Vermicomposting With Chicken Manure
Happy belated Earth Day, everyone! Yeah…you might assume that if there was going to be ONE day I might publish a post here it would be on Earth Day! Sheesh.
Oh well, I guess I like to go against the grain!
All joking aside, my offline worm biz is definitely keeping me very busy these days, but the good news is that I do have fair amount to write about here once I have a bit more time to do so.
Ok…with all that out of the way, let’s get to our Reader Question. This one comes from ‘L’:
I raise chickens and have an 8′ by 8′ compost area situated
right outside the coop roosting pit clean out. I have created a bed
of straw, shredded cardboard and paper, and kitchen waste (veggies,
fruit, coffee grounds). The area is situated to the north of the coop
so that light is limited to late afternoon. The pit is open,
surrounded on three sides by two tiers of cedar logs and one side
comprised of wire mesh. I would like to introduce worms into the pit
but am concerned that fresh chicken manure along with the straw and
pine wood chips could be harmful to them. Question: when is the right
time to add chicken manure to a compost that includes red worms?
Using chicken manure for worm composting be tricky business. It is very dry, contains high concentrations of salts, and can release plenty of ammonia as well – making it a very dangerous material when fresh. To potentially compound the problem, cedar wood can also create serious issues when used for vermicomposting systems, due to the potent oils it contains.
All this being said, I don’t think all hope is lost. Plenty of people have successfully used chicken manure for vermicomposting. The key will be to soak it down, mix it with C-rich materials, and let it age for quite awhile. You sound like you are on the right track, but you might think about adding some water to help drain off excess salts.
Let everything sit for awhile (maybe a couple of weeks) without adding more chicken manure (not sure if this is possible in your case), then dig some of it out and see how it looks and smells. You definitely shouldn’t add worms as long as there is a strong odor of ammonia. It should almost get to the point of having an ‘earthy’ smell. Your best bet is to test it out on a small scale before adding the worms. Take some of the material and put it in a small bin – then add a small handful of worms. See if they bury down in it or seem to want to leave the bin as fast as possible.
As for the cedar logs – I’m not sure what to tell you there. With a big enough system you MAY get away with having them, but it’s hard to say for sure.
I realize all this won’t come as particularly good news, but hopefully it helps a little anyway!