July 2009

50 Cocoon Challenge – Horse Manure

Red Worm Cocoons
Another batch of Red Worm cocoons, ready to be put to the challenge!

In my last 50 Cocoon Challenge update I mentioned plans for my next 50 cocoon experiment, involving horse manure rather than the typical home worm bin set up (i.e. food scraps plus bedding). Typically, when I announce these ideas/plans they end up falling by the wayside, or at least delayed for weeks/months.

Well not this time!!

I guess the results of my first trial were exciting enough to make me want to keep testing! Aside from that, the experimental set-up for our second round was so dead simple that I really had no excuse not to get it up and running right away.

50 Cocoon Challenge Manure Bin
A shallow layer of moistened, aged horse manure + 50 cocoons and we’re ready to go!

For those of you just joining us (or who need a refresher), the idea here is simply to see how long it takes for Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) to mature in various food/bedding set-ups. I know I wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the fact that I was able to find some mature worms in my ‘regular’ bin within 6 weeks from the time the cocoons were added – so it’s going to be a lot of fun watching the process all over again in the new manure bin.

My prediction is that the worms will mature even more quickly in this material, since it is basically their ‘ultimate’ food/habitat – but we shall see!

Stay tuned!

Previous 50 Cocoon Challenge Posts
The 50 Cocoon Challenge
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #1
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #2
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #3

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50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #3

Mature Red Worm
Mature Red Worm – one of a handful now present in the ’50 Cocoon Challenge’ Bin

I’m starting to think I must have some sort of internal ’50 cocoon challenge update’ clock inside my brain. For whatever reason, I had the urge to check up on the bin today and write about it here. Checking back on the date of my last post it looks as though exactly two weeks have elapsed yet again.

Well, as you can see I have some good news…but I also have some bad news as well. The good news of course, is that we now have mature worms in the bin. The bad news (also “of course”, given my track record – haha) is that I’m not really sure when the first worm matured.

That being said, I DO know that it was almost certainly somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks from the day I first put the cocoons in the system, since I couldn’t find any mature worms when I quickly looked through the bin last week.

I am really impressed with these results to be totally honest – even if worms had hatched the day after I put cocoons in the bin – which obviously didn’t happen, since I was not able to find any worms until June 25th – that would still be a relatively short period of time. Add to that the fact that the temps in the bin (~ 20C / ~68F) have been below those reported as ‘ideal’ for worm growth (25C / 77F), and this leaves me with the conclusion that Red Worms reach maturity faster than I previously thought.

As mentioned previously, I am planning to do this experiment again using aged manure as food/bedding. I suspect that maturation times may even shorter in that material.

I will of course continue to let this bin develop in the meantime. I’m interested to see how quickly another set of cocoons appears in the system, and how quickly the worm population grows in general.

It seemed like there were a lot more worms in the bin than the last time I looked, but this is obviously due to the fact that they have grown in size. I would still say that most of the worms are immature, but as mentioned in the caption above, there are at least a ‘handful’ (maybe 5-10) of worms showing clitella.

Stay tuned! More updates to come.

Previous 50 Cocoon Challenge Posts
The 50 Cocoon Challenge
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #1
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #2

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The Coffee Grounds Conundrum

Worms Love Coffee Grounds...Or Do They??
These Red Worms seem to be loving the wet coffee grounds in their bed

Back in April, I wrote about the giant box of coffee grounds I received from a worm farming friend, and how I subsequently used some of the grounds for my ‘Coffee Grounds Worm Garden‘. As some of you may recall, I was really excited about the material, and quite impressed with the results of some initial testing (namely, feeding it to worms in my large ‘winter worm composting bed’).

Fast forward a month or so, and I was not nearly so impressed with coffee grounds as a vermicomposting ‘food’. My dad and I ended up with serious over-heating issues in the winter bed, and it seemed next to impossible to keep the material nice and moist. In my coffee grounds worm bed, the worms continued to avoid the material for what seemed like weeks. I ended up dumping aged horse manure over top and basically forgot about the whole thing. All my remaining grounds have simply been sitting in (partially open) tub in my backyard ever since.

Fast forward to the present, and I really just don’t know what to think about this material!

I was inspired to write this post after digging around in my coffee grounds garden yesterday and coming upon a zone that was absolutely writhing with Red Worms!

And the material they were in? Drum roll please…


I should explain that we’ve had a LOT of rain in the last few days, and the grounds were nicely saturated with water. When it comes down to it, that – along with at least some aging – seems to be the key to making this material appealing for worms.

Something I’ve observed many times with concentrations of wet coffee grounds simply left to sit outdoors, is that they dry out quite quickly and start to look like they’ve undergone some sort of combustion (see next image). My dad is in fact convinced that this is what is happening (either via hot composting processes, or spontaneous combustion). I disagree, and actually think the material is being rapidly colonized by some sort of mold, which gives it the lighter colored, powdery appearance.

Dry, Charred Appearance of Coffee Grounds Left To Sit
Once dark and moist, these grounds have dried out and taken on an almost burnt appearance

One thing is for sure – I’m definitely looking forward to finally putting the rest of those grounds to the test. Now that they’ve been sitting outside (and in the rain numerous times) for so long, I suspect they will be a lot more appealing to the worms…as long as I can keep them wet!

Something else I should mention – all grounds added to my indoor, enclosed plastic bins seem to stay nice and moist, and the worms have no reservations about moving into the material. Hmmm…

Anyway, I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted on my continuing trials and tribulations with coffee grounds!

Stay tuned.

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