Worms, worms, worms – how to treat your compost…

On averting a compost disaster

I think everyone should have a wormery but that is probably just because I own one. Its great for compost and easy to use even if you don’t have a garden you can compost away in your kitchen and make your houseplants happy, or just dump it in your neighbour’s garden or in green spaces. You can do this without guilt – its nice dirt that makes everything grow better.

This is my old kitchen wormery; pre-outdoor area


which I purchased from the Recycle Works, Ltd. Its full of Lumbricus rubellus and Eisenia fetida – a.k.a Red, Tiger or Brandling worms. These are proper composting worms, which aren’t the same as earthworms. Earthworms merely move around soil while composting worms actively compost; that is they eat your garbage turning it into lovely nutrient rich soil.

We recently moved into a new flat with a back garden patio (yea!); and we inherited a much larger much more swanky composting bin, which I am particularly excited about, hello lovely herbs and plants – a composting plus!


It was full. I gave it a quick stir, as its good to stir/turn compost to keep it aerated so it doesn’t honk and there appeared to be (on the surface) lots of kitchen scraps just decomposing. So I ordered 1/2 kilo of my composting friends to take care of business and left it for a week; usually if its aerated enough, the worms go to town. A common misunderstanding about womeries is that they stink, which they can do if you let them go anaerobic, but if you have enough worms and keep them with good airflow, they just smell like dirt.

After a week I really I opened it. On the surface it seems quite innocuous
inside the offending bin

but when I started to stir it stank, not only that but the worms were fleeing. My fine wriggly friends were either clustered on the surface of the bin or were working their way out the bottom and under rocks in the garden. This is definitely weird worm behaviour because basically a womery to a worm is like an all day eat all you like affair – what’s not to love? So I opened it, took a big stick and gave it a BIG turn and what did I find?

Diapers! Lots and Lots and Lots of diapers! Not the gentle lovely compost-able diapers (with no absorbent gel packs) but big hunks of nasty gel laden (heavy!) diapers. No wonder my worms were getting the hell out of dodge, can’t say I blame them.

DO NOT PUT BABY DIAPERS IN A WOMERY! Unless you buy the ones that are especially made for composting and even then you need to flush the actual poo.

Stifling my gag-reflex, I bagged up (plastic bags around my arms) the diaper culprits; this was yesterday and I am still disgusted. I am proud to say though, as of this morning the smell is gone and my new compost bin is already looking healthier.

Want to know more about composting via vermiculture? You should read this book Worms Eat my Garbage by Mary Appelhof or have a poke around Recycle Works, Ltd website. As long as you don’t put Diapers in your womerly, I highly recommend getting one as its great for any gardener or anyone who is just tired of putting food scraps into a landfill.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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17 Responses to Worms, worms, worms – how to treat your compost…

  1. Nappies / diapers… thoroughly toxic. One thing I definitely WON’T miss when Junior Two is out of them is the ghastly smell whenever you open the nappie/diaper bin in the bathroom. Ugh.

  2. akkie bardoel says:

    Wonderful, informative piece, Girl Interrupting. I would and should do this as I very much admire the naturalness of it. Only problem is that worms make me feel kind of pukey. I must work on this issue! Hard to believe that anyone would put diapers in a recycle bin such as this. If they had it in the first place, one would think that they had respect for the earth and how to do stuff green and right. T’is bizarro. I can see you in there with your arms wrapped in trash bags Sylvia. You are a modern, scientific woman. Go you!

  3. damn I forgot Nappies not Diapers – when will I learn – maybe the former tennants inheritied the bin – who knows?

  4. cromercrox says:

    Worms! I love ’em! We have compost dalek in the Jardin Des Girrafes, just like you have, and also a wormery (it’s called a Can O’ Worms). Every so often I have to put pellets in to neutralize acidity, which worms hae (so citrus-peels are a no-no). But diapers in a compost heap. How revolting!

    I love my worms so much that I once wrote a poem in their praise.

  5. KristiV says:

    Worms would cook here in the heat (it was 97F yesterday), so I have to rely on other biota for composting. The compost and the horse manure allow good productivity from several small raised bed gardens, as long as I can keep them well-watered. I’ve been pretty amazed by the productivity, actually, since I don’t consider myself to be particularly green-thumbed.

    Have to disagree with Austin on A Confederacy of Dunces, though: it, along with Atlas Shrugged is one of the worst books I couldn’t finish reading. I tried to read it again when I lived in New Orleans, but just … no, ugh.

    • You can have worms in 97 degree heat – they love it, just keep ’em in the shade – I used to keep ’em in East Tennessee in the summer (outside no less) if you get that lady’s book I recommend above she lets you know how to do it. I can be done, promise.

      Ok I agree with you about everything that has to do with Ayn Rand – but Confederacy of Dunces really makes me laugh (maybe because I am southern) – it is odd, though

      • A Confederacy of Dunces is a bit dated now, and is probably an acquired taste, but I always found it funny. Perhaps your sense of humour is too evolved, Kristi!!

        • KristiV says:

          I do have a reliably shady area in the backyard, under a cottonwood tree, so maybe I’ll give the worms a try. I used to have family in Johnson City, so I know East Tennessee can be quite hot and humid in the summer.

          A Confederacy of Dunces is one of those books that everyone insists you read when you move to Nawlins – like Sometimes a Great Notion when you move to western Oregon. Loved the latter, but just can’t stomach the former. For Southern US literature, I’m a big fan of Faulkner (who can be very funny in a macabre sort of way). Maybe my humor isn’t more evolved, but rather darker. I did enjoy the Streetcar Named Desire mythos when I was in New Orleans, especially the “Stella!!!” contest.

  6. ricardipus says:


    That is all.

  7. rpg says:

    I got my mother a wormery two Christmasses ago. Our compost is composting, but a bit slow… perhaps buying some worms is a good plan.


  8. Alejandro says:

    I liked your article about worms and soil nutrients, but I live in an apartment.
    In any case it is notable have an wormery.

  9. Greg Holbert says:

    My wife is about to start a garden in the spring, do you recommend a wormery to let them “filter” the compost and would it be good to use on said garden?

    • definitely – if you are in the states – then you can buy worms from here http://www.wormwoman.com/acatalog/index.html – they mostly like food waste but are ok with grass cuttings etc, they – or rather their castings – makes for excellent compost. they do take a while to get started, the first compost batch takes longer and isn’t further than subsequent ones. Also if you but the book ‘Worms eat my garbage’ this is very helpful…

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