February 2008

My New Toy – Eyeclops Bionic Eye

Worm Bin Mite Magnified 200x

A little while ago I came across a really interesting webpage demonstrating the magnifying power of a kids toy called the Eyeclops. Needless to say, I was impressed – and I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn that a variety of potential worm bin applications immediately came to mind.

I decided to order one right away so I could test it out!

Eyeclops Bionic Eye

It arrived earlier this week, and I’ve been playing with it quite a bit already. I must admit that it takes some time to get it working the way you want it to – especially when you are trying to capture living creatures (inanimate objects are a piece of cake) – but I’m getting better at it.

Basically you just plug the Eyeclops into your TV using standard RCA cable, then turn it on and start pointing at stuff and the image will appear on the TV screen. If you check out the page I mentioned (and linked to) above you can see a variety of cool objects and materials magnified at 200x.

The picture above was achieved by putting a worm bin mite (one of the round, white ones I’ve talked about before) on the end of a plastic toothpick and positioning it above the lense of Eyeclops (easier said than done). Thankfully there is plastic base you can sit the Eyeclops in to help steady it – this also freed up one of my hands so I was able to take pictures. As you can see, the image is a tad fuzzy (although – keep in mind it is a picture of a TV screen) – but not too shabby for a kids toy, thats for sure. And I’ve only just gotten started with it!

What I will likely do next time is capture an actual video so you can see the specimen moving around and get a better look at it. Hopefully whatever is being filmed will cooperate somewhat.

To give you some idea of the magnifying power of 200x, I tried to focus on some worm cocoons but they just ended up taking up most of the screen and thus were not very interesting to look at. I WOULD love to capture a baby worm coming out of a cocoon though – maybe if I’m lucky!

Anyway, you can definitely expect to see more documentation of my Eyeclops testing in coming weeks and months. Should be fun!

[tags]eyeclops, bionic eye, magnifier, magnifying glass, microscope, toys, mites, worm bins, invertebrates, science, kids[/tags]

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European Nightcrawler Bin Video

Those of you who follow the Compost Guy website at all may have caught my mention of the fact that I recently discovered that my digital camera has decent video capabilities – not super high definition or anything, but at least functional!

I’m pretty excited about this since it means I can create short videos much more easily now. My video production plans have been stalled for awhile now simply based on the fact that it takes so long to put together a powerpoint video using still shots (although there are some advantages to this approach, and I do still have plans to make at least one more of those). Shooting actual footage is great for providing people with a much better idea of what I’m talking about (i.e. it is easier to demonstrate something) – although, as you can see my video shooting skills need a little work!

It will also give me the ability to provide some audio commentary as well, which will also be helpful! Again, this video is definitely not a good indication of the entertainment value of my commentary – haha! I do actually get fired up about this stuff – honest!

Anyway – just wanted to let everyone know! I promise I will get better at making these videos. Let me know if there is anything specific topic area you would like to see covered.

[tags]worm composting videos, worm composting, vermicomposting, european nightcrawlers, red wigglers, red worms, composting worms, worm bin[/tags]

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Worm Bin Mites

Worm Bin Mites

Back in November I wrote a post all about mites (A Mite is a Mite is a Mite? Not Quite). I tried to provide a basic overview of the various types of mites that can be found commonly in your worm bin. I’m not going to add anything more to that discussion today, but DID want to share a cool photo I captured this morning.

I was digging through an older red wiggler bin (the one with the Natura Eco Cloth – which incidentally seems to have completely decomposed!), when I happened upon a old piece of broccoli stem that was totally covered in white mites (which by the way is simply a descriptive name based on their colour – I have no idea what the actual species is). This type of mite seems to gravitate towards moisture-rich foods like cucumber, melons and squash, and can be found to spring up – seemingly out of nowhere – in great abundance when decent amounts of these sorts of wastes are added to the bin.

They are a very slow moving mite and people can sometimes even mistake them for ‘worm eggs’, if they have never seen an actual worm cocoon before.

Anyway, just thought I’d share that. Perhaps some of you will recognize this type of mite from your own bin(s).

[tags]worms, worm bins, vermicomposting, vermiculture, worm composting, mites, worm bin mites[/tags]

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“Red Worms For Sale” – Part II

Just over a month ago I wrote a post about the importance of finding a reputable supplier before ordering any worms. If you didn’t catch that post, you might want to read it first: “Red Worms For Sale” – Part I.

