Let worms do the work

Recycling garden waste into a free soil conditioner that can be used to rescue or improve the soil and also used as mulch for topdressing flowerbeds, pots and borders is a first class trick performed by clever gardeners.

You can make compost making all the more fun, and especially for children, by involving vegetable peelings and worms!

A ‘wormery’ can be set up in a shady, sheltered spot in the garden. Worms ‘work’ best when the temperatures is around 10-18C, and will perform well even in a dustbin that has drainage holes drilled at the base and air holes around the top. The aim is to provide worms with their home comforts – air, darkness and moisture.

The simplest way to make a wormery is to put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the bin to prevent the compost turning to soup. On top of the gravel put a thin layer of ‘bedding’. Shredded newspaper will suffice but you can use torn up cardboard, moss peat and coir, which is sold specially for the purpose in brick or blocks, followed by a 10cm layer of garden soil and sprinkle a handful of red worms or the more impressive compost maker, tiger worms (available from fishing shops).

You’ll probably have 300 – 500 worms if you buy a wormery starter pack from a specialist supplier and once fully productive, your wormery will have several thousand. A worm population will double in size every two to three months, so it may take 12 – 18 months until your wormery is at full capacity but when optimal conditions are achieved, worms can eat about half their body weight a day! In cooler weather it will be a lot less but once established it won’t matter if you are away from home or unable to ‘feed’ the worms for up to 3-4 weeks.

It’s essential to keep the worms working by adding only thin layers of vegetable peelings but not cooked food. Overfeeding can lead to smelly, rotten compost. When the food waste is in contact with the bedding it will be inoculated by all the bugs, bacteria and fungi in the bedding, this will then start the waste to decay and the worms will move in to feed. As it decays and is being eaten, more waste can be added but only a couple of centimetres at a time as it is crucial that the worms are given time to really get stuck into the kitchen waste before adding the next layer. This way the compost won’t begin to heat up and start composting in the usual way, which would kill the worms.

Good things to add to your wormery include banana skins and comfrey leaves (for potassium), coffee and nettles (for nitrogen). Certain green wastes such as raw onions and members of the onion family and citrus fruit though, are too acidic and should therefore be avoided

Cover the surface with a mat of old cardboard, horticultural fleece or newspaper to help keep light out and moisture in and add a weatherproof lid with holes to allow air in. If you are buying a purpose-made wormery, you will find that many designs have multiple trays. the theory being that when the worms move up to successive trays, you can empty the compost from the lower tray.

Without a mat to keep moisture in, little fruit flies can become a nuisance

Worms are miracle workers, which not only turn your kitchen scraps into a rich compost but provide a useful by-product, a nitrogen and potassium and enzyme packed liquid fertiliser that can be used to feed your container plants throughout the summer. You will need to dilute the strong liquid to one part worm liquid, 10 parts water and use it every two weeks, throughout the growing season, to give plants an instant boost. It’s important to take care not to splash the leaves whilst watering, as the potent liquid may burn!

In very wet weather, it’s a good idea to leave the ‘tap’ on your wormery bin open with a collection jug underneath to help prevent flooding the compost and drowning the worms. Adding shredded cardboard or newspaper to soak up the smelly liquid and forking over the compost every few weeks will keep it aerated and healthy.

Once the bin is full, you simply empty the compost onto the garden, worms and all and start from fresh

If you like to get your hands dirty and save every last worm for making a new batch, then simply remove all the uneaten food waste, including worms from the surface and put to one side in a bucket. Carefully dig out all the compost and pile it into a pyramid, you will notice the worms will burrow away from the light towards the centre of the pyramid, so you are left with a large lump of worms and compost that can go back into the wormery to start again. You will not need to buy new bedding just use as much of the harvested compost as necessary and that’s it!

How to ‘pickle’ your kitchen waste

Pickling Waste, known as Bokashi is a Japanese technique for “fermenting organic matter”. Wiggly Wigglers are experts in the UK and sell an active, dry Bokashi bran base, which has been fermented with a liquid and contains dozens of different beneficial bacteria and microbes.

All you need to get started are two Wiggly Wigglers tightly sealed buckets with taps (a start up kit costs £65). Then sprinkle a layer of Bokashi into the bottom of the first bucket and add your food scraps

Keep adding your food waste and every 3cm or so, add a further handful of Bokashi. Always ensure the lid is sealed tight as Bokashi is an anaerobic process that does not require oxygen and may die if it’s present.

Regularly drain off any excess liquid through the tap. You can dilute it for a brilliant probiotic plant feed, which can even be used as a drain cleaner!

When your first bucket is full, leave it for about 10-14 days to ferment. Once the contents of your bucket start to smell like pickles the process is complete and is ready to use on the garden where it will break down in your soil or compost in 7-10 days and release beneficial microbes to your soil. The easiest way to add it to your soil is to dig a trench and pour it in.

Unlike other methods of composting, almost anything can be ‘pickled’, including fruit and vegetables, prepared foods and leftover ready meals, even cooked and uncooked meat and fish, cheese, eggs, coffee grounds and tea bags.

You can buy a Wormery from the specialist www.wormery.co.uk, which comes with everything you need, including the worms to turn not only your garden waste into useable compost but also dog poo!

The beehive-style Wormery bin style features a tap to extract the liquid fertiliser comes in a range of colours including green and terracotta as well as the day-glow shades of dark cobalt blue, electric red, electric yellow, brilliant rose pink and dark orchid purple. Prices start at £56.60. Where space is limited there is the Midi Wormery, which is a standard bin style with fitted lid and tap that will neatly fit into a cupboard. The kit comes with tiger worms, coir bedding, lime mix and instructions and costs £49.95.


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