Ants in your wormery? Here’s what to do

Showing that even the youngest of children can rise to the challenges of worm farming, our friend Magdalena, two, stepped in to look after her worms recently.

One day while feeding the worms with her grandparents, she was quick to spot something new – ants.  Grandma told her this was due to the worm farm bedding being too dry, creating conditions that appeal to ants.

The solution was to gently add some water. Wormery bedding should be neither wet, nor dry. If you squeezed the bedding material it should feel moist with minimal water dripping out.

So Maggie filled up her watering can and got to work, sorting the worms out and making sure they had conditions just as they like them – moist and dark, covered by a few sheets of newspaper as a blanket (or cardboard, or hessian) to keep them feeling cosy and safe.

Then she sensibly washed her hands – which is when things went a bit wrong. As you can see from the photo, the worms and ants weren’t the only ones getting a bit wet!

Maggie somehow got in the way of the water, whether on purpose or not who can say? It’s all in a day’s work for a two-year-old worm farmer.

For a joke I asked Maggie afterwards if she’d had ants in her pants; with an appalled look she informed me that, no, she hadn’t, because she was wearing a nappy. Fair enough. She thought for a second before adding that Grandma had ants in her pants though. You have to keep an eye on these grandmas.

It’s fantastic to see that Maggie now loves worms. When she first watched her older brother Reggie looking after the worms she was a bit apprehensive and took a back seat but now she appreciates them for the wonderful work they do.

Keeping worms cool

It’s important that wormeries stay moist. In hot weather you can flush your worm farm with half a small bucket of water (5L) once a week to keep conditions moist. When doing this, replace the liquid collection tray with a container that will hold the sudden influx of water.

The moistened bedding sorted out the ants issue for Magdalena, but if you have a repeated problem you could follow this advice shared by wormery guru Mary Appelhof in her book Worms Eat My Garbage:

  • Set the legs of the worm farm in coffee cans with mineral oil or soapy water in the bottom. Any ants would get trapped in the oil or soapy water and would not be able to enter the wormery.  

And so to bedding

Worm bedding is a major component of a wormery. It has several functions, providing:

  •  moisture retention
  •  a medium in which worms can work
  •  a place to bury food waste

Bedding also provides a carbon source which will feed the worms; they will eventually consume the bedding as well as the food waste.

The bedding provided in the Maze Worm Farm is coconut coir, which is a great choice as it is clean, odourless, moisture-retaining, easy to prepare and worms thrive in it.

 Cocount coir, often called coco peat, has a fluffy soil-like texture. It comes compressed in a block that expands when placed in water. Because it has good water-retaining capacities, it can also be mixed with other bedding materials to aid water retention. Coir is a natural by-product of the coconut industry. In the past when coconuts were harvested for their meat and juice, the husk was considered waste until its many uses in horticulture were appreciated.

 In the first few days of setting up a new wormery it’s important that the worms acclimatise quickly and they find coco coir to be a hospitable environment thanks to its fluffy soil-like texture. Coconut coir will get your worm bin off to a great start but an established wormery should happily accommodate other freely available carbon sources.  

Other suitable bedding materials:

  • Shredded newspaper in strips 3-5cm wide. You can use a shredder or tear the strips by hand.
  • Leaf detritus from the bottom of a pile of decaying leaves, or compost.
  • Wood chips – some wormery enthusiasts report that these are excellent when mixed with leaves or other materials that are capable of holding moisture.  Wood chips provide bulk and create air spaces throughout the bedding. You can pick wood chips out when harvesting vermicompost from the wormery and reuse them.  

TOP TIP

It can be useful to add a handful or two of soil when initially preparing bedding. This helps to control moisture, acidity and texture as well as adding some grit to aid in breaking down food particles within the worm’s gizzard. It also introduces an inoculum of a variety of soil bacteria, protozoa and fungi which will aid the composting process.

Mary Appelhof is an inspiring champion for worm farming, describing it as a way to ‘save the world – in your own backyard’.

 In her book she says that through worm farming you will see mounds of waste converted to material you can use on your houseplants and in your garden.

‘You will enjoy healthier looking plants, better tasting vegetables and money in the bank.’

Let’s end with her wonderful description of the added value that worm farming provides.

