December 2007

Four Worm Reproduction Experiment

My new stacking worm bin – level one!

After sharing my idea for this project (back in June), it ended up on the backburner. Well, as you can probably tell, I’m in serious action mode lately so I figured I might as well take advantage of the momentum and get this experiment up and running. Again, in a nutshell, I simply want to see for myself how quickly a red worm population will grow. I originally thought I’d start with only two worms, but subsequently doubled that number to a whopping four!

There is so much hype out there regarding the extreme speed at which populations of these worms can double in size, and even the numbers from reputable sources are pretty impressive so it will be interesting!

I wanted to add young worms only (those without a clitellum) to help ensure that none of the worms were carrying sperm (worms can produce multiple cocoons after a single sperm exchange), but I ended up settling for two juveniles and two adults.

Setting Up the Bin

Starting this project provided me with a good opportunity for finally getting my new stacking worm bin up and running (although it’s certainly going to take awhile before I can really test it out!). The first thing I did was lay multiple layers of newsprint down over the mesh floor in the first tray.

Next I added a mixture of mulched (and aged) grass clippings and leaves.

I then thoroughly moistened the mixture to make sure it was ready for the worms. Keeping an eye on moisture levels will be very important with this system given the greatly increased exposure to air (as compared with a plastic tub).

Finally, I added the four worms. The picture above shows two of them moving down into the material. My wigglers seem to love the mulch so I have every confidence it will serve as an ideal bedding/food. I will also start to add some food scraps as well just to make sure there is ample nutrition available in the bin

That’s it! Easy peezy! Now we simply wait and see what happens. Of course, I will be keeping close tabs on the bin to make sure all the worms’ needs are taken care of, and I’ll also be sure to report on any interesting findings (first appearance of cocoons etc).

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New Site Features

Hi everyone – just a quick heads-up about a couple of new features, in case you hadn’t noticed them.

Raising Earthworms – This a new section dedicated to the topic of…wait for it…raising earthworms! Yay!! Seriously though, this is a really important topic since the success of a worm composting system of course depends on the health and well-being of your worm population. Many people almost seem to forget the fact that they are in essence looking after a population of living, breathing animals (I know, it sounds funny to refer to them as ‘animals’, but that is what they are!). Believe me, taking good care of worms is not rocket science, especially if you are familiar with the main requirements. Hopefully this page will be helpful – especially for those just starting out. I will definitely be expanding it over time as well.

Worm Composting Videos – I’ve mentioned (a number of times now) my plans to provide access to the high-resolution versions of my video presentations. Well ,I’m happy to report that the new page is ready, and with it a link to my new winter worm composting video (along the the slightly shorter YouTube version). I’ll definitely be added a bunch more videos over the next few months as well.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Stay tuned – much more on the way!

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My New Stacking Worm Bin

Last month I wrote a post about the continuous flow worm bin that I had ordered. It ended up arriving shortly thereafter, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it ever since. I finally decided to free up some time to start it up today, so it only makes sense that I also free up some time to write about it!

As mentioned, I bought the system from Wood Worm Farms. They offer a number of different sizes, and I decided to buy their largest system (5 trays) to help ensure that the castings in the first tray are finished by the time I fill the last tray.

I found the ordering process very easy and convenient. I buy a lot of products online (and work online), so I was more than happy to use the Paypal shopping cart system. I sent an email to them (Wood Worm Farms) just to make sure my order had been received and inquired about the estimated shipping time. I received a friendly e-mail back relatively quickly, and was happy to learn that I wouldn’t have to wait very long for my new system.

The package arrived sooner than I had expected (literally the day after I wrote the post on the blog), which was a nice perk. All in all I was happy with the way the worm bin looked once I had it unwrapped. It wasn’t quite as sharp looking as the units pictured on the website, and was a wee bit shaky (not sitting perfectly flat on the ground) – it also didn’t come with a handle on the lid as shown (on the site). That being said, it does seem to be structurally sound and of course looks much nicer than my usual worm bins – who knows, maybe my wife will even let me keep it out where people can actually see it!

I was a little worried about the fact that the trays are made from untreated pine, and actually spent some time researching various earth-friendly ways to treat wood. Edward, from Wood Worm Farms, put my mind at ease (with a comment on the blog) by assuring me that he has yet to have a system become so rotten as to be structurally unstable (even systems kept outdoors). As such, I’ve opted to leave the bin untreated for now.

Bottom-line, I’m definitely happy with the purchase and very interested to see how the bin performs! I will talk about setting it up for worm composting in my next post since it relates to another fun project I’ve started up.

