November 2008

Cold Weather Worm Composting

Here is a good question from Christine:

I’ve had the city deliver a huge pile of leaves, I’ve spread
this out and am layering it with two pickup truckloads of manure
(lama). It takes up a space about 20′ by 60′, and will be several
feet high.

Would adding worms help the process? I live in a part of Oregon with
wet, mild winters–presently temps are in the 40’s and 50’s; it seldom
gets below freezing here. How many pounds of worms, if any, would you

Hi Christine,
It sounds like you are creating the ultimate winter compost heap to me, so YES – adding worms to your system is a fantastic idea. Your system would work well even in our (much colder) winter conditions up here in Ontario (Canada) – in fact, I am creating a somewhat similar winter worm bed myself – more about that in my next blog post!

Worms greatly enhance the process of breaking down and stabilizing organic wastes – the microbes do all the ‘rotting’, but the worms play an important role assisting with the mechanical breakdown and aeration of the materials.

Sounds like your system is huge – I’m glad to hear that it will only be a few feet high though. When you mix large quantities of ‘green’ waste (ie N-rich stuff, like manure) with ‘browns’ (C-rich materials like leaves) you can very easily create thermophilic (hot) composting conditions. While we can certainly take advantage of this heating in order to keep our worms active all winter, we still need to be careful not to create TOO MUCH heat, which can obviously harm them.

What I would recommend you do is set up your system and get yourself a composting thermometer so you can monitor temperatures in the pile for a little while before adding worms. Once you are confident that the temps are relatively stable and they are in a safe range, you can add the worms. I would recommend only starting with a pound or two. The more worms you have, the more quickly they will process your waste materials – but in a system like that, I think you’ll be surprised by just how quickly they multiply to take advantage of the vast food/habitat resource you are providing them with!

By the way – I would normally recommend putting some sort of tarp over the top of the pile to keep precipitation off the leaves. This is almost certainly NOT an option given the scale of your heap. You may however want to add more bulky c-rich materials, such as straw, over the top to help keep things cozy down below. I’d only do this once the worms are established in the system (and you know the temps in the pile aren’t going to spike any more) however.

Anyway, good luck with your winter worm composting efforts! I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it.

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Cat Litter Composting – Update

PC Compostable Cat Litter
A recent comment (from a vet, no less) on my ‘Cat Litter Vermicomposting‘ post reminded me that I wanted to provide a quick update on that front.

Unfortunately, winter seems to have swept in quite quickly here, so I’m not sure that I’ll be able to construct my outdoor pet waste composter as planned (unless the snow melts at some point). Have no fear though – I still plan to try vermicomposting the litter indoors (in a designated test bin). It should actually end up being a more valuable learning experience since it will be easier to see what’s happening and to augment the process as needed.

I must say, I’ve been pretty impressed with the Green Cat Litter thus far. While it is much lighter than the clumping clay stuff (a definite bonus), it has a similar appearance and texture. As our vet friend pointed out, it can take a while for cats to get used to litter with a difference texture etc from what they are used to (and were introduced to as a kitten). I’ve heard that some of the other biodegradable cat litters are not well-received by cats for this very reason.

Close-Up of Biodegradable Cat Litter

This brand of litter (PC Green Clumping Cat Litter) is made of ground up corn cobs and, as mentioned, is actually quite similar to regular clumping litter. Similar ‘look and feel’ aside, I thought for sure that it would end up stinking a lot more than the normal litter. Interestingly enough, it actually seems to be much better in that department – although we’ll have to wait and see how it performs over time.

Just to be on the safe side, I decided to use the new litter in only one of the two litter boxes. Once the old material in the other box needs to be completely dumped I will likely switch over completely to the biodegradable litter (since they seem to adjusting to it quite quickly). Once they are completely used to the new stuff, I want to try adding other biodegradable materials, like shredded cardboard etc. This will not only help to save some money, but it will also provide me with a material that’s better suited for a worm bin (I suspect that the corn cob granules will take quite awhile to break down).

Anyway, I will definitely let everyone know once I set up my test bin!