‘Hopefully you’ll also gain a better appreciation of the intricate balance and interdependencies in nature. You will be treading more gently on the Earth.

As your gardens are enriched, so is your life and mine. You will have joined the worm-working adventurers who say, ‘Worms eat my garbage.’ Isn’t that a grand beginning to a task that needs to start somewhere? You, personally, can make it happen.’

Julie

Why wormeries make great gifts for kids

It’s hard to buy presents for a friend’s children or grandchildren, especially if you don’t see them all that often. You know how it is – you ask Mum if Sam still loves dinosaurs and get the response – not so much since turning 17.

I exaggerate but it really is difficult to know what to get a child if you don’t know what they already have and what their current interests are.  You don’t want to waste money or add to the mountain of discarded junk by buying pointless gifts.  

I thought long and hard a few months ago before getting Christmas presents for my best friend’s grandchildren – Reggie, 6, and Magdalena, 2. I always like to get practical, useful things – I’m not bothered about being popular (‘Oh great, another swimming cap/duvet cover/homework bag from Auntie Julie.’)

But this time I upped my game.

Eco gifts are gifts that keep on giving. It would be easy to drive children to despair about the climate crisis, but how much better to show them instead what they can do to help? Yes, tackling the climate emergency is a big job, but it’s one that each and every one of us – no matter how young – can play a part in.

And so I gave Reggie and Maggie a worm farm.

Why? Because worm farms (also called wormeries) are a great way to introduce children to small-scale composting and the marvellous way that nature deals with waste. Not only does vermicomposting (from the Latin ‘vermis’ for worm) keep organic waste out of landfill, but also shows how easily worms can turn our food scraps into a highly nutritious food for plants

Yes, there were quizzical looks from the kids as they opened the box – it was clearly not a fort or a unicorn castle – but they were very keen to set it up and probably very relieved that it wasn’t a pack of thermal vests. As it was the coldest time of year, they set the worm farm up in the greenhouse, which provided warmth and shelter for the winter, and waited excitedly for their worms to arrive. The worms come separately through the post from a supplier of specially selected composting worms.

The children’s reaction when the worms arrived was a mixture of ‘Eurgh’ (Magdalena) and ‘Ooh’ (Reggie).

Reggie was keen to show how brave he was and gently introduced a worm to his sister, who also became brave but was happy just looking. They made a cosy home for the worms, providing a blanket of newspaper (hessian is also good) to keep them warm and safe in the dark.   

Reggie introduces Magdalena to a new pet

Reggie and Magdalena noticed the worms were not very active for a few weeks, probably because of settling in at such a cold time of year, but then they soon started tucking in (the worms, not the kids).

The young vermicomposters were careful to follow the rules of not overfeeding. If you give worms too much food it will be left uneaten, which will obviously start to smell. Like most young children they were expecting fast results, so were surprised to learn it can take two to three months to get worm casts (poo, since you ask). You can’t rush these things…

Children start a wormery
Magdalena and Little Bear wait for worm casts

But when you do harvest the casts you realise why gardeners call this stuff ‘black gold’. One tablespoon of worm casts provides enough nutrients for a plant to thrive throughout the growing season.

Ten weeks in and Reggie and Magdalena were the proud harvesters of some of this black gold.

Harvesting worm casts

Wonderful things about worm farms

  • They make great projects for children as this subject can grow in complexity as the child grows – it can be super simple for pre-schoolers but gradually takes in chemistry, biology, ecology, the food cycle and carbon cycle as well as gardening and growing your own food.  
  • Children will develop respect for these humble but mighty creatures. Through tunnelling, worms aerate and improve the soil, providing nutrients for plants to flourish. Without them the earth would become cold, hard and sterile.
  • Studies have shown that the simple act of introducing worms to degraded soil in poor regions of the world has increased plant yields by 280%.
  • Worms are easy to feed on vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells.
  • Convenient to set up indoors or outdoors in a sheltered spot.

Inspired by how well Reggie and Magdalena have taken to vermicomposting, I’ve decided they don’t really need yet another boring Easter egg from Auntie Julie this Easter.

Not when there are other fabulous presents to be had, such as membership of the Earthworm Society!

 I like to think they’ll thank me one day.

