.

4. Worms are Dying: Several factors could lead to this. The wormery may be too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, or too acidic. Adjust the conditions accordingly. If you’re unsure, remember that the bedding should feel like a wrung-out sponge and the temperature should be comfortable for you to touch.

5. Wormery is Too Wet/Dry: If it’s too wet, add more dry bedding and reduce the amount of moist food. If it’s too dry, add water or moist food scraps. Remember the wrung-out sponge rule.

6. Worm Population is Not Increasing: If conditions are right, worms should multiply. Make sure you’re providing a varied diet, and the wormery is in a quiet, dark location with a comfortable temperature. If the population still doesn’t increase, you may need to add more worms.

7. Wormery is Too Acidic: If the bedding smells like vinegar or the worms are trying to escape, the environment might be too acidic. Add crushed egg shells or garden lime to neutralize the acidity.

8. Presence of Pests (ants, centipedes, etc.): Some bugs in your wormery are normal and can even help the composting process. However, a large number of pests can be a problem. If you see many ants, the bedding might be too dry. If you see centipedes or other predators, they might be feeding on your worms and you may need to manually remove them.

Remember, every wormery is unique and may require some trial and error. But with patience and observation, you can create a thriving ecosystem that turns waste into a valuable resource. In the next section, we’ll discuss how to harvest and use the worm compost and worm tea from your wormery.

Wormery in Different Seasons

Keeping a wormery functioning efficiently requires understanding the nuances of seasonal changes. Your wormery can operate throughout the year, but each season brings its challenges and benefits. Let’s explore how to navigate these seasons and ensure your compost worms live comfortably and productively.

Winter Care for Your Wormery

During winter, the primary concern is protecting your worms from extreme cold. Worms can tolerate cool temperatures, but freezing conditions can be lethal. Here’s how to keep them safe:

  • Cover: An insulating cover can be a lifesaver. A thick blanket, bubble wrap, or a purpose-made wormery insulation blanket can keep your wormery warm. Adding a layer of cardboard under the lid can also provide insulation.
  • Proper Location: Move your wormery to a sheltered location, such as a shed, garage, or greenhouse, to protect it from frost and snow. If moving it indoors is not an option, try to place it against a wall of your house to take advantage of residual heat.
  • Drill Holes for Insulation: If your wormery doesn’t already have ventilation holes, drilling small holes can help. This improves airflow and prevents moisture build-up, which can lead to freezing.

Summer Care for Your Wormery

In summer, direct sunlight and high temperatures can pose challenges:

  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Worms are sensitive to light and heat. Position your wormery in a shaded spot, away from direct sunlight to prevent overheating.
  • Hydration: Make sure the wormery stays moist during hot weather. The bedding should feel like a damp, wrung-out sponge. If it feels dry, lightly spray it with water.

How Composting Worms Live Throughout Different Seasons

Worms adapt to the changing seasons by adjusting their behaviour. In spring and fall, when temperatures are moderate, worms are highly active, eating and reproducing. This makes these seasons ideal for starting a wormery and for heavy feeding.

In summer, if temperatures get too high, worms may burrow deeper into the compost to find cooler conditions. It’s essential to monitor your wormery during hot weather to ensure it doesn’t dry out or overheat.

In winter, worms slow down their metabolic activity and eat less. They tend to cluster together in the center of the wormery for warmth. It’s essential to reduce feeding during this time and ensure the wormery is insulated against the cold.

By understanding the impact of different seasons on your wormery, you can ensure a thriving environment for your composting worms year-round. In the next section, we will explore how to harvest the rich compost and worm tea produced by your wormery.

Wormery Products and Their Uses

A wormery is more than a recycling system for your kitchen and garden waste. It’s a miniature ecosystem that produces valuable byproducts that can significantly benefit your plants and garden. Here, we’ll explore what these products are, how to collect them, and how they can be used.

Liquid Feed and Worm Tea: Collection and Usage

The liquid that drains out of a wormery, often referred to as worm tea or liquid feed, is a potent natural fertilizer. This dark, nutrient-rich liquid is highly beneficial for plants and can be collected in the tray beneath your wormery.

To use worm tea, you’ll need to dilute it with water as it’s quite concentrated. A general rule of thumb is to use 1 part worm tea to 10 parts water. You can then water your plants with this mixture. It’s particularly beneficial for potted plants and vegetable gardens, as it provides a boost of nutrients that can enhance growth.

Worm Poo: The Ideal Fertiliser

Worm poo, also known as worm castings or vermicompost, is the primary solid output of a wormery. It’s a rich, dark compost that is packed full of nutrients, making it an excellent fertiliser for plants.

