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Composting with worms

June 5, 2007 at 10:23 am

Worm composting or ‘vermicomposting’, to give it its proper name, is the ideal solution to smelly bins which are increasingly being emptied by councils only once a fortnight. It is a process whereby red earthworms consume organic waste and produce good quality compost for use in the garden. It can be done indoors or outdoors, year round, is odour-free and does not take up a lot of room.

Sites such as Wiggly Wigglers sell everything you need to set up your system, including the worms and also provide useful information on the process. The easiest to use is the Can-O-Worms and the Worm Factory as they are “tray systems” which allow for easy access to the compost and are small enough to house easily. If you have the room, the larger Waste Juggler has a handle and wheels and holds up to 90 litres of compost.

If you do not want the financial outlay of around £60 for a commercial system, you can make your own from an old wooden drawer, a plastic basin or metal container, so long as it is not more than 12 to 18 inches deep. You will need a series of small holes in the bottom for air and drainage and a lid to keep it dark for the worms and to keep unwanted visitors away if it is outdoors. For the best possible ventilation, put it up on bricks and put a tray underneath to catch any liquid. Worms thrive best in temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so avoid extremes. The worms need a six inch layer of bedding and the best material is shredded newspaper, computer paper or cardboard. It should be moistened but not soaking wet.

The worms will process fruit and vegetable peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds, stale bread, pet hair and vacuum cleaner dust, crushed egg shells and general food scraps. It is best to avoid meat and bones, fish, dairy products, rice, pasta and onions. The food should be added in two inch layers leaving a section clear for the worms to move to if they want. It is also possible to bury the food under the bedding and this has the advantage of keeping it out of the way of flies. Wait until the worms have finished processing one lot of food before adding more.

After three to six months the compost will be ready to be harvested. You can move all the contents of the worm box over to one side, and place fresh bedding and food in the empty space. After all the worms have moved to their new home the compost can be harvested from the other side. Another option is to put all the contents of the worm box on to a plastic sheet in the sun and arrange it into several piles. The worms will automatically crawl away from the light into the centre of the piles and you can harvest the compost from the outside of each pile. The compost from the wormery is more concentrated than normal compost, so a little go a long way.

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