How to look after and feed your wormery

(Including a downloadable worm menu – with gourmet treats!)

It’s easy once you know how

Wormeries are easy to run once you get the knack – you just need a bit of practise and info to get you on the right track. I must confess to killing two whole colonies (traumatic days!) before I went to the library to get a book on how to do it. Here’s the essential, ‘need to know’ facts to avoid the common pitfalls.

As long as you’re starting with a well designed wormery (an easy DIY one, here), there’s really only three things you need to do to keep it healthy: site it in a sheltered space, keep it moist, and most importantly, feed it carefully.

1. Feeding

Feeding is where things can most easily go wrong when you’re starting out.  Here’s the four golden rules

  1. Little at first: When starting your wormery, your first job is to feed it carefully and patiently while the worm population multiplies. You’ll probably have 300 – 500 worms in your wormery starter pack. But a mature, fully productive wormery has several thousand! Your worm population will double in size every two to three months, so it may take 12 – 18 months until your wormery is at full capacity. It’s better to add too little food than too much (particularly early on). Add too much and the food will putrefy (go off and get smelly). In optimal conditions, worms can eat about half their body weight a day. In cooler weather it will be a lot less.
  2. Add 20 – 30% carbon rich, ‘brown matter’ that’s cardboard, newspaper or wood chips – in addition to the food waste. Cardboard and wood chip will also help create air spaces in the wormery (worms, like us, need air).
  3. Don’t add any one ingredient in large quantities (particularly processed foods).
  4. Feed it a varied diet. This will help create a healthy wormery and a rich worm compost full of nutrients and trace elements – good things include banana skins and comfrey leaves (for potassium), coffee and nettles (for nitrogen).
Examples of staple foods for a wormery: veg pelings, tea bags, coffee grounds and banana skins. Remember to mix in 20 - 30% card or wood chip as well

Examples of staple foods for a wormery: veg pelings, tea bags, coffee grounds and banana skins. Remember to mix in 20 – 30% card or wood chip as well

How do you know when to feed?

When you lift the lid of your wormery, can you see a few worms scouting round the surface? If yes, it needs feeding. If not, wait until you do. Usually you’ll find they need feeding once or twice a week.

In this image you can see a few worms on the surface - this is usually a sign that they are hungry and need feeding.

In this image you can see a few worms on the surface – this is usually a sign that they are hungry and need feeding.

Worm Menu (including gourmet delicacies)

Yes to:            Mix about 20-30% carbon rich (brown font) with 70 – 80% nitrogen rich (black). Gourmet delicacies        Add when you find  –  none are essential. OK (in moderation) to: Wise to avoid completely until your wormery is established. No to:
Fruit peelings (worms love banana skins – a good source of potassium) Composted manure (add a 1 or 2 inch layer every 6 weeks) – adds valuable soil life. Worms love it! Onion skins (too acidic) Meat and Fish – these will be broken down in a wormery but may spread disease eg BSE.
Veg peelings eg potatoes, carrot, (not onions) Garden soil (just a handful here and there) – adds grit for worm gizzards and soil life. Citrus (too acidic) Dog / cat pooh
Cardboard – tear up in small pieces, and sprinkle with water to dampen it. Nettles – chop up and add a layer occasionally – rich in nitrogen and trace elements. Oily food
Newspaper / waste paper – shredded. Comfrey leaves – chop up and a layer occasionally – rich in potassium and trace elements. Spicy foods
Wood chip – composted if possible. (Avoid fresh pine wood chip) Liquid seaweed fertiliser – adds trace elements and promotes soil life. Effective but expensive and far from essential. Anything very salty (eg fresh sea weed)
Coffee grounds and tea bags. Fine sawdust
Leftover cooked foods (avoid adding in large quantities) Grass cuttings
Bread, rice, cereals, pastries, cake Garden waste
Egg shells – crushed Processed food
Green waste compost Cheese
Cut flowers

You can also download this menu as a pdf, here:

Holiday feeding

Worms are quite happy for two to three weeks without feeding. Don’t add excess food before you go away, as this may become rancid. Feed them as normal, perhaps adding extra damp cardboard and / or a layer of green waste compost or manure (this will provide food for the worms but won’t go off).

2. A sheltered site

Worms do best in a constant temperature, not too hot or too cold. A shady is spot is best (15 – 25 oC is optimum). If possible, it’s also good to place it somewhere protected from strong winds (to avoid it getting too cold) and rain (to minimise risk of flooding, see tip below).

Tip: If your wormery will be rained on, leave the worm juice tap (if there is one) open with a collection jug underneath. This will help prevent flooding and possible mass worm extinction.

 3. Keep the wormery damp

A healthy worm bin should be damp (like a squeezed out flannel) not dry or wet. Water lightly if it gets too dry. Add more paper and card if too wet.

Trouble shooting

The wormery should smell sweet and healthy. An unpleasant smell is a sign that something is wrong. The two most common causes of a bad smell are:

1. Overfeeding leading to putrefaction of uneaten food. Solution: feed less.

2. Adding too much green matter and too little brown matter. Solution: add more torn up card or newspaper or wood chippings.

 

That’s it! Do you have any other wormery tips or stories to share?

136 comments… add one

  • Hey guys I have just started my can o worms again with 1kg of tiger worms. It’s been up and running a weeks nearly and they seem to be active. My question is how much food should I be putting in and do they eat it when it’s fresh or does it have to start breaking down first?

    Also should I get the other common composting worm too so I have a mix? can’t remember it’s name lol

    Reply
  • Hi,
    Have just collected a wormery that someone was giving away. It hasnt been used forma couple of years. Do I need to clean it out before setting it up again? It has a bit of compost and even an apricot that has set down roots!
    Many thanks

    Becka

    Reply
    • I don’t think cleaning is necessary unless you want to. If it has a reservoir / tap at the bottom, I would give that a clean to make sure the tap doesn’t get blocked up.

