April 2009

Mushrooms Growing in Worm Bin

Worm Bin Mushroom
A mushroom that grew in my big outdoor worm bin a couple of summers ago.


Here is a question from Maggie:

So i was checking on my closed bin worm compost and noticed
tall thin white mushrooms!! Is this normal? There are some fruit flies
in my bin and there are no bad smells. In fact I love the fresh earth
smell!!! A little background, I started regular composting then after
2 or 3 weeks decided to add worms. I had about 15 pounds of food and
added 2000 worms give or take. And they have been in their new home
for about two weeks. I have dug around and there are worms wiggling
about near the top, I havent gone more than 2 inches down. But
everything seems ok!! I guess im just nervous that I am going to end
up with a pile of garbage instead of wonderful compost!! Thanks for
your help and any advice and I LOVE this website, VERY helpful!!!!

Hi Maggie,
Have no fear! This is very normal – as you can see (in the picture above), I’ve had this happen myself. Mushrooms are of course the fruiting bodies of various species of fungi. In a composting ecosystem there are a LOT of different types of fungi at work, so there is a lot of competition for resources. This is probably why you don’t see mushrooms popping up all that much. Aside from that, when there are worms in the system, they generally wreak havoc on fungal mycelia (the networks of fungal material) simply via their movement – not to mention the fact that they likely graze directly on it. As such, it would likely be more common to see mushrooms pop up in a passive compost heap containing no worms.

That being said, certain mushroom-producing fungi also have a particular affinity for carbon-rich materials, such as those used for ‘bedding’ in a worm bin – shredded cardboard, newsprint etc. Since worm composting systems are often rich in these sorts of materials, it’s not too surprising to see these fungal species briefly taking advantage of this resource.

Believe it or not, I’ve read an account of someone who apparently grew edible mushrooms in a worm bin and harvested a pretty good crop over the course of several months. I am quite surprised by this, given the competition and worm activity, but I’m actually somewhat curious to try it out myself.

Anyway – hope this helps, Maggie!
8)

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Little White Worm Eggs?

Here is a question from Larry:

I have hundreds of tiny white balls that move around on their own, they
appear on all areas of the bin and tend to move off of the surface to
underneath the bedding.

There is no indication of any kind of bugs or flys or spiders, could
they be freshly laid worm eggs?

They are much smaller then a normal looking worm egg.

Hi Larry,
Those little moving white balls are almost certainly a species of white mites which are extremely common in worm bins.

They tend to thrive in really high moisture conditons, and can often be an indication of overfeeding – or at least adding materials that the worms can’t readily consume right away. They also really seem to love water-rich, cucumber-family fruit (veggies?) like squash, pumpkins, cucumbers etc.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, ever since switching to lid-less systems, I rarely (if ever) see these mites anymore. Their ideal habitat seems your typical enclosed plastic worm bin, and I think virtually every single one of these that I’ve set up has had them.

Sometimes it can look like these white mites are attacking your worms. When there is a population explosion, it’s inevitable that some will end up crawling on worms, but I’ve also noticed them concentrated on dead and dying worms. My guess is that they are scavengers, and are simply feeding on a readily available food source. They won’t do more that perhaps irritate (by walking all over them) a healthy worm.

One other thing to mention. These white mites can also be an indication of a declining pH – especially if you see lots of small white worms (known as ‘pot worms’ or ‘white worms’) appearing at the same time.

I can assure you that worm cocoons don’t move on their own. They also tend to be quite a bit larger than mites, be straw-colored or brownish, and look more like lemons than little balls.
🙂

Hope this helps!

B

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Dryer Lint Worm Bin


I’ve written previously about my attempts to use dryer lint in my vermicomposting systems. Unfortunately that project didn’t really work out too well, since the bins I added the material to have a fairly fast turnover, due to worms getting harvested for orders on a regular basis. As such, I basically shelved the idea, hoping to revisit it at some point.

Well, that time has arrived!
🙂

I decided that, rather than adding lint to my active bins, I would instead set up a brand new system using only lint as a bedding material. Not sure why I didn’t think of it before – but hey, better late than never!

As I’ve written before, an ideal worm bin bedding should be 1) absorbent, 2) carbon-rich (high C:N) and 3) structured to allow for decent air flow. In all honesty, I think we have all the bases covered with lint – but we shall see.

