I love to share my extensive gardening knowledge with readers so that they, too, can enjoy the wonders of all kinds of verdant plant life.
How to Create a Worm Composter
Wormeries are great for producing organic and nutritious fertilizer for increased plant growth. We actually had one already, masquerading as a compost bin. In fact, it is a big plastic drum. The earthworms and slugs moved in and did a great job of breaking down organic matter. It is also situated about 100 yards from the back door, in this huge Victorian garden, which feels more like half a mile on a rainy day.
So, I purchased a WormCity compost bin from Amazon UK, which I could situate nearby, thus making it less of an effort to feed the worms from kitchen scraps. I've just joined the wonderful world of vermiculture, or vermicomposting, which involves the use of red wrigglers and other composting worms to break down kitchen waste organically. A dedicated worm compost bin is also a convenient way to ensure you have compost readily on hand for when it is needed.
After having read and re-read all the instructions for setting up the wormery, I thought I would share my experience with you. Perhaps you are thinking of buying a worm composting bin, and are wondering how they work? Are they difficult to set up? Are they worth the money? Read on for some more information on how to set up a worm composting bin, with step-by-step instructions and photos.
Will Any Earthworms Do?
The worms that came with my wormery were a mixture of Red/Tiger worms (Eisenia andrei/fetida) & Dendrobaena worms (Eisenia hortensis).
Both are indigenous to British gardens and are no doubt of the same variety already living in my garden.
Red worms (Eisenia fetida) are also indigenous to the USA and probably most of the rest of the world, where they are known as 'red wrigglers'.
Choosing a Worm Composter
I went through all the details, specifications and buyer comments from every single worm composting bin for sale on the Amazon website.
The reason I chose the WormCity bin out of all the other products was because it was:
- A good size, with five expansion trays.
- Good-looking, with an attractive beehive design.
- Came with the worms (this is important because although there already are plenty of earthworms in the garden, I didn't fancy collecting them up).
- A great price.
- Comprehensively instructional - good information on every aspect of worm farming and composting.
- Doesn't have legs, so looks more stable in areas of high winds.
- Had great reviews from other buyers.
- Seemed easy to set up.
- It is made in the UK (where I am based), and so indigenous worms are sent with it. It is always a bad move to introduce a new species into your country.
The worm composter didn't come with free shipping, but having checked out the company's website, it was still cheaper buying it through Amazon than direct from the company.
It arrived very quickly, and I was over the moon when the package arrived on my doorstep.
The first thing to do when unpacking the worm composter is to check that all the parts are there.
Read More From Dengarden
I laid them out on the ground and mentally checked them off the list, and everything seemed to be in order.
Soak the Block of Coir
The website said it takes about half an hour to completely soak the dried coir that comes with the bin, so the first thing I did was place it in a bucket and add the required amount of water (3 litres).
Then I got on with setting up the wormery.
Setting Up the Composting System
All the trays are the same except the one with a hole in the side for the tap. It must go in the position above the base.
So I placed one of the plain plastic trays upside down and used the supplied bolts and wing-nuts to connect the two together, as shown.
The sump part is exactly the same as the roof, except it also has a hole for the tap. It fits perfectly inside the sump box, and the holes easily align. All I had to do was connect the tap with the enclosed plastic nut.
The sump is stepped, so that if worms do accidentally go down into this area when liquid is present, they can crawl up to safety and even back into the composting box, if they so wish.
Contrary to popular belief, composting worms cannot swim and will drown if left in water they cannot escape from.
Wormcity suggests covering the base of the first worm tray (which is placed directly over the sump housing) with cardboard or newspaper. This is to try to discourage the worms from going through the grid holes in the base into the sump below.
I used both. I simply cut a piece of cardboard from the box the wormery arrived in.
Some newspapers are added to the strip of cardboard on the base.
Both are edible to worms and will eventually become worm castings.
By this time, the coir had absorbed the water, and it was easily broken up with a spade.
I added a spadeful of garden soil to the mix.
Apparently, this will make the worms feel more at home, as well as introduce them to the local soil microbes.
The coir and soil mix is then added to what will be the first worm compost layer.
Although I have bought a further four trays (levels), these will be kept aside until the worms have filled about three-quarters of this box with worm compost. Then each will be added one by one.
As we are heading into winter, the worms will become less active. They will eat less, and reproduce less, although it is a cycle that never stops completely.
It may be many months before this first box will be filled enough to justify adding a second.
The company says that three months is the normal time it takes, excluding the winter period when it will take longer.
I now need to open the bag of worms.
They are sold by weight, but I am informed there are possibly 1000 worms here. I am not counting!
