January 2009

What Do I Do With All My Extra Worms??

I don’t have an actual question to quote for this ‘reader questions’ post, but I do want to tackle a topic that has come up in emails I’ve received (two very recently) – and a topic that never ceases to make me smile, I might add!

As a serious ‘Worm Head‘ and vermicomposting business owner, the notion of having “too many worms” is a completely foreign concept. There really is no such thing, in my mind.
🙂

Of course, it is important for me to alter my perspective in these situations, and put myself in the shoes of someone just getting into vermicomposting. Obviously not everyone wants to continue expanding their worm herd indefinitely, and with all the claims of worm population doubling speeds out there, the possibility of creating a thriving worm bin can probably seem almost a little scary! The thought of having one’s home overrun by worms doesn’t exactly give you the ‘warm and fuzzies’, after all. (might actually make for a good horror movie plot!)

Well, the good news is that worms will NEVER take over your home or expand their numbers to such an extent as to be a nuisance – without your assistance that is! Obviously, if you continue to expand your population to more and more bins, you will be creating potential heachaches in the form of space issues, spousal unrest, fruit fly nightmares etc.

But a single vermicomposting system will reach a maximum carrying capacity, resulting in a slow down of worm reproduction, and potentially even a reduction in the current population. Of course, you WILL still need to periodically clean out the system and start fresh – but there is no rule that states that you must either build a bigger system or start up multiple systems the second time around! You are more than welcome to simply use the same sized bin and continue on your merry way.

Now – let’s chat about WHY you might want to be supportive of your worm population’s desire to expand. Lots and lots of worms is not necessarily a bad thing – HONEST!
🙂

Here are some of the things you can do with more worms…

1) Compost more of your food waste – produce more vermicompost – promote the growth and health of more of your plants!

2) Sell them or give them away – there a LOTS of people out there more than willing to take composting worms off your hands. Trust me! Just put an add in one of the free online classified ad sites (eg Craigslist, Kijiji etc) and see what happens

3) Make an outdoor ‘in situ’ vermicomposting bed, like my vermicomposting trenches. These systems typically require a lot of worms to reach their maximum potential, so continuing to add all those extra worms from your indoor system(s) could be a good way to get them started.

4) Add them to your ‘regular’ backyard composter – composting worms can greatly enhance the processing time/efficiency of these systems, and create some pretty phenomenal compost while they are at it!

5) Feed them to your fish/chickens/turtles/frogs/snakes/lizards etc or go fishing more often! It kinda pains me to include this one since I’ve grown attached to my own worms (“Every Worm is Sacred, Every Worm is Great!” – any Monty Python fans out there might pick up on that one. haha).

6) Get your friends and family involved – help them set up their own vermicomposting systems


That’s just a handful of ideas – I’m sure there are other possibilities as well! As you can see, there is definitely nothing to worry about – producing lots and lots of worms can definitely be a good thing!

Hope this helps!
8)

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Worm Tea or not Worm Tea – That is the Question!

Here is a good question from Chris:

I have a rubbermaid composting bin, it is working great, I
have about 2000 worms. I blend my veggies and food up so its a mush, I
then put this mush in the bin. the problem I am having is, the tea
that is draining is not dark and rich, its light brown but not dark
brown like I would think it would be. I am thinking this is not really
tea its runoff from the veggies right? This bin is about 2 months old.
Is this light colored stuff ok to use as tea still?

Hi Chris,
In a nutshell – your suspicions are correct. This is NOT actual worm tea. It is more accurately referred to as “leachate” – basically just water that has passed down through an active worm bin, picking up various compounds on the way. Real worm tea is made by soaking finished worm castings in water – preferably being aerated at the same time. Those who are really serious about their ‘tea’ often even add other special ingredients to ‘feed’ certain types of beneficial microbes or to improve the final product in some other way.

You CAN use the leachate in the same manner as a compost tea, but it won’t be as reliable/predictable since there are plenty of intermediate (unstable) metabolites from the decomposition process and potentially even some phytotoxic (harmful for plants) compounds that might be in there. I would dilute it and if possible, aerate it with an aquarium air stone before using it.