      Reply
  • hello everyone.

    i could use some advice on my wormery.
    i think i got the basics right and it doesnt smell. but the worms don’t look very lively.
    i was wondering how i can check: if its too dry for worms, and if they have enough air coming in.

    any comment is highly appreciated.

    judith

    Reply
  • thanks for all the information!

    even though i only started growing vegetables in pots myself, im already expanding to a small greenhouse in my mothers garden
    and i’ve researched where to obtain the items for my own wormery here in the netherlands.
    i know worms still creep me out a bit, but i decided to give it a try.
    i’ll put the wormery outside, somewhere in the shade, so that when they decide to flee, i won’t have them in my home. jikes

    i didn’t want to try the bokashi. mainly because its a bit expensive to try out.

    and for an update on my plants:
    i’ve harvested a fair amount of rocket over the past few months.
    in the beginning i nearly drowned them, and now they sometimes shrivle up a bit because they are drying out. (laughing out loud)
    i haven’t tried out that self watering system just yet. but i most certainly will in the future.
    since then i planted some cherry tomatoes and more recently some carrots, cucumbers, unions, rosemary and a few other vegetables i dont know the english names of.
    the cucumbers started sprouting in a few days!
    and the tomatoes have a few… what look like burn spots on the leaves.
    i have no idea why.

    im sooo happy with this website and the tips and advice everyone gives.

    now all i need to do in 6 months is look up a lot of recipes so i dont wast any food that i might harvest.

    might be a good idea for a few links on the website if you’re interested mark.

    thanks again all of you. i’ll keep you posted

    judith

    Reply
  • Where did we get the idea that worms can’t survive without us providing a wormery or bin? Worms have survived in the “wild” for millions of years without the help of humans. Just make a small pile outside, no higher than 18 inches but as long as you need. Keep it covered with shredded leaves. Bury the food scraps so the pile doesn’t attract critters, and you’ll have worms for years with no work.

    Reply
    • It’s an interesting observation, and you’re absolutely right that worms will survive without a bin – what you are suggesting is like many compost heaps. However, for those without a garden, having a worm bin makes sense for several reasons. Not least it enables you to keep worms in a small space like a balcony (where a pile of food waste and leaves in the corner would not be so practical). I also know that our local black bird population would be delighted if I didn’t keep my worms in a bin as they would be straight in there to eat as many as they could!

      Reply
  • Hello,
    I have has a stacking tray style of wormery for about 9 months now and it seems to be thriving. The bottom tray is completely full of compost and the second tray is half full. I have 2 more trays that I am not using yet, do I need to wait to the second tray to be full before I add them or am I meant to put a little food in each tray so the worms can climb up?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • HI Rebecca, no strict rules as such but normally you’d fill all the trays and then use the compost in the bottom one. But there’s nothing to stop you from using worm compost in the bottom tray before the other ones are all full – just check it is ready to use. It should have stopped looking like food waste – and smell and look like soil instead of waste food! You also want to make sure that most of the worms have climbed up from the bottom tray before you use – but there will probably always be a few in there.

      Reply
  • Hi Mark

    I’ve had my wormery for about 10 years and the worms still quite active – however is there anything I can do about the flies – they seem to be a type of mosquito – which breed constantly in the wormery- I’ve tried taking out the larvae but to no great avail and obviously I can’t use a chemical – Thanks, Anne

    Reply
    • HI Anne, they sound like they could be fruit flies? Try burying the food in the worm compost instead of putting it as layer on the top – hiding the waste food from the flies. Or try a mulch (ie layer) of damp, torn up newspaper over the top to hide the food from the flies. Neither of these methods will always get rid of them but they can help.

      Reply
  • I think I have killed my wormer you how can I get it started again. I have had it for 8 years

    Reply
    • You’ll have to get some more worms Viv – either from a friend with a wormery or compost heap or you can buy them online (Bubblehouse worms are good). You’ll also want to remove any putrified or smelling food thats in the wormery. If the whole thing is a nasty, gunky mess, I’d be tempted to remove it all and start again from scratch. But if you have some nice worm compost at the bottom, keep that as it will make good bedding for your new worms. Good luck! (Ps i killed two colonies before I got the hang of it!).

      Reply
  • I started a bought wormery with 3 levels about 6 weeks ago. The worms seem to be thriving but how long is it before the worm tea collects. There is none in the bottom catchment area.

    Reply
    • I have the issue as well – I have a happy population with lots of baby worms after around 3 months but no liquid. One of my online suggests flooding (as a large rainstorm) to generate wash through a load of nutrients and as long as the water rapidly drains through the worms shouldn’t drown.

      Reply
      • Do you need the liquid, Mat? I have several worms that produce no liquid because they are well ventilated so all the liquid run-off simply evaporates. I’m more than happy with this as it means all the nutrients remain in the compost, making it richer and more wonderful. Personally, I think I prefer to use the compost than the liquid…. some gardeners swear by the liquid, but others say that it can be rather variable in quality.

        Reply
        • I want the liquid only because I don’t want to disturb the worms (and their eggs) because I have just a large plastic box rather than one of these fancy multi level mechanisms that automatically separate worm and compost

          Reply
          • Hi Mat, I have several wormeries that are just one box – harvesting them does disturb the worms for a few days, but they soon get back hard at work again.

          • Another question I cannot find the answer to on wormy websites – how much of my super worm poop should I use to fertilise my veggies with? I have a fair amount now and wondered whether its something I should be delicately measuring by the gram or just grabbing handfuls for each plant.

          • Hi Mat, how much you use depends on several things including how rich your worm compost is, what you are growing (fruiting crops like tomatoes or courgettes will like more than leafy crops like rocket), how large the pot is, and how many nutrients are left in the existing compost. But, as a rough rule of thumb I’d probably mix into old compost 10 – 20% worm compost by volume for salads and other leafy crops, and 20 – 40% for fruit crops like tomatoes or runner beans. If I’m using new compost I normal just chuck a couple of handfuls into each pot, primarily to add soil life. I also add a couple of handfuls to each pot of hungry crops like squash about two thirds of the way through the growing season – just to give them a final boost. So I guess the answer to your question is much more about grabbing handfuls than fine measuring – it’s also about observing and experimenting and finding what works for you. But hopefully this is a rough guide to help get you started! Good luck, mark

          • One last question for the moment – my worms have been in their box for around 3 months now and very happy they seem too. I have a massive population of babies and am quite the proud parent. They have however eaten through all of the bedding material that I put in when I first established the wormery (mainly newspaper). Do I need to replace this or add more ‘dry’ material? I’m concerned it might get too funky in there

  • I have had a wiggly worms wormery for 4 year and had no probs until today when I looked and all worms are dead! The contents smell bad and all liquidy. The last thing I put in was a load of cardboard from some ikea furniture which has been fine before. Maybe I put too much in? Not sure, any other suggestions?