The post was originally inspired by an email I received from a disgruntled individual who felt that they were cheated out of a pound of European Nightcrawlers (they received a total of 8 worms). Not wanting this person to end up giving up on the idea of starting up a worm bin, I decided to step in a help get them a proper shipment of Euros, at a very special price (wink wink).

As I mentioned in my first post, I’m not the type of person to “out” a potential offender on this (or any other) website – and in hindsight I’m definitely glad I’m NOT! In an interesting turn of events, I ended up having an email exchange with this worm supplier about the situation and they seemed genuinely concerned (they had received no feedback regarding the lack of worms), and very eager to send a replacement shipment.

This highlights the importance of letting people know when you are not happy with their products. I certainly don’t say this as a reprimand for the individual who contacted me – we helped them get some new worms very quickly so they didn’t really need to pursue the issue any further. This is more a suggestion for anyone else who finds themselves in a situation like this.

If the supplier ignores you or refuses to replace the worms, then you can simply let them know that you’re going to blog about it or make a YouTube video all about how they ripped you off (trust me, NO self-respecting worm farmer will risk attracting this sort of negative publicity).

Anyway…let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Last time we talked about what to look for in terms of pricing and customer service. Here is another important consideration:

Supplier Location – This may seem like common sense, but it’s not a bad idea to see if you can find a reputable dealer in your area (ideally in the same city/region, but even the same state/province will help). The shorter the shipping distance the less stress your worms will experience and the fewer potential shipping headaches that might occur. This is especially important advice for those thinking about cross-border shipments. The last thing you want is to have your worms stuck at the border until they are Ok’d by the border officials (which may never happen). One of our worm farming friends shared a story with me about having a shipment of 10 lbs of worms getting held up at the border for many days (last I heard the shipment still hadn’t been received – not good news for the worm farmer OR the poor worms!).

You may find fantastic prices offered by a dealer in another country, but that value goes completely out the window if you don’t end up receiving your worms at all. And even if you do receive them, who knows what condition they will be in when they finally arrive.

There are worm farmers everywhere – far more than you can likely find online! Get in touch with local gardening clubs, waste management facilities, universities etc. Someone will definitely be able to get you pointed in the right direction.

Ok – now that we’ve highlighted some of the important considerations to keep in mind as a worm buyer, let’s switch our perspective and cover some the important things to remember if you are selling worms or planning to do so.

I’m not going to get into much detail, as these are pretty much self-explanatory.

1) Always put your customer’s best interests first. Constantly ask yourself “how can I provide the best buying experience for these people?”
2) Be prompt, courteous and helpful! Don’t make potential customers wait days for replies – if you provide an email address then make sure you are checking email on a regular basis!
3) Follow-up with your customers to make sure they received their worms and are happy with their purchase. Don’t assume that just because you don’t get negative feedback that your customer was happy (as indicated by the situation discussed above)
4) Go above and beyond the call of duty – “over deliver”! If they ordered a pound of worms send even more, and throw in some unexpected bonuses while you are at it (maybe a worm care guide or a coupon for future purchases, stickers for their bin – etc etc)
5) Ask for feedback – ask your existing customers if there anything you could do to help improve the buying experience.
6) Use clear, easy to understand language on your website – no fine print or hidden terms and conditions.
7) Make your website into an information resource – not just a portal for buying your products.

These are just a handful of suggestions – plenty more where those came from (haha), but I’ll leave it at that for now!
The funny irony is that when you take the extra time/effort to provide the best service and products for your customers you will be rewarded many times over in the long run. Word of mouth is a very powerful marketing method, especially these days – you can either use it to your advantage, or you can suffer the consequences of short term thinking.

[tags]buying worms, worm composting, vermicomposting, vermiculture, worm farming, worm farmers, selling worms, composting worms[/tags]

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Worm Castings and Root Growth

Worm Castings Boost Root Growth

Last week my good pal Jack Chambers informed me that he had started a brand new podcast series on his site. I was definitely excited for him (podcasting is actually something I’ve been thinking about trying out myself), and I let him know I’d make mention of it here.

Well, as per usual things got really busy for me and I didn’t end up getting around to even listening/watching (it’s actually a video podcast) until today. Whats kinda cool is that the topic of the podcast ties in well with my recent post about the potential for increased drought resistance offered by worm castings.

Jack talks about the incredible root growth that castings (he uses the term “vermicompost” but in this context we are definitely talking about pretty much the same thing) seem to stimulate, and it makes me wonder if this ties in with the drought resistance. With a more substantial root system it seems feasible that there may be increased ability to take advantage of minute quantities of water, unavailable to plants with a smaller root network. This is really just speculation, but to me it does seem like a reasonable possibility.

