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Some Tips on Wormeries, Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) and Vermiculture

Making compost using a wormery is fun, especially if you like worms!

Even if you don't, you will find it an absorbing and rewarding pastime. Worms are great for turning organic* kitchen and garden waste into top quality, nutrient-rich compost.
This is our summary of many aspects of wormeries, which includes some of our own experience and we hope you will find it useful. Several companies undertake worm composting on a commercial scale as well as growing and producing composting worms for sale to individuals and commercial organisations. This page, however, is aimed at amateur enthusiasts who are interested in small-scale vermicomposting at home, or in the allotment.
There are plenty of web sites and books giving information on worm composting, (also known as vermicomposting), wormeries and vermiculture; you can find links to many of these in our Wormeries and Shredders page.

* the term 'organic' is used on this page to refer to all natural plants, whether or not they have been grown using strictly organic farming methods.

What is worm composting (vermicomposting) and vermiculture?
Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is ‘the process of using earthworms to break down kitchen and garden waste, to create faster than normal composting. Compared to ordinary soil, the earthworm castings (the material produced from the digestive tracts of worms) contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium. They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil’ (Ref:, Mar 2013).
Vermiculture is the rearing of worms for the purpose of making compost, to improve the condition of soil.
Worms have evolved into efficient, natural composters; they never sleep so are producing compost all the time. In the right environment, they eat and digest between half and all of their body weight in a day (depending on the types of worms, the quality of the plant material and the environmental conditions), converting this plant waste into nutrient-rich worm casts; this process quickly reduces the bulk of the organic waste, by up to about 80%

Our Wormery; click to enlarge
Our Wormery
Click to enlarge
What is a wormery?
A wormery is an easy-to-use, efficient construction to house the worms and the plant food so that they can convert organic kitchen waste into a bio-rich, high quality compost and concentrated liquid feed, taking advantage of their natural ability to digest relatively large quantities of organic waste.
Typically, a wormery is an enclosed unit with several separate, but linked, compartments containing live worms together with the organic waste you supply, and a mixture of processed compost in varying stages of decomposition. Usually the uppermost compartment is topped with a simple, degradable blanket to retain the warmth and it should be kept moist. This can be fibre matting, old fibre carpet under felt (not the latex type), old towels, newspapers or similar. The enclosure is completed with a lid perforated with tiny breather holes.
Wormeries can be sited indoors or outside as they are odourless and hygienic (if a wormery smells, then it is not functioning properly!). Our experience of siting a wormery inside, in the utility room, was short lived because many of the worms escaped and the floor was littered with them. How they got out is not clear because the sections fitted quite tightly together; nor can we understand why they should want to get out, but they did. We didn't like it so we moved the wormery outdoors. There are several different types of wormery on the market, including indoor types. For illustration we describe the one that we use.

Our wormery:
is a popular type widely available (see some of the links on our 'Wormeries' section on the 'Composting' main page), comprising three identical, stackable, circular trays, each with a grid of holes at the bottom so the worms can pass from tray to tray. Individually they resemble a garden sieve about 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter. This dimension is also the overall footprint of the wormery so it can be situated almost anywhere in the garden. The trays contain the worms and compost in varying stages of decomposition. The fresh, organic (mostly kitchen) waste goes in the top section in relatively small amounts every day or two. The middle section contains fairly well rotted compost and the third, lower section contains well rotted compost. The top and middle sections contain most of the worms. When the top section is full, the third section, which by then contains only fully-composted residue, is emptied and the compost set aside for use. This empty container is then moved up to the top position ready to be supplied afresh. and the mat and lid are finally positioned. Below all of these, at the very bottom, is a further compartment supported on attached legs; it is a sealed section which gathers the liquid which seeps through and it incorporates a tap to drain this liquid fertiliser. The overall height of this structure is about 29 inches (74 cm).

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Worms in WormeryWorms in the Wormery, middle tray
What are the advantages of a wormery and how can the compost be used?
  • About a third of household waste
    is organic, so if this is recycled as compost (by using a wormery
    or otherwise), you are reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill.
  • A wormery not only produces top quality, fine compost, but it also generates concentrated liquid fertiliser. This can be used as a liquid feed (usually diluted with water) for outdoor and indoor plants, thus reducing the need for chemical fertilisers.
  • You can run a wormery whatever the size of your garden, even if you don’t have a garden
  • Some wormeries are suitable for indoor use.
  • Wormeries are clean and odourless (due to the rapid digestion process)
  • They are flexible in use since they can be purchased in a range of sizes to suit your needs.
  • Because it is so rich, normally the worm compost is mixed with other materials and consequently can be used in many different ways in the garden or special containers.
    For example you can:
    * mix it with other ingredients to make your own potting compost;
    * use it in the ground, in planting holes for flowers, shrubs etc.;
    * mix it with other compost, in hanging baskets, tubs and pots outside in your garden, on the patio, in your front or back porch, in window boxes etc;
    * mix it with other compost for potting indoor plants;
    * add it to poor soil to improve it’s quality.
What type of worms are in a wormery?
The most common type of worm in a wormery is the Tigerworm also known as Brandling or Redworm (Eisenia fetida or Rubellis terrestris). If you have a conventional compost bin, you will probably have seen Tiger worms, especially around the top. Tigerworms grow very quickly and reproduce rapidly which is why they are used in wormeries. They look different from ordinary garden worms being pinkish/red in colour with a distinctive striped appearance, the red being separated by yellow/beige bands. The worm secretes a yellow fluid through pores on its body when it is upset; it is said this could act as a warning to predators. Other types of worms used for worm composting are: Eisenia Andrei, similar to the Tigerworm but of a uniform red colour; Dendrobaena, which eat more than Tiger worms and are larger; and Lumbricus rubellus (Redworms). George Pilkington, an expert on practical organic and wildlife gardening and practical vermicomposting, gives lots of relevant information his site (, including identification of worm species.