Setting this system up had he wondering why I never thought of something like strips of old t-shirts as a bedding material. While it will likely take longer for cotton to break down than something like shredded cardboard, I think it would provide an excellent habitat matrix.

Remember back when I added a Natura Eco Cloth to my worm bin? Same sort of idea.

Moving on to methodology…

I basically set up this system the way I always recommend setting up a new bin. I added a thick layer of lint in the bottom, then a layer of food waste – and continued upwards with alternating layers. As per usual I finished off with an upper layer of lint.

As you can see in the picture, I was pretty lazy with the food waste – no chopping/blending etc. I am going to leave the system to sit for a week or so. During that time I will likely check on it, and mix and/or add water as needed.

Should be interesting!

I will of course keep all y’all posted!

8)

P.S. One thing I almost forgot to mention. As I’ve written previously, I don’t really recommend this approach if you use dryer sheets, since I’m not really sure what chemicals might end up in the lint. If you haven’t tried re-usable dryer sheets, you might want to look into it – they lose their effectiveness after awhile (we don’t use anything currently), but it’s nice not having to buy new bounce sheets (not the mention avoiding the chemicals).

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Worm Inn Journal – 04-08-09

To say this update was ‘overdue’ would be a pretty serious understatement to say the least! So I won’t say it.
😆
I will however say this…

VERMICOMPOST!!!!

Why exactly?

Well, that time has finally arrived – I performed my first compost harvest from the bottom of my camo Worm Inn. In all honesty (and as per usual with my various projects, it seems), I kinda neglected the system, so I wasn’t really sure what I’d find at the bottom. I had originally hoped to add 3 lb of worms, but unfortunately I was never able to spare that many due to steady demand from customers. I hate to admit it, but I even went so far as to harvest some worms from the Inn on a couple of occasions!
🙄

What’s cool about this system is that it handled neglect quite a bit better than the wooden stacking bin I used for my “Four Worm Reproduction Experiment“. I find that the Inn offers an excellent balance between moisture-retention and oxygenation of the composting materials (you may recall that the shallow trays of the wooden system caused everything to dry out very quickly).

Even though it has been a number of months since I first set up this Worm Inn, I thought for sure that my ‘false bottom’ of egg carton cardboard would be essentially intact. As it turns out, it was quite well decomposed, and there seemed to be lots of nice ‘black gold’ down in this lower zone.

Given the weight of the Inn and the relatively small size of the laundry hamper I’ve been using, I ended up having to prop it up on wooden planks in order to easily extract some compost from the bottom.

Some people have expressed concern re: the potential for having everything fall out the bottom at once when it comes time to start harvesting. My suggestion has always been to constrict the bottom with one hand (this is once the drawstrings are loose) and simply let the compost out slowly and carefully. As I discovered, you don’t even need to be that cautious. By the time the Inn is ready for the first harvest, all the material near the bottom has become quite compacted. I actually had to use a hand rake in order to get a decent batch of vermicompost.

I’m sure people are wondering about the worms as well. I honestly thought that there would be at least a few worms down at the bottom, and was actually quite shocked to see none whatsoever. I saw white worms and some other critters, but no worms. I noticed a few cocoons, but it certainly wasn’t loaded with them.

Lastly, the quality of the material really blew me away. It reminded me of the beautiful stuff I harvested from my outdoor bin last summer. The difference of course, is the fact that this material has not been exposed to the elements (rain, freezing etc), so it’s probably even better. It was a nice dark colour, had a rich earthy aroma, and a crumbly texture. Certainly nothing like the sloppy stuff I’ve grown accustomed to finding in the bottom of my enclosed plastic bins over the years.

vermicompost

All in all, I am very impressed. I was fairly optimistic about the effectiveness of this system, but in all honesty it has definitely exceeded my expectations.

The next step is to start harvesting compost on a regular basis. I’ll be very interested to see how much it produces! I also want to test out the compost to see if it is as good as it looks.

Moving on to my other Worm Inn…

In my last update, I said I was going to stick with using Euros in that system (even though they were all congregating down in the bottom). Well, shortly after writing that post, I actually decided to move them to a bin better suited for their moisture-loving tendencies. A few weeks ago I simply set up the second Worm Inn with Red Worm inoculum (old bedding material containing loads of cocoons and baby worms) . Not much to report on there just yet, but I will certainly write more about that system as it matures.