Anyway, I definitely recommend you check out Jack’s podcast – very interesting stuff! Hopefully it is the first of many more.

[tags]vermicompost, worm castings, worm compost, plant roots, plant growth, worm composting vermicomposting, sonoma valley worm farm[/tags]

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Baby Euros!

Juvenile European Nightcrawler

Back on December 5th (2007) I excitedly announced the arrival of my European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis). Well it seems I have reached another milestone – I found the first juvenile worm! This is really exciting!

Unfortunately this doesn’t mean I can assume that my worms mated and produced offspring in two months – almost certainly some of the worms arrived fertilized and ready to lay eggs. I will have to try out something similar to the ‘4 worm experiment‘ in order to get any sort of reliable info regarding the reproductive capacities of European Nightcrawlers. Now would be the time to start it too! I think I’ll collect some of the mature Euro cocoons in my bin and start a small worm bin (maybe using an old margarine container or something like that).

Speaking of the ‘4 worm experiment’, I’m definitely miles overdue for an update there. Unfortunately I’ve been dealing with really dry bin conditions (keep forgetting to water it regularly) so I don’t think I’ve been exactly creating ideal conditions for worm hatching! The adults do still look very healthy though, and I’ve found a number of cocoons in the bin.

Ok all for now!

[tags]european nightcrawlers, eisenia hortensis, baby worms, worms, nightcrawlers, earthworms, worm bin, worm composting, vermicomposting, vermiculture[/tags]

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Worm Castings and Drought Resistance

Worm Castings May Help Plants Resist Drought

Hi everyone. Sorry I haven’t been able to write as much as I’d like lately. With our new addition to the family (who arrived back in September) I definitely need to be a bit more attentive of the ol’ ‘bottom-line’ (thus spending more time on actual ‘work’ projects).

Anyway, enough moaning for one post (haha). I have some exciting an unexpected results to share with you. I’m sure some of you will remember that a little while ago I received a complimentary tub of Worm Power castings (which led to me acting like a crazy fool, I might add – haha).

Well since that time I’ve been playing with these worm castings a little to see how they perform. My houseplants have never looked better!

I actually had a specific experiment I wanted to try out, but it ended up going awry (will try it again though, so won’t say more than that). Interestingly enough, I threw together a tiny side experiment just for fun. I separated out two batches of seeds and let them soak in water overnight. The control seeds had nothing added, while the other seeds had a “pinch” (literally – I have a set of measuring spoons and one of them has the volume of a “pinch”) of worm castings mixed in with the water. Be assured, we’re talking about a very small amount of castings.

After the seeds had soaked overnight in the solution I next spread them on absorbent pieces of cardboard (my favourite for worm bins – egg carton cardboard), moistened them a little more, and closed them within a small seedling growth tray.

I’ll be honest, initially the results were less than spectacular. The water-only teatment seemed to germinate first for the most part and those seedlings even seemed to look more vigorous as they grew. Things gradually started to change though – kinda like the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. hehe

The castings-enhanced treatment grew steadily and it wasn’t long before they were looking like healthier seedlings than the water-only treatment.

But that’s not the exciting part!

Despite some interesting results, I pretty much stopped watering the seedlings and kinda forgot about them in general. One day I happened to look at them and noticed some startling results. The water-only side was badly wilted, while the castings-treated plants were healthy and vigorous! Thinking it might have just been a fluke, I watered both sides thoroughly and once again left them unattended.

Today I just happened to check in on them and low and behold I saw the same results – this time even more pronounced (since they have been ignored longer). The picture above was taken this morning.

Now here’s the thing – if this were a soil-based experiment I could definitely see how castings would improve water retention since they definitely help improve soil structure etc. But this is an experiment with NO soil, and the tiny amount of castings added were simply mixed in with the water solution the seeds soaked in (so certainly not much, if any, in the way of solid castings material on the cardboard growth platforms).

This is totally cool!

Anyway, I’m going to repeat the experiment, this time adding one more cardboard platform to each treatment and also mixing treatments together (making sure to mark them of course), so I can eliminate the possibility of biased watering or anything like that.

Be assured, I will keep you posted!

[tags]worm castings, plant growth, plant health, worm tea, vermicomposting, vermicompost, worm compost, worm composting, seedlings, fertilizer, plant nutrition[/tags]

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