The theme for the 5th annual World Earthworm Day on 21st October 2020 was SuperComposters – to celebrate the relationship between man, waste and worms!
The Earthworm Society of Britain teamed up with The Field Studies Council to deliver our SuperComposters UK Virtual Meetup event for those interested in learning more about vermicomposting and the important role that earthworms can play in helping us deal with our waste.
The session was chaired by me (Keiron Derek Brown) and below you will find recordings of the three talks and a summary of the live question and answer session.
Compost Ready To Use Within A Month
Mick Poultney is a retired firefighter and now known on Facebook as The Compost King. He’s given talks all over the UK on composting, as well as on raised bed & no dig culture. He’s presented at BBC Gardeners World Live. Malvern Spring & Autumn Show, edible Garden Show and is close to finishing his book on composting.
Through trial and error Mick can now get his compost ready to use within just a month. All of the materials he uses are natural and the majority are free. Mick has learnt to work with nature and uses his compost as a growing medium 100%.
Worms & Peace
Anna de la Vega is Founder & Director of The Urban Worm CIC. Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travel Fellow and Panelist. Anna researched vermiculture in the USA & Cuba under the fellowship and has an academic background in food security and urban agriculture.
Worms are the worlds unsung heroes. Throughout the world worm farming is revolutionising agriculture and organic waste management, helping us move towards regenerative practices that have the capacity to directly tackle climate change and repair degraded soil. Anna will share her experiences from her travels, offering a global perspective, and how we can make changes at a local level through community led action and within the home.
Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting Around the World
Rhonda Sherman is a leading authority on vermicomposting. She has authored over 65 publications including the book The Worm Farmer's Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions.
Earthworms can transform organic materials such as food scraps, manure, crop residues, sludge, paper waste, etc. into a valuable soil amendment. Vermicompost increases crop yields and suppresses plant pests and diseases. Learn about a variety of worm farms around the globe.
Questions from the audience
What type of worms to get to start with for composting?
Keiron: There are different ecotypes of earthworm and only Compost Earthworms are suitable for using in composting systems. This is primarily Eisenia fetida (tiger or Brandling Worms) and Dendrobaena venetea. Other types of earthworm (including other Dendrobaena species) are still great for the garden and play a role in decomposition, but they won't breakdown the compost in the same way.
Do you ever find that the any worms have already found their way into your compost heaps already before this?
Keiron: Earthworms are able to naturally colonise compost bins and heaps. Compost earthworm species (such as Eisenia fetida and Dendrobaena veneta) are native to the UK and naturally occur in microhabitats that have high organic matter content (such as rotten wood and dung). The Earthworm Compost Survey found that earthworms colonised the compost bin/heap in 89% of cases.
- Take part in the the Earthworm Compost Survey
- Check out the results of the Earthworm Compost Survey (up to 2015)
What are your compost 'secret ingredients'?
Mick: The main one is manure. That's where I get my worms from. I use horse manure, goat manure, alpaca manure, rabbit manure... anything except cat and dog. Every manure has something in that other manures don't have, that's why I like to use a range of different ones. I dry, chop and shred pigeon and chicken manure because it's strong and use it in powder form. Other ingredients include leaf mould, wood burner ash, straw, worm casts, woodchip, sand, sawdust, shavings (untreated wood), spent hops from breweries, spent compost, spent coffee grounds. Everything that I use is natural and the more that I mix them the less work for the worms.
Is the quality of the vermicompost dependant on what the worms have been fed?
Mick: I have proved the more natural ingredients you use , the smaller the ingredients and the more you mix before it goes in the compost bin , the better the quality .
Rhonda: Yes, the quality of the vermicompost is dependent on what is fed to the earthworms, in addition to other factors. Pig manure vermicompost will have different properties than dairy cow vermicompost, etc.
What is the advice for putting diseased plant material into a wormery, if it maintains a low temperature?
Rhonda: I wouldn't put diseased plants in my wormery.
Can so called biodegradable plastic actually be composted using a vermicompost system?
Mick: I personally wouldn't put in any plastics.
