May 2008

5 lbs of Red Worms – WOW!

Up close and personal with a writhing mass of hungry Red Worms

I recently added 5 lbs of hungry Red Wigglers to a large bin I’d set up ahead of time. The bin is a 121 l (32 gal) Rubbermaid-style storage tub with quite a few air holes drilled in the sides and lid. The bedding was a mixture of shredded corrugated cardboard and ‘egg carton cardboard’ with a considerable quantity of food scraps mixed in as well. Given the size of the system, I also had to spend a considerable amount of time moistening the contents with a spray bottle (I don’t like simply pouring water into a worm bin). By the times the worms were added it was definitely in awesome shape, if I do say so myself (haha!).

It was actually very important that I made sure the bin would provide an excellent worm habitat. Not only is 5 lbs of Red Worms WAY more than I would normally add to a bin this size, but I also had to go away for a couple of weeks and thus would not be able to make sure the worms were doing ok.

Here is the system prior to leaving for our trip – just before taking this photo I had added a considerable amount of watermelon (a worm favourite), plus a thick layer of cardboard over top.

Here is what the system looked like when I got back home. In all honesty, the image just doesn’t do it justice. The only hint of watermelon left in the bin was a cluster of watermelon seedlings that sprang up from the seeds! I thought there would at least be some remnants of the rinds. It just goes to show you what can happen in a nicely optimized system!

Down below the surface the worms seem to have annihilated much of the cardboard bedding, converting it into large quantities of fibrous worm castings. Not only did I find writhing masses of worms as I dug around, but an unbelievable abundance of cocoons!

Thankfully I’m now collecting food waste from a local restaurant, as mentioned in a recent post, so I’ll definitely be able to keep these worms (and all my others) very well fed. Just in the nick of time, too – I suspect this hungry bin of wrigglers would have eaten me out of house and home pretty soon!


[tags]red worms, red wigglers, red wrigglers, eisenia fetida, composting worms, worm composting, worm bed, vermicomposting, vermiculture, worm farming, food waste[/tags]

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Four Worm Reproduction Experiment Wrap-up

One of the original four Red Worms added to this bin

Well folks, I decided it was finally time to pull the plug on my Four Worm Reproduction Experiment. I know I’ve really let things slide on the update front, so hopefully the final wrap-up will provide some closure for those of you who have been following along, and are keenly interested to learn how it went.

As a bit of a recap, I started this experiment (I use the term very lightly) back on December 12, 2008 (so about 5 1/2 months ago). I was curious to see how quickly Red Worms can reproduce, and specifically how quickly four adult worms could produce a thriving population of worms.

I should say right off the bat that conditions were FAR from ideal in the bin. The worms had to deal with really dry conditions for much of the experiment given the fact that I was using a flow-through (stackable) worm bin and was quite forgetful when it came to keeping everything nice and wet – especially early on.

In order to limit the amount of disturbance to the system, I decided not to do counts during the experiment – aside from the time involved, I felt that this would potentially have a negative impact on the worms. Those of you who are curious about the population size will be pleased to learn that I did in fact take the time to count the worms yesterday. It took awhile, and I have little doubt that I missed some smaller worms, but all in all I think it is a pretty good estimate of the population.
I separated worms into two categories only – adults and juveniles (as dictated by the presence/absence of a clitellum). From what I could tell, there were FAR more juveniles than adults. Here are the numbers:

Adults: 12
Juveniles: 94

So a total of 106 worms – or an approximately 25 fold increase in population size! I can only imagine how many more worms there would have been if I’d provided ideal conditions.

I didn’t bother to count cocoons, but did see a fair number while I was picking out worms.

As for the four original worms I put in the system, I think they all survived, but there was really only one worm I could say without a shadow of a doubt was one of them (since it was much larger than the rest of the worms in the bin).

All in all (despite the lack of attention), I’d say it was a pretty interesting experiment. I would certainly like to try it again, but next time I’d likely use an enclosed plastic bin and would be more diligent with adding food etc. I also would like to try putting Red Worms and European Nightcrawlers head to head (each in their own bin) in a reproduction challenge to see how they compare.