[tags]cat litter, cat poo, litter box, pet waste, compost, composting, vermicomposting, worm composting, biodegradable, compostable, flushable, clumping, worms, red wigglers[/tags]

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Composting Dryer Lint

Dryer Lint Just Begging to be Composted!

From time to time people ask me if dryer lint (and/or the contents of vacuum bags) can be added to a worm bin or regular composter. I always take a somewhat cautious stance with the latter, since any number of worm-unfriendly or non-biodegradable things can be sucked up during household vacuuming sessions. That being said, I HAVE added a full vacuum bag to my large outdoor worm bin without any negative repercussions.

Dryer lint should be less of an issue since it will primarily consist of biodegradable fibres and perhaps some pet hair if you have dogs or cats. There will likely be some synthetic fibres in there as well, but the quantity should be small enough to make this only a minor concern (if at all).

I’ve got quite a bit of the stuff waiting to be put to good use, so I thought it might be fun to conduct a little test in one of my bins. As per usual, I couldn’t help cheating a little bit – I decided to soak the lint the ‘homemade manure‘ mix I made yesterday before adding it to the bin. I figured it would help to at least kickstart the decomposition process.

Dryer Lint Mixed With Blended Food Waste The Added to Bin
Lint ball being added in the corner of one of my worm tubs

The cotton and wool fibres in lint can take some time to decompose, as anyone who has tried to compost old clothes can attest. They are generally high-carbon (‘brown’) materials. Pet hair on the other hand is more of a long-term N source.

Anyway – it should be interesting to see what the worms do with it, and how long it takes to completely decompose. I will try to remember to add weekly updates on the blog!

[tags]lint, composting, vermicomposting, cotton, wool, composter, worms, red worms[/tags]

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Worm Inn Update – 11-18-08

Worm Inn on Laundry Hamper Stand

Just another quick Worm Inn update to send your way. On the weekend I bought a small laundry hamper stand for my Worm Inn. It was inexpensive and the laundry bag was attached via buttons, so I didn’t even need to cut it off (i.e. it can be used again as a laundry hamper at any time). Most importantly, the Worm Inn fits on it perfectly, without touching the ground. I don’t know about you, but I’d say the Inn looks a LOT better on its new stand than it did hanging from the celing (thanks to my terrible rope hanging skills – haha).

What’s great is that it now has quite a bit more composting room as well (expanded completely, the unit is approx 2 cu. ft). You can see below what the Inn looks like from above.

Worm Inn - View From Above

I’m happy to report that the worms are continuing to look vigorous and healthy in their new home – they seem to be LOVING the leaves I put in on top. I think I’m going to add some more (leaves) now that there is more room in there.

Unfortunately, some recent worm orders served to postpone the addition of any more worms to the system, but have no fear – I’ll add the full 3 lbs before too long.

Anyway – that’s all for now.

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Homemade Manure Mania

Lots of Homemade Manure Ready to Feed to Worms

Hello everyone, my name is Bentley Christie and I am a homemade manure maniac. Please HELP me!

It’s true! I spent the entire morning blending up a mega batch of homemade manure for my indoor worm herd. They just can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. The zones in the bins where I’ve added it are absolutely writhing with Red Worms, and they definitely seem to be growing in size quite quickly!

Today’s batch, as per usual, was mish-mash of everything under the sun. It has coffee grounds (and filters), carrots, turnip, cabbage, squash, zucchini, pasta, apples, broccoli, bananas (mostly peels), and egg shells – among numerous other things I’m sure.

To help soak up some of the water (and make things a little more interesting) I added a bag of wheat bran I was originally saving for my next batch of bokashi. To really bulk the material up and add more carbon, I added quite a bit of coconut coir as well (the picture below is what it look like before the coir was added). This seems to be made for this purpose! As a bedding material on its own, the worms don’t really seem to like at all (in fact, I put a layer of dryish coir at the top of my breathable bags when shipping worms to discourage them from venturing out), but it really soaks up moisture well and adds a beautiful fibrous quality to the ‘manure’ – making it a lot like the real deal – at least in terms of appearance.

