May 2009

Worm Composting Trench Question

Trench Composting
Photo of my tomato bed vermicomposting trench from last summer


Here is a well-timed question from a reader:

Hi, I found this site via GW vermicomposting forum, as I was trying to gather info on the trench idea. (same reason as you stated, I have so much OM that bins would not be enough and I dont have storage to freeze it all).

But here’s my question, if I set up the trench, will local worms come? Meaning that I may not actually buy red wigglers to put there. Is this a realistic option? I know I have pretty good soil around the property with some pretty big ole fat worms (once I was pulling up a big weed and in the soil was a worm so big I thought it was a baby snake!!) so I know they are there.

Can I make this trench idea work with out adding worms initially?

Hello,
Thanks for writing in! I’ve been busy working on my new and improved trenches for this year’s growing season, and am hoping to start writing about them soon.

Based on your situation (with loads of organic matter), I’d say you are definitely in a great position to take advantage of the vermicomposting trench idea. That being said, the ‘vermicomposting’ component is actually totally optional. You can indeed simply set up these trenches for regular composting without worms.

Soil worms will certainly be attracted into the trenches, but it won’t be like a normal vermi-trench, since the densities of worms will be much lower and they will still reside in the soil outside of the trench for the most part.

The results with a normal composting trench might not be as impressive as with a full-fledged worm composting trench since the process of turning the wastes into compost will be a fair bit slower, but nevertheless, your plants should still really benefit from this.

Hope this helps, and thanks again.
8)

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The 50 Cocoon Challenge

Red Worm Cocoons

In my recent ‘Worm Bin Aging‘ post I mentioned that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the bin I’ve left to sit for well over a month. I had a couple ideas for possible fun projects, but based on the reader responses (and my own preferences), I’d say that the cocoon project was a clear winner.

While I was doing some worm harvesting yesterday, I noticed quite a few cocoons in the material, and decided it was as good a time as any to collect a bunch for the experiment. I wasn’t really sure how many I should use, and just kinda ended up settling on 50. I want enough to make things interesting, but not so many that it would have taken me 5 hours to harvest them all, or lead to having the bin completely overrun with baby worms.

The basic idea here is that we are (hopefully) going to get some idea of how long it takes a worm to reach maturity from the cocoon stage. Of course, this is only going to provide a rough estimate for my given set-up, temperature etc – certainly not a set-in-stone value for all situations.

As mentioned in the aging post, the bin I’m using is certainly full of life. There are lots of fungi (including little fruiting bodies like the ones pictured here), slime moulds, mites and gnats. It will be interesting to see how quickly the cocoons start hatching (although I suspect this will be pretty tough to monitor, given the small size of the hatchling worms).

This will be the perfect experiment for me, since it can basically be left to sit!
😉

That being said, I will certainly check in on it periodically, and will provide updates here.

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The ‘5 for 4’ Euro Sale

Happy Memorial Day to all my friends in the U.S.! We had our holiday (Victoria Day) last weekend, so it was all work and no play for me today – haha. My work is like ‘play’ for me, so no problemo there.
8)

Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve got a special going for European Nightcrawlers right now. You may recall that I held a ‘Euro Shipping Sale’ last time, which – no surprise – involved reducing shipping costs on all the orders (in some cases I basically paid you for shipping).

This sale isn’t quite so universal, but in my mind it actually packs a more powerful punch – at least for those people who might be thinking about getting a little more serious about Euros. For a limited time I’ll be offering 5 lb of Euros for the price of 4. That works out to $23 off the regular price. With shipping (to anywhere in continental U.S.) you’ll pay $118 usd.

I recently caught wind of another worm seller holding a “sale” for Euros that involved charging $185 (apparently $100 off their regular price) for 5 lb! My intention isn’t to sling mud here, but let’s just say I was a tad surprised by this, and felt even more motivated to move ahead with this sale.

