Now Spring is starting to show itself it is time to bring your wormery out of the garage, greenhouse or wherever you have kept it over the Winter months to keep your little workers warm and dry and, hopefully, still productive while the temperatures have been lower. Of course some of you may have kept them out during winter and just kept the sump drained during the wetter times so that your hard working wigglers don't drown but either way it is worth doing a quick check to make sure everything is functioning as we want and to prepare them for another year of transforming stuff we would normally throw away in amazing compost.
So what makes a wormery so great?
For those of you who don't yet own a wormery and wonder quite what all the fuss is about read on;
In short, a wormery is a fantastic way of taking your kitchen waste and transforming it (in the form of 'castings') into a compost so high in nutrient value that I often refer to it more as a fertiliser than a mere compost. It diverts such kitchen waste from landfill (if your Council doesn'ôt already collect it) but also saves you from having to then buy in compost and mulch later in the year when you need it in your garden. A wormery will also produce a fantastic liquid fertliser that, when watered down at about 10:1, will provide organic feed to all your plants and vegetables thereby saving you yet more money. If you don't have plants to feed then just adding it to your borders will help improve the structure of your soil with a multitude of friendly nutrients and organisms. If you don't have plants or borders I'm sure there will be gardeners a plenty happy to take the castings and liquid feed off your hands (at least if they realise how powerful it is).
Composting with a wormery is a great way for people without the room for a compost bin or heap to compost. They are generally small and neat and can be kept close to the house to save the trip down a cold and windswept garden in the winter. "Eww, but what about the smell", I hear you say. Simple, there isn't one! Really, if a wormery is working correctly the compost should have a slight earthy smell and not cause any problem at all (see below for what to do if they do start to smell though).
They come in all shapes and sizes as well but generally consist of a number of trays and a sump. Once the first tray is full you add the second and the worms will wiggle their way up through the holes in the tray above to get to the layer of new waste (generally once they have finished the tray they are currently in of course). Once that tray is full you add another and the process continues until the last one is full, by which time the bottom one should now consist of a beautiful black gold, known as vermicompost, ready to be applied to plants as a top dressing, mixed with other compost to make a potting mixture or just added to your borders as a fertiliser-come-mulch that will feed the plants every time it rains as well as improve the quality of your soil in the long run.
Getting a wormery moving again in Spring
Worms work best when it is warm and slow down a lot if the temperature drops. In the winter it is generally a good idea to keep them somewhere warm and dry and feed them slightly less.
But now Spring is on the way and the temperatures will (hopefully) start to rise you can bring them out of your shed or garage and start them as normal again (keeping a close eye on how fast they are dealing with what you give them).
It's a good time to check the state of the wormery itself as heavy winter rains may have left the bedding wet and soggy, which will compact the waste and block all the air pockets. Worms need oxygen to breathe and function well and don't do well in compacted soil or compost. Less oxygen also means an increase in anaerobic bacteria that can lead to rotting food, acidic conditions and some nasty smells. These conditions mean your worms will be far from happy and may ultimately die so it's a good time to check conditions and rectify them so that they are working optimally, ready to start creating that lovely compost you want for the forthcoming planting season. Even if kept somewhere dry and warm it's certainly worth checking everything is OK.
So what do you need to look for?
- How wet is the compost and waste?
If it's very soggy you should mix in some shredded paper and/or cardboard (the Amazon box type cardboard is perfect). I avoid glossy paper but any other shredded paper (credit card receipts and bank statements etc) should be OK as inks are mostly vegetable based these days. Also, check all trays because if it's wet in the top one it's likely to be the same in the others and you may need to add a layer of shredded paper to the middle layer as well. This has the added advantage of allowing the worms to climb up to the next layer easier if it's the type of wormery that holds the trays at a certain layer (can-o-worms and worm cafe for example).
- Has the waste started to rot?
If you have overfed during the winter months then there may well be a layer of rotting food that will lead to anaerobic conditions, higher acidity and ultimately some nasty smells and dead worms. Be warned that once a bin goes off in this way mass worm death can easily follow and the smell will be so bad that you will never forget it. It happened to me once with a wormery that had been perfectly happy for about 10 years - the smell was so bad I can actually taste it now just thinking about it!
So, waste that is rotten and smelly should be removed as soon as possible and placed in a normal compost bin or heap where it will break down happily over time. Chances are the bin will be quite acidic at this time so if you have some lime mix add a handful or two (most wormeries come with a small bag of lime mix to help you balance out the pH while it is being established). Then fill the tray with as much shredded paper as you can (it is impossible for worms to overdose on paper) and leave them for a while before adding any new waste in small doses.
- Do you still have worms?
Daft as this may sound but worms rot down very quickly once they die and if your bin has suffered a lot from frost, cold or anything else they may not like then they could all have died off. Don't worry though, they will almost certainly have left behind cocoons that will hatch and build up your population again but it is a slow process. Once you know the Winter is truly over it may well be worth buying a new batch of worms to kick start things again. These can be purchased from http://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk
- Emptying the bottom tray
Now your wormery has made it through the Winter the bottom tray is likely ready to empty but there's likely still the odd worm in there and this has been the cause of many a discussion.