You can use worm poo in various ways. For instance, you can mix it into potting compost to enrich it or use it as a top dressing for your garden. It can also be brewed into worm tea by steeping a handful of worm poo in a gallon of water for a few days.

Harvesting Finished Compost from the Wormery

The timeline for harvesting finished compost from your wormery depends on several factors, including the number of worms, the amount and type of food waste, and the temperature. However, generally, you can expect to harvest your first batch of compost in 3 to 6 months.

When the compost looks dark and crumbly and most of the original food waste and bedding are no longer recognisable, it’s time to harvest. To do this, you can either remove the top layer of fresh waste and worms and scoop out the compost or empty the wormery entirely and start afresh, returning the worms and any unprocessed waste to the wormery.

Remember, the rich compost and worm tea produced by your wormery are valuable resources, not just for your garden, but for any plants. By understanding how to collect and use these products, you can make the most of your worm composting efforts.

Wormery Myths and Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions about wormeries and the composting worms that inhabit them. By debunking these myths, we can better understand how to care for our worms and manage our wormeries.

Debunking Myths About Worms: Can Worms Survive Being Cut in Half?

A common myth that many of us have heard is that if you cut a worm in half, both halves will regenerate into a whole worm. This is, in fact, a misconception. While worms do have remarkable regenerative capabilities, they cannot survive being cut in half in most cases.

If a worm is cut near its head, the tail end may die, and the head end may regenerate a new tail. However, if a worm is cut near its tail, the head end might survive while the tail end will not regenerate a new head. This is because the worm’s vital organs, including its brain and heart, are located in the front part of the body. If these organs are damaged or destroyed, the worm will not survive.

Outdoor Wormery vs. Indoor Wormery: Where Should You Keep Your Worm Farm?

The location of your wormeryโ€”whether it’s kept outdoors or indoorsโ€”depends on several factors, including the local climate, available space, and personal preference.

Outdoor wormeries can be a great choice if you have a suitable space in your garden, and the weather is not too extreme. They need to be positioned in a sheltered location, away from direct sunlight and heavy rain. However, if you live in a region with harsh winters, you’ll need to take measures to protect your worms from freezing temperatures.

Indoor wormeries, on the other hand, have the advantage of being protected from extreme weather conditions. They can be kept in a basement, garage, or even a kitchen, provided the temperature stays relatively consistent and within the worms’ comfort zone (between 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit). They don’t emit bad odors if properly managed, making them suitable for indoor use.

In conclusion, both outdoor and indoor wormeries can be successful; it’s a matter of assessing your unique circumstances and deciding what works best for you and your composting worms.

Conclusion

Composting is a practical way of converting kitchen waste into a valuable resource for our gardens, and wormeries have shown to be particularly effective in this process. The benefits of worm composting are numerous. From the speedy breakdown of waste materials to the production of nutrient-rich compost and liquid feed, wormeries have proven their worth in eco-conscious households.

The wormery system provides an efficient solution for reducing food waste, turning something that would have ended up in a landfill into a valuable gardening resource. This is a significant step towards sustainability, especially as waste reduction and recycling become more critical in our fight against environmental degradation. Wormeries are not only an eco-friendly solution, but they also contribute to the promotion of an active ecosystem in our gardens, encouraging the presence of beneficial organisms.

Looking to the future, wormeries are likely to play a significant role in home composting. Their compact size makes them perfect for urban environments where space is at a premium. Also, their efficiency and ability to handle a variety of food waste make them a suitable solution for households of all sizes.

The adoption of worm composting is more than just an eco-friendly practice; it’s a lifestyle that values sustainability and responsibility towards the environment. By using a wormery, we’re taking a hands-on approach to reducing our environmental impact, demonstrating a commitment to a more sustainable future.

Whether you’re new to composting or an experienced gardener, there’s no denying the benefits that wormeries can bring. Not only do they offer a practical way of dealing with kitchen waste, but they also provide a rich source of nutrients that can help your plants thrive. So why not give it a try? Your garden, and the planet, will thank you.

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Jonathan Gaze

Content Editor

Hello there! I’m Jonathan Gaze, Content Editor for Harry Rufus.

With my technical problem-solving skills and meticulous attention to detail, I present sustainable living advice clearly and understandably. I’ve developed a knack for filtering out the fluff, presenting you with only the most practical and reliable sustainable living guidelines.

Here’s what you can anticipate from my content:

  • Clear, reliable advice on sustainable living.
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