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Five-star cuisine for the garden

Peter Lickorish, apprentice at Manea School of Gardening
Peter Lickorish, apprentice at Manea School of Gardening

All too often we just keep taking from our gardens. We prune our plants, dead-head them, constantly taking away goodness that was once stored in the soil, and we do not always give something back!

A light mulch of garden compost is excellent for improving soil structure and replenishing nutrients. And one trend-setting method of making fresh compost we’ve been looking at lately on the RHS course is a wormery.

Building a wormery for the garden
Building a wormery for the garden

A wormery can be as simple as you want it to be – you needn’t be obsessed with worms (no, they don’t need taking for a walk or vaccinating) and there are a range of options – from designer wormeries to building your own from odds and ends.

The basic concept is that a supply of fruit and vegetable peelings, as well as some paper and card (to prevent the mixture becoming too soggy and sludgy) are fed to worms and converted into fresh compost.

This process is far quicker than conventional composting and a wormery can be small and free-standing: ideal for courtyards or balconies.

You will, however, need a supply of worms and earthworms (the bulk of worms found in your garden) are not suitable as they only aerate soil – excellent for improving soil structure in the garden, but not accelerating compost. The worms needed are tiger or brandling worms – usually smaller, more ribbed in appearance, and redder – as these actively turn waste to compost. They can be purchased from fishing-tackle shops or vermiculture (worm culture) companies.

It may be advisable to purchase worm bran or feed initially, to help the population establish, and once happy their numbers will usually double within four months.

The best systems tend to use stackable trays, with holes at the base to allow worm passage – a top tray with a lid is for filling with peelings, and then one or more trays beneath for the worms to pull the material through.

A bottom tray is also required, from which the fresh ‘worm compost’ can be extracted. Since this material is fully composted, no worms should be present in this layer so you can take away compost without losing worms.

The bottom tray should either include a tap for draining excess water (worms will not survive in fully saturated compost) or a small grit soakaway beneath the bottom layer will equally drain excess moisture.

This water is not redundant – it will be full of nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and can be used to water plants as a valuable feed (another bonus from a wormery, compared to a standard compost heap).

You can build wormeries out of old boxes (as long as you perforate the bases), crates or even beehives, or a stylish wormery can be purchased which can look rather ornamental.

Generally, wormeries are trouble-free, except sometimes too much acid material (such as a large proportion of citrus fruit peelings) can slow the worm’s decomposing. Worms will often be scarce in a traditional compost heap as the temperature can be too high for them (except at the very top), but in the wormery they speed up the process, providing fresh compost which is ideal for mulching in pots or small borders.

The next time you prune your plants, why not give something back? Your plants will thank you for some five-star wormery cuisine.

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