Composting And Wiggly Wigglers

The Naked Scientists spoke to Heather Gorringe and Richard Fishbourne
15 January 2006

Interview with 

Heather Gorringe and Richard Fishbourne


Chris - So tell us, what actually is Wiggly Wigglers?

Heather - We're a natural gardening company, but we started our business worm composting, so supplying kits to individuals so that they can turn their kitchen waste into lovely worm casts. I think you had one in Australia!

Chris - Yes, when I was in Australia I did have one on my balcony because we lived in a flat and we had a roof garden. We found this thing could consume kitchen waste faster than you could put the kitchen waste in there. The worms turned it into this wonderful juice.

Heather - Yes, but not only juice, but they also make a cast as well. They like dog hair and bananas too!

Chris - You've structured your company around trying to get people to use science to get their garden to perform a bit better. How long have you been going?

Heather - We've been going for sixteen years now. When we started it was just myself , and now there's fourteen of us - thirteen women and one man!

Kat - And that's the man we've got here! I've got a quick question for you. My dad is really into composting, and he likes to pee on the compost heap because he heard it was good for it. Why is that?

Richard - In conventional composting it's probably quite a good idea because of the urea involved. If you're looking to compost with worms, it's probably worth avoiding because generally, worms don't like acidic conditions. Some worms have a calciferous gland for excreting and producing calcium. This is why you don't tend to find worms in places where you find acidic soil and rhododendrons for instance.

Chris - So you encourage people to add a dose of worms to their garden to improve the quality of the soil. But does it actually work?

Richard - It does. Worms are the most amazing improvers of soil. When we set up a worm kit, what you're doing is harnessing a natural phenomenon really. You're introducing organic material and the worms are consuming it. The casts that they produce are something like five times higher in nitrogen, seven times higher in phosphorus and a thousand times higher in the number of bacteria in the casts than the original soil.

Chris - So if you've just moved into a house on a housing estate that's just been built and you have that wonderful clay that they give you for your garden, if you sling some of these worms on there, does it make a difference to the soil?

Richard - Absolutely. Worms are obviously going to improve to soil by increasing the aeration and allow oxygen to diffuse into the soil. They also increase the soil permeability. Interestingly enough, they also increase soil water retention, especially around plant roots.

Kat - Where do worms go when they die? Do they get eaten by other worms?

Richard - Probably! Indirectly at least! There are species of flatworms that exclusively feed on our indigenous earthworms. Generally if a worm dies, there'll probably be eaten by nematode worms.

Kat - So if I was to set up a wormery, what sort of thing should I do? Is it hard to look after worms?

Heather - They're not too fussy actually. We sell all different sorts of wormeries and you can just compost with worms on their own. The easiest way to do it is to buy a ready-made thing. Thatw ay you can get the compost out so much easier.

Chris - they're also not huge are they Heather? They're not too big and in the way. It doesn't smell and is quite compact.

Heather - They're about 50 centimetres wide and about 75 centimetres tall, so they can fit in most places.

Chris - How much does it cost to set up?

Heather - You can start with worms and bedding from about £13 or you can have the whole thing for around £89. So there's a full range of prices.

Kat - Is there anything you shouldn't give to your worms?

Heather - You should go easy on citrus peel, and if you do put a lot of it on, you should add extra egg shells or calcified seaweed or something. Other than that, they're pretty cool. They like things like cardboard, cooked waste and raw vegetables. Potato peelings take a little bit longer to break down, but it's really one of those things where you use the natural resource to its best ability. If it goes really cold, they slow down a little bit.

Chris - Are they going to last forever? They would hopefully breed in your wormery, or would they need replacing from time to time.

Heather - It's bad news if they need replacing. I had a customer once who insisted on feeding his son porridge every day but his son didn't like it. It ended up on the compost heap and it did cause a bit of a film over the top! However, it was easily fixed with a bit of cardboard and a bit of variation in their diet. If you do that, the worms will stick anything!


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