Setting up a wormery

This is one of a series of posts about setting up a wormery.  You might like to read these as well:

Setting up a wormery 2 – Moisture

Setting up a womery 3 – Design Flaws

I had a very exciting parcel through the post last week:

Karen from Wiggly Wigglers read about my wormery woes a few weeks ago, and suggested that I look at their Worm Factory, as they are currently selling a few ‘display models’ more cheaply than usual.

Well it took me a little while to get round to it, but I decided in the end to take her advice, in the hope that I will have more success with a tray system.

The problem with the old wormery is that it is essentially a plastic bucket. It has a tap at the bottom, but if you don’t drain it regularly the worm juice produced by the worms during the vermicomposting process builds up and they drown. I didn’t realise this and I’m pretty sure this is what happened to the poor little things.

The new arrivals are greeted by the welcoming committee.

The Worm Factory features a far superior tray system. The bottom tray is a sump, with a tap for drawing off excess worm juice – which can be used to feed garden and house plants when diluted with 9 parts water.

Then the second tray goes on top of the first. This is the ‘working tray’ – the one the worms will live in and process all my kitchen scraps. This hopefully means that the risk of drowning is greatly reduced. I will still have to drain it occasionally, but hopefully not as often.


Then the main part of the cardboard box which the factory was delivered goes into the bottom of the working tray, so that the worms can’t fall through.


The next stage is to make the bedding. This used to be made out of peat moss, but this is now less popular as it is an unsustainable resource. The Worm Factory comes with coir, which is 100% compressed coconut fibre.

Happily this is a renewable resource and in fact is a natural waste product of the Sri Lankan coconut industry, so using it also helps with waste disposal half way across the globe! Coir is also slightly less acidic than peat moss, which I think the worms will appreciate. The coir is put in a bucket of 6-7 litres of luke-warm water, and left for an hour or so to rehydrate.

Incidentally, Mary Appelhof recommends in her great book ‘Worms Eat My Garbage’ that you use a mixture of coir and other bedding materials, such as wood chips, leaf mould or shredded newspaper, but I’ve just used the coir. We’ll see what happens. Then once the coir is rehydrated, it’s poured into the working tray.

Then all that remains to be done is to add the worms!

The worms are a mixture of reds and dendras, according to the packaging. These are a different species to common garden worms, which can’t process large enough quantities of organic material to be of much use in a compost system.

The lid is left off the worms for a few hours, to encourage them to burrow down into the bedding. They don’t like daylight much so it doesn’t take long before they all disappear. Next comes the trickiest part. Removing your cat from the special moisture mat which is needed to keep the conditions in the wormery moist enough, and dark enough, for the worms to thrive.

Once the moisture mat has been rescued, it is placed gently over the retreating tails of the burrowing worms and they get a little bit of peace and quiet before I will disturb them again to give them their first kitchen scraps.

The Worm Factory came with a 500g bag of worms, which has approximately 1000 of the little wrigglers inside. According to the instructions they should be able to cope with around 250g of waste per day. However the full capacity of this system is between 6000-8,000, at which point they will be able to process much more. The population should self-regulate, as it cannot support many more than 8,000 inhabitants.

The Worm Factory even came with some bags of goodies for the worms.

The first is ‘worm treat’ which will soak up excess moisture and provide ‘all the things that worms love best’, and the second is ‘anti-acid lime mix’ which is used to neutralise the PH of the wormery. The worms don’t like an overly acidic habitat. It also contains grit, which aids the worms’ digestion apparently. Bless.

Some worm facts:

The most famous type of vermicomposting worm is Eisenia foetida, which would naturally live in piles of manure, or leaves. It is a hardy little worm, which can withstand changes in temperature and moisture level and reproduces quickly.

You can feed worms all sorts of things, briefly summarized as ‘anything that has lived and/or died.’ However I was rather nervous of giving them meat of any description, as I didn’t want them to develop a taste for it and come after me during the night. However I have also recently embarked on a Bokashi system, of which more later, which will hopefully solve this problem.

The worms don’t have teeth, so the food they eat needs to have rotted down a little before they can process it.

Despite this, they can cope with pet hair, the contents of vacuum cleaner bags, cardboard and paper (which should make up around 25% of the contents of any worm bin, as it helps to regulate moisture levels), tea leaves, coffee grounds, horse and cow manure, hamster and gerbil droppings (but not cat and dog droppings as they can carry diseases), wool and cotton, and pulverised egg shells (which also help to regulate acidity within the wormery.)

Author: Rachel Wheeley

Comedian, podcaster, based in London, UK

11 thoughts on “Setting up a wormery”

  1. If they don’t have teeth, and you have to be rotted a little before they can eat you I wouldn’t worry too much about them coming after you in the night! I’m really envious of your wormery, all I have is lots of still frozen compost bins!

  2. Hi Rach! What a wonderful post! I’ve had a commercial vermicomposter (not exactly like yours, but built on the same principles) for several years now, and have really loved it. Sadly, mine didn’t come with any “worm treats,” but like yours, it did come with coir bricks. I soaked them, mixed them with shredded paper (plenty of junk mail in this house), added the worms, and feed them kitchen scraps as they consume what’s been provided. I keep my worm composter in a shaded alcove outside during the growing season, but here in Pennsylvania it gets bitter in the winter, so the worms spend the cold months in the greenhouse, happily composting away. The worm compost is just incredible–I put some on half my in-ground greenhouse bed last year, and the plants on that side grew four times as large as the ones on the compost-free side. Wow! Worm composting is tons of fun, isn’t it?

  3. This blog post is superb. I wrote an article on wormeries for our local NCT newsletter, but it wasn’t a patch on this. Both thumbs upright.

  4. Nice on Rach… Long and waffly but I liked it all.
    I feel inadequate now with my large bins in the garden for kitchen scraps and toilet roll.

    However (1) I do have a little mouse that roots around and “lives” in there and (2) I regularly wee in it.

    I presume you do not have 1 and do 2 in your wormery??!! har har yar boo to you.

  5. This is going to sound a bit jerk-y, but the problem is in the pictures, er, the design. I confess I did not read your entire post, but I looked at your old worm bin vs. your new one, and the thing is, one’s vertical and one’s horizontal. Moisture problems are going to look after themselves most likely now, or at least be easier to resolve. It’s far easier to stick in some paper to soak up a puddle of water, or remove the lid for greater surface evaporation in a shallow, long worm bin than to deal with it in a vertical, deep one.

    I have a homemade bin myself. My biggest problem isn’t with the worms but the fact that living in an apartment with moisture issues, it seems to promote mold growth no matter what I do. The bin, the worms, no problem. Having to go around spraying vinegar on my windows and drains and (unused) air conditioner as mold sprouts, rather annoying.

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  9. My wormery froze solid last Winter and I really thought that was the end of my worms, but no, Spring came, they thawed and all was fine in the wormery. . . .

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