Hope this helps!
8)

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Winter Worm Composting – 01-23-09

Winter Worm Bed with thick layer of snow over top
Winter worm bed looking more like a snow fort than a vermicomposting system!


I was finally able to get over to my dad’s yesterday for some winter worm composting work. The timing ended up being pretty good since it was a relatively mild day (in comparison to the really cold condtions during the past couple of weeks).

As you can see in the picture above, there was a nice thick layer of snow over top of the bed which I’m sure was an effective bit of extra insulation. Interestingly enough, as we started to dig the snow off we noticed that it was slushy down below and there was actually some water pooling on top of the tarp. I can assure you this was not due to the weather, since it hasn’t been above the freezing mark around here for quite some time.

What this means of course, is that the heap has been generating its own warmth – definitely a good sign. Once the tarp was off, we went in for a closer look, with trusty compost thermometer in hand. In the middle, temps seemed to be in the 14-15 C (57-59F) range – not too shabby, especially considering how brutally cold it has been recently.

Temperatures closer to the outer walls weren’t nearly as warm, but these zones weren’t frozen solid either, so I’m not going to complain! My goal is of course to get everything warmed up, but part of the problem has been the fact that the system hasn’t been completely filled with materials – thus the straw bale insulation obviously isn’t helping in those zones. I think we remedied this situation for the most part yesterday, so it will be interesting to see where temps go from here.

Before adding manure to the bed, we added a lot of a material I refer to as ‘compost ecosystem’ – basically the compost-like material (containing countless baby worms and other creatures) left over after worms have been harvested from it. I had a lot of this taking up room in my basement, so I thought it would help to add it to the outdoor bed. It will add a lot more worms, plus it was a lot warmer than the ambient air temps so I should help to warm things up a bit as well.


Winter worm bed after manure has been added.


I wasn’t too surprised to find manure sitting down in my dad’s basement was completely thawed out (you may recall me mentioning that it was taking a long time). It was nice to see that it was still in good shape though. It was a little bit sloppy and smelly down in the bottom of the barrels, but I’m sure the worms will be munching on it in no time, regardless (excess liquid will simply drain down into the bed).

I actually decided to take home three tubs of aged manure for my indoor systems, and also added a fair amount to some systems down in my dad’s basement, but there was still plenty left to add to the bed and we were able to get a nice mound of it built up in the middle.


Another thick layer of straw was added over top of the manure


Once the manure was added, we broke open another bale of straw and spread it over top. This will provide some additional insulation, but will also help to maintain some air flow underneath the tarp.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add snow once the tarp was back on, since the black surface can help to absorb heat from the sun on sunny days. In the end I opted for the snow covered approach since it has been mostly overcast lately and it’s also supposed to get quite cold again this weekend.

The next couple of weeks should be interesting. As mentioned above, we have basically now filled the bed in completely, and there is now a substantial volume of nitrogen rich material in there. I have a feeling the bed will be quite a bit warmer by next week.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted!
8)


Previous Winter Worm Composting Posts

Winter Composting Extravaganza 2.0
Winter Worm Composting – 12-08-08
Winter Worm Composting – 12-15-08
Winter Worm Composting – 12-30-08


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How Often Should I Spray My Worms?

Here is a question from Nicholas:

I was wondering about how many times should i spray down my worms per
day?

Hi Nicholas
How many times you spray your system totally depends on the type of system you have. In all honesty, I very rarely spray down enclosed plastic bin systems since they retain moisture so well (a little TOO well in fact). The moisture released from the food wastes should be more than enough, and in fact it will inevitably start to pool in the bottom eventually (we are talking here about a ‘Rubbermaid’ type of tub with no drainage holes). This can be postponed for quite some time with the regular addition of dry, absorbent bedding however.

In an open system or one made with wood, you will most likely need to spray down periodically. I would recommend simply making sure conditions remain moist (not soaking wet) down below the surface. If you find the materials near the top drying out very quickly, you will likely be best to add water daily, or perhaps even more often. Worms love wet conditions, but they also need oxygen so it’s a bit of a delicate balancing act.