Something important to mention is the fact that these particular Euros are NOT the same ones we were selling last time. As some of you may recall, I made sure to mention that those worms were very small by Euro standards. The advantage of course was that customers were getting a LOT more worms for the same price. As I discovered however, not everyone wants mega value – many people just want BIG worms!

Your wish is my command! This time around, the worms will be coming from a different source and should be the ‘normal’ euro size – i.e. much bigger that your average Red Wiggler, but not as big as a Canadian Nightcrawler (‘Dew Worm’).

What’s amazing about these worms is that, unlike Canadian Nightcrawlers, they can be kept (and will reproduce) in bins, and will eat your ‘garbage’ just like Red Worms. They are reported to be an excellent fishing worm, with lots of wiggling action and plenty of durability on the hook. I’ve even heard they do surprisingly well in brackish and ice cold waters.

If you happen to keep turtles, snakes, large fish etc, you might think about starting your own mini live-food farm with these worms, since they will provide your animals with a fairly substantial meal (and are quite nutritious as well).

Anyway, that’s the long and short of it. If you are interested, be sure to click on the updated 5 lb Euro “Buy Now” button on the worm sales page – you’ll know you’re in right spot if you see the old price slashed out and replaced with the new price in red.

If you have any questions etc, please drop me an email. Be sure to include “Euro Sale” somewhere in your subject though or you’ll likely be waiting awhile for a response (I’m falling behind in my email correspondence).

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Worm Bin Aging – In More Detail


The appearance of a worm bin that has been aging for 1 month


I’ve come to realize that one of the serious limitations of my worm bin set-up videos is that I don’t talk at all about the so-called ‘aging period’ I recommend. I actually recently made a video about this (part of an upcoming video series), but wanted to write a post about it as well.

Back in early April I set up a fairly large worm bin (also for a video), using my standard recommended methods. In fine Bentley Christie fashion I then proceeded to basically forget about it for a month!
😆

This is exactly WHY I have a fair amount of confidence in my recommendations. When it comes down to it, I’m basically a bumbling fool (and I mean that in the nicest possible way – haha), so if I can successfully vermicompost – pretty well ANYONE can!

Keeping things simple and sticking with the fundamentals is always the key.

Anyway…

When I opened the bin after letting it sit for a month, I wasn’t surprised to see that a lot of decomposition had occurred, and that fungi seemed to have taken over the system. There was even a good population of some sort of flying insect (a variety of gnats or flies). I definitely had a good chuckle about all of this, since people seem to consider me some sort of vermicomposting ‘expert’. In actuality, I’m just an ordinary guy who is very passionate about the topic, and has made (and is still making) every mistake in the book – thus providing people with plenty of lessons in what NOT to do!
😉

All joking aside, I was actually really excited to have this opportunity to provide readers with more info about this aging process, because it’s really not something I’ve talked all that much about.


Close-up of dense fungal growth in aged worm bin – a typical occurrence in a bin left to sit without worms


Aside from all the fungi and flies, I also happened to notice that the sides and lid of the bin were absolutely coated with a very small species of mite. I’m pretty sure this is the same variety that I’ve written about as a potential ‘indicator species’, after countless numbers of them left one of my Euro bins that went ‘sour’, creating heaps of dried mite carcasses on the outside of the lid and on the floor beside the bin.


Close-up of ‘indicator’ worm bin mites – thankfully looking healthy and happy – haha


I’m sure what I’ve described thus far will sound very familiar for many of you who have used my methods for setting up a worm bin. Even after only a week (my usual recommended aging period) you can see pretty extensive fungal growth, and even some of these other critters who are taking advantage of the low-competition environment.

The big question of course, is what (if anything) needs to be done before adding the worms.

