Introduction: Make or Upgrade a Worm Composter


We love our wormery! It's a great way of turning small amounts of kitchen waste and shredded paper into fantastic, nutrient-rich compost that our allotment vegetables love. Worm farming is also called vermiculture. It's a fancy name for a very un-fancy activity! But it's worth it, because the resultant fertile compost is amazing.

Worms don't sound like the ideal pet, but they are. They need little in the way of care or maintenance, and your friendly little worms will consume your waste and convert it into plant food for you. We are grateful to our worms, so we decided that it was time their tired-looking home had an upgrade.

Step 1: Dismantle Original Wormery

First of all the old wormery needs dismantling. It can be quite heavy and a lot of compost, and worms, can get stuck to the sides.

Carefully lift the first layer up and gently scrape the sides into the layer below. Repeat for the other layers until the are all separated.

If you are starting, rather than upgrading, a wormery, you will need some 'starter worms'. You can buy them online, or it is worth asking at local allotment sites as someone with a worm farm may well be willing to share. You could also ask local fishing shops that sell live bait for brandlings (but no other type sold there). What you can't do is dig worms up out of the ground, as earthworms don't live on vegetative waste.

Step 2: Build New Wormery Using Large Crates

We obtained large crates to build our new worm composter. They are ideal - stackable, opaque, sturdy, and ventilated. By reusing (these were given to us after being discarded) we save money and the environment! They may not be that aesthetically pleasing, but because they show good use of available resources, we are happy with how they look ;-)

Start by placing one crate, upturned, onto the ground. Add another crate the correct way up and ensure that it is nice and stable - over time the contents will get heavy, and we don't want it to sag, collapse or be easily knocked off.

Next, add a loose layer in the bottom. We used a sheet of discarded plastic. This stops up the holes in the bottom to stop the contents from escaping, but still allows ventilation and drainage, both of which are very important to our worms.

Step 3: Transfer Existing Colony to New Wormery

First, make some bedding for your worms by filling the crate to about half way with paper or newspaper that has been shredded or torn into strips. Because we are transferring an existing colony whose existing bedding is fairly wet, we are not wetting our paper, but if you are starting a new one, you will need to moisten your paper first, but don't add it dripping wet. It's all about balance - worms like a nice, moist environment but if things get too wet, they will suffocate or drown.

Once you have a nice bed you can add some of your existing colony, building up layers if necessary.

If you are establishing a new one, add your worms to the middle of your bedding, don't just plonk them on top!

Step 4: Feed Your New Wormery

Once you have built your wormery, you can start to feed it, then place a lid on it so that the wormery is protected and it is nice and dark. Add food sparingly until worm numbers rise (this will happen quickly), over time you will get a feel for how much to feed.

  • Green - feed them this! Vegetable scraps,teabags and coffee grounds are all good food for worms. Crushed eggshells and hair from hairbrushes are good as the worms don't have teeth, and use the gritty proteins to help them to grind their food up. Shredded paper should be added from time to time, especially if the wormery seems too wet, though omit adding it if the wormery seems to be dry.
  • Amber - feed with caution Grain such as pasta and bread can be eaten by worms, but this is not recommended as adding them is more likely to attract vermin. Vacuum cleaner dust can be added, but only if it is all dust and hair - if there is anything else in there, avoid. Grass clippings and leaves can be added, but since it is easy to overwhelm the worms, this is better composted elsewhere.
  • Red - do not feed Foods that definitely should not be added are cooked foods, meats and bones, fish, dairy, and oily foods. These are bad for the worms, will make the wormery smell, and will attract flies and/or vermin. You should also avoid citrus, onions and acidic foods, as these are not good for the worms.

Once your wormery begins to establish, maintenance is easy. Remember this three point plan:

  1. Check for escapees - worms will occasionally escape through the drainage holes. If they do, put them back in their home!
  2. Check for moisture - add shredded paper if the wormery seems wet. If it seems dry, spritz with water, but do not soak.
  3. Check for food levels - if the last lot of food has not been cleared, do not add more. This is not a traditional compost heap! Any excess should be composted elsewhere.

With this small amount of care, your worms will be a slightly boring (and simultaneously very interesting!) pet who will reward you with amazing worm compost for years to come!

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