Anyway – hope this helps!
8)

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SSUBWHT – Update #1


SSUBWHT with plastic bowl directly beneath it


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my ‘Super Simple Ultra Basic Worm Harvesting Tube‘ – basically my attempt at creating a passive worm harvesting system that actually works. Well, I hoped it would work, anyway.
😆

As I wrote in the post, the system didn’t work at all for me the first time I tried it out. Even with a moist environment down below (provided by wet paper) and a hot light shining for hours above, the worms just didn’t seem interested in going down.

Something that came to mind as a potential problem (also suggested by one of our readers) was the fact that there was an air space between the screen and the paper below. In other words, the worms would basically have to fall a short distance – probably something they would try to avoid whenever possible. I also think I simply had too much material on the screen, so there wasn’t as much of a threat to the worms (and they were happy to stay where they were as a result).

Based on my assumptions, I decided to try the system again – but this time with a modified approach. I found a plastic bowl that almost seems like it was made to go with the SSUBWHT! It fits very nicely underneath, with almost the same diameter. I had to prop it up on a roll of tape in order to have it making contact with the screen, but that certainly wasn’t a major inconvenience.

I filled the bowl with moistened strips of newsprint and fall leaves – enough so that these materials would end up pressed against the screen. I then added a much smaller amount of worm bedding (with worms) – this time with Red Worms (not European Nightcrawlers) – on top of the screen, and positioned the lamp over top in the same manner as before.

I then proceeded to totally forget about it until later in the day – which probably helped.

A the results???

MUCH more promising than last time! I am happy to report that there were a lot of worms down in the bowl. Initially I thought it had been 100% successful, but then when I emptied out the upper compartment I realized there were still a fair number of worms in this material.

At least we are getting somewhere!

Some other things I am planning on testing out…

1) What happens if I used only moistened leaves in the bowl?
2) Will it help if I add a small amount of vermicompost to the material in the bowl?
3) What if I add some cantaloupe to the leaf mixture and let it sit for a few days before putting it in the bowl? (I may test this with the light on and with the light off)

I’m confident I can get the system working even better – my goal of course is 100% transfer of worms. Providing a food source down below may be the missing link.

Stay tuned!

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Raising Black Soldier Flies in Cold Regions

This question comes from Mike (if you are out there, Mike – your email address didn’t work for me):

Your site is very informative. I started 2 indoor worm bins about 2
months ago. Hope they’ll make it; your You Tube design.
What caught my interest was the Black Soldier Fly larvae and The
BioPod.
They do show up in worm bins but is it possible to cultivate them for
fish food and feed in Northern Ontario?

Hi Mike – nice to see a msg from a fellow Ontarian (Ontarioan?! I don’t know! haha)!
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) soldier flies are primarily found in warmer zones – I don’t even see any down here in the south (Waterloo region). You MIGHT be able to cultivate them indoors but I suspect this would be a little complicated since the adults would presumably need to be provided with ideal mating conditions.

Who knows though – if you had a heated building – perhaps with some potted shrubs – and you buy some of the larvae, maybe you can get them to reach adulthood and breed. I think something like mealworms (or of course, Red Worms) would probably be a lot easier, but it all depends on how badly you want them! 🙂

Unfortunately, this is not my area of expertise, but perhaps one of our resident BSFL experts will see this and chime in with their thoughts!
8)

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Vermicomposting Trench Wrap-Up

Compost Trench Before and After

This post is so long overdue it’s almost silly. But hey – I’m a pretty silly guy!
😉
I figured that – if nothing else – this final vermicomposting trench wrap-up could at least help to inspire a few readers to add trench gardens to their plans for this year’s gardening season!

Based on the number of times I’ve referred to my previous trench posts, and all the positive things I’ve had to say about this approach, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that I considered my vermicomposting trench projects an overwhelming success. In a sense I’m kicking myself a little for never having thought of doing this before. Obviously, the restaurant vermicomposting project was a major influence.

In fact, I’m not even sure ‘projects’ is the right term, given the fact that initially I was just looking for a way to deal with hundreds of pounds of food waste without offending my neighbors! But of course, they blossomed (literally – haha) from there and really gave me a taste (literally) of what’s possible.