    Reply
    • Adding too much green food can be a problem, but too much cardboard shouldn’t. Sometimes with those wormeries, the tap gets blocked and the whole wormery fills up with water, particularly if open to the rain. The worms get flooded and drowned. Is that what could have happened?

      Reply
  • Hello Mark,

    I have just started my wormery today! I just have one question (for the moment), I made my wormery myself with a plastic box. The plastic box is clear but I lined it all round with newspaper to try and keep it dark. Do you think this will be enough? I was also considering wrapping cardboard round the outside, should I do this or leave it as it is?

    Reply
    • Congratulations on making your own wormery, that’s brilliant Sophia. Worms do need the dark so wrapping something round the outside is a good idea as the paper inside will decompose quite quickly. You do also want to make sure that plenty of air gets into that plastic box, so make sure that there are plenty of holes in it so the worms can breathe. Wishing you every success with it.

      Reply
  • I have an old can o worms that is neglected but am intending to revitalise. I have read your question and answer section and have picked up some useful tips. I have some fresh worms on order. My first question is how chopped is meant when you say chop food and shred cardboard? Not purée? Also the liquid waste that comes from wormery…what ratio to water to use as a liquid feed? How long can you keep this liquid if have too much to use straight away.? Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Chris, some people do puree food for the worms but I think it is better to chop it up – as this gives a much more airy mix than a puree (worms like us need air). You don’t have to chop it up at all, but it does help it to break down significantly faster.

      There are no hard and fast rules about how much to dilute the liquid as it is not a consistent product. About one in ten is about right – probably best to go weaker than stronger. It’s best to use it fairly soon – one of the biggest benefits of the liquid is the microbial life it contains, and this will die off if left too long.

      Reply
      • Thanks Mark. Have found info on your site very helpful and has inspired me to revitalise my old wormery and look at growing some pea shoots on my window in a pot. Don’t have a sill wide enough for a box like you use so pot. will do..only two of us after all

        Reply
        • Great stuff, Chris – thank you for your kind comments. Almost any sized pot will be fine for pea shoots. Hope you enjoy growing and eating them.

          Reply
  • I have just emptied my wormery and the fluid. Floating about in the fluid are hundreds on tiny wiggle things that eventually gathered into on mass, any idea what these might be please.

    Reply
    • I think they are probably pot worms, is so they are harmless and won’t do any harm (you can email me a picture mark@verticalveg.org.uk if you like). Most other life in a wormery (in addition to the worms) plays a role in the natural process of breaking it down. Some people say that lots of white worms mean your wormery is too acidic (others don’t agree) but you might want to add some more torn up paper or another carbon source to help neutralise it a bit. Having said that, they won’t do any harm.

      Reply
  • Hi Mark, I always enjoy the questions asked and your prompt positive suggestions. The worm bug is certainly alive in me too. I have a further question:-
    I will shortly need to empty the lower tray in the Vermihut bin. I plan to empty the tray onto a plastic sheet. Is there another way to empty the tray without having to fondle and remove each worm one by one and to leave these little creatures to daylight which they dislike? I have emptied the tray before but would appreciate a more efficient method.

    Reply
    • If you move the bottom tray to the top, disturb it a bit, and leave the lid off on a bright day, you may encourage quite a lot of the worms to move down into the tray below. Might be worth a try? If you find a better way, do let me know!

      Reply
  • Just been out to see how the wormery has survived the winter and, 12 months after starting it, we now have two full levels really mature with the top level actively being digested.

    Now I start to have choices: do I go for expansion and create 4 wormeries, to start using stuff next year, or should we start using the vermicompost this year??

    Reply
  • I’ve inherited a wormery, we haven’t added anything over the winter, and it’s quite full on top, and there’s lots of worm-tea (v. thick, drainage blocked) in the bottom. What worries me are the thousands of little white larvae-like creatures on top of this thick liquid – they flit around, they are very small, so difficult to strain them out, especially as the liquid is very thick. Seems a shame to throw all this stuff out but I don’t want to add anything nasty to my garden! Thanks for any advice.

    Reply
    • It sounds like they might be pot worms, Jacky. Don’t worry, they won’t do any damage to your garden.

      Reply
      • Thanks so much, Mark, that’s great, I’ve unblocked the tap, it’s now working beautifully and I’ve got loads of lovely worm-tea (more like chocolate!) for my garden.

        Reply
  • Hi,

    I have started a trial on doing wormery. Last night before going to sleep, I poured some water into the container to damp the soils (in the dark).Sadly,, this morning when I checked my wormery I have just realized that I literally flooded my wormery. Mass production are dead and turned white. Any suggestion on reviving them?Please.

    Clumsy & Desperate,
    vivi

    Reply
    • Drain out the water as much as you can. Mix in some dry cardboard to try and dry out the remaining food compost a bit. And good luck! Btw you don’t often need to add water unless the weather is very hot – I guess as you are writing from Aus you might be in a heatwave at the moment? You might also adding damp card in the future – that might be a more controlled way of introducing moisture.

      Reply
      • We Australians do some very strange things. You could always try mouth to mouth. Barry. :-)

        Reply
  • Hi Mark, I have purchased a Vermihut Worm Bin five months now. I have a few issues!
    a-The liquid collection tray has very little liquid and once in awhile I check and find a few worms have slipped down into it. Is this normal?
    b-The trays are full and contain a good variety of fruit, vegetables, card, fibre, grass, flower blossom, grounded egg shell, newspaper. Am I over feeding?
    c-No fat or milky products have been given but some worms have a white coloured ring around them, what could be the concern?
    c- I have not chopped up all the above waste should this be done? Would it help? Is is overfilled? Am I too eager?
    many thanks for your help.
    Jack

    Reply
    • Hi Jack, apologies for the slow reply. Yes it sound like you are over feeding. It takes a while for a wormery to get up and running – at least a year normally before it is at full capacity. And even then most wormeries will only cope with one caddy a week of food waste in spring, summer and autumn, and less in winter when it is cold. Add the food in thin layers and don’t add more until you see worms on the surface. It does require some patience I’m afraid while you wait for the worm population to multiply. But it will be worth it in the end. If you have a lot of food waste you might want to get a second wormery or build a larger one (surface area is the key thing) or try bokashi as well. Good luck! Mark

      Reply
  • Hi I have just inherited a 3 storey wormery, the bottom has a thin layer of worm casts which is dripping liquid through the tap, the next layer has a thinner layer of worm casts and a small amount of composting waste, with no visible worms but wood lice! The top layer has slightly composted waste. What do I do now? I have a plentiful supply of food waste as well as newspaper and can put in shed for winter.
    Advice welcome.

