Some Tips on Wormeries, Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) and Vermiculture
Making compost using a wormery is fun, especially if you like worms!
Even if you don't, you will find it an absorbing and rewarding pastime.
Worms are great for turning organic* kitchen and garden waste into top
quality, nutrient-rich compost.
This is our summary of many aspects of wormeries, which includes some of our own experience and we hope you will find it useful. Several companies undertake worm composting on a commercial scale as well as growing and producing composting worms for sale to individuals and commercial organisations. This page, however, is aimed at amateur enthusiasts who are interested in small-scale vermicomposting at home, or in the allotment.
There are plenty of web sites and books giving information on worm composting, (also known as vermicomposting), wormeries and vermiculture; you can find links to many of these in our Wormeries and Shredders page.
* the term 'organic' is used on this page to refer to all natural
plants, whether or not they have been grown using strictly organic farming
|What is a wormery?
A wormery is an easy-to-use, efficient construction to house the worms and the plant food so that they can convert organic kitchen waste into a bio-rich, high quality compost and concentrated liquid feed, taking advantage of their natural ability to digest relatively large quantities of organic waste.
Typically, a wormery is an enclosed unit with several separate, but linked, compartments containing live worms together with the organic waste you supply, and a mixture of processed compost in varying stages of decomposition. Usually the uppermost compartment is topped with a simple, degradable blanket to retain the warmth and it should be kept moist. This can be fibre matting, old fibre carpet under felt (not the latex type), old towels, newspapers or similar. The enclosure is completed with a lid perforated with tiny breather holes.
Wormeries can be sited indoors or outside as they are odourless and hygienic (if a wormery smells, then it is not functioning properly!). Our experience of siting a wormery inside, in the utility room, was short lived because many of the worms escaped and the floor was littered with them. How they got out is not clear because the sections fitted quite tightly together; nor can we understand why they should want to get out, but they did. We didn't like it so we moved the wormery outdoors. There are several different types of wormery on the market, including indoor types. For illustration we describe the one that we use.
is a popular type widely available (see some of the links on our 'Wormeries' section on the 'Composting' main page), comprising three identical, stackable, circular trays, each with a grid of holes at the bottom so the worms can pass from tray to tray. Individually they resemble a garden sieve about 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter. This dimension is also the overall footprint of the wormery so it can be situated almost anywhere in the garden. The trays contain the worms and compost in varying stages of decomposition. The fresh, organic (mostly kitchen) waste goes in the top section in relatively small amounts every day or two. The middle section contains fairly well rotted compost and the third, lower section contains well rotted compost. The top and middle sections contain most of the worms. When the top section is full, the third section, which by then contains only fully-composted residue, is emptied and the compost set aside for use. This empty container is then moved up to the top position ready to be supplied afresh. and the mat and lid are finally positioned. Below all of these, at the very bottom, is a further compartment supported on attached legs; it is a sealed section which gathers the liquid which seeps through and it incorporates a tap to drain this liquid fertiliser. The overall height of this structure is about 29 inches (74 cm).
| What are the advantages of a wormery and how can the compost be
The most common type of worm in a wormery is the Tigerworm also known as Brandling or Redworm (Eisenia fetida or Rubellis terrestris). If you have a conventional compost bin, you will probably have seen Tiger worms, especially around the top. Tigerworms grow very quickly and reproduce rapidly which is why they are used in wormeries. They look different from ordinary garden worms being pinkish/red in colour with a distinctive striped appearance, the red being separated by yellow/beige bands. The worm secretes a yellow fluid through pores on its body when it is upset; it is said this could act as a warning to predators. Other types of worms used for worm composting are: Eisenia Andrei, similar to the Tigerworm but of a uniform red colour; Dendrobaena, which eat more than Tiger worms and are larger; and Lumbricus rubellus (Redworms). George Pilkington, an expert on practical organic and wildlife gardening and practical vermicomposting, gives lots of relevant information his site (www.nurturingnature.co.uk/), including identification of worm species.
What do the worms eat?
The guidelines for what you can put in a wormery are basically the same as for composting (see our Tips on Making Compost reference page for more details), however, it’s a good idea to put the items in a wormery in fairly small pieces. It’s better to feed worms little and often, rather than fill the wormery up in one go.
We find it helps to mix up the top layer of compost with a hand fork every few weeks; our belief is that this lets in air preventing the compost becoming slimy.
Avoid the following, either because the worms hate them or they may harm the worms:
|How do I start up a worm composter?
You can either buy one or create one yourself. Basically you need a container, worms, bedding for the worms and then keep supplying the organic waste.
There are several different types available to buy. If you buy a wormery, you should receive instructions from your supplier on how to set it up, get it going and how to maintain it. The value of this support should not be underestimated if you are a complete beginner.
If you’re keen to create your own worm composter, there are many sources which can help you, for example the Pauline Lloyd, Vegan News web site (see the link on our Wormeries and Shredders page) provide what look like fairly simple, straightforward instructions based on a design from "The Complete Manual of Organic Gardening" edited by Basil Caplan.
If you look in our Wormeries section on our Wormeries and Shredders page, there are links to many companies who make and supply wormeries and who give advice, hints and tips on setting one up.
How do I look after a wormery?
Worm composters do not need a lot of looking after, but there are some points to watch for best results.
In our experience, the quantity of compost from our wormery is not very large, but the quality is superb. Also, if you are starting up a worm composter from scratch, it takes several weeks or months for it to really get going, depending on the conditions (like temperature), how many worms you have and what you are feeding them.
There are a few basic guidelines; many of which are mentioned above.
|By Brenda Shaw|
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Originated: 2 January, 2006. Last amended: 27 October, 2013