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Interview With Jack Chambers – Part IV

One of Jack Chambers' Flow-Through Reactors
Image courtesy of Jack Chambers, Sonoma Valley Worm Farm

Are worm sales a big part of your business, or would you say you are primarily focused on compost production?

JC – This year worm sales have been equal to vermicompost sales. In the beginning it was mostly worm sales, with some casting sales. Once we did the flow through reactors I looked at the worms as the workers, and the vermicompost they made, as our main product.

Now I am coming to the point of thinking that you can have both. Our worm sales were up 35% this year. We have just started tapping into the internet, and I think sales will grow even more next year. We are adding another flow through reactor so that we can sell more worms and more vermicompost.

Our vermicompost sales were up 30% for the year. More vineyards are coming to us and that continues to be a good market for us. Our vermicompost is great for making compost tea. We use the same materials, processed the same way to get a consistent high quality vermicompost.

I think compost tea / vermicompost tea has a tremendous future.

What would you say some of the highlights of owning Sonoma Valley Worms have been over the years? Any frustrations?

I think the biggest highlight have been all the great people I have met through the worm farm. People who want to have worms eat their garbage, and not send it down the drain. We had one young mother who called with a nice story. She said she wanted to order some worms, so her little girl would grow up thinking that composting your food waste was the normal thing to do. She wanted worms for her daughters future.

Another thrill has been learning, and seeing what worms and castings (vermicompost) can really do. I am still amazed to go out and see our worms eating through the compost we feed them. To see plants actually thrive after you feed them some castings or vermicompost tea. Seeing the garden looking healthy and strong, and realizing it is the natural world at work, not chemicals. We spray our roses and vineyard with tea. We have no powdery mildew, rust or black spot. To see that we can do things in a new way is exciting.

Figuring out how to make and run a flow through reactor was a challenge; a good challenge. We had to learn how to compost, how to feed the worms, how to harvest the vermicompost. How long it would take the worms to go through material. It was a great learning experience.

As for frustrations, of course. As the fellow who works for us says, ‘Life is problems’. He says it with a smile, and he is right. Every day we are confronted with challenges and problems. It is up to us to deal with the problems and try to make things work better.

I went through a slump a couple of years ago. I thought we would make this incredible vermicompost and people would be knocking down our doors. Now I realize it is all about teaching people and showing people, and marketing this new wonderful product to the world. This is a life’s work. It will be good to look back and know that I helped to move this whole process along a little bit further.

Stay tuned for our last installment of our interview with Jack Chambers!

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Worm Power Videos

As I mentioned previously, I was actually intending to create another full-fledged site dedicated to vermicomposting videos. Suddenly it dawned on me yesterday that this is not only unnecessary (since I’ve determined that my bandwidth limits are sufficient), but it may actually lead to more confusion! As such, I’m pleased to announce that the new video section will in fact be incorporated into the Red Worm Composting site – you’ll find videos made by others posted on our blog (under the ‘videos’ category), and my own videos linked to on the worm composting videos page (you’ll see more activity there very soon). All your vermi-entertainment under ONE roof! I do have another composting/gardening/enviromental website in the works but that won’t have any impact on what’s going on here (and I’ll share more about that before to long).

Ok with that out of the way, let’s get to some worm composting videos!!

I’ve written previously about Worm Power (RT Solutions) – the cool worm castings and tea company, based in Western New York. Well, little did I realize there are actually videos up on YouTube all about Worm Power and the work they are involved with.

Promotional video for Worm Power, which includes a very interesting bit about disease control with vermicomposts. Allison Jack, a PhD candidate in Plant Pathology at Cornell University, shares some of her findings in terms of the suppressiveness of worm composts against plant diseases.

This video seems to be part of a show on the History channel, and provides lots of interesting information about how RT Solutions makes their high quality worm castings (from pre-composted dairy manure) in their flow-through reactors.

Worm Power in the news!

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Interview With Jack Chambers – Part III

This just in – direct from Shanghai, no less! I’m totally serious. Not only has Jack been incredibly generous with his time, but he even replies from foreign cities (remember, he is a commercial airline pilot)! First Tokyo, now Shanghai – pretty cool!
Ok, on with the interview…This time I’ve included a couple of responses.

Can you tell us a little about your flow-through reactors? How many do you have now? Would you recommend this type of system?

JC – Our flow through reactors are 90′ long, 5′ wide, and 2′ deep. They sit 18″ off the ground. We adapted a design from the ones Dr. Clive Edwards developed in England, back in the 1980’s. A very simple idea really. On the bottom of the bin is a screened floor. The worm castings (vermicompost) actually rest on this screen. The screen is a 2″ by 4″ material.