Rhonda: Biodegradable or compostable plastic will not break down in a vermicomposting system. Certified compostable plastics will decompose in large-scale thermophilic composting systems, although some utensils are resistant to breaking down.
Do you have any concerns about the impact that chemicals and microplastics contained within carpets may have on your compost?
Mick: I use old carpet as a lid for my bins , the worms are still active under the carpet telling me its alright to use.
Do you need to remove the worm poop from your compost bin after a specific time period? Is there a "sell by" date on compost?
Mick: If there was something wrong with the system the worms would tell you. If they are still there then the compost is still usable.
What is the best way to clear the worms from the compost they've made in a Can of Worms wormery? I find that I end up with loads of worms hiding in the compost I remove from the wormery.
Rhonda: The Can 'O Worms bin has three trays. Contrary to what the product instructions may say, you should only vermicompost in one tray at a time. You add bedding and Eisenia fetida earthworms to the bottom tray and only feed that tray for several months. The vermicompost will accumulate on the bottom of the tray. It will build up so that you can place another tray on top of that tray and the bottom of the second tray touches the top of the bedding in the first tray. Then you ignore the bottom tray and only feed the second tray. The earthworms will move up into the second tray to eat the fresh food. They don't all move at once though; it can take a few weeks for all of the worms to move up into the second tray. After the vermicompost builds up in the second tray, place the third tray on top and only feed it. You've left the bottom tray alone for 4 months or more at this point, so all of the worms in the bottom tray should have moved up into the second and third trays.
What is the relationship between worms and microbes in making my garden compost bin?
Rhonda: Worms and microorganisms work together to break down organic materials. Microbes secrete enzymes that decompose these materials. Earthworms ingest microbes and tiny particles of organic materials.
How do you protect vermicomposting systems against vertebrate pests (such as rats)?
Mick: Chicken wire on the bottom plus keep it moist.
How important is sunlight for compost production? If a compost bin is surrounded by trees, would that be too shaded?
Mick: Make sure they are well insulated in the winter so they don't get too cold, but they should still work.
Anna: Compost bins should be kept out of direct sunlight in the height of summer as they can overheat. They don''t like to be hotter than 30 degrees.
Rhonda: I recommend that vermicomposting is done in the shade to avoid the system drying out.
How can we protect our natural earth worm population within our veg beds?
Mick: By top dressing with straw to keep in the moisture and warmth
What's the smallest scale home composting you can do?
Anna: You can compost within a 10 litre bucket, any smaller than that and they are a little bit squashed. We have more information on The Urban Worm website:
Are there details for converting wheelie bins into compost bins?
Anna: Yes, we have loads of information on The Urban Worm website:
Is there are a chance that the plant growth rates in vermicompost will cause them to grow in an unusual way?
Rhonda: They can, I've seen cases where they have become elongated. Usually they are just bigger!
Is there a difference in the terminology between vermicompost and vermicast or are they interchangeable?
Rhonda: The two terms are interchangeable. Castings are the actual manure that come out of the worms. You're always going to have some material that hasn't passed through the worms so vermicompost includes that material too.
How good is the UK government green waste composting?
Mick: I have been onto all governments over the past 10 years to no avail but, will not give up . If i can do it then the government can.
Where can we find more information to help help educate people about vermicomposting?
Rhonda: There are lots of resources available from the following website:
Two particularly useful documents are:
How does the panel think we can win hearts and minds of the public and how do we stop them from being called pests on some websites?
Keiron: In the UK it is widely accepted that earthworms are extremely beneficial for soil health and provide a number of ecosystem services. The key here is to educate and spread the word that earthworms are important. This could be as simple as following the Earthworm Society of Britain on Facebook and sharing our posts, blogging about your home composting systems or making it an annual ritual to celebrate World Earthworm Day on 21st October!
Mick: Educating the next generation. There is currently nothing around gardening or composting on the school curriculum so we need to try to change that.
Except where otherwise indicated, this work was created by Keiron Derek Brown on behalf of the Earthworm Society of Britain and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.