What I generally like to do (when not being a total procrastinator) is open the bin a few times during the aging period to check on the status of the contents. I will almost always mix everything up to break up the fungal hyphae and help to create a homogeneous environment. I will also add more bedding and water as needed – the contents tend to settle down quite a bit, so it can always use more bedding (this will help to improve the quality of the worm habitat). Even though I add lots of water-rich foods when setting up the bin, I almost always will be adding more water before the worms arrive. I want it to be as wet as possible without excessive pooling in the bottom.

This is fairly straight-forward stuff, I realize – but it can often be these subtle details I forget to elaborate on that can leave people unsure about the methodology.

As for this very well-aged system of mine, still sitting there without worms I might add, I’m not 100% sure what I want to do with it. I was thinking of setting up a ‘4 Euro Experiment’, or just adding worm cocoons to it to see how long it takes them to reach maturity. So many possibilities for fun experiments!
🙂

If you have any ideas, feel free to add a comment!

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Winter Worm Composting Wrap-Up 2009

Big Worm Composting Bed

It feels pretty funny writing a ‘winter worm composting’ post here in mid-May (my last update having been written back in February), but then again, for me this sort of thing has kinda become ‘par for the course’. I’m still sticking with my ‘better late than never’ motto!
😆

As I wrote in various other posts, this year’s winter composting project was definitely a major success. Both of my previous attempts (with a much smaller system) had to be cut short due to temperatures dropping dangerously close to the freezing mark in February. This year, my system actually seemed to follow the opposite path – starting out relatively cold early in the winter, then gradually getting warmer and warmer. This worked out really well, since it ended up being nice and toasty in the bed during a time when it was extremely cold outside.

What’s interesting is that given my success on the winter composting front, I naturally assumed that this system would make an easy transition into a typical warm-weather worm bed, but the funny thing is that I’ve probably been having more trouble with it now than I did during the winter. My first mistake was leaving the tarp on for too long – this served to trap heat and reduce air flow.

Over-heating in general seems to be a major issue. Even though I haven’t really added all that much food material, there are sections of the bed that have become too hot for worms. My hope is that they’ve migrated downwards or to the sides where it is cooler. I’m sure there are loads of them taking up residence in the straw bales themselves.

Last summer I discovered the heating potential of coffee grounds, when the temperature in my backyard worm bin skyrocketed due to the addition of a relatively modest amount (I thought so anyway). As I’ve written previously, we have added a considerable quantity of coffee grounds to the big bed, so I suspect this has contributed to the problem. I assumed they would be totally fine spread out as thinly as they are, but you know what can happen when you ‘ASSuME’.
(heehaw)
😉

My hope is that the temperatures will start to stabilize, thus making this system an excellent worm growth bed. There’s no doubt that there are loads of worms in there, but it’s certainly not performing as well as it could. Interestingly enough, my smaller beds (like the vermicomposting trenches) seem to have higher worm densities.

Anyway, I will certainly keep everyone posted (although, perhaps in my usual belated manner – haha) on my progress with the bed.


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
Winter Worm Composting – 01-23-09
Winter Worm Composting – 02-09-09
Winter Worm Composting – 02-23-09


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Small Cafe Vermicomposting

This post was inspired by a question from a reader, but I’m including it in the “General Questions’ section since I’m not going to post the question. Truth be told I am partially trying to get in touch with the person who wrote in – unfortunately I received an email bounce when I tried to reply (this is definitely one of my pet peeves, since I hate to have people thinking I can’t be bothered replying!).

OK – so Diana, if you are out there…please contact me again with a different email address!
🙂

What Diana was basically wondering about was whether or not I was familiar with any cases of a small cafe or coffee shop that had incorporated vermicomposting into their business.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with anyone doing this (or at least, I can’t remember – haha), but I’m hopeful that by posting it here, one of our readers WILL know of an example of this being done and be able to chime in.

Of course, I do think this is a great idea! In all honesty, I think every restaurant and cafe should have their own vermicomposting system (ok, so perhaps I am a tad biased here – haha).