The idea being that you feed at the top of the flow through reactor, and the majority of worms are at the top working the material. At the bottom, just above the screen is a breaker bar which cuts the finished material, which falls through the screen. The worms work the material for about 60 days. In other words, what we feed on top today, will come out the bottom of the reactor in about 60 days.

The system works very well. We had some issues in the beginning with the beds heating up. We solved that be watching how we pre-compost the material.

We currently have 3 reactors, and over the winter we will install a 4th.

Yes, I would recommend this system. It is especially good for making high quality vermicompost that will be used as a starter material for making vermicompost tea. You have a great deal of control and can turn out a very consistent product.

I know you’ve worked quite a bit with local vineyards in your area. Have you found vermicomposts (and worm teas) to be a really beneficial for this industry?

JC – We have been fortunate to work with some high end vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma counties. They are using a cup of our vermicompost when they plant, or replant their vineyards. They find that the vines do very well with this small addition. It costs them about .12 cents a plant. Sort of like insurance for your vine. A vine costs about $3.00. If you lose the vine, you need to replant it next year. Now you have $6.00 in the hole, and you are a year behind with that vine.

Some vineyards were losing up to 20% of their new plantings. When they use our vermicompost, the losses are less than 1%. One vineyard used our vermicompost, and after planting 3,000 vines, they found that they didn’t lose a single vine.

Different growers are using tea, mostly to fertigate their vineyards. They find that the vines respond well to the tea. It is low in NPK, but very high in microbial activity, and to put it simply it acts as an inoculant in the soil. It helps bring microbial life to the soil.

In our vineyard, we use the vermicompost tea as both a soil drench (fertigate) and as a foliar spray. We have found that it helps create a nice canopy for the fruit, and also keeps powdery mildew at bay. We also spray our roses with tea and it is very good at keeping powdery mildew away, and good for black spot and rust as well.

Stay tuned – still more to come!

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European Nightcrawlers – Eisenia hortensis

Red Worm (top) with European Nightcrawler (bottom)

My new worms arrived today and needless to say I am very excited – almost excited as when I received my first batch of red worms (many moons ago now). I’ve never seen a ‘Euro’ before (aside from photos), and was surprised by just how different they look from my red wigglers. Aside from the obvious size difference, they seem to be much more of a brown colour, but still display the distinct banded pattern typically seen in Eisenia worms.

Euros being added to an aged worm bin

Given the quantity of worms a received (likely close to a 1 lb) I decided to split them between the two aged bins I set up for my worm composting videos. I had originally planned to start my “4 worm experinment” in one of them, but I’ll start a new one for that. It has been about a month and a half since I set up the bins, so much of the food waste is very well decomposed and not even recognizable – I have little doubt that the microbial population is quite rich (certainly lots of visible fungal mycelia). Moisture seems to be well balanced in the bins, but a little on the dry side so I made sure to add some more water. When I checked back on the worms after letting them sit for a bit they seemed to be exploring their new surroundings quite readily (definitely a good sign – they came in a decent amount of bedding, so they would have stayed in it had the bin conditions not been to their liking).

I received the worms as a thank-you gift from my worm farmer friend, Jeff. I’m in the process of helping him set up a website for his business (and will certainly provide more info once it’s ready for visitors). Jeff was kind enough to send the worms via priority post, and made sure to label the box well. The postal delivery lady seemed to get a real kick out of saying “enjoy your worms”, as she handed me the package! Oh, the things we worm fanatics have to put up with – I tell ya!!!

Some More European Nightcrawler Info
As mentioned, Euros are a larger cousin of the red wiggler. They are also known as ‘Belgian Nightcrawlers’, ‘Euros’, and ENCs for short. Another very common scientific name is Dendrobena veneta – this is what they were referred to prior to the change over to Eisenia hortensis. The former name is still used extensively in Europe.

Due to their larger size, Euros make an ideal bait worm. I’ve got such a soft spot for worms these days that I can’t imagine putting one on a hook anymore (and I’m a pretty avid fisherman), but I can definitely see how they would be ideal based on their size alone – they are significantly bigger than a red worm, but smaller than a ‘dew worm’ (‘Canadian Nightcrawler’ – Lumbricus terrestris), which are often TOO big. I’ve read that they are incredibly durable on a hook even in very cold and brackish waters – thus making them a very versatile bait.

As composting worms, research seems to indicate that they are not as ideally suited for the task as Eisenia fetida. They have a lower rate of reproduction and take considerably longer to mature. That being said, I’ve been told they can be more tolerant of poor bin conditions and low food levels – more apt to stay put as compared to red worms.

I will certainly be very interested to test them out for myself to see what they are capable of, and of course will continue to share my findings here on the blog!

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