Here are all the posts (in order of appearance) from the experiment in case you want a more thorough recap:
Four Worm Reproduction Experiment (December 12, 2007)
Four Worm Experiment Update (December 27, 2007)
4 Worm Update – First Cocoon! (January 2, 2008)
Four Worm Update (March 25, 2008)
Mating Red Worms (April 8, 2008)
Fungus Gnat Invasion (April 23, 2008)

[tags]worm composting, vermicomposting, cocoons, worm reproduction, worm eggs, worm bin, breeding worms, worm farming, experiments[/tags]

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Stacy From Missoula MT?

Hi folks, apologies for this interruption in your regularly scheduled programming, but I am trying to connect with someone who sent in an email. I tried to reply but it keeps bouncing back.
I really hate the thought of someone assuming I can’t be bothered to reply, so I figured it was worth a shot to post a msg here.

Stacy – if you are out there, please send another msg (make sure your email address is working though).

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Dirty Worm Secrets Revealed!

After receiving a number of questions re: my involvement in the Worm Farming Secrets (WFS) membership site, I decided it was high time I write a post and share ALL the sordid details here!


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California Resort Vermicomposting

I recently came across an interesting (albeit brief) article about a new vermicomposting initiative at a California hotel/spa. I always enjoy reading about these kinds of projects. There is just SO much potential, given all the businesses out there producing tons and tons of food waste each year, but there really aren’t that many taking advantage of these materials.

The hotel in question is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (Sonoma, California) – here is a brief blurb about their new system:

The 3′ x 3′ x 14″ worm bin sits near the employee parking lot and is intended to reduce about 128 pounds of organic waste each month. But cutting out the organic waste isn’t the only thing the wormy guys are good for, explains Melissa Attanasio, the resort’s “Green Champion” (I wish I had “champion” in my official title). “By feeding the worms hotel food waste, we end up with one of the best (sustainable) soil amendments and fertilizers—worm castings,” she says.

Be sure to check out the full article: Hotel Hip: Worm Composting

I’m actually just about to start up a similar food waste vermicomposting project in my own region. A little while ago I contacted a local restaurant to inquire about obtaining some of their wastes for my worms, and they ended up being very excited about the idea, so we’ve made it into more of a serious project. Needless to say, you’ll definitely be hearing a lot more about that in coming weeks.

[tags]worm composting, vermicomposting, worms, red worms, composting worms, food waste, food scraps, restaurant waste, composting[/tags]

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Dead Worms and Stinky Worm Bins

Some good questions from Anna:

Hi, I love this site and am grateful to have some online
friendly advice! I purchased a Can O’Worms and 2 pounds of red worms
about 2 months ago. We had a heat wave and it was about 100 degrees
here and when I checked on the worms, maybe about half (a heaping
handful had gone down into the bottom section and were dead! I feel
terrible!!! What should I have done to save the poor dears?

I have a stinky bin question too – I know this means anaerobic, and I
go in and gentle mix things up, but it’s still kind of musty/farty

And there are a LOT of tiny white-ish eggs all over the bin surface
and on top of the compost. And yesterday, some inch long white really
thin worms – maggots???? I don’t put meat in the bin…Yikes!

I thank you in advance, and sorry for all the questions, but I have
no one else to ask!

Hi Anna!
No need to apologize. I really enjoy answering reader questions – especially when there is the potential to help a bunch of people at once (by answering on the blog).

Ok – firstly, I’m sorry to hear about your worms. That is certainly no fun (either for you or the worms)!
The ‘Can O’ Worms’ stacking system is a great worm bin there is no doubt about it, but your situation has certainly highlighted the limitations of systems like this. In my mind, small plastic systems (especially those that are black in colour) are generally best kept indoors since they are very easily influenced by outdoor air temperatures, and can turn into mini furnaces if let out in the sun for any length of time.

If you are going to keep these systems outside, it is very important to locate them in the coolest possible area of your yard. Red Worms are quite tolerant of warm temperatures, but if it is common for temps to reach 100 degrees (37.8 C) or more in your area I’m not even sure a shady area will keep your worms alive when kept in small plastic systems.