The worms are added to the mixture, where they immediately try to bury downwards, away from the light.
Worms are photophobic and don't like light.
A bag labelled 'worm food' is sent with the package.
The instructions are to place a handful on top of the worms, and then to not feed them anything more for a further two weeks.
They say that more worms die more from overfeeding than anything else.
The next step is to add several layers of soaked newspaper to the top.
This has a two-fold purpose.
- It keeps unwanted insects like fruit flies out.
- The worms like damp newspaper as a ceiling.
The lid goes on and the setup is complete.
I notice the edges of the lid and the tops of the trays have holes in them that align perfectly.
While I have no idea why they are there, I should imagine I will be grateful for them in stormy times when I can add some bendy wire or something to make sure the parts stay together.
The whole box is pretty lightweight at this point, though of course it will get heavier as vermicompost is made.
What Can the Composting Worms Eat?
- All vegetables peelings and scraps, except onions (so I am told)
- Over-ripened or damaged fruit, but not citrus fruit
- Fruit peelings
- Eggshells that have been first dried in oven and broken down to a powder (they love this)
- Old teabags and coffee grounds
- Ripped up or shredded paper
- Old cardboard, ripped or chopped up
- The cardboard centre of toilet and kitchen rolls
- Tissue paper
- Pet/human hair
- Contents of vacuum cleaner bag
- Bread, cakes, pastries
- Pastas and rice
- Pizza and cheese
When the New Trays Are Added
These trays are the next levels in this multi-story luxury worm apartment block. They have been put away in a shed until they are needed. The idea is that when this first level is three-quarters full, I add the next tray with a layer of newspaper on the base. It is designed to sit on top and will not squash the worms underneath.
I add kitchen scraps to the newspaper, and the worms will gradually migrate upwards and into this tray as they finish off the food on the lower floor. It will have a soaked newspaper topping that is peeled back only to add scraps, before being closed over again to keep flies out. When it, too, reaches three-quarters full, the next level is added.
By the time the final layer is added, there should be no worms left in the bottom tray, the vermicompost contents of which can then be removed and used somewhere in the garden. The emptied tray is then added to the top of the pile and the whole cycle keeps repeating. The worms reproduce all the time and the more worms there are, the quicker food is eaten and the more worm poo (castings) are produced.
Two Weeks Later, and It's Time to Feed the Worms
It was hard not feeding them for two weeks, but the manufacturer was quite adamant about how it was best not to feed them before this, except for that first feed on the day of installation.
They say to cut the scraps up first. Trust me, this is a one-off!
I am simply not going to make extra work for myself by chopping up food for worms, but on this occasion, I will.
If I do this in the future, they may think it is their birthday!
I took the splayed-out cardboard box they arrived in away from underneath the box (see top photo) after the first few days. It was placed there to catch any escaping worms.
It seems that on the first couple of nights after installation in their new home, some try and escape because the environment is alien to them. I did half-heartedly check the underneath of the cardboard in the days following, until it occurred to me that this method is only useful if the wormery itself is situated over concrete.
Mine is situated on grass, so any escapees have long gone, down into the soil or off under the hedge. If you plan on setting a worm composting bin inside your home, the best idea would probably be to place the whole composter inside the box it came in, or place it inside a black bin bag. That way any escaping worms can easily be returned.
Lifting the paperback, there was a host of wriggling worms, so if any escaped, there couldn't have been many. I'd added a layer of shredded newspaper between the compost and the top newspaper since I put the whole composter together.
I read that worms like the air pockets shredded paper creates. As you can perhaps see from this photo, most of the worms are atop of, or in the middle of the shredded paper.
In goes the food, the first they have been offered for two weeks since this first became their home.
I am left wondering what I am supposed to do with the rest of the worm food sent with the composter.
I suppose I will add it a little at a time, or it will do when the kitchen is short of scraps, if that time ever comes!
With the lid back on and the worms having plenty to eat, it is now just a case of waiting on them to do their work.
The worm population should swell, and as their numbers go up, they will be able to eat more food, and produce more worm castings, which make a rich, organic compost.
The liquid that will form in the sump is called leachate, and this liquid makes a great food for all garden plants and houseplants.
From my experience, rainwater does not seep into the wormery, as we have had heavy rain almost every day for the past two weeks, and still nothing comes out of that tap.
As leachate will not yet have been produced in any quantity, I do not expect there to be anything coming out of that tap for some time.
No matter, as I now have a wonderful beehive composter that will one day produce enough worm castings to fertilize my whole garden, with very little effort on my part.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 GardenExpert999
JR Krishna from India on September 25, 2013:
Your instructions are very clear.
Thanks for sharing this