Keeping a Worm Bin

A worm bin (or wormery) is a valuable asset in any garden

worm bin


One way to help your soil fertility and recycle your kitchen waste easily is to run a wormery.

Worm bins are surprisingly easy to set up. They are also free of many of the problems associated with kitchen garbage; there are no smells and few problems with flies and dirt. So much so that some people even keep them inside the house!

Choosing your worm bin

Here's what you need to know about running your own wormery.

You need a largish bucket or dustbin with holes for drainage and holes for air circulation. Alternatively, you can buy a purpose built wormery from many outlets, including Amazon .

Bought worm bins are usually constructed in layers. This is to help the worms find food and bedding and to make it easy to extract the completed compost.

Wormeries are usually made from plastic or wood. There are also some available from recycled cardboard. The commonest bought worm bins are made from plastic. The plastic used is hard wearing and should last many years.

The main disadvantage of plastic is that it does not offer much by way of insulation for cold or very hot weather. You can generally compensate for this by adding external insulation in winter, or bringing the bin inside, and by choosing a cool, shady location for the summer months.

Worms need fresh air, a reasonably constant temperature and a good supply of food. They also like to be kept in the dark. Most of their feeding activity takes place at or near the surface, so do not choose a narrow container if you are making your own worm bin. An old plastic dustbin is ideal. Make sure that the lid fits well to exclude vermin and rain.

Making a worm bin

Choose an old dustbin or other robust water tight container.

Drill drainage holes right around the bin at about 2 to 3 cm from the base. This enables a little moisture to remain in the bottom of the bin and so helps to prevent it completely drying out. A double row of drainage holes is best.

Add a similar number of holes around the perimeter of the top of the bin. This ensures adequate ventilation.

Fill the bottom of the container to about 10 cm (6 inches) with gravel or sand and small pebbles. Next add a board with drainage holes in it. This stops the worms falling into the drainage area.

On top of the board, add some damp newspaper layers. Worms like to live in a damp environment so this acts as a damp store.

Now add a layer of bedding material. You can use torn up newspaper or cardboard. Leafmould is also suitable and so is mature compost. You can also use a mixture of any of these.

Add worms!

Next add your worms. You will need around a 1000 worms to get off to a quick start. The usual type used is the "brandling worm", also known as the tiger worm. These worms are used by fisher folk for bait, so you may be able to get supplies from fishing tackle shops. You can also order them on-line from Amazon. Just make sure that you are going to be there to unpack them soon after they arrive.

Next you need to add some feed. Use well chopped vegetable waste. Add it to around half of the top layer in your worm bin. This leaves the worms some room to move around away from the food.

Now cover everything in more newspaper and cardboard. This gives the worms the dark, moist conditions they love.

You should now be able to leave your wormery for two or three weeks while the first batch of food gets eaten and the worms settle in to their new abode.

When I started my worm colony I received a handful of compost with worms from a friend. There were probably only a few dozen worms there. Nevertheless, they increased fairly rapidly and now, about 12 years later the colony is still going strong.


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How much do they eat?

The amount your worms will eat depends upon a number of things: the time of year, the number of worms in particular, though the size of the bin also makes a difference. Add small amounts of food every three or four days - but monitor how it is going. You are less likely to have smells and flies if you get the feeding right.

Fresh kitchen waste is best. Most things which can be composted from the kitchen can be used. It's best to avoid meat and dairy products. Avoid anything that forms a pappy layer. Fresh vegetable waste is best for the most part. You can also add extra shredded newspaper which helps absorb excess moisture.

You can either bury new food in small spots around the surface of the bin, or you can leave a layer of about 2 - 3 inches deep over about half the surface. Burying the food makes it less prone to attracting flies but it's also harder to see if it has been eaten.

Add more damp newspaper on top to keep things nice and dark. This will also help the texture of the worm compost as it adds "roughage" or fibre to the mix.

Look after your worms needs. They will produce you some of the finest quality compost around. But they are living organisms and if you don't take account of their needs they will not thrive and may even die.


Running your worm bin

Here is a brief resume of all your worms needs:

  • Keep them damp but not in excess water
  • Ideal temperature for health and activity is between 12 and 25 degrees Centigrade
  • Keep them out of direct sun and harsh winds.
  • Move them to a warm spot for the winter or take steps to insulate the bin.
  • Make sure they have enough bedding to live and breed in.
  • Feed them little and fairly often. Get someone to look after them if you are going to be away for more than a few days.

Harvesting the compost

The compost will gradually grow from the bottom upwards, with the worms towards the top of the bin with the fresh material. If you have a bought wormery with several sections it is easy to remove lower sections to empty out the compost.

If you have a homemade wormery you need to do things a little differently.

Remove the top fresh layers of compost, worms, newspaper and food and set the mix aside.

Now take out the lower layers of compost and spread it out on a board. Cover about a third of the compost with damp newspaper and leave it alone for a few hours.

As worms hate light, most of the little critters will move under the newspaper. You can remove the rest of the compost for use or storage. Repeat the process if you want to use almost all your compost. When you have a dense collection of worms in the the remaining compost under the newspaper, just add them back in to the bin with the rest. Give them more bedding and matter to hide in and to prevent overcrowding.

You can also start another wormery at this point if you have plenty of worms. You may need several if you want to compost most of your kitchen waste by using worm bins.

Worm bins - a very green solution to a waste problem

Worm composting is a simple and effective way of obtaining top class compost cheaply and efficiently. You are also recycling kitchen waste in a way which is eco-friendly and sustainable. Much of the methane produced by waste landfill is produced because of our tendency to bin waste food. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming.

One of the great insights of the environmental movement is to see waste not so much as a problem but more as a resource.


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Which compost bin?

How to make compost

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