If I lived in a region with heat waves like that I would definitely construct a separate (larger) outdoor system. It would be fairly light in colour, would be designed to allow a decent amount of airflow (but not so much that it’s constantly drying out), and would definitely have a pit underneath it where the worms can retreat during very hot temps (I actually DO have a system like that, but I’m more concerned with protecting from the cold than the heat).

As for your stinky, farty smelling bin…

I would definitely (plug my nose then…) mix in a bunch of shredded cardboard or newspaper strips to help encourage more air flow. You may also want to hold off from adding any new food for a little while as well.

The little round “eggs” are likely mites – there is a round, slow moving variety that just seems to be born to invade worm bins (it’s rare to keep worm bins for any length of time and never see these mites). They always seem to appear when conditions start to go downhill for the worms – in fact, many newcomers assume they eat worms since you will often find them coating semi-alive, and dead worms. They are actually there cleaning up the mess, and won’t cause any direct harm to healthy worms.

As for the “inch long” white worms, you’ve definitely got me stumped there. It is common to get Pot Worms (aka ‘White Worms) in a worm bin (they often come hand in hand with the mites – well ok, not literally – haha), but they are nowhere near an inch in length – at least not in my experience. they definitely don’t sound like any sort of maggot, since those would be shorter and fatter. Whatever they are, there is a decent chance they won’t cause any harm to your worms – but DO keep and eye on them just in case!

Anyway, hope this helps somewhat!
Thanks for the questions.

[tags]worm bin, worm bins, can o worms, vermicomposting, worm composting, white worms, pot worms, mites[/tags]

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Worm Bin Set-Up

This is a question from Melinda. She’s wondering how to best set up her new system.

I got my wooden worm bin today and soaked the coir and mixed
it with a bit of garden soil like the instructions said. But it goes
past the top of the tray. it said to then put an inch of shedded
paper on top and some food but I can’t even get the cover on let alone
anothe inch of anything so what do I do.

Do I take out some of the bedding or smush it down more.

I am not going to be getting the worms til next week. but I wanted
to be ready thanks melinda

Hi Melinda,
My recommendation for newcomers is always to focus more on the important principles than on exact instructions. Your new worms will have a number of requirements when they arrive – 1) Moisture, 2) A safe habitat, 3) Some food and 4) Decent air flow (for oxygen). If you always keep these in the back of your mind you should start to find that you develop a certain level of ‘intuition’ re: what will and won’t work well.

Given the situation you described you are definitely right to question the value of the intructions. I would definitely suggest removing all the coir/soil and putting it in a separate container. I would next shred up some cardboard (you can use newspaper strips if you want) and add it into the mix as well. Coir is a great bedding material but I would never use it on its own since there is too much potential for it getting compacted and going anaerobic – if you use it as a secondary bedding material (with shredded cardboard as the primary bedding) it can be an excellent way to increase the water-retention of your system.

Once you mix the coir with the other (bulky) bedding materials and everything is nicely moistened you can start adding it to your first tray (assuming you have a stacking system). I would lay a couple layers of newpaper along the bottom first if it is some sort of screen. This will help retain moisture and discourage worms from venturing downwards.

You definitely don’t need to fill the tray to the top. I would add a layer on top of the newspaper, then add some food scraps, and then add another decent layer over top, making sure there is an air space between the top of the material and the lid.

All the leftover bedding can then be mixed with more food scraps and left to sit (works best if in some sort of container with lid so moisture is retained). This material will make for great food later on or even for setting up a second system – assuming you have some sort of tub to make into a worm bin. Not sure how many worms you ordered, but it is 1 lb or more you may want to split it between two systems anyway, since a single tray of most stacking systems doesn’t really provide much habitat for a pound of worms.

That’s pretty much it! By the time your worms arrive your first tray should be in pretty good shape to receive them. Just make sure to keep an eye on moisture levels, spraying down fairly often to prevent it from drying out.

Hope this helps!


[tags]worm bin, worm composter, worm composting, vermicomposting, compost bin, red worms, red wigglers[/tags]

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