Julie

Christmas eco gifts give back to the planet

Christmas Green Johanna

‘Tis the month before Christmas when all through the house not a single thing’s stirring except Rachel’s mouse…

Still on her laptop at midnight, Rachel’s searching for gifts for the family that won’t cost the earth but also won’t cost the Earth.

She’s hit on a solution for her husband Paul’s parents, Dick and Liddy, who are so tricky to buy for. They say they don’t want any more presents because they already have everything they need. And Dick says he doesn’t need any more gloves because he’s not an octopus. Ditto socks.

They’re already keen recyclers and want to do their bit for the environment in an easy way for people in their eighties.

So how about a Green Cone food waste digester? It takes all food waste, even bones, and no stirring or turning is required. It doesn’t produce compost, but that’s OK; Dick and Liddy will be perfectly happy with the nutritious soil conditioner that will seep from the underground waste basket into their flower beds once worms and microbes have broken down the food scraps.

Dick will like the fact that they’re in control of their own food waste, turning something that harms the planet in landfill to something that heals it by nourishing the soil. Liddy will love the idea that, in their own small way, they’re doing something to save the planet for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The little we can do is a lot – that’s Liddy’s motto.

Composting for a busy brother

For her brother Stephen, who is officially the busiest man on the planet (which he would love to save if he could only get the staff), Rachel plans to get a Green Johanna hot composter. He’s seen Paul and Rachel’s Johanna at work in their garden and has even been known to make himself useful by emptying the kitchen caddy into it. The idea of having a ready supply of his own free compost would definitely appeal too.

Green Johanna Winter Jacket

Worm-farming for children

Stephen’s wife Jill would also like to save the earth; she just doesn’t want it being traipsed through the house on the children’s muddy boots. So Rachel thought a great present for their children, Billie and Ben, would be a wormery. She managed to sell the idea to Stephen by saying it would get the kids interested in eco-science (anything educational always gets his vote), and Jill agreed when she knew the Maze Worm Farm could be kept in the shed. Rachel knows the kids will be fascinated by the process, and if through harvesting their own vermicompost they gain a passion for gardening, well…that’s the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

Rachel suspects it might become her job to teach her niece and nephew how to harvest the compost, but it will be more than worth it to see them giggle when she tells them that this nutritious soil food is essentially the worms’ poo. If you’re under 10 it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

Gifts for the eco-conscious young

What could be better for Rachel and Paul’s son, George, than a Compost Tumbler for the back yard of his student house? The compost it produces will come in handy for all their potted plants and vegetable raised beds, as well as at the  community garden where they help out.  

And a useful stocking filler would be a kitchen cooking oil container. George has taken on the job of storing his household’s used oil in various containers to take to the local recycling centre where it’s collected to be turned into electricity. But this purpose-built 3 litre container with its secure lid will make it so much easier to store and transport the oil.

George has had to stop his housemates pouring their used oil down the sink, which they thought was the right thing to do. In fact, what happens is the oil binds with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers. Everybody thinks their own little bit of oil can’t do any harm but try telling that to the engineers who get the lovely job of breaking down these monster blockages so that the rest of us can flush the toilet confident the waste will just disappear. Sewage backflow anyone?

Every millilitre adds up. Isn’t this at the heart of recycling? Grandma Liddy says: The little we can do is a lot. And she’s right; there are no small acts.

A present for the planet

For Millie, George’s girlfriend, Rachel will get a bokashi bin. Millie showed great interest in Paul and Rachel’s Maze Bokashi Bin when she saw it on their kitchen worktop and was fascinated when Rachel explained the anaerobic process which ferments all food waste, turning it into pre-compost. Well, not every girl wants scented candles…

14 litre Maze Bokashi Bin

Millie will be able to feed her houseplants with the diluted bokashi ‘tea’ fertiliser that drains from the contents of the bokashi bin. The tea can also be used concentrated as organic drain cleaner. Another freebie – what’s not to like? When the food waste has fermented to become pre-compost pulp, she will add it as an accelerator to the Compost Tumbler to break down into compost.

Paul suggested that with all this festive recycling going on, perhaps he could give back to Stephen and Jill the flashing-nose Rudolph jumper they gave him last Christmas?

Rachel said no.

Spare Parts