April 2008

Feeding Worms – When and How Often?

Here is a question from Robyn, who is wondering about the feeding schedule once the worm bin is set up.

Hi Bentley,
I am ready to go I believe…I have an old recycle bin (
19″Lx12″wx13″h) with some small holes aready drilled (this does not
have a top for it, so I’ve covered it with aluminum foil – will this
suffice?); I’ve put down 5 layers (bedding, food, bedding, food,
bedding), and watered it all down.
I’ll let it sit for a week or so, then add in a pound of worms.
My question is, how often after this do I add more scraps and/or
bedding?

For harvesting, from reading other posts, it sounds like I just need
to watch the progress and when I start seeing the dark castings I
know I can use it on my plants.

Hi Robyn,
It sounds like you are off to a good start! I would recommend monitoring the bin during the week (aging period) to make sure the moisture is getting evenly distributed and not pooling in the bottom. Mixing everything up a couple times will definitely help as well. Putting tin foil over it while it ages is a great idea since it will help to keep the moisture in (further assisting you in balancing moisture levels throughout bin). Once the worms are added, you can keep the foil on if you want, but you don’t really need it. It sounds like your bin has a decent depth so you could probably get away with a thick layer of bedding over top of your bedding/food mixture down below, and not have to worry about a lid at all. A thick layer of straw or shredded paper/cardboard will work great, and will also help to ensure that your bin doesn’t ever get too wet since much more water vapor will be able to escape.

Once you have added the worms I’d recommend simply monitoring them for the next week or so to see how they adapt to their new home. Dig around a bit periodically to see if they are settling in and consuming the food waste you’ve added. If they seem really responsive, and are clearly reducing the volume of the materials in the bin and you can’t see too much in the way of obvious food waste, you can start adding small amounts of new wastes (preferably aged). Again, watch how quickly they process the materials, and adjust your feeding accordingly. I would recommend adding more bedding material with each feeding, or at least every other feeding to help keep moisture levels and C:N ratio somewhat balanced – not to mention helping to maintain air flow throughout the bin.

It may take some months before you can harvest the material (would be faster if using some sort of ‘continuous flow’ system), and yeah just keep an eye on the level of vermicompost in the bin. When it is starting to look like most of the material is dark and soil like you’ll probably want to get a new bin ready. Once the new bin has been aged you can then transfer worms over using my simple ‘garbage bag harvesting method‘.

By the way, as mentioned in a previous post, I have started up a bin of my own so I can go through all the usual steps of taking care of a new worm bin. I’m going to be sharing the results with my newsletter members in the form of a ‘worm bin journal’. As an indication of just how laid back I am when setting up a new bin, I STILL have my vermicompost sitting on top of the garbage bag (harvester) in the new bin (it’s been more than a week)!
😆

I have been monitoring the worms down below (all have migrated down to the bin) however, and they seem to be doing very well. I’m going to remove the harvester today or tomorrow and get into the swing of things with caring for the bin. If nothing else, this should at least show you how mellow you can be with a new worm bin (set up the way I recommend). The worms have plenty of food so there is no rush to start adding tons of scraps. I know it can be tough to be patient during this period – if you need some place to put your scraps just start up a bucket with lots of bedding in the bottom and add them there (along with some bedding each time you add scraps), assuming you don’t have some sort of outdoor composter.

Anyway – hope this helps!

Bentley

[tags]worm bin, food scraps, worm composting, vermicomposting, worm castings, vermicompost, worm compost[/tags]

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Ten Things I Love About Terracycle

Although I haven’t really written about them in awhile, it is certainly no secret that I am a huge fan of Terracycle – the now hugely popular ‘liquid worm poop’ fertilizer company. I can still remember when I first heard about them – at the time they were just a couple of young entrepreneurs at Princeton trying to make things work on a shoestring budget. Part of me was kicking myself for not thinking of the idea first (haha), but I was also very excited to see someone helping to raise awareness about vermicomposting!

We’ll they’ve certainly come a LONG way since then – they’ve attracted a massive amount of media attention, their sales have gone through the roof (showing no signs of slowing down any time soon), they even went head to head the billion dollar mega fertilizer corporation, Scotts (see: Scotts Miracle-Grow Sues Terracycle?). According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (thanks to ‘Friendly Worm Guy’ for passing that one along!), that battle cost them $400,000 in legal fees. Thankfully they weathered the storm and were able to settle the dispute (agreeing to change their labeling).

