May 2007

Coffee Cup Challenge Day 17

[Yet again, I’m putting this up a day late – Day 17 was actually May 26th]

Wow – didn’t mean to let it go so long before posting another update! As you can see from the picture above, quite a lot has changed in the bin. The watermelon has been almost entirely eaten away. All that remains of those pieces outside the cup is a thin outer later of the rind. The cup itself is certainly starting to break down, but what amazed me the most was the extent to which the egg carton cardboard I’ve been using as bedding has been been converted to vermicompost. Pretty cool!

Here is a close-up of the cup. It’s amazing how the springtails seem to be drawn to it! Flipping the cup over, I found…

…lots of worms underneath!

Egg Carton Cardboard Before & After Composting
Here is a shot of the egg carton cardboard before adding it to the bin, and after being processed by the worms. They really seem to love the stuff!

Here is what’s left of one of the watermelon rinds – pretty amazing!

Well, it looks like the watermelon and bedding are pretty much out of the picture – it will certainly be interesting to follow the progress of the coffee cup as it continues to decompose. I will definitely need to add some more food to that bin to keep the worms well fed, and it will be interesting to see how quickly it gets processed as well.

Previous Posts in the Series:
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 0
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 6

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Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 6

[NOTE: I meant to get this up on May 15th – and have back-dated it accordingly]

I decided I might as well write my first update post for my fun little coffee cup experiment. Before I do that I should mention that my first post should have been (and now has been changed to) “Day 0”, not “Day 1”. Not exactly critically important stuff I know – but easy enough to correct, so I decided to do so!

As you can see from the photo above, after 6 days nothing looks all that different from when we started. Upon closer examination however you can see that we are in fact making some progress.

The underside of the coffee cup is clearly starting to break down. You can see a decent amount of worm ‘turd’ (aka castings) as well.

I was surprised to find quite a few worms not only under the cup (next picture down), but actually in the cup and in the rim of the cup.

Nice little collection of worms below. What’s interesting is that there were far more worms below the coffee cup than below the watermelon rinds! As you can see, I have a VERY healthy springtail population! In fact, all my bins have massive populations of these little creatures! Check out the next pic for an extreme close-up!

Watermelon rind – up close and personal. I was actually really impressed with my close-up abilities of my digital camera! You can see microbial colonization of the melon flesh (dark dots), springtails, and even a mite. Pretty cool!

Anyway, should be interesting to see how things pan out over the next few weeks!

Previous Posts in the Series:
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 0

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Terracycle Challenge

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you are enjoying similar (gorgeous) weather as us! As the name of the post implies, I’ve decided to put Terracycle liquid fertilizer to the test, in a semi-informal (but full o’ FUN!) challenge!

One of the things that’s helped maintain my levels of enthusiasm for worm composting over the years is my firsthand experience with using vermicompost as a fertilizer. I’ve been blown away by the positive effect even small amounts can have on plants.

There is plenty of academic evidence to indicate that worm compost has a little something extra that helps boost plant growth significantly!

Here are just a few examples of the studies, in case you are curious:

Atiyeh, R.M., N.Q. Arancon, C.A. Edwards, and J.D. Metzger. 2002. The influence of earthworm-processed pig manure on the growth and productivity of marigolds. Bioresource Technology, 81, 103-108.

Atiyeh, R.M., S. Lee, C.A. Edwards N.Q. Arancon, and J.D. Metzger. 2002. The influence of humic acids derived from earthworm-processed organic wastes on plant growth. Bioresource Technology, 84, 7-14.

Atiyeh, R.M., C.A. Edwards, S. Subler, and J.D. Metzger. 2001. Pig manure vermicompost as a component of a horticultural bedding plant medium: effects on physiochemical properties and plant growth. Bioresource Technology, 78, 11-20.

Atiyeh, R.M., Subler, S., Edwards, C.A., Bachman, G., Metzger, J.D. and Shuster, W. 2000. Effects of vermicomposts and composts on plant growth in horticulture container media and soil. Pedobiologia 44, 579-590.

As I’m sure most of you know by now – Terracycle is essentially ‘liquid worm poop” (or vermicompost tea if you prefer). I haven’t yet experimented with worm tea myself, but I’m definitely curious to see how well it works!

OK – so back to the challenge!
While I’ll be the first to admit that I won’t be conducting a rigorous scientific investigation, and therefore the results are really only for entertainment purposes (my lawyer made me say that – LoL!), but I thinks its going to be a lot of fun nevertheless!

I included a pack of green bean seeds in the above photo. Truth be told I am still not 100% sure what plants I am going to use, but rest assured I will be providing you with all the details next week!

As far as treatments go, here is a rough idea (all post will contain potting soil and seeds):

Pot 1 – water
Pot 2 – worm compost + water
Pot 3 – worm compost + fertilizer stick + water
Pot 4 – Terracycle only
Pot 5 – Terracycle + fertilizer stick
Pot 6 – Terracycle + fertlizer stick + worm compost
Pot 7 – Terracycle + worm compost

Should be fun!
Again – all the details coming at ya next week!

