Updated: Oct 30
We all know that around 30% of our household waste is food (which is a shocker when you think of all the hungry people in the world).
While living in the UK, I realized that not everyone has the space or interest to compost, and a wormery is a perfect solution. Without much space to compost, I wanted to try worm farming.
Hubby and I lived for a while in a tiny semi-detached duplex. Without the space to compost outside, I decided to try a wormery for our organic kitchen waste. When my brand-new store-bought worm factory arrived, I insisted on putting it together without delay. Being winter, it was wet and cold outside so after assembling it in the kitchen, I left it all cosy and warm indoors overnight.
There was much muttering about +*^&** worms in the house, but I was oblivious of course. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I snuck downstairs early to check on my new friends and find them a place outside before leaving for work. Well, there were worms everywhere! Up the walls, on the stairs, on the roof, along the floor. I was frantically collecting the escapees before I got busted. Luckily “himself” saw the funny side though I never did live it down.
The kit was installed in a protected corner between two non-weather-facing walls. I placed a flattened cardboard box on top of the jute mat that came with the wormery - to make sure the worms didn’t get too chilly and wet. It worked perfectly.
Please don’t be disillusioned by my story of the great worm escape. It was probably caused by a change in the environment as they explored their new home or a change in atmospheric pressure. I’ve never had worms escape again and I can assure you I don’t believe in locking creatures up. To prevent this from happening to you, leave the lid off for the first night or two so they can explore their surroundings and create their burrows away from any light.
For people who travel a lot, don’t spend much time at home, or would like to do ‘their thing’ for the environment without too much hassle, worms are perfect pets. Provided you give them the right location, set them up and look after them properly, they will happily munch through your organic kitchen waste and produce their gorgeous “tea” (the liquid that drains to the bottom), and leave beautiful dark compost (also known as worm castings).
That worm factory kit came back with me to South Africa (yes it was emptied and cleaned out before travel) and is still as good as new 15 years later.
Below is my take on the practicalities of worming.
What to use
Ready-made worm factories are available or you can make your own. Drainage is important, and you want to catch the liquid that is produced. This liquid is called worm tea. My factory has three stackable layers with a grid between each to allow the free movement of worms from one layer to the next. When a layer is full, a new stackable layer is added on top.
I have tried making my own wormery, but being a DIY dummy, not successfully. The bin was too deep, the top area wasn’t big enough and I overfed, so everything got all wet and smelly and anaerobic. A worm's worst nightmare.
A bath is perfect for larger wormeries - we have two on the farm - or a half barrel.
Location location location
Set the wormery up in a protected space away, such as a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Problem: my wormery is on my deck, which gets hammered by the afternoon sun
Solution: shade cloth offers protection from the worst summer heat and icy winds and snow in the winter
Even flat dwellers with a space on the balcony can have a wormery. There are no hard and fast rules of where the wormery must go.
Putting it all together
Lay down a good layer of starter compost.
Add the worms, preferably red wrigglers which make short work of kitchen waste.
Add a thin layer of organic material and a bit of shredded paper.
Cover the organic material with a damp jute mat, or a good few layers of newspaper or cardboard over the top like a blanket. This keeps the moisture in and will eventually be eaten and need to be replenished.
A la carte menu
Like any good meal, the secret’s in the ingredients. I have read it is possible to add anything to a wormery except meat, bones and dog poo, but I only add raw veggies for the green. Anything else could attract flies and other undesirables like rats.
Similar to a compost heap, use a good mix of both green and brown organic material. Green living is about returning to the earth any goodness we take out.
Worms don’t have teeth which is logical when you think about it, and depending on the size of your wormery you can chop the edibles or leave them whole.
Use materials such as vegetable peelings, fruit, spinach, herbs, nasturtium leaves, and sliced cabbage. Worms love half or whole butternut, apples and avocado, and happily clump together in this home within a home. Used teabags and coffee grinds can also be added.
No dairy, meat, processed or cooked food. No citrus, onions or garlic. Some folk add crushed eggshells, but I never do.
Add dried horse manure, shredded newspaper and egg boxes and leaves.
Also known as liquid gold, this dark liquid tea is not recommended for taking with your morning biscuit, but plants love it! This is what occurs during the composting process and why good drainage is necessary. If you don’t use the tea for your plants, become ‘besties for life’ by giving it to a gardener.
When harvesting the gorgeous rich dark compost, make sure your worms and their egg cocoons are removed and put back into the bin. The tiny plump lemon-like balls in the compost are worm cocoons housing around 12 eggs.
Leave the lid off and the residents will burrow deeper to escape the light. Scrape off the top worm-free layer, picking out any stragglers, and repeat.
Leave enough compost for the worms to live in and have a safe place to lay their eggs. If your wormery has layers, harvest 70% of the lowest layer first. This now-empty bottom bin layer moves to the top stack of the wormery ready for a new layer of fresh organic material, and so the process starts again
Worms are not as efficient in winter so reduce food substantially.
Do not overfeed or overwater and make sure you mix in enough “brown”.
Some fruit flies are normal. Ants, flies and other bugs mean that your wormery is either too dry or too wet, or you have overfed.
It’s fun figuring out how to keep your worms happy; trial and error is king.
We hope you enjoy your wormery. Do drop us a comment below, or mail us with your worm stories.