Here is some other interesting info from that same article:

It wasn’t easy raising capital, and TerraCycle, based in Trenton, has yet to make a profit. But already its products have been embraced in the United States and Canada by corporate bigs like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target and Whole Foods.

Fourteen thousand stores – and counting.

And get a load of sales: $70,000 in 2004, $500,000 in 2005, $1.5 million in 2006, an estimated $4 million this year, and a projected $8.6 million in 2008.

In another five years, Szaky (pronounced ZACK-ee), a CEO who’s “really not much of an eco-freak or recycler,” envisions sales topping $50 million. Don’t laugh. Inc. magazine last year dubbed TerraCycle “the coolest little start-up in America” – and where it finishes is anybody’s guess.

TerraCycle lawn and garden products are made from 100 percent recycled garbage, thanks to the red wiggler earthworm known as Eisenia foetida. The worms’ excretions, or castings, are brewed into a “compost tea” and packaged in recycled plastic milk jugs and soda bottles collected by schoolchildren around the country. TerraCycle pays them a few cents per bottle – $78,000 so far.

So what is it exactly that I love about Terracycle? Here are the “ten things” (in no particular order):


1] They’ve clearly demonstrated that ‘green’ entrepreneurs (or ‘ecopreneurs’) can make it big too!
2] They’ve helped to raise awareness about worm composting – I can only imagine what the future holds!
3] They epitomize my Compost Guy motto – ‘turning wastes into resources’
4] Speaking of mottos, they have a great one too – ‘Better, Greener, Cheaper’
5] In 2003 they won the $1 million Carrot Capital Business Plan Contest – yet turned down the prize money when it became clear they’d be required to stray from their original vision! (i.e. it’s not just about the money for them). This is a prime example of how…
6] They’ve dared to be different!
7] They’ve harnessed the unbelievable potential of the web to get their message to the masses – in fact…
8] They haven’t even had to spend ANY money on marketing or advertising (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer article mentioned above)
9] The stuff really works!
10] Not content just to rest on their laurels in the ‘worm poop’ market, they have also been expanding their line of products – still making everything from ‘garbage’


Oh, and one more bonus “thing”: 11] They have an awesome website! Check it out:
http://www.TerraCycle.net/

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[tags]worm poop, worm castings, vermicompost, worm compost, worm tea, compost tea, terracycle, scotts, fertilizer, organic fertilizer, recycling, green products, ecopreneurs, entrepreneurs[/tags]

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Feline Vermicomposting Fanatic

One our faithful readers, Sherry – from Ontario (Canada) – recently sent in this hilarious photo of her cat ‘Bud’ curled up on one of her worm bins. Sherry gave me permission to post it here, and it got me thinking that it might be fun to start a new section of the blog dedicated to reader photos.

Do you have any worm composting pictures? Maybe worm bins you made yourself, or interesting shots of your worms, or perhaps some jumbo plants you have grown with vermicompost? If so (and you feel like sharing them), just send them to me at bentley@redwormcomposting.com and I’ll post them on the blog. Don’t forget to provide me with a little background info as well.

Thanks again Sherry!

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Adding Egg Shells to Your Worm Bin

Someone recently asked whether or not it was ok to add egg shells to their vermicomposting systems. The question reminded me that this was something I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time.

The answer to that question is definitely YES – egg shells are a great addition to your worm and compost bins. They are a great source of slow release calcium and can also act as a buffer, essentially helping to prevent excessively acidic conditions from developing.

I personally prefer to grind my egg shells up as much as possible before adding them – this helps to increase the rate at which the nutrients can be utilized, and also the rate at which the obvious egg shell fragments will disappear from your bin. I also prefer to leave the yolk residues in the shells rather than rinsing them out. This provides a bit of extra nitrogen (and other nutrients I’m sure), which never hurts.

I simply put my fresh shells in old empty egg cartons, making sure not to stack any of the wet ones on top of each other so that they can dry out quickly. Once I’ve amassed a serious collection of shells, I next dump them all in a plastic bucket and grind them with the bottom of a mason jar (any hard object should work fine). You can see in the pictures above what the shells end up looking like.