    Reply
    • Hi Ann, woodlice are good in a wormery, they will help break things down. You don’t mention any worms… I assume that there are some in there! Can you put your hand in (or a trowel in) to turn over the compost and check? As long as you have worms you should be fine. Where are you living? If you are in the UK then you will only need to feed the wormery occasionally over winter months as the worms will eat less when it is cool – yes, good idea, do keep it in the shed, it will be warmer and the worms will be able to eat a bit more. Add little at a time and check once a week or so to see how it is doing – don’t add more until it looks like the food is being broken down. Too much fresh food will go off and start to smell. Good luck!

      Reply
      • Hi – thanks for that – sounds positive!
        Have found couple of worms and woodlice have gone into hiding now I’ve mentioned them but we’ll see how we go on.
        I’m in Peak District so one of highest allotments in England, have put the wormery in the shed with some well torn up newspapers. No smell, tap dripping into tray, I’ll leave them and see how they are in a week.
        I’ve also go wood ash which I think I can add in moderation so that is a possibility.
        Cheers and thanks again.

        Reply
  • Hi Mark.Wrote to you once before after id read your advice on starting a wormery. Things since then have gone great. My wormery is just magic, thanks to you. The main thing i use it for is to feed my koi carp and They love the large fat juicy worms. About two months after setting up my wormery i started feeding them to my fish. I pick out ten worms a day for the fish They love them. Thing is Mark I’ve miles more worms now than when i started. Yes of course the worms are only part of the fish diet. Same as feeding the worms A good variety of different foods. My worms i feed mostly fruit [ no citrus ] I always cut it up really small. Got a small blender for blending egg shells to almost a powder. Also use a fair bit of chopped up cardboard. The worms and my fish [ some of my Koi are 25yrs old ] Well thanks again Mark for all your help with my wormery. I keep reading all your articles. Keep up the Good Work. Gone 1oclock now Mark. will text you this in the morning. Night night-God Bless. Sorry gotta do it now. Hope it don’t wake you up. By

    Reply
  • Hi all , desperate for some advice. My wormery is an old one that is basically like a wheelie bin, one be void and its been used for maybe 2 years. Lately all the worms are stuck to the sides when I open it. I think that the compost is too wet. I always add shredded cardboard but I’m not very regular with feeding. Also the liquid has stopped coming out of the tap. Any help will be appreciated, thanks

    Reply
    • Worms crawling round the sides is quite normal, Pam. But you don’t want your wormery too wet. If no liquid is coming out the bottom, it sounds like it might have got blocked – and this is not good as it can lead to all the worms drowning. I’d try emptying the wormery, harvesting the worm compost and seeing if you can unblock it at the same time.

      Reply
  • Just come across this website and wondered if I could get some advice. I have had a wormery for some years and there is a very healthy looking worm population. When the lowest layer is thoroughly composted and I go to collect it I find it still has a large population of worms in. I have been picking them out and relocating them to the newest layer but I’m wondering if this is a sign that I have too many worms and should just leave the worms in the fresh compost when I use it on the garden. Or is there some way to encourage the worms to move up to the next layer? Appreciate any thoughts.

    Reply
    • Hi Katheryn, I have a slightly similar problem in that I’ve always got worms in the bottom layer of compost. I’ve read advice that says that as long as there is anything at all to eat, the worms will stay there. I think in my case I put eggshells in when I heard worms liked them, but before I read that they should be finely crushed! Hence it it probably the bits of eggshells keeping them there. I also read that you can just put the layer of compost on the top of the wormery with the lid off for a while and because worms don’t like the light, they will burrow down through the holes to the next layer. If there are still a few left they will be perfectly happy being tipped onto the garden with the compost. As you say you’ve got plenty of worms, it sounds as though you can afford to lose a few! Hope this helps. It’s quite a responsibility isn’t it, looking after our little wormy friends?!!

      Reply
  • Mark

    9 months after setting up the wormery, things are now going really well. We’ve got a pretty full first layer and a second layer half filled, so it’s looking like that by the end of the summer/early autumn, we should have a first wormery full.

    My first operational issue has just emerged in that the sink for collecting excess liquid is now failing to drain, presumably as solid particles have got through and started blocking things.

    I’ve started adding more cardboard and newspaper to try and balance things up, but the short-term issue is how to stop this happening again. I originally underlaid the bottom tray with newspaper, but presumably that has now been digested and, hence, any excess liquid will just drip through. I”m not objecting to the juice as I’ve used it to feed courgettes, tomatoes in pots with great success, but a blocked drain is a bit of a pain.

    Have you had such problems before and did you come up with a neat solution to solve it??

    Cheers

    Rhys

    Reply
    • Hello Rhys, The only advice I can think of, and you have probably done it, is to take the layers off and try and unplug whatever is blocking up the outlet. I have put the square of filter type material that came with the wormery on the very bottom layer, and I think it does keep the outlet from clogging, as it always has compost stuck to it, which I I rinse off every so often and put it back. I have a question about the juice you said you have fed your courgettes and tomatoes with, as I have heard conflicting advice on the liquid from wormeries. Some say it’s leachate and that it’s actually not good and shouldn’t be used, but you have obviously used it successfully. Did you dilute it? Can you tell me, Mark what is correct about the liquid that comes out of the tap in a wormery?

      Reply
  • Hello, just an update on my query regarding now many layers I can have in my wormery. I thought ‘In for a penny…’ and put both the new ones I had bought on top with some food and newspaper, so I ended up with five layers because I hadn’t time to sort the bottom almost compost layer out and left it where it was. I’ve just had a look and there are worms happily noshing away in all five layers! I will be harvesting the bottom one, maybe two soon, but they seem fine so far.

    Reply
  • I’ve just ordered a wormery – Nature’s Wormery 360 4-Tray Kit – 64 Litre Volume by Nature’s Footprint Ltd.

    I’ve read many articles on the internet and trawled through loads of discussion forums and I would like to say “thank you”; I believe your blog has provided me with practically everything that’s necessary to know in an easy-to-read (both visually and intellectually!), concise and uncomplicated article.

