June 2007

Setting Up a New Worm Bin

In my last post I discussed dumping out my ‘Coffee Cup Challenge” bin due to excess moisture levels in the bottom of the bin. That same day I started preparing the empty bin for my next round of worm composting

Lots of choices for bedding

As always, I started the process by focusing on bedding. I had plenty of options here since I tend to stockpile lots of cardboard and paper for this very purpose.

My favourite type of cardboard for worm bins is the kind used for egg cartons and drink holders (from fast food restaurants and coffee shops), but I also like to mix things up a little and add a variety of different cardboard/paper types. In this case, aside from egg carton cardboard, I also added corrugated and toilet paper (and paper towel) roll cardboard, along with a couple different types of paper (I tend to stay away from bleached paper as a bedding material, by the way).

Next, I added some food waste. In this case it was some cantaloupe rinds (a wormy favourite) along with the contents of my kitchen scrap holder – aged coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit scraps and cardboard.

For good measure I decided to spray down the upper layer of cardboard with water. I often won’t bother to do this, but since most of the cardboard in the bin was very dry and I didn’t add a lot of water-rich scraps, I thought it might not be a bad idea.

I then simply closed up the bin and left it to sit for a full week. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this allows for the development of large microbial population (food source for worms) and also helps to balance moisture levels throughout the bin.
The amount of time you leave the bin to sit is totally up to you, but it should be for at least a few days (without worms)

Spraying the cardboard for good measure

Truth be told, the only reason I ended up deciding to add new worms when I did was because I needed to harvest some vermicompost from my other small bin for a plant growth experiment I’ve started (Terracycle Challenge – more details soon).

Initially I tried using the standard “light harvesting method”, which involved dumping the worm compost (with worms in it) onto a garbage bag out in the sun, then slowly removing worm compost from the top. As layers are removed, worms continue to burrow down away from the sunlight and hot/dry conditions. This method has never worked all that well for me because I tend to keep my bin contents very moist.

After leaving the pile in the sun for the better part of two days, I decided to take a different approach. I poked a bunch of small holes in the garbage bag plastic and laid this in over top of the aged contents of my new bin. I then simply poured in the compost & worms and left it to sit for a few days.
Low-tech vermicompost harvesting system

I was amazed by how well it worked! Even a few hours later when I lifted up the plastic to look into the bin I could see many worms already in the new bin or in the process of making the transition. Within a couple days I could only find one or two small worms left in the original material. There were however quite a few worm eggs, but unfortunately there isn’t much I can do about that.

Aside from providing a great way to separate your worms from compost, this method also gives you the opportunity to get rid of some of the fertile seeds in the mix. I noticed lots of little sprouts popping up – these can easily then be removed by hand.

My new bin seems to be doing very well. I’ve added some more dry cardboard and some watermelon and sweet potato. It’s going to be interesting to see how quickly I can build up the population in this bin!

Speaking of which, I’ve thought of a fun new experiment to try (I’m in experiment mode these days it seems)!
I’m going to set up a bin, let it age for a week or so, then add only 2 adult worms. I want to see firsthand how quickly I can build up the population. It’s going to be a royal pain when I have to count them, but that’s ok – the findings should be very interesting!

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Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 36

You might be wondering why I am writing a CC Challenge post so soon after my last one (especially given my previous time gaps between posts). Well, as mentioned in my last update the bin I’ve been monitoring has definitely reached ‘maturity’ (ie time to dump the contents and start fresh). One of the great advantages of having multiple worm systems (including a nice big outdoor bin) is the fact that I can easily transfer the contents from one bin into the others.

Today I decided to dump all the contents from the bin into my outdoor system. Before I did that I transferred the remains of our coffee cup over to my second indoor bin. As you can see (above) there was also a coffee cup in that bin. It’s amazing how much of a difference a larger worm population can make! The cup in this other bin looks almost untouched compared to the one I transfered over!
From here on out I will monitor the progress of both cups in this other bin. I’m also going to devote another post to the topic of starting up my other indoor bin again.

Ok – back to the topic of my worm bin dump…

I was actually quite excited to dump out my little bin today. It’s always interesting to see what’s been going on inside, and get a better sense for the size of the worm population.
I knew the bin was getting oversaturated with water (I don’t bother with holes in the bottom of my bins anymore), but I didn’t realize just how saturated it truly was!

The picture above shows a bottom-up view of the bin contents after they were dumped. As you can see there is plenty of cardboard at the bottom that has not been decomposed. In fact, as I started to break up the material with a hand rake I realize that much of the original bedding material (ie the stuff added when I started the bin) was still intact.