Let’s review some of the advantages of this approach:

  • Great way to deal with large quantities of organic waste, easily and hassle-free
  • Provides plants with an all-natural and continuous supply of nutrients throughout the growing season (assuming enough materials are added initially, or materials are added on an ongoing basis)
  • Provides plants with readily available water source during the hot months of summer
  • Eliminates the need to ‘harvest’ compost, separate it from worms etc etc
  • It’s a great way to produce a large, thriving population of composting worms in your garden (but remember – they will tend to stay in the trenches, not move into your soil)
  • No need for supplementation with inorganic fertilizers
  • Helps to boost your local ecosystem (my trenches helped to produce LOTS of crickets as well, which would have been a great food source for backyard chickens if I had them, and of course any natural predators in the area)
  • Very ‘eco-friendly’ in general
  • Trenches are an effective booby trap for nosy neighbours


Now thatsa what I call a Baby tomato!


As I’ve stated before, my gardening skills in general are not top-notch – I tend to be lazy and just don’t dedicate the time either to planning or to the learning of proper techniques. As such, I was pretty impressed with how well everything grew – and it makes me wonder what real gardeners would be able to accomplish with this approach!


Final Tomato Harvest
Final tomato ‘clean-up harvest’


I grew so many tomatoes and zucchinis that I was literally giving away shopping bags full to any friends and family that would take them – and still, not all were used (yeah – worm food!!!).



Although started very late, the pumpkin patch / potato garden did quite well


I’ve written more about my ‘sandbox self-fertilizing garden‘ over on the Compost Guy blog, but this was another example of a successful implementation of the composting trench approach. I didn’t even plant anything in this bed until mid-July, but still managed to produce a nice big pumpkin for Halloween (also some smaller ones, but they just ended up as worm food). The potato crop was fairly disappointing, but hopefully we’ll see an improvement in yield this year with a bit more of a proactive approach.


This poor, unsuspecting pumpkin will soon be a ghoulish jack-o-lantern!


I’m sure some people were left wondering if the trenches were going to be kept active and added to during the winter months. While I seriously considering making an effort to do so, I realized that it was probably better to put most of my focus on the big winter worm bed we set up over at my dad’s place.
As such, I actually moved a lot of material (containing a LOT of worms) from the fence-line trench over to the sandbox garden. Unfortunately, winter hit a little early this year and I wasn’t able to protect the sandbox bed as planned.

As you may recall from my last winter composting update, a very brief bit of really nice weather (which resulted in most of the snow disappearing) over the holidays did allow me to better prepare the sandbox for the very cold weather typical of Jan and Feb. At the same time, I added a bunch of manure to the fence-line trench to provide a nice food boost for the worms once spring arrives.

Since I am no longer involved in the restaurant vermicomposting project, my waste material of choice this year will likely be horse manure – it should be interesting to see how it compares to the food waste. I predict that it will be excellent for plant growth (since it already contains a lot of plant nutrients), but that it won’t have all the same advantages – such as providing water for the plants the way the food waste did.

Anyway – I definitely can’t wait to get things rolling! Apart from revamping my current trench systems, I have plans to make at least one or two more. One in particular should be really interesting. I live on a very open, exposed property – something that has really bothered me (and likely my neighbors – haha) ever since moving here. This year I’ve decided to create a natural (and seasonal) privacy fence along the back fence-line, using Jerusalem Artichoke. My neighbor sets up an above-ground pool every year in her backyard, so I don’t think she’ll mind having the extra privacy as well (although she is the furthest thing from being an ‘earthy’ gardening type, so she may think it’s an eyesore). Aside from hopefully providing a fast growing wall of foliage, the ‘artichokes’ will offer some food value as well since the tuberous roots are edible.


I would love to hear about other people’s outdoor vermicomposting projects this year, so please write in to tell me about them. I’ll likely feature some of these on the blog (for those who provide photos and are interested in this) as well.
😎

Previous Vermicomposting Trench Posts
The Vermicomposting Trench
The Vermicomposting Trench – Part II
Zucchini Recipes, Anyone?


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