    I now feel far less daunted about getting my wormery started and established!

    Reply
    • Brilliant Louise – and so glad you found some info on here to help you. Good luck with the new wormery – would love to hear how it goes.

      Reply
  • Can anyone tell me how many layers I can have on my wormery? I have a bottom layer, nearly composted and two other layers with organic matter in them which the worms are working on, but the top layer is getting full already – we eat a lot of veg! Can I start another layer, or will the worms be too busy working on the others and leave the top one to get smelly and putrid?

    Reply
    • Hi Sue, to be honest, I’m not sure – I think I’ve seen wormeries with four layers, not sure how far you can push it. Would be an interesting experiment. You just want to make sure that the worms can cope with all the food – too much and it can start going rancid and smelly, probably not what you want! The obvious solution if you have space is to get (or make) another wormery. I have three now. You won’t need to buy new worms as you can just transfer some from your existing wormery.

      Reply
      • Thanks Mark. I think I’ll experiment and see how I get on. If I find the wormery is getting yucky I’ll start another one. I should have thought of this before I bought two more layers!

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  • I have just investigated an old wormery for the first time in several years. It still had a dribble or two of liquid worm manure coming out of the tap, but the “compost” inside contains lots of almost whole egg-shells and tea-bag fabric, making it unsuitable for putting on the garden as it is. And not a worm in sight. Should I just buy some new worms and tip them in, hoping they will break it all down further, or do I have to start again from scratch….?

    Reply
    • Hi Tina, I’ve not had an old wormery like this before – but I would probably keep some of the compost as bedding for your new worms and sieve the rest of it, putting all the eggshells and teabags bag into to the wormery, and using the sieved compost for your plants. If you crush egg shells well before adding them to the wormery it will help them break down a lot faster.

      Reply
  • Hey Mark! Amazing article, thank you!!
    Started on an allotment plot, and I’ve always wanted to have a wormery. I’d seen people use a bath before, but before even finding one, I got my hands on a fridge! I’ve been reading the comments on here, and have seen other articles, but I can’t find specific information for this question, so I hope you can help!

    Would it be better to take the doors off of the fridge, for perfect darkness and probably a more constant temperature? Or should I take the door off, so they can have some light and.. more oxygen?… I doubt they’d be affected seeing how small they are.. but not sure!

    Look forward to hearing from you!! thanks again in advance!

    Reply
    • Tommy, worms prefer darkness – they’ll actively crawl away from light. At the same time, they also need plenty of air – like us they need to breathe. I’m struggling to visualise your fridge wormery… but normally a lid of a wormery will have plenty of air holes – and then you cover the worms inside with a layer of card of similar to help keep them in the dark. Usually you do want a lid to protect the wormery from rain and also to prevent rats getting in. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  • Great website. Thanks for all the tips. I have had a couple of wormeries for a few years and aside from on a couple of occasions when the worms got down to so few numbers I could have given them individual names they are now operating ok. My question is that my wormeries are definitely on the acidic side (hoards of thin white worms). I know you can put crushed egg shells in which I do, is there anything else I can add. Eg wood ash from our wood burner?

    Reply
    • Hi Jenny, are you adding plenty of ‘brown’ matter – ie card, paper or wood chip? In my experience that can help. Also, if you think its getting a bit acidic, trying to add less citrus and onion skins will help.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your reply Mark. Yes loads of cardboard, at least 25%, by volume and I never add citrus or onions. I do confess to over feeding the worms and regularly have to mix up the top tray to get air to it. Just wondered whether wood ash could help to both soak up excess moisture as well as add lime/potassium?

        Reply
        • I’ve not had access to wood ash, Jenny, so I’ve not been able to try it but as I understand it you can add it to a wormery in moderation. It certainly contains valuable nutrients and it is slightly alkali so would reduce the effect of the PH. Definitely worth a try I would have thought – observing what effect it has. I’d also try not to overfeed if you can – this may be the main cause of the problem. If you have too much food waste you could think about another wormery or perhaps a bokashi bin. Food that is pre-composted in bokashi will, if added in moderate quantities, break down very quickly in a wormery and help speed up the composting in the wormery.

          Reply
          • Thanks Mark. I think you are right, the main culprit is my over feeding them because my wormeries look a lot less healthy than your picture above. So I’ve ordered another wormery and until that is up and running properly I will try and restrain myself from being lazy and emptying all our veg/fruit waste in them rather than the hike up to the garden compost bins at the end of the garden. I am going to try a little wood ash mixed in with a little soil and see what happens.
            Thanks again.
            Jenny

          • Good idea. I’m sure you’ll have noticed that you can add a whole lot more food to your wormeries in the warmer months than over winter – so the winter months are the time to be particularly careful about over feeding.

  • Hi,
    I live in a studio flat with a small balcony that I am using to grow food. I started a wormery in December and already harvested in early March. I Recycle food wast in cut off water bottles. Any ideas please of how to keep the wast from smelling?

    Many thanks,

    Miesha.

    Reply
    • Hi Miesha, could you put the food waste straight in the wormery? Wormeries are one of the best ways I know of recycling food in a small space without smell. (I haven’t tried this myself but one thing that might make a difference is to mix shredded cardboard with your food in your bottles – this is often a good cure for smelly compost so it might work a smaller scale, too. If you try it, do let me know if it works!)

      Reply
      • Hi Mark, your advise worked like magic. Thank you so much for that information.

        Reply
        • Ah, that’s great, so glad it worked – thanks for coming back to let me know.

          Reply
  • Mark

    I’ve had the wormery set up now for 2 months or so and although some large worms have developed and are clearly visible when you poke around a bit, there’s no evidence yet of any worm tea collecting and I’m not totally convinced that I have 500 worms doing their job yet.

    It is of course possible for a novice to have killed a few off I suppose at the start through incompetence, so I was wondering how many you would expect to detect easily if you’ve actually got 300 – 500 worms in a 2 month old bin.

    So far, we are two thirds of the way up the first tray of a Tiger Wormery, although much of the stuff still has to properly break down (newspaper shreds are nice and damp and carrot leaves are still green, but there’s no real evidence of compost yet).

    Should I be considering buying a top-up of worms or should I wait another 3 – 6 months before making such decisions??