Luckily it is quite cold this week (generally below freezing) since I made far more worm food than I can add to my bins at one time. After adding another healthy serving to the bins this afternoon, I put the tub with my homemade manure mixture out on the deck where I know it won’t turn into an anaerobic mess any time soon.

Anyway – just wanted to continue sharing my enthusiasm for blended worm food. If you haven’t tried it, you definitely should give it a shot!

By the way…

I originally worried that this stuff would be way more prone to fruit fly invasion – but the more I work with it the more I doubt this prediction. Since you are basically creating a material that is a perfect worm food, they can start consuming it right away, and very quickly in comparison to whole food scraps. If you have a reasonable density of worms, they will likely out-compete any fruit fly larvae that happen to hatch. A chunk of apple on the other hand will be easily over-run by fruit fly maggots before it’s even soft/rotten enough for the worms to dig in!

Just some food for thought!

Lots of Homemade Manure Read to Feed to Worms
Food sludge before coconut coir was added.

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Fly Paper – A Must-Have Vermicomposting Tool

On a whim I decided to test out sticky fly paper as a means of dealing with annoying (biting) flies that took over my worm room after bringing in a lot of aged manure. I honestly didn’t think it would work at all. These flies crave blood, not the same smelly stuff that normal house flies are attracted to. Nevertheless, I figured it was worth a shot – my daily fly-swatting missions just didn’t seem to be making a dent in the population, since new ones were emerging from the material constantly.

Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the sticky traps. I set up 4 of them, and within a day or two I was no longer mobbed every time I opened the door. Since then, they almost seem to have disappeared – although judging by the fact that the concentration of flies on the strips has increased, I’m pretty sure they are simply getting trapped shortly after emerging. The ones that are working the best by far are hanging next to a fluorescent bulb that is on all the time. Insects are generally attracted to light, so this is almost certainly the reason behind these ones being so loaded.

Aside from taking care of my manure fly problem, I’ve been really pleased to see that a LOT of gnats are being trapped as well. I’ve been wondering how well the strips would work against fruit flies, but I’m definitely not brave enough to start up my own infestation on purpose.

They should make them with a watermelon odour – I bet that would make for an excellent fruit fly trap!

Anyway, check out the picture below (of one of the traps) and bow down before me…OH MIGHTY KILLER OF THE FLIES!!!!!!!

Countless Flying Insects Trapped on Fly Paper

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Worm Inn Journal – 11-14-08

Worm Inn with Fall Leaves

Just thought I would provide a quick Worm Inn Journal update today. Nothing monumental to report, but the system seems to be working very well (as predicted). It’s become quite clear that I will more than likely need to continue spraying the system with water – likely on a daily basis – in order to keep the upper zone nice and moist for the worms. I am actually really happy to see this since I’d much rather add water than have to soak up excess moisture (with dry bedding) pooling in the bottom of a plastic tub type of system. This will also really help to keep the worms concentrated near the top, rather than distributed throughout the system (although I have little doubt there will still be some down below).

As you can see in the picture, today I added a really thick layer of fall leaves over top of my composting mass. Unlike shredded cardboard (and other absorbent bedding materials), they won’t end up drying out the system – in fact, they should really help to reduce the amount of water lost via evaporation. They will also become an ideal worm habitat and food source as they start to decompose.

Before adding the leaves, I added a substantial amount of ‘homemade manure‘ and a bit more aged manure/straw. I should also mention that since starting the system I have also added a fair amount of shredded cardboard to help keep things balanced.

So far so good, the worms seem to be really active in the upper layers and I have yet to see any trying to escape up the sides our out from the bottom. I’m totally sold on the homemade manure approach to feeding now too – worms go gaga for this stuff, and it’s amazing how quickly it disappears!

I am harvesting a bunch of worms from my outdoor systems today, so hopefully I’ll be able to add more to the Inn over the weekend!

Stay tuned!

[tags]worm inn, worm bin, vermicomposting system, vermicomposting, worm composting, red worms, red wigglers, food waste, manure, composting, worm castings[/tags]

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