Crate wormery with extra tray, in the bath

So… we have a few hundred more mouths to feed, as I went to a Master Composter training day at the weekend, and during the afternoon we made our own wormeries out of stacking plastic crates, and were each given a couple of handfuls of composting worms to get us started.

It’s a long time since I’ve had a functioning wormery (worm composter). I must have set mine free (they’re native species that will happily survive in the wild) before I left for Kent to study ethnobotany in 2012. They wouldn’t have survived on their own without me. Of course, I could have knocked up a small desktop wormery and taken it with me to my student study bedroom but I had other things on my mind. I doubt they would have gone down well with the health and safety police, anyway!

As it happens, I was planning on worm composting again this year. Over Christmas I rescued my Can-O-Worms worm composter from my parent’s house. It has been blowing around the garden during the windy winter storms. It has ready made stacking layers, complete with the holes the worms use to move between layers, air holes so they don’t suffocate and a tap for drainage. (My homemade version has a sump tray, rather than a tap, but it still has drainage – it’s a must.)

Worms need a similar temperature range to us. If the compost/ food waste mixture they live in freezes, they will freeze to death. If they’re left in a greenhouse for the summer, they will bake. They can dry out and die of dehydration, but the most common cause of death is probably drowning – although they need a moist environment, they also need to breathe (hence the air holes). A blocked tap can become a fatal issue, but wormeries are generally easy to maintain as long as you check on them every couple of weeks. And since you have to pop out there to feed the worms, that’s not usually an issue. With my Can-O-Worms I got into the habit of leaving the tap open, letting the liquid drip out into a bucket. That was OK as long as I remembered to empty the bucket….

I don’t currently have a space outside that is frost-free, so I can’t put my new worm buddies outside yet. The new wormery is table-top sized; our Garden Organic co-ordinator has one that lives on her desk. You could keep it in the kitchen, under the sink (they like the dark), but we don’t have space. On the dining room table they might a) make a mess and b) get forgotten about, so I plumped for a different option. Until the weather warms up and I can relocate them to more spacious quarters outside, my worms are living in the bath. At least it’s easy to check on them there….


Active first layer in the crate wormery

One thing you need to know if you’re setting up a new wormery is that the worms like to explore their new environment over the first few days. This means they will find any potential escape routes over night, and it’s not uncommon to wake up and find that some have escaped – it happened to me with my first wormery, all those years ago. It’s easy enough to pop them back in (wear gloves if you’re squeamish!). I put the plug in the bath so any escapees wouldn’t find their way down the plug hole, but actually they seem to have been quite well contained in the crates.

So now we have a few hundred more mouths to feed 😃 They enjoy vegetable peelings and stalks, tea leaves and coffee grounds, and even the odd piece of kitchen paper. In return they will provide lots of lovely liquid plant food and the occasional bucketful of super rich compost. Sounds like a fair exchange to me!


Worm composting resources:
Eco Garden: Worm Composting
Compost Clinic: When wormeries go wrong
Build your own wormery
Worm Composting on the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show

The Oxfordshire Master Composters also have their own blog, which we’re hoping to improve this year. So if you have any thoughts about what you’d like to read there – composting basics, advanced composting, reducing food waste, local events, other eco stuff…? – then let me know 🙂


This blog post was written by Emma Cooper and was published on The Unconventional Gardener website. If you're reading it elsewhere you may want to navigate away from plagiarised content.

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