September 2009

The Great Green Tomato Rescue

buckets of Green Tomatoes

As I mentioned in my last vermicomposting trench update, this growing season I ran into some pretty serious issues with my tomatoes. I suspected that it was primarily due to my spacing (or lack thereof), but it seems that this has been a bad year for tomatoes in general in my region so that may help to explain why things turned out as badly as they did.

Originally, I had planned to simply let the tomatoes do their thing without my assistance and see if I’d end up with any sort of harvest. Although most of the plants were slumped over and looking pretty sickly in general, there were a LOT of nice looking green tomatoes, so I hoped that some sun and warmth would help them mature relatively quickly.

I started to realize however, that the tomatoes themselves were also becoming infected with the disease quite quickly, so I ended up making a hasty decision to simply salvage as many tomatoes as I could – regardless of their level of ripeness.

An thus, the ‘Great Green Tomato Rescue’ was born!
😆

I picked a warm afternoon when my dad and two year old daughter were both around to provide some assistance, and I basically started ripping out plants and putting any and all usable tomatoes into buckets (my daughter seemed especially fond of putting tomatoes in the bucket, only to then take them back out again).

When all was said and done, I had two 5 gallon pails plus two smaller buckets full of mostly green tomatoes. I also had a big heap of diseased tomato plants. Most seasoned gardeners would be horrified by what I did with those plants – since anyone with half a smidge of good sense would burn them. I, