Sunday, May 23, 2021

Unboxing And Setting Up The Subpod Wormery

Wiggly Wigglers, the company who have been encouraging us to compost with worms as a means of recycling our food waste for decades now have recently started selling a completely different type of wormery, the Subpod, which they have kindly sent me to try out.

Previous wormeries, such as their Urbalive (stylish enough to be used inside) system, are tray based and can be positioned anywhere. However, the Subpod changes all that, as it is buried in the ground.  This means there is no need to worry about excess leachate/worm tea when it rains, or escaping worms - the leachate will feed the ground around it and the worms will come and go as they please through the holes in the sides (designed for free movement of both worms and compost).  This is great because the worms can escape to the surrounding soil during hot or cold weather, breed freely (they are limited in space in a standard wormery), as well as aerating the surrounding soil, helping it thrive and become the best growing area possible.  And then, when conditions are right/they get hungry, they will come back to feed on your waste, turning it into vermicompost (black gold) you can use elsewhere in your garden.  Once running smoothly you will find they rarely go anywhere as they know a good thing when they see it.

The Wiggly website describes this a lot better with:

    Being underground, Subpod creates a natural environment for compost worms. Having access to the soil means they can feed and breed as rapidly as they like, because there’s always room for their population to grow. Soil is an insulator, and in hot weather, compost worms will instinctively escape into soil to cool down. As the weather turns cold, it will keep your worms warm and active during winter (as long as the soil doesn’t freeze). Every time your worms leave Subpod, their movement aerates your garden soil and increases its nutrient content. 

Setting Up


I got the Subpod and starter kit that arrived in two boxes, one the wormery itself and one the added extra's to help you get started.


The starter kit includes 1kg composting worms, a 2kg bag of worm treat, 2kg lime mix for helping regulate pH, 500g of rock dust and a coir block for starting off the bedding.

Note: Before starting soak the coir block in a bucket of water as it can take a while to absorb the water and be ready to use as bedding. Leave for up to 24 hours to be sure though it can be ready a lot quicker.

The kit consists of the base, that can simply be unfolded and clipped together.  It can be quite stiff so a little bit of force may be required - make sure when you do that everything lines up nicely so you don't damage the moulded plastic, though it is quite sturdy to be fair and can take quite a hammering.


Once together remove the mats and prepare to fit the lid.  Now this can definitely be fiddly and was a lot harder (for me at least) than Subpod lead you to believe.  Line up the hinges very carefully and make sure they clip into place.  It may be better with an extra set of hands to help keep everything lined up when clipping the lid into place. I found this a bit of a pain on my own, but that could easily just be me!

Once the lid is clipped into place you can fit the middle section (again, I found this a bit fiddly) and then the hinge so the finished product looks like this:




Use your fingers to pull gently on the hinge so the lid can be closed

Siting the Subpod

And now the really fun bit - where to site this.  Ideally it will go in a raised vegetable bed but you can place it in a border, or pretty much wherever you want really.  Now it's quite big at 75cm long, 45cm wide and a height of 43cm (32cm of which will be buried underground) so you will be sacrificing some growing space.   However, the ease of access, improvements it will make to the soil and the fact it really does make a great garden seat all work in its favour. And I've been meaning to expand my growing area anyway to grow more veggies at home so...


Notice how the air holes are above ground to allow good ventilation within the wormery? These are all the way around to promote air movement and keep the wormery aerobic, thereby also promoting microbes that help with the composting process.  If regularly aerated as well with plenty of carbon material 
(shredded paper and/or cardboard) added along with your food waste this should keep smells to a minimum - a well run wormery should just smell like fresh earth.

So now in situ, the coir starter bedding can be added.  I placed a good few inches of shredded paper in the bottom before adding in the coir and mixing it all together, as this gives the worms that bit of extra bedding.  I should add my coir was quite wet so the paper was damp rather than dry when the worms were added.

Soaked coir block mixed with shredded paper

Worms added

Once the worms were added I put another layer of slightly dampened shredded paper in and then covered with the supplied mat which helps with both moisture levels, insulation and allowing them to work in the dark (which is how they work best!).  


So, there we have it.  The completed installation and new garden seat (OK that is just an added extra benefit).  I will now leave it a few days before slowly starting to add food waste so as not to over load them too quickly. Remember, just like a tray based wormery over-feeding is the worst thing you can do, so food waste should be added sparingly at the start.  Once they become established and things start to move you can increase the amount of waste given. 



And lastly, a clip is supplied to keep the lid shut (presumably in strong winds).  To be honest I'm not sure how long this will stay as, although it is easy enough to use, I am lazy and will soon get fed up with it I am sure.




Summary

I'm really looking forward to seeing how well this wormery works as it is completely different to my current tray based ones, and at least it's one less to worry about when it rains. The others require regular emptying of the sump to avoid the worms drowning and are all moved somewhere sheltered in the winter to avoid freezing temperatures.  With the Subpod, and plenty of bedding for insulation the cold, wet, winter months shouldn't be a bother at all.

Other advantages, taken from the Wiggly website, are:

  • Smell-free and pest-proof
  • Composts up to 15kg of food waste a week
  • Suitable for households of 1 - 6
  • Dual compost chambers
  • Effortless 5-minute-a-week maintenance

And finally, the packaging is cardboard and can be recycled, either shredded and used in the wormery or compost heaps/bins or via your household waste recycling.  Being the perfect size the box has been laid as a path to my compost bins to avoid muddy feet thanks to the lovely UK weather.

For further information and the options available please see the Wiggly Wigglers page at https://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/collections/subpod-in-garden-compost-system



  

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Looking After Your Wormery In The Winter

I originally published this on the Wiggly Wigglers blog but a lot of the links are now out of date, and they no longer sell the Worm Cafe or Can-o-Worms but rather the much funkier looking Urbalive wormery.  So this is basically a refreshed version of the original blog with updated links and the addition of some advice for Urbalive users.
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The nights are drawing in, the temperature is dropping and the rain seems to fall day and night. None of this is good news for your wormery.

If you have a Worm Cafe or Worm City wormery then the rain isn't so bad because the air holes are in the sides rather than the lid but if you have a Can-o-worms or Urbalive then you need to keep an eye on how much rain is seeping through and filling up the sump. In the summer this is a good thing because you get to feed your vegetables (and especially tomatoes) on a daily basis and get rewarded with a bumper crop of beautiful, home grown veg. However, as winter approaches you'll be less inclined to venture out and don't have so much veg to water/feed anyway. This results in the sump getting full quite quickly so you need to keep an eye on it and often empty it daily or, not only will the wormery get cold and wet, it will fill up with water and drown your worms. Too much wet also encourages anaerobic conditions that can kill your worms as the food rots and the compost becomes compacted.
So what should you do?
Firstly, try and move the wormery somewhere out of the rain - a shed or garage is perfect for over wintering as it will help keep the frost, as well as the rain, off. If you can't move it under cover keep it as close to the house wall as possible so it gains some heat and is at least a little sheltered from the wind, rain and frost.  For the Urbalive wormery, which has wooden feet I would stand it on some bricks or something to save the wood from getting wet and (eventually) rotting.  Standing it on something will also make it easier to  get at the tap, which is directly underneath the wormery and difficult to get at when it is free standing.
During the summer I often rely on shredded paper and cardboard for keeping the wormery dry and this doesn't alter much in the Winter either as paper is good at drying a wormery out when too wet, keeps the compost aerated by stopping it getting compacted and adds much needed carbon for the worms while also producing great compost that can be used for top dressing your plants or improving the soil in your borders.
However, it also helps to try and keep the rain out and the worms warm so that they will continue to break down your waste as well as they can during the winter months. For both the Worm Cafe and Can-o-worms it's well worth buying a couple of moisture mats (these are good for the summer as well but less necessary when it's warmer). They keep the worms in the dark (so they work better), dryer and warmer. It's worth noting that the worms will slow down a bit as it gets colder anyway so every little helps to keep them warm and active.
If your wormery is one with air holes in the lid then it really is best to get it under some sort of cover but be careful not to block the air holes - they are there for a reason and you don't want to suffocate your worms! A cover is well worth it  though if you don't fancy venturing out on one of those miserable, dark, wet and windy winter evenings to make sure your worms aren't drowning!
If it gets very cold and falls below freezing for a length of time then it really is advisable to get them under cover but if that's not possible then bubble wrap, old carpet and placing it near the flu from the central heating will also help. Not too close to that flu though as the last thing you want is them being affected by carbon monoxide poisoning!
You'll also want to feed less when it's very cold as they do slow down quite a bit and uneaten waste can easily rot, causing acidic and anaerobic conditions that will make the wormery smell and possibly kill off your worms.
And don't forget that you can join the brilliant discussion groups in the Wiggly Wigglers Facebook group where there's plenty of like-minded people willing to share their experiences and help answer your questions with tried and tested advice. It's a great community and everybody is really helpful and friendly.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Unboxing Wiggly Wiggler's new Urbalive Wormery

Back in 1996, or thereabouts, I bought my first wormery as I wanted a neat way of composting our food waste and producing amazing compost of such quality that I truly think it is more of a fertiliser than a compost.  Moving on 20 years I have owned and tried a number of different wormeries, some which have worked well (the one from 1996 is still going strong) and some not so well.

So when Heather, from Wiggly Wigglers (the company that built itself around composting with worms but has now branched out into growing and selling their own bird food mixes and the absolutely brilliant Great British Florist supplying flower arrangements made wholly from British flowers) asked me if I would trial a new wormery they want to sell I jumped at the chance.

The Wiggly Wigglers Urbalive worm composter arrived a few days later and I set about assembling it.

Unboxing it I noticed that it is very different to my usual black plastic outdoor wormeries such as my Can-o-worms, Worm Cafe and Worm City; it has a very modern looking design with rounded corners and real wooden legs.



The mesh bottom is a great addition as it will stop the worms from getting into the sump, something that comes up a lot in support questions. The small trowel is also a nice touch (but ignore the screwdriver as that is not part of the kit!).


The legs slot into the holes at the bottom and can be screwed in place.  They are very sturdy and will solve the problem of the flimsy black legs of a heavy and full can-o-worms bending and occasionally snapping when being moved.  Also of note is that that there is no entry into the wormery from the legs, something that will please anybody who has had the fun/challenge of trying to deter ants from stealing the worm cocoons from a can-o-worms.

The tap is easily fitted, with a decent handle so should also last longer than that of the can-o-worms which could be very hard to use once the handle wears and snaps off (as it has on two of mine).



Once the legs and tap have been fitted the mesh can be placed in the sump and sits very firmly. Time will tell how well this lasts and performs but I think it is a great idea and will save a lot of worms from heading down to the sump and drowning (another support question that comes up time and time again with other wormeries). 

You can see from the picture with the first tray added that the holes are a good size to allow free movement of the worms between the layers, and also for allowing 'worm tea' (leachate) to flow into the sump where it can be harvested and used as a fantastic organic plant food (when watered down at a ratio of 10.1).

To start the wormery off Wiggly Wigglers supply a coir block, which is basically a compressed brick of coconut fibres that makes a good starter bedding for your new wormery.  The brick needs soaking in a bucket of water and it never ceases to amaze me just how much water these things can soak up!



Once ready add the coir to the bottom tray and spread it around to evenly cover the bottom using the supplied trowel.  Make sure it isn't too dry but don't worry about how wet it is as the liquid will drain into the sump.


And now for the worms! Spread them evenly on the surface and leave the wormery for a while in the light.  Worms hate the light and will burrow down into the coir to escape it.

Once they have all but disappeared you can add a SMALL amount of food waste. It is REALLY important not to add too much at this stage as they have plenty of coir to much through and will take time to get themselves established.

And then you can either cut a piece of corrugated cardboard (Amazon box type cardboard) to fit the tray or cover in shredded paper like in the picture.  This helps keep out the light (worms work best in the dark) as well as soaking up excess moisture.  I really cannot stress how important shredded paper is in a wormery - not only does it help keep them in the dark and soak up moisture but the worms love the stuff and helps them produce a more balanced vermicompost.


And that's it! All setup and raring to go.

So there you have it, a very nicely designed composter that will work as well inside as it will outside.  And with it's solid and lid that fits snugly there should be no escapees as can happen when a can-o-worms is brought inside for the winter.  For the first time in 20 years I can see this thing living in the kitchen (I admit I haven't yet made that suggestion to my wife) rather than getting holed up in the greenhouse over winter.


Now for the difficult part though - it will take the worms a while to get established so they need to be left alone for a couple of weeks, after which you can start feeding them more of your waste food scraps.

So, after a few weeks check them by carefully digging down to see how well they are working the waste.  If there is no waste 2-3 inches below the surface then feel free to add some more - try not to over feed as they won't keep up, the waste will start to rot (raising the pH) and you could easily end up with a foul smelling mess and a lot of dead worms.  Wiggly Wigglers supply a bag of worm treat and lime mix with the kit so add a handful of the these every now and then to keep the pH down and your worms happy.  In about 6 months you should be rewarded with a tray of 'black gold' ready for your vegetable garden, top- dressing house plants or mixing in with potting compost to give your plants a great boost.

Urbalive is the new face of Worm Composting – Exclusively in the UK from Wiggly Wigglers. Order yours today at https://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/wormeries.html

Monday, December 14, 2015

(Business) Trip To India - November 2015

If you'd rather just view the pictures from India rather than just the few shown on this page (or rather than trawl through the text below) you can do so by clicking here.

In November I was able to get across to Gurgaon, which is just south of Delhi in India.  The main objective of the trip was to meet our off-shore development and support teams who we have worked (very) well with over the last few years.  I don't get to travel much (work or otherwise) so I jumped at the chance, not least because India is high on the list of places I have always wanted to go.  The big shame though was that Tamsyn couldn't come with me and see her own country before I did!

So the trip started well, helped of course by travelling Business class, which is just amazing - I'm really not sure what first class gives you over and above that but I really doubt you need it whatever it is.  The flight was smooth (good for my "love" of flying) and we landed in Delhi at 08:55 in the morning having flown through night (08:55 is 03:25 in the morning UK time).

As expected the heat hit us as soon as we stepped off the plane. At 28C in November it was nothing short of beautiful, but the biggest shock was the traffic! Oh my, I have never experienced anything like it; everybody uses their horn but not in anger like in the UK but rather to tell other road users they are there.  Bearing in mind there is no concept of lanes (or even direction) and that other road users could be lorries, cars, bikes, scooters, cows, horses, pigs and people crossing the road (and even, if it's night, an entire wedding party singing and dancing down the road) it seems to work well and it certainly makes every trip to the office an adventure.  It's the one thing I didn't get used to the whole week.

The hotel, The Westin, is beautiful (and 5 star) and proved to be pretty much perfect as it was 20 minutes form the office, which added to the adventure of getting there and back every day...




After a bit of a sleep and a wander around the hotel we got to the office at about 4.30pm India time, got our security passes, shown an office we can use, logged in and answered a few emails before being taken out at 5pm to go to a place called Cyber Hub which is basically a "mall" of restaurants and bars in the middle of an office complex where you have the likes of Google and Microsoft.  We ended up in Soi 7 or rather outside it as it has a roof terrace that, once dark, you wouldn't know you were outside (as it was about 25C) having various platters of food and sampling their own brewed beers.  You will see from the pictures what happened next but we were all somewhat more subdued come Saturday morning! :)




Saturday we got the cab (at our disposal 24 hours a day until Thursday) and went out to a plant nursery/farm in between Gurgaon (where we are staying) and Delhi, where Prisihita and Prerna (two of the girls from the office) translated for me to ask loads of questions. The nursery was both flowers (many the same as we get here such as Dahlia's, Chrysanthemums, Marigold's and Petunia's etc but also palms of all types as well as weeping figs (Ficus) in pots but about 6 foot tall). The farming side was more like a nursery/large allotment for vegetables as well - a couple of large fields split into beds growing various things; cabbages, mustards, radishes (different to ours - long white things) and so on. They don't mono-crop like we do but split everything into large beds and companion plant.

Apparently butterflies and pigeons (there were plenty of both about) are not a problem but peacocks drive them mad!

Both the girls asked about them supplying their local market - most of this stuff goes to Delhi (which is huge) so fresh herbs are harder to come by in Gurgaon. The whole issue of getting people to buy (and sell) local appears to apply here just as much as it does in the UK.

On a composting side it was harder to describe so I didn't push it. I also didn't want to bore everybody too much as they had given up their Saturday to show us around. I think they do compost as they rotate crops but the soil was parched and had to be watered regularly so, to me, it looked like it needed a good 2 inches of organic matter. It might get it for all I know but it was very red clay type soil and needs watering daily.

The biggest shock for me was finding out that one of the girls husbands had been impressed with how I wasn't embarrassed to say my family were farmers! Apparently, in India, farming is classed as one of the lowest forms of work because you are working in the dirt. Quite the contrast to the UK where everybody expects you to be landed gentry if you own a farm...



Once done there the driver drove us past quite a few similar set-ups causing lots of honking of horns and people swerving around us before taking us into Delhi to The Red Fort, which was quite stunning and an experience getting in what with beggars, the crowds and having to check your pockets every time somebody bumped into you! The girls managed to get us a Guide for 100 Rupees (£1) - he had started at 500 Rupees (£5) which I thought fairly cheap but watching them in action was amazing. He turned out to be fairly terrible but I learned quite a bit about the place so it was certainly worth it and I got some great pictures. The big eye opener for me was not necessarily the number of birds (pigeons mostly - they're the same the world over) but the quantity of Eagles flying around. Also parrots and Indian magpies (which were more like prettier Starling's and sang beautifully).



From there we stopped off at a small restaurant the girls knew that was lovely; hidden, small, and won loads of awards apparently. I've no idea what I ate as I told them I like sweet over hot but I tried everything. The one dish I did recognise was Biriyani. What we've noticed here is that everything is smaller portions, brought out regularly rather than all at once and a lot less oily. So you have a great meal and walk away sated rather than bloated and stuffed. It really felt like my taste buds had been awakened for the first time and I think Indian food in the UK will now be a bit of a let down...

Sunday we started off taking it easy; trip to the gym, sitting in the sun by the pool and enjoying the sunshine and hotel facilities before picking up Prishita (who had thankfully volunteered to take us shopping) to take me shopping for gifts and clothes for Tamsyn and the children. I hate shopping and don't think she quite realised what she was letting herself in for but I think it went OK. Except for Christopher that is - I wanted to get him an Indian cricket top but you couldn't find one anywhere. if you want a fecking Manchester United top they were everywhere but nothing for India (we ended up getting it mail order and delivered to the office in the end).


Proof I went shopping (can you spot the tourists?)

The rest of the week unfortunately involved working but it went well I think and we came back with loads of ideas on how we can improve things at work. Blah blah blah.

One thing that I really got from the office was the tea! They brew it differently to the UK by putting all the ingredients in together and bringing the lot to the boil and it was truly amazing! Luckily, Prishita shared my love of tea and we would grab a cup whenever we could. It was divine and again, cheap at 7 Rupees (7p) per cup!!! Imagining the same thing from somewhere like Costa and I reckon it would be nearer 300 Rupees (£3) and not taste anything like as nice.