As many of you may remember, last summer I attempted to process (via vermicomposting) the compostable waste from a popular local restaurant (see Restaurant Food Waste Vermicomposting), but had to end the partnership after a few months since there was simply too much waste to deal with. So I am at least somewhat familiar with this sort of project – but not from perspective of an actual business owner. There are definitely advantages to being someone trying to incorporate this into your own business – you will have intimate knowledge re: the amount of waste you produce, the general logistics of your operation, what exactly you are trying to accomplish, and much time/money you are willing to spend.

When simply collecting wastes from another business, it is really important to make sure that you and the business owner are on the same page with the game plan. I made the mistake of getting caught up in their enthusiasm and biting off more than I could chew.

Speaking of which, regardless of what side of the equation you happen to be on, I would definitely recommend starting off slowly. It will be important to determine how readily composting worms will consume the wastes you are producing/collecting, how quickly they are going to consume them, and how best to handle these materials before feeding them. Start with a small ‘pilot project’ – maybe even only with 1 or 2 regular worm bins. You can always expand from there. Cutting back once totally committed on the other hand, can be a bit more of a challenge (and can be a potentially costly mistake if you are the business owner).

I think cafes and coffee shops in some ways are better suited for this sort of project than larger restaurants, since coffee grounds and tea bags (your main waste materials I would imagine) are a lot easier to deal with than rotting food waste. They can be used in a wide variety of ways (mulches etc) since they look and smell nice – so having too much for your system(s) shouldn’t pose nearly as much of a problem as I encountered.

As I’ve discovered recently, coffee grounds can however be a bit of a challenge in a vermicomposting system. They can cause a system to heat up quite quickly if a fair amount is added at once. They also seem to be difficult to keep moist in a system that receives good air flow. As I wrote in another blog post, they are not all created equal either – some of the specialty blends or more finely ground…uhhh…grounds (haha) might not be as appealing for the worms.

Anyway, bottom-line I think there is a lot of potential here. Aside from reducing wastes (and perhaps disposal costs) this is a great way to promote the business. ‘Green’ is the new trendy thing, so marketing your ‘Green Cafe’ should be quite easy to do (local papers would likely want to write articles about you, vermicomposting bloggers might want to write blog posts about you – wink wink!)

Hope this helps, Diana – and perhaps more importantly, I hope it reaches you!
8)

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Batch Vermicomposting

A question from Michael:

How long does it take (in general) to finish vermicomposting a batch
of kitchen scraps? I just started my first vermicomposting tub a few
weeks ago, and was wondering how long I should wait once I stop
feeding scraps before I separate out the worm and collect the
castings.

I realize I will most likely want to start a second tub so I can have
one that I am currently adding to and one that I am getting ready for
harvest, but it might be nice to have an idea of how long it’s going
to take so I can plan for my second tub..

Hi Michael,
That will be dependent on a LOT of different factors, so there definitely isn’t a firm answer I can give. The quantity of worms you are using, the bedding type, oxygen availability, your scrap handling methods (freezing? aging? blending? etc), the temperature, moisture content, types of food wastes added – these (and more) will all be deciding factors.

I frequently have tubs with very high concentrations of worms, ready to be quickly harvested for local customers – it is amazing to see just how quickly the worms can convert wastes into castings in these bins. It’s almost like I can’t keep them fed! haha

A bin FULL of shredded cardboard, bulky food wastes and 1/4 lb of worms on the other hand will likely take a couple of months (and that’s assuming conditions are otherwise conducive to successful vermicomposting).

Your best bet is to optimize as many variables as you can, and simply observe the system over time. With adequate worm numbers, warm/moist conditions, lots of easy-to-process waste materials/bedding, and good air flow, it is not unreasonable to expect to see a fairly well processed bin within a few weeks. There may be a fair amount of undigested materials on top due to drying out etc, but these can easily be removed and added to a new system before harvesting.

Anyway – hope this helps!
8)

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