So other than damp conditions causing the compost to compact and go slimy what other things should you look out for? Here's 5 of the most common things I see in my wormeries:
In the winter and early spring there isn't much of a problem but as things start to warm up there are a number of insects who somehow manage to make a home in your wormery. Most are OK as they (or their larvae) eat the waste and generally help in the process of breaking things down nicely. As you get more experienced you will be able to match up the conditions with the insect and act accordingly.
Some of the more common ones are:
- a) Pot worms - these are small white worms that many people mistake for baby worms. They are fine if you don't mind them BUT they do indicate damp conditions and a compost that is starting to become acidic. To get rid of them in the short term leave a slice of bread in the wormery overnight. The next morning you will find said bread absolutely teeming with pot worms so remove it and put it on the bird table to give your birds a treat. In the long term you need to aerate the compost so mix in some shredded paper and cardboard as well as a hand full of lime mix if you have some. This will bring down the pH and make for happier worms.
- b) Springtails - these are very small white insects that aid the composting and are totally harmless as they eat fungi that grows on the waste. I use them as an indication that things are generally functioning well.
- c) Fruit flies - they love the fruit you add and do no damage to the worms at all BUT there's nothing quite like opening the lid and having them swarm up your nose and in your ears so you're going to want to discourage them wherever possible. The perfect way to do this is to get into the habit of wrapping all your food waste in a sheet of newspaper before adding it to the wormery. The paper soaks up some moisture, the worms will eat it from below and yet the waste is protected from the fruit flies who can't get to it to lay their eggs. This is an especially good idea during the summer months. Alternatively, bury the waste underneath a good layer of shredded paper, again so the flies cannot get at it to lay their eggs.
- d) Ants - these are a real pain because they cart off the cocoons (worm eggs that each contain a number of baby worms) so your worm population will suffer in the long run. To keep them out you can stand the wormery legs in jars of water (ants won't cross water) but if they do get in you will probably have to go hunting for the queen and remove her. They are also an indication that the wormery is too dry so it may be worth adding some water to dampen the compost a bit. I know, I've been telling you how to stop the wormery getting too wet! It's one of the reasons to keep a regular eye on things.
Really this is one of the most common problems people have and it can be disastrous, especially with a new wormery.
When you first get a wormery add small amounts of kitchen waste and paper and keep an eye on how the worms are coping. Once the population increases you can start increasing the amount of waste but always keep an eye on things. Once established I try to make sure there is pure vermicompost about 3-4 inches below the top layer and that the worms are working well in your current layer of food. This helps stop them from being over faced with too much to choose from and will keep conditions optimal.
Another thing to remember is that most new wormeries come with a coir block to act as an immediate bedding and people worry that the worms are reluctant to move up to their kitchen waste. This is because they are quite happy eating the coir block so only add a small amount of kitchen waste at first, a hefty amount of shredded paper and leave them to it for a bit. They will move onto the kitchen waste once they are ready - just keep a regular eye on things so you know when to start feeding them more.
- Type of waste
So what exactly can you feed your worms? Well, they love variety (as do we all) so try and vary what you give them. The following is a rough list of the things they like and what you should avoid:
- Kitchen food waste such as vegetable peelings, tea leaves and coffee grounds. Be aware that with teabags quite a few have a quantity of nylon in them to hold them together so although the worms will break into them and eat the tea leaves you may well be left with the odd teabag. They won't bother the worms but you will notice them when you come to use the compost - just remove them when you add to other compost or borders if you want. I use a lot of teabags and it really doesn't cause a problem.
- Fruit peelings such as banana skins and apple cores (beware of fruit flies with these - follow the tips above for wrapping your waste in newspaper).
- Crushed up egg shells - the worms need the grit that these provide and they help with the pH of the compost. Worms lack teeth though so a great tip is to dry the shells in the bottom of the oven while you cook something else. They can then easily be crushed into a powder and sprinkled into the wormery.
- Shredded or torn up paper; newspaper, bank statements, credit card receipts, toilet roll inners, kitchen paper and tissues as well as brown corrugated cardboard from the likes of Amazon etc.
Bad (or at least not so good):
- Cooked food such as meat or fish - this will rot and smell as well as invite unwanted guests to appear (to compost such things why not try Bokashi, a system that is sealed and works brilliantly with most things that a wormery can't handle).
- Citrus fruit and onion peelings as they are acidic. Very small doses may be OK but I find it best to avoid where possible, and add some lime every now and then.
- Animal manure though possibly OK is best avoided as you cannot guarantee that it isn't from an animal recently wormed (disastrous). Worms also cannot break down any pathogens it may contains so the finished compost may not be great for vegetable production etc. I have used a wormery for dogs mess but a lot of care needs to be taken and I've only used the finished product for under the hedge.
Where you keep your wormery can really make a difference. You want it close to the house but sheltered enough to keep it safe.
In the Spring and summer try and keep it out of direct sunlight otherwise it will heat up quickly in the sun, bake the worms (or make them try and escape), cause excess condensation that then makes the compost too wet and generally make for a less than stable environment for your worms to work (too hot one minute and then quickly cooling down etc).
In the winter it needs to be out of the wind and rain so it doesn't get too cold and wet for all the reasons mentioned previously.
Try and keep a weight on the lid, such as a house brick. This holds the lid firmly in place during windier weather as well minimising the number of escapees when conditions aren't optimal inside the wormery (especially when newly setup).
- Regularly empty the sump
It is a really good idea to get into the habit of emptying the sump on a regular basis. If it gets too full the compost will get wet causing soggy, anaerobic conditions as well as possibly drowning your worms. The worm tea (leachate) makes a great liquid feed during the growing season and can be stored throughout the winter (or just poured directly on your borders). Either way getting into the habit of emptying the sump is good so you avoid the sudden realisation that it hasn't stopped raining for a couple of weeks and you haven't been doing it. I guarantee you will find the odd dead worm come from the tap when you do get round to it and I wouldn't worry about it. They seem to go to the sump to die - I just re-add them to the top when I check the bin over.
I appreciate there is quite a lot of information there but if you take the time to give the wormery a Spring clean and check over it will soon reward you with some fantastic compost for top dressing house plants and vegetables such potted tomatoes etc. You can then look forward to another bumper year safe in the knowledge that your waste is now working for you, as are your worms.
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