What do the worms eat?
The guidelines for what you can put in a wormery are basically the same as for composting (see our Tips on Making Compost reference page for more details), however, it’s a good idea to put the items in a wormery in fairly small pieces. It’s better to feed worms little and often, rather than fill the wormery up in one go.
We find it helps to mix up the top layer of compost with a hand fork every few weeks; our belief is that this lets in air preventing the compost becoming slimy.

What’s good
You can put most types of organic kitchen waste in a wormery, for example:

  • many kinds of fruit and vegetables, peelings, cores (as long as they’re not too big and hard), but see below for some exceptions;
  • tea leaves and tea bags, coffee grounds;
  • flower heads and soft leaves (not the stems or hard leaves);
  • torn up paper and cardboard (but not shiny), and it should be moistened first; this provides fibre and roughage and helps prevent the compost becoming slimy. If you’ve got a paper-shredder, this is ideal to cut up paper;
  • pasta, cereal, bread, so we’ve read but have not tried yet;
  • small quantities of straw, leaves or grass cuttings, well distributed;
  • hair; human or animal;
  • lime mix, every couple of weeks or so (commercially available) or fire ashes;
  • worm treats (commercially available).
What’s not good
Avoid the following, either because the worms hate them or they may harm the worms:
  • all citrus fruit and skins, for example oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, clementines, satsumas, mandarins etc (they are acidic);
  • onions and garlic;
  • we have read you shouldn't put potato peelings in;
  • food containing fat (a little bit of vegetable oil won’t hurt) or vinegar;
  • meat;
  • animal manure, unless you are certain that it does not contain any vermicides (to kill parasitic worms in the animal) as this will kill your worms.
Lots of WormsLots of Worms in the Wormery
How do I start up a worm composter?
You can either buy one or create one yourself. Basically you need a container, worms, bedding for the worms and then keep supplying the organic waste.
There are several different types available to buy. If you buy a wormery, you should receive instructions from your supplier on how to set it up, get it going and how to maintain it. The value of this support should not be underestimated if you are a complete beginner.
If you’re keen to create your own worm composter, there are many sources which can help you, for example the Pauline Lloyd, Vegan News web site (see the link on our Wormeries and Shredders page) provide what look like fairly simple, straightforward instructions based on a design from "The Complete Manual of Organic Gardening" edited by Basil Caplan.
If you look in our Wormeries section on our Wormeries and Shredders page, there are links to many companies who make and supply wormeries and who give advice, hints and tips on setting one up.

How do I look after a wormery?
Worm composters do not need a lot of looking after, but there are some points to watch for best results.
In our experience, the quantity of compost from our wormery is not very large, but the quality is superb. Also, if you are starting up a worm composter from scratch, it takes several weeks or months for it to really get going, depending on the conditions (like temperature), how many worms you have and what you are feeding them.

There are a few basic guidelines; many of which are mentioned above.
  • Feed the worms the right sort of food, not too much at a time.
  • Use a variety of foods, mixed to maintain a texture that is not too dense.
  • Keep in mind that worms are most active between about 10 to 30 degrees C (that’s 50 to 86 degrees F). In ideal conditions they can double their population every three months or so. However, this is not an exact science so don't get put off by strict temperature control; you may find some of the following suggestions easy to implement.
  • In the winter, the worms become fairly inactive below a few degrees C; you could move your wormery close to the house, into a shed or garage or cover it with a blanket. If it’s indoors, avoid siting it against a radiator.
  • In the summer, it’s best to move your wormery into partial shade; worms will die if they become too hot. However, worm activity increases in warm weather. If the compost becomes dry, sprinkle or spray some water over the compost; don’t drench it, but some excess water won’t harm, it will run through and increase your supply of liquid fertiliser!
  • Even if you go away on holiday, you don’t have to get family or friends in to feed the worms! It’s a good idea to make sure the wormery is in the shade if it’s summer, or protected from frost if it’s winter. Then put some fresh organic waste on top, not too much so that a thatch could form, and ensure the compost is covered with a damp felt mat, newspapers or old towel. The worms will survive a few weeks if they aren't disturbed.
  • Ensure that a thatch does not form on the top of the compost; this could prevent air circulating, the worms could overheat (even die) and the compost could go slimy.
  • You can buy lime mix from wormery specialists to sprinkle on the compost; this helps to neutralise acidic food which the worms hate (eg citruses, which really should be avoided)
  • If you run into problems with your worm composting, some of the specialists listed on our main Wormeries and Shredders page may be able to help you.
To learn more about general compost making, see the detailed Reference page on Some Tips on Making Compost.

By Brenda Shaw  

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Originated: 2 January, 2006. Last amended: 27 October, 2013