This alone told me that conditions in the lower half of the bin have been anaerobic for quite some time, not to mention the funky smell that wafted up to my nose as I dug around. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens to the material now that it is exposed to oxygen and in my larger bin. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing quite a few of my outdoor worms migrating into that region, and the material will likely be processed very quickly.

The upper regions of the bin were also very wet, but clearly tolerable for the worms – this is where I found large numbers of them, and it helps to explain why materials were being processed so quickly in this bin.

People may be wondering why on earth I let this bin become so wet – after all, one of the things I highly recommend to newbies is to add drainage holes and be very careful to try and keep things aerobic.

Well, the truth of the matter is that after nearly 10 years of worm composting I’ve definitely mellowed out quite a bit. I now have a pretty good ‘feel’ for the conditions in my bins and the overall health of the worms. As I’ve discovered (and have found research literature to back it up) red worms absolutely LOVE it wet and will happily live in very sloppy conditions – considering the fact that they slurp up microbes as food this comes as no surprise (microbial ‘biofilms’ require a decent amount of moisture to really thrive).
Water can be a serious issue when coupled with over-feeding (probably the most common newbie mistake), and this is when seriously nasty conditions can occur (hence my recommendation to err on the side of caution when first starting out).

On a semi-related note…

Something I’ve always wanted to do is set up an aquaponics system with a gravel grow bed that continually receives water from a large fish tank, and introduce some red worms into the bed after a little while. One of the complaints I’ve heard from people with aquaponics set-ups is that their beds ted to get clogged up with organic matter. I have a sneaking suspicion that composting worms would absolutely thrive under those conditions! Imagine if you will – soaking wet conditions, yet highly oxygenated, with lots and lots of delicious microbial biofilm to feed on! The worm castings left behind would then serve as an extra boost for the plants – plus any worms that happened to make there way out of the bed and into the fish tank would become a tasty treat for the fish!

Anyway…sorry – I kinda got carried away for a minute there! Hehe…

Stay tuned for more coffee cup updates and further updates on the anaerobic slop I added to my outdoor bin!

Previous Posts in the Series:
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 0
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 6
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 17
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 33

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Terracycle on BBC

I wrote about this on EcoSherpa today, but wanted to post it here as well. Not too long ago I wrote a post (here on RWC) about the lawsuit filed by Scotts Miracle Grow against Terracycle (see Scotts Miracle-Grow Sues Terracycle?).

The above video is coverage of the suit on BBC news. It seems that Terracycle has refused to take this lying down (and rightly so!). Aside from their website, Sued By Scotts (mentioned in the other post), they have launched (or at least will be launching) a media campaign to help drum up support.

Rest assured I will continue to provide more updates as they become available!

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Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 33

Once again I have let my coverage of the CC Challenge lapse, and in fact my work on the site in general (new blog posts etc) has come to a complete stand-still for the last couple weeks. Sorry about that – things have been quite crazy as of late. I’m hoping to get at least one or two new posts up this week aside from this one, so do stay tuned.

Ok – well as you can see from the above picture, a LOT has changed since the start of the experiment, and even quite a bit since our last update. The coffee cup has continued to break down, and in fact was half burried in vermicompost before I pulled it out for some pictures.

There is no longer any evidence of the watermelon in the bin, and even the tomato, sweet potato and fresh bedding I added after our last update (since not much food left) have almost completely disappeared.

Truth be told, this bin is just about ready to be started over. Tiny bins like this tend to have a relatively fast turn-over rate, and I’ve actually noticed quite a lot of water pooling in the bottom of the bin, so it’s time to release this herd into my outdoor bin. I will likely transfer what’s left of the coffee cup into my other indoor bin so as to monitor it’s degradation to the end. (I actually have a cup in the other bin, but have not bothered to provide updates since progress was slower due to lower worm population)

Here is a close-up of the cup after 33 days in the bin. You can see that there are many many springtails covering it. The dark clumps are of course ‘worm turds’ – essentially what makes up the vast majority of the bin’s contents at the moment!

Flipping the cup over, it was interesting to see that…

…the cardboard coating has been almost completely removed, leaving behind a plastic inner shell – eventually this will be all that’s left.

Here is a close-up of the remains of the tomato I put in. It was placed on fresh bedding, but as you can see this too has been largely processed as well.

As mentioned, I’m going to start this bin over. Rest assured I will devote a separate post to this task, and hope to get it up sometime this week!

Previous Posts in the Series:
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 0
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 6
Coffee Cup Challenge – Day 17

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