    I realise you can’t say definitively, but any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Hi Rhys, apologies for the slow reply. Are you in the UK or somewhere else cool? Wormeries are usually quite slow to get started, particularly when the weather is cool. As it warms up the worms should start breeding quicker and their numbers will soon multiply. In the meantime, its best to try and be patient (its difficult, I know, it’s a slow process) and also not feed too much food – your wormery will only be operating at a fraction of its capacity until the worm numbers multiply.

      Reply
      • I’m based in London and the wormery was in a garage until about a week ago when the warm weather pushed me to bring it outside under the carport, albeit still with the insulating coat still wrapped around it.

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  • Hi Mark, thanks for all the advice on here, it has given me some useful pointers. I have not had too much success with my colony having unfortunately killed on the first attempt and I think it is going pretty slowly right now on my second attempt. I definitely need to add some cardboard, I have never done that. One question however; I have thousands of tiny white threadlike worms, are these baby tiger worms or something less useful? I have often found a number of drowned worms in the sump tray, slightly concerned I am getting it all wrong? Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Hi Will, the white worms are pot worms and are useful to have in a wormery as they contribute to the composting process. If you get lots of them it can may indicate your wormery is a bit acidic. This is not usually too much of a problem, but it might be a good idea to add add a bit more brown stuff (cardboard is usually easy to find and works well – dampen it with water first, if possible). If worms are drowning in the sump tray I’d recommend leaving the tap open with a plastic jug or similar under it – that should help solve that. Also, I’m not sure if your wormery is exposed to rain but if it is finding a way to protect it from the rain is a good idea (not essential though). Mark

      Reply
  • My wormery has been in the garage now for more than a year, with great success. But recently I find a fine white ‘web’ forming against the side on the inside. What could it be and is it harmful to the worms?

    Reply
    • Hi Suzanne, gosh, I’m not sure. Maybe a fungus? If that’s what it is, I think it is probable that it won’t do much harm, but is just another part of the decay process in the wormery. Does the wormery still look and smell healthy otherwise? If you can email me a photo to mark@verticalveg.org.uk I can try and find out more for you.

      Reply
  • Hi, just got a new Tiger Wormery which I set up last weekend.

    1. Should you keep a wormy inside in the winter (Like in the Garage or the Garden Shed) or will it be Ok leaned up against the side of the house under a car port?
    2 . How many weeks/months will it be before you are obviously increasing volume?

    Reply
    • HI Rhys, if you’ve got a garage or shed with space to spare, I’d keep it inside – particularly while you are getting it established in winter (ideally you want to get it established before winter but you should still be OK). If not, unless the weather is very cold where you are (you don’t say where?) it will usually be OK outside – I talk more about getting wormeries ready for winter here: http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/what-to-do-in-november/

      In your second question, do you mean how long until you will be adding food in larger volume? If so, its hard to give a precise answer because it will depend on the temperature (it’ll signigicantly slower if you’re starting in winter), the number of worms you start with, and how happy they are. The trick is to observe and only add a little food at first. In good conditions,the worms double in number every three months or so – so it will most probably be a few months at least. I generally reckon on year before a wormery is operating close to its full capacity.

      Does this help?

      Mark

      Reply
      • Yeah thanks, it does. I’ve shifted it into the garage for the winter and taken out quite a few bits of food after reading your stuff.

        The worms are definitely alive, but they are much, much smaller than the ones on the videos – I’ll have a look in a fortnight to see how things are going.

        Based on what you’ve said, it might be a good idea to flag up this seasonal issue to first-time buyers: we are probably pig ignorant simply through not knowing the life cycles of worms!! I’d have happily bought in March if I’d known that……

        From what you are saying I should look on waiting until 2015 before harvesting any compost. I can live with that…….got masses of horse manure down the garden rotting down for the spring……

        Reply
        • The horse manure will help speed the process up a bit – it will also encourage the worms to breed. Depending on how many worms you are starting with, it’s possible that you may have some compost in time for autumn plantings. The other thing that will speed up the process is the pickled veg you get out of a bakashi composting system – just add a layer to the top every now and then.

          Once you have one wormery established you can get additional wormeries established very quickly by simply dividing the wormery and its content in half. Half a wormery will have a few thousand worms and so will establish very quickly. (When you start a wormery from scratch you usually only have a few hundred worms.)

          Reply
          • Mark

            The worms now seem to be getting established – much bigger when I looked today. Also, they seem to respond well to crushing the food up in a food mixer with water added – you add a sludgy-like material and they seem to like it. I put in remains without slicing twice and nothing seemed to happen. Now with the sludge things seem to be moving.

            So it may be a good way to get things going quicker??

          • Hi Rhys, in my experience also, chopping it up really helps in the early stages while you get the wormery established (less essential later on), although I’ve never tried doing it in a food processor – I’ve read different opinions about whether this helps or not. I’d go with what you find is working for you – the key with all these things is observing carefully the results and adjusting accordingly. You do want to make sure there is plenty of air in the system so if you are adding lots of sludge make sure you add something that will keep air gaps, too eg wood chips or cardboard. Mark

          • I certainly will do as you say with regard to air. Maybe the next feed can be chopped up leaves and paper, no food processor.

            There’s still 50% of the surface not covered with sludgy material, so air should still be available for the worms.

  • Hi – its been a while and with one thing and another I have neglected my wormery. This week I decided to get stuck in and sort the problems out (my son had been putting cat litter in my big green composter so have had to chuck that out and start again) and my wormery was really wet – I have drained a few bottles of the liquid out but the compost still feels very wet. Should I transfer that to the green composter and start again in the wormery. There are lots of other life forms in the surface area. Wondering if I should order a new supply of worms?
    Many thanks.

    Reply
  • Are rhubarb leaves OK to add to my wormery?

    Reply
    • Hi Sue, not sure of the ‘official answer’ but I’ve added them in small quantities and they seem to have been eaten by the worms OK. Try a few at first and observe what happens – and do let us know how it goes. Cheers, Mark

      Reply
  • The Worms are here!
    =================
    My worms have just arrived today, thanks for some great tips.
    I plan to run a ‘proper’ wormery in order to breed a good number of worms and then use them to populate my other compost heaps. The one is a green plastic bin (provide by the council). I put grass clippings, chicken poop and dirty straw, general garden rubbish and some of the kitchen waste in there. I am not a great fan of this big green thing, it sort of does a job but gets too compacted for my liking. Then, after 6 months to a year, I transfer the lot to a wooden framed composter, home made from old pallets.
    The theory is therefore, that the worms in the wormery should be fine and will thrive. I think they will do well in wooden composter but I am not sure about the green plastic bin thing it does get a bit too hot sometimes and I am not sure about the acid from the chicken poop.
    I’ll let you know how I get on.