Stay tuned!
8)

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Worm Food Bonanza

Big Containers of Manure and Coffee - WORM FOOD!
Giant cardboard boxes containing horse manure and coffee grounds


Late last week I received two big ol’ boxes of ‘worm food’ from a farmer friend of mine – one with manure, the other with coffee grounds. In case you are wondering, I DID in fact pay for these materials (something that would be unheard of for most vermicomposting hobbyists). As a worm business owner, it makes good economic sense to provide my wigglers with lots of highly nutritious food, since it will help them to grow more quickly and breed more readily.

Aside from that, I knew it would provide me with more FUN topics to write about on the blog!
😆

Coffee Grounds

I will be adding a lot of manure/grounds to the big worm bed at my dad’s place, but I’ll certainly be setting aside a fair amount for fun projects as well. One thing I want to do is test out coffee grounds as a sole food source for composting worms to see if that’s a viable option. I also will want to kickstart my vermicomposting trenches in the next few weeks as well.

I will certainly keep everyone posted!
8)

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What to do with a mature vermicomposting system

Here are some good questions from Liz:

I am new at this worm composting and find it very
fascinating but, there is so much information out there that maybe I
missed the answer… my question is after the bin is full and all the
food waste has decomposed do I just dump the bin with all the
wonderful fertilizer in my garden with the worm as well or do I need
to do some fishing?? By the way I love your website it has so much
helpful information. I just thought of another ?? Do I dump the soil
that comes with the worms into the in to the compost bin as well?? My
mind is spinning with all the information out there that I can’t think
straight help! Look forward to reading your email. Thanks in
advance!

Hi Liz,
When your bin is full, and much of the material has turned into a dark compost, it is definitely time to start a new bin (assuming you want to continue vermicomposting) or multiple bins for that matter. You can either remove any leftover (undecomposed) bedding/food or simply leave the system to sit without feeding for a while longer. If removed, this material can then be added to the new system(s).

You can of course simply dump the contents of your bin in the garden, but I’d recommend separating the worms from the compost as best you can. There are a number of different ways you can do this. A very common low-tech approach is called the “light harvesting method”. This works particularly well outside on a nice warm, sunny day, but indoors under bright lights should be fine as well. Start by dumping the contents of your bin out on a plastic sheet and (if indoors) positioning your light over top. Leave the heap to sit for at least a few minutes (the longer the better) to allow the worms to start moving downwards. If it is really wet, you may want to actually let the material sit for a few days (obviously not going to be an option if you are doing this in the middle of your living room – haha).

Next, you simply start moving material off the top of the pile, creating a second heap of (hopefully) wormless compost. Any worms you come across can be put into a container or the new bin (for best results, this system should be ready before you start harvesting the first one). Eventually, you will basically be left with a writhing mass of worms down at the bottom, and a separate pile of compost. Aside from the missed worms, there will also be plenty of worm cocoons and baby worms left in the compost. You can either consider these a loss and start using it in the garden, or you can let it sit for even longer, perhaps with some food waste up top to lure your baby worms that have hatched. The food waste zone can then be removed and added to a new system.

Another approach you might want to try out is what I’ve referred to as the “garbage bag harvesting method“. You basically set up a new system (letting it age like a fine wine – haha), then put a perforated piece of plastic over top of the material in the new bin – on top you add material from the old bin. The worms will then migrate downwards into the new system. This method can take longer than the light harvesting, but it allows you to go do other things. You certainly don’t need to use perforated plastic either – anything that will allow worms through, while being able to support the material above (when it’s time to lift it off) will be fine – an old onion bag, mesh/screen material etc.

You might also want to try out my vermicomposting trench method, and simply dump everything in there (once a worm-friendly habitat has been created, of course). At the end of the season, you can then take some worms from your trench and start a new indoor bin.

Ok, moving on…

When adding worms to a new system, I definitely recommend also adding the material they came in, UNLESS you are trying to salvage a handful of surviving worms from a shipment that has gone awry. You definitely don’t want to add lots of dead and dying worms to a new vermicomposting system – this can create a chain-reaction of worm death, quickly wiping out the entire population (especially in enclosed plastic ‘bin’ types of systems).

Generally speaking (assuming no major issues with the worms), this material that comes with them will help them to get settled in. They can remain in it for as long as they like, rather than being forced out into the new environment.

Anyway, I hope this helps, Liz!
8)

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