Now the weather is warming up I am trying to get the wormery back in commission. In theory they sound such a great idea, producing liquid plant feed and nutrient rich worm casts from your kitchen scraps. The wormery was a present several years back, at my suggestion. It consists of a robust plastic bin, with a lid, and an added layer of insulating foam around the outside so that the worms do not freeze in winter. On the lid is the instruction No Hot Ashes To Be Added, suggesting that the core of the bin was adapted from a normal dustbin, which is fair enough since womeries might be quite a niche market to tool up for specially, and who on earth would think it was a good idea to add hot ashes to their worms? A perforated base sits several inches above the bottom of the bin, so that the worms are supported above the level of whatever liquid collects, and there is a tap at the bottom to drain off the liquid plant food from time to time.
Unfortunately it turned out that worms are not as straightforward to keep in a plastic bin as you would think. The numbers kept dwindling rather than increasing, and I sometimes caught them climbing up the inside of the bin as if they were trying to escape. I bought more, at some expense, but became discouraged at their general failure to thrive. I tried asking for advice at the RHS stand one Chelsea, but the RHS scientist on duty looked at me with haunted eyes and said that running a wormery was not all that easy. Thinking about it, they are probably more of an amateur gardening and allotment thing than a plant science thing. I managed to obtain an honours degree in horticulture without being taught anything at all about composting worms. And so when the worms died out again the bin lapsed.
Today I excavated the contents, which looked more like normal garden compost than a mass of worm casts, and had way too many crushed egg shells in it, plus various little bits of plastic than must have come off old cardboard boxes added to the mix in an attempt to make it less wet, and a couple of foil discs I reckon were originally attached to banana skins. Instead I put in a generous amount of crumpled and ripped newspaper, an elderly apple and the last couple of sticks from some old and limp celery, and a couple of ripped up ginger lily leaves from the compost heap, because they looked so leafy. According to the worm composting advice I read on the internet I should stick to newspaper and brown cardboard boxes, and avoid glossy or shredded office grade paper because of the chemicals used in the latter, and not include onion or citrus peel, which were too acidic or otherwise not to the worms' liking. And given what I found left from the previous attempt I'd better omit eggshells. In other words, rather than looking on the wormery as a receptacle for the contents of the kitchen green waste bin, I should treat it as a home for the worms and only feed them things I thought they would like to eat, as with the chickens. I asked the Systems Administrator to save me any peelings from potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables, separate from any onions or leeks.
Then I added the new worms, which came from Yorkshire. The previous worms came from the cutely named Wiggly Wigglers, who advertise in all the garden magazines, and who charge accordingly for their worms, £15.95 for their smallest pack plus £3.95 delivery. This time round I found Yorkshire Worms online, whose prices started at £4.35, albeit for a much smaller pack, including delivery. Their only concession to cuteness is a logo of a white York rose with a cartoon worm in the middle of it, and they are aiming at the fishing bait and live reptile feed markets as much as home composting. The worms appeared inert in their packet, but once tipped out into the bin began to move purposefully. You could not honestly have called it wriggling, or writhing. After five minutes they had all vanished from sight.
Later I began to worry that the worms might have dropped down through the drainage holes in the base plate and into the sump, so had to go and decant the contents of the bin into a plastic bucket so that I could line it with a thick layer of newspaper. I found that it had tipped over, although fortunately the lid had stayed clipped down, for which I blame the cats jumping on it. They have never taken any interest in the bin before, but neither have I since they have lived here, until today. The worms I could see among the newspaper and peelings did not look so lively as when they went into the bin, and I am gently worried about them. My pet worms.