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Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 0

Coffee Cup Challenge

For kicks and giggles I’ve decided see how long it will take for the complete breakdown of a coffee cup inside each of my two small indoor worm composting bins. I’ve composted coffee cups before, but I thought it would be fun to keep a photo journal of the decomposition process and see exactly how long it will take.

To help sweeten the deal (literally) for my worms, I’ve added some watermelon rinds inside the cups (I’ve also added some outside the cup – will be fun to see how long it take them to breakdown in comparison to the cup).
Worms seem to absolutely LOVE members of the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae), such as melons, cantaloupe, pumpkins, squash etc. I suspect the soft, water-packed flesh of these fruit becomes absolutely infested with microbes, thus creating the ultimate buffet for our wiggler friends!

Anyway, I’ll keep tabs on the progress and write a post about maybe once per week (or more often if the materials get processed more quickly than expected).

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Pretty Little Pets

When I first started worm composting I had a tendency to be obsessive about creating the “perfect” conditions for my little worm friends. Like an over-protective mother I wanted to absolutely make sure my little guys were healthy and happy 100% of the time. Because of this mindset, I would constantly be opening up my bins, digging around making sure everything was ok.

Like many newcomers to worm composting, I would get very worried any time something changed in the bin and feel like I needed to act quickly to counteract the changes I was observing, or risk having all my worms die a horrible death.

The hilarious irony of this type of approach is that more often than not this actually does more harm than good!

Don’t get me wrong – it can be important to keep tabs on the health of your bin, especially when just starting out, but like most things in life, moderation is the key!

Composting worms don’t like to be disturbed, handled or exposed to light – thus even if you have the best intentions, your constant doting and fussing will very likely contribute to any stressful conditions that may already exist in the bin. Making drastic changes in an effort to counter-balance poor bin conditions can also have similar results. Unwittingly, many worm composting newbies can become the main cause of their worm bins demise!

One thing I highly recommend (especially for newcomers) is the start-up a few small systems at the same time – ie. don’t have ‘all your eggs in one basket’, so to speak. This way should something go wrong with one of your bins, you’ll likely still have some back-up systems in case of total meltdown. With less riding on the success of a particular bin, you should be able to mellow out and just ‘go with the flow’ a little more.

Natural ecosystems have an amazing ability to balance themselves out. Of course we can still play an important role in helping to keep conditions favorable for our worm herd, but there is definitely no need to obsess over every little hiccup that we encounter.

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NCSU’s Worm Farming Conference

I came across a page announcing NCSU’s 7th Annual Worm Farming conference yesterday and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make an announcement here. The conference is scheduled for June 14 & 15, 2007, and will take place at the A.E. Finley Center for Education and Research.

Here is a blurb from the “Overview” section:

We will present the latest research on the effects of worm castings and tea on plant growth and disease suppression, how to effectively market worms and castings, and hear from seasoned worm growers about their personal experiences.
You will learn about vermicomposting techniques and equipment used, including:

  • How to raise earthworms
  • Vermicomposting technologies
  • Benefits of vermicompost
  • Uses of vermicompost
  • Research studies of vermicompost
  • Marketing products
  • Developing marketing plans
  • Conducting market research
  • Testing vermicompost, soil and feedstocks
  • Brewing and using vermicompost tea

Speakers include: Dr. Norman Arancon, Tom Christenberry, Annette Dunlap, Michelle McGinnis, Kent Messick, Brian Rosa & Rhonda Sherman.

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Jailhouse Wigglers

Red Wigglers

Not too long ago I wrote a post on the EcoSherpa blog about vermicomposting at a Washington State prison (see “Red Wigglers Go To Prison”*). Well, I recently happened upon another article about a prison worm composting operation and I thought it would make for an interesting post here on the new site.

Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, located in Nevada County, California, has collaborated with Nevada County Recycles to produce a thriving demonstration “compost garden”.

From the article:

The garden features worm composting, or vermicomposting, which turns 45,000 pounds of food scraps from the jail’s kitchen each year into rich soil that fertilizes an organic vegetable garden used to feed inmates.

The garden also showcases a year-round Circle of Life garden created by horticulturist Kathy Irving and hosts community composting workshops several times a year.

On a warm, sunny Tuesday morning, Larry Henslee tended the worm bins – seven rows of wooden raised beds filled with soil and red worms. Each day, Henslee, an inmate at the jail, feeds the worms 124 pounds of vegetable-based food waste from the jail’s kitchen. Each day, the worms devour the food; their waste, called castings, is a gardener’s gold.

Henslee has served 200 days at the jail. He is the envy of his cell mates because he has the privilege of working outdoors in the earth and sunshine each day.

“It’s nice to be able to give back. For me, I’ve been so self-absorbed for so long,” Henslee said.

Apparently, the composting operation saves the prison $1600 in disposal fees, in addition to all the other great benefits associated with the project!

I love hearing about these sorts of initiatives! I think it’s not only great for the environment but it is a great ‘hands-on’ project for the inmates – something that could potentially have a lasting positive impact on them once they are released.

Be sure to check out the full article: County jail hits paydirt*

*UPDATE 2018: Links were no longer working so they were removed.

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