I’ve read that calcium plays an important role in earthworm reproduction, so you may also see a boost in breeding if you add shells to your bins. If you don’t eat eggs, there are some other options for adding calcium. A lot of worm farmers recommend the use of lime (calcium carbonate – CaCO3) in worm beds. If used in moderation, I agree this can be a useful material, but I recommend against adding it every time you think acidic conditions are developing (as a ‘quick fix’). You may end up throwing the balance of your system off kilter and harming your worms in the process. Composting worms are actually very tolerant of acidic conditions – apparently Red Worms in particular have a pH tolerance range of between 5 and 9, according to Dr. Clive Edwards (renowned vermicomposting researcher).

Rock dust may be a better choice than lime simply because it will likely be a little more slow release (like egg shells), and can contain other beneficial minerals as well.

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Mating Red Worms

Red Worms Caught in the Act

I took a quick look in my ‘4 Worm Experiment‘ bin this morning and found two of the adults engaged in some hanky panky! Of course, as per usual I ran for the camera to see if I can get some decent images.

As you can see, when worms mate they line up facing in opposite directions and press their anterior region together. They secrete a large amount of mucus and produce what are known as a ‘slime tubes’ (each worm will have one) – this is actually what eventually slides off the worm and becomes the ‘shell’ of the cocoon. The clitellum (the thickened band on the anterior region of the worm) produces a compound that causes the slime tube to harden.

The actual copulation process involves the exchange of sperm between worms. Remember, earthworms are ‘hermaphroditic’ – meaning they have both female and male reproductive organs. Nevertheless most species still reproduce via cross-fertilization.

Once mating is complete, worms will continue to produce cocoons as long as their sperm supply (donated by another worm) lasts.

You can actually see a couple of cocoons in the material near the worms (although these were likely produced at a different time).

Hopefully in the next couple months this bin will really start to gain momentum – I am eager to add the next tray, but definitely need a reasonable population of Red Worms in the first tray before the materials will start getting converted to vermicompost at a decent rate. I have a sneaking suspicion that this bin will produce much better vermicompost than the material produced in my sealed Rubbermaid bins due to the greatly increased aeration, but we shall see!

Anyway, I will be sure to keep you posted!

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Red Worms Love Avocado?


Ball of Red Worms inside an avocado skin


Continuing with the ‘Red Worms Love…’ theme today, I thought it would be fun to post this picture I took fairly recently and just came across this morning in one of my worm picture folders. This was in the ‘older’ bin mentioned in the last post. When I opened up the lid I was quite surprised to see this writing mass of worms balled up in an avocado skin – I’m pretty sure there were actually quite a few more worms when I first opened the bin, but some left the scene when I went to get the camera (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!).

I wouldn’t have expected avocado to be a great worm food. It has a high oil content and would likely go anaerobic very easily. We eat avocado quite regularly (it IS a ‘miracle food’ after all – haha) and I always add the left-overs to my kitchen scraps collection, but I’m definitely going to start paying more attention to how the worms react to it.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has tried adding it to your bins?

By the way, if you are looking for another food that worms seem to LOVE – try cantaloupe!



Close-up of the avocado worm ball – you can see some mites feasting on some avocado up to the left


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Red Worms Love Wet Conditions

During my recent worm transfer I was reminded of the fact that red worms really do like it wet. The older bin I was harvesting the worms from is the same one used for the squash composting experiment and was absolutely loaded with worms. There were so many in there that they were starting to congregate in writhing masses at or near the surface. Any time I added food it was disappearing very quickly.

I just assumed that all the worms in the bin were just up near the surface. Well as I discovered, there were actually loads of worms all throughout the bin. Especially interesting was the fact that I found lots of worms (and cocoons) right down at the very bottom of the bin, where conditions were extremely wet, and borderline anaerobic. This was one of my simple Rubbermaid bins with no drainage – in fact all it has is a few air holes in the lid.

Obviously I’m not sharing this information to convince you that you don’t need to be careful with moisture levels in a bin – you still do. It was soaking wet down in the bottom of my bin, but it wasn’t flooded. Also, as much as the worms do love wet conditions, it is more difficult to produce quality compost. Decomposition slows down and you don’t get that nice rich, dark humus that is produced via aerobic composting. Having drainage holes (and some sort of catch tray or reservoir) is not a bad idea.

Anyway, just thought I’d share that tidbit with you.
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[tags]red worms, red wigglers, eisenia fetida, worm bin, worm bins, worm composter, worm composting, vermicomposting[/tags]

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