    Reply
    • Love the sound of your system, Michael – thanks very much for sharing. Yes please, do let us know how it goes!

      Yes, once you’ve got a wormery established, you should get a good surplus of worms. In the right conditions they can double in number every six to eight weeks, so you can even remove half one day confident that the numbers will soon return.

      As worm composting is an aerobic process, anything you can to improve air flow through your big green thing (if you decide to add worms to this, too) should help the worms eg drilling holes in the lid and bottom (perhaps even sides) and perhaps adding something like wood chip or corrugated card into the mix.

      Cheers

      Mark

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  • A trick I have found when harvesting castings is to fill an empty plastic plant pot with the castings and then add some fresh food to the worm farm and place the pot full of castings on top of the food. The worms then migrate out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot back into the worm farm. Leave the top of the pot exposed to the light and that will help too. Then you just carry the plant pot full of castings to wherever you need to use it in the garden. Ive found that most of the worms have moved out of the pot after several days.

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  • Aaaaaand, one more. Sorry! I put the second layer on my worm farm some time back now – probably around the time I asked my first question here, so 2 months ago. I just lifted the top layer to see what was going underneath and I can see a bunch of worms still down there on the bottom layer, plus a whole lot literally hanging out in the holes migrating to the top layer. Do you think they’re stuck? Is there something I can do to help them? Should I try and scoop some of the worms sitting in the bottom layer up and just place them in the top layer to make sure they can get up there?

    Signed, anxious worm owner :)

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  • Hi Mark

    Me again :) I neglected my wormery for a few weeks and now there are these very small white things in there, that come out in abundance when I collect my worm juice. I don’t think they’re maggots, but I really don’t know. They seems very active, but I don’t think they can fly. They’re not fruit flies, unless they’re tiny baby ones? Any idea what they might be, if they’re a problem and how to get rid of them?

    Secondly, can you use shredded paper such as bills etc? Or would the bleach/chemicals from the ink not be OK?

    Reply
    • Just to clarify – the white things can definitely leap around/fly. When I fill my watering can with worm juice, they cover the surface and leap around all over the place. Will I harm my plants when they get watered with the worm juice and these jumping white things?

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  • Hi, My garden is abundant and produces too much for my wormery, so I have a large black plastic rubbish bin with holes down the sides as well. Please tell me which herbs I can feed my worms and which to avoid. Can I feed ordinary weeds besides nettels? Nastursiu leaves? Lilla

    Reply
    • Hi Lilla
      The black bin with holes down the side is an excellent idea. All herbs (to my knowledge) and weeds will be fine in a wormery in moderation. Like anything else, worms don’t usually like too much of any one thing. But chopped up, and added with a carbon source like cardboard, they should all be good sources of food for your wormery.
      Mark

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  • Hala the bin is well aerated and the worms seem happy, there are none on the walls and plenty of cocoons although the bedding seems a bit too wet. The fizzing has slowed down some what. I’m going to stop feeding for a while but add some dry shredded newspaper and cardboard to help remove some of the moisture. Hopefully this will work.

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  • could be the sound of worms escaping a fermenting worm bin. Do you see any on the walls? Is the bin well drained and aerated?

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  • I’ve had my wormery for a month but there is now a strange fizzing noise coming from it, any ideas what could be causing it?

    Reply
    • Hi Gary, I’ve never heard of that Gary, and can’t think what might be causing it. Not some flies that have hatched inside and can’t escape? Would be intrigued to hear what it is if you discover. Mark

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  • I have inherited a neglected wormery. There are some live worms and a layer of half decomposted food waste which has been there for some time. the wormery has three levels and two are empty. can I revive it and should there be food at all levels? Do the worms migrate of their own accord. How do I know when the compost is ready to use.Should I put existing worms at top level or at bottom? Thanks. celia

    Reply
    • Hi Celia, yes you should be able to revive it.
      Just use one level at a time, only add the other levels when the first one is full.
      Put the existing worms in the bottom level.
      Make sure there is some cardboard or wood chips as well as waste food. If adding cardboard, dampen it before adding.
      If you can find some well rotted horse manure, that is a fantastic ‘pick me up’ for worms – just add an inch to the top. Or, if you can find some nettles, a layer of those will help get things going, too. Neither of these are essential, though.
      If there aren’t too many worms, be careful about how much food you add. If its going mouldy and getting smelly there’s probably too much food in the wormery – so add less.
      Once the first level is full, add the second level and begin adding food (and card) to it, and when that is full, add the third. The worms will migrate on their own accord.
      Once the top level is nearly full, remove and empty the bottom level – the worm compost will be ready.
      Avoid adding anything acidic like citrus or onion skins until the wormery seems happier again – also don’t add oily or spicy foods or too much processed stuff.
      Hope this helps and good luck!
      Mark

      Reply
      • thanks all for the worm wisdom, am going to revive my wormery!
        can i move worms from my compost bin into wormery?
        if i need more worms where is best place to get them..?
        thanks miranda

        Reply
        • Hi Miranda, yes, its fine to move worms from your compost bin – they’re the same variety that live in wormeries. (Earthworms you dig out of the soil are not the same though and will not do well in wormeries.) The best place to get worms is someone else’s wormery (friend, neighbour, community farm or growing project) or compost heap :) Failing that, the worms (brandlings) sold by many fishing tackle shops are fine for wormeries. Alternatively you can buy them on line – many good places in the UK including Bubblehouse worms and Worms Direct. cheers, mark

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  • I started my wormery with a coir brick (watered) and some kitchen waste a few days old. The worms keep going down to the tap layer. Do I need to add more air (browns)?

    Reply
    • When worms are stressed they will often burrow down as low as they can – so it is quite common for them to do this when a wormery is first set up. Hopefully, in a few days they’ll settle in the bedding. Make sure that there is only a little waste food in the beginning (you don’t want it to go too rancid). Adding some card (I wet it first so that it is damp and easier for the worms to eat) is also probably a good idea. The other thing that can make worms dive is too much light – so check that it is nice and dark in the wormery. If light seems to be getting in then put a layer of cardboard to the top of the wormery to reduce the light reaching the worms.