We did get out a few more times and have a great time with the guys; once to a place called The Kingdom Of Dreams where we saw a live show of a Bollywood film called Zangoora, which was absolutely amazing; a live show with the most energetic dancing and music I have ever seen. It was basically The Lion King set in India with more magic and no animals (OK it was nothing like The Lion King) but it absolutely blew me away (and I felt really bad that Tamsyn wasn't there to enjoy it as this really is more her thing).

Outside of the theatre is a street with buildings from every state in India and live shows of various cultural music and dancing just going on as and when. You can get food specific to the state as well as buy gifts from there as well. In the UK you would expect the food to be rubbish and any gifts to be over priced tat, but here the food was amazing, dirt cheap and the gifts weren't bad either (so I stocked up on some more for the family).




Having shown us some culture the next night was a trip to Smaash, again at Cyber Hub, where we did bowling and had food.  And there's another difference between India and the UK - in somewhere you would do bowling the food would be disgusting and over priced. Not in India - we had an array of dishes bought out to us and they were all amazing.  I was starting to get a cold and this Paneer Chili (basically cottage cheese but nicer) enabled me to not only breath through my nose again but also my ears!



From there we went back to Soi 7 for more (much more) brewed on site beer...



I was a little depressed to leave to be honest - we achieved a lot work-wise, definitely cemented the working relationship and generally had a ball while doing so.

However, I was also made up on the way home to capture this picture while flying over the mountains of Afghanistan.



Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Hotbin 3 years on...

The Hotbin
I've had my Hotbin since 2012 and blogged about it a year later to say how I was finding it and got some great advice from the guys at Hotbin which really helped keep it functioning well.

Recently Hotbin have started up a forum for users to get hints & tips, ask general questions and get experience and h
elp from others and I can honestly say it has been a bit of an eye opener for me and I've picked up a few things well worth sharing.

For the whole of this year I have been struggling to get the temperature above 50C with occasional peaks of 55C on hot days, a far cry from the 60-65C I can normally get during the summer months.

Well thanks to the forum I heard that the air holes at the bottom can become blocked which seriously impedes the flow of air and therefore stops the bin from reaching the temperatures it is capable of.

I empty my normal compost bins twice a year and decided to empty the Hotbin as well and give it a good clean, which other than the lid is not really something I've bothered with beforehand.  So (and thanks to the forum for this tip as well) I removed the top layer of uncomposted waste  and laid it on some cardboard for adding back later.  This waste was hot and VERY smelly!  The reason for doing this was so that when I emptied the compost from the bottom of the bin the fresher stuff didn't slip down and mix with the ready stuff still stuck at the back.

The compost at the bottom of the bin wasn't quite ready as it was quite compacted but it was good enough to go in my normal compost bins for ageing.  I've done this before and come next March this stuff will be finished and ready for mulching my plants so it's all good.

And sure enough, once the bin was empty and I started to clean it the air holes at the bottom were completely blocked.  While trying to sort them out I noticed that the very bottom could be removed and cleaned separately. That will teach me to read the instructions!  



This has not been cleaned like this since I got it in 2012 so I'm sure it will make a difference, especially when you see what was underneath the tray!

That brown sludge is exactly that, almost solid sludge stopping air from coming in from the grill.  I removed it with a trowel and gave the whole thing a good wash with the hose pipe before putting everything back together and adding a layer of bark and the previously removed top layer back in.

The bin is now less than a quarter full and the temperature 2 hours later was already showing at 50C from the thermometer in the lid. I've heard it said that the lid thermometer often shows as 10C less than the actual waste but I wasn't adding the other thermometer as it was too far down and I didn't fancy falling in!

Tip of the day: Do not clean a Hotbin with a high powered hosepipe while you have washing on the line - it does not make you a popular husband :)