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  • Hi there

    Thanks for this post. I didn’t realise the importance of cardboard, paper and so on and I’m not quite sure how I’d go about this, because I don’t buy newspapers or use a lot of products with cardboard. I do use paper towel a bit. Would that be OK, providing I haven’t used it to wipe with a cleaning agent?

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Hi Jess, paper towel (as long as it’s not too oily or have any other chemicals on) would be OK, at least as part of the mix. If you can find some cardboard as well that would be good as it helps break up the mix a bit and add air into the system (its an aerobic process in the wormery). I’m not sure where you live, but most shops / corner stores throw cardboard boxes away every day so shouldn’t be too difficult to source them – you’ll just need a few each year.

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  • Hi

    Thanks for your response – the picture shows my wormery purchased from Original Organics – http://c95954.r54.cf3.rackcdn.com/images/products/TOW/wormcut.gif

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    • Thanks for the pic – yes that looks like a wormery that is designed to give you worm juice as well as worm compost. It’s unusual that it hasn’t given you any juice after a year, normally its the opposite problem – too much juice drowning the worms! You might want to check that the tap is closed / fitting properly and that there is nowhere else that it could be leaking out. Inside the wormery should feel damp, a bit like a rung out flannel. If it does, then no need to add water. It won’t do any harm not getting any worm juice – all the goodness will go into the worm compost instead. Hopefully you were also reassured by Hala’s reply that the app she left a link to on here is safe.

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      • Many thanks on both counts.

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  • Hi – I have had my wormery for over a year now. Its not smelly or anything and my worms are definitely breeding now its spring, as there are lots of tiny ones near the lid. I have never had any worm juice out of it though. Should i water it or something?

    Reply
    • Hi Jac, whether you get ‘worm juice’ depends on what sort of wormery you have. The juice is basically just the excess liquid from your veg that is released from the system – scientific analysis shows its variable in quality but a lot of growers swear by it so there must be something good in it! If your wormery lets a lot of air through the system then the excess liquid will be drying off and all the goodness going into your worm compost. Do you know what sort of wormery it is you’re using?

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  • Great post, Mark. Worm compost is great to mulch plants with and a handful mixed into a pot of spent compost will revitalise it so you don’t have to keep replacing it. It’s so much easier to make worm compost than regular garden compost – so much quicker. When taking out the finished compost, I find the only way to avoid getting a load of worms with it is to leave the lid off for a few hours. This makes the worms wriggle down to darker places (if you have a stacking system, they’ll head down into a lower tray). You can then scrape off the top few inches of compost and will find it relatively worm-free.

    Reply
    • Yes, agreed, Alex, worm compost is a great mulch. And thanks for sharing your harvesting tips.

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  • Have you got any tips for overwintering? I was given a large worm bin and would love to use it, but have not started it as I have nowhere frost-free to keep it over winter.

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  • fruit flies? the layer of shredded paper I use on top of their food works..

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing that useful tip, Annie.

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  • hi Mark and readers! Here’s a free app I created that automatically give you safe recipes for earthworms, using your waste types. It’s similar to an online calculator, but in excel: http://www.urbanfarmsorganic.com/feed.html

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    • Hi I tried downloading the app from Hala and fortunately my anti virus detected a Trojan and took care of it!

      Reply
      • Thanks for the heads up about that, I’ll check it out and remove if needed.

        Reply
      • hi Jac,

        My app might be incompatible with your operating system but it’s definitely not a virus. It’s a compiled excel program. Email me and I’ll send you the programed excel sheet if you prefer. The app is an application of my graduate thesis in agricultural engineering, and my portfolio and publications are at http://www.halachaoui.net. As you can see I am not in the business of viruses.

        Reply
      • hi again,

        On my website I now changed the apps to excel programs, which should download without a problem. I hope this helps.

        Reply
  • I’m getting a lot of fruit flies out of mine at the moment, anyone got any tips?

    Reply
    • Fruit flies help in the decomposition of the food but they can be a bit of a pain. One tip that can help is to bury all the fresh food under a layer of worm compost – fruit flies prefer the fresher stuff and will be less interested if its hard to find. The other thing you can do is put a layer of leaf litter (loads of leaves lying around Newcastle at the moment) on the top. This will also act as a barrier to the fresher food and will help keep the fruit flies away. Do come back and let us know if you have success keeping them at bay.

      Reply
      • Threw a whole lot of leaves on about a week ago and still a lot of flies, think I’m just gonna have to stop feeding for a few weeks and let the worms catch up, shall keep updated!

        Reply
        • Yes, keep us informed Danny. As you suggest, it could be that there is a bit much food in there for the worms to cope with. if there’s a lot of worm compost already in the bin, you could also try to bury the fresher food under a layer of that.

          Reply
          • Could do, I guess I’m probably not gonna use it till spring now, messy job for a balcony though!

  • Hi, I have a wormery that has been going well for a couple of years now and get lots of lovely worm juice from it. Never done anything to it – do I need to turn the composting matter? How do I do it (stupid question?) and how do I look after the worms when turning?

    It smells sweet, not fed it for a while but dont see worms around the top. Do I just dive in to see if they are still alive?

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Hi Jools, no need to turn it – but, if you haven’t emptied it before, it sounds like you should have lots of lovely worm compost to use. It’s a fabulous fertiliser, even better (IMHO) than the worm juice. How to harvest it depends on the wormery. Some have trays which make it supper easy (just empty the lowest tray). If its in one big container, then you’ll probably need to empty the whole thing – keep about the top half (the most recent stuff added) on one side to return the wormery and ‘harvest’ the bottom half to use. This will probably contain some worms – you can either pick them out and put them back in (time consuming) or add them to your pots where they’ll usually continue to live – and they’ll do lots of good in your pots. Does this answer your question?

      Reply
      • That’s fab! I have not emptied it as yet (its a commercial unit from original organics) but will do so soon. The worms seem content but since I have not seen them for a while its only guess work!

        Reply
  • I can second the comment about leaving the tap open if the wormery can get rained on. I destroyed my first colony by leaving it out in the rain unchecked for just week and found it submerged in water. I’m two weeks into my second colony and things seem to going OK so far ..

    Reply
    • I’m pleased it’s not just me that’s done that. Thanks for sharing, Andrew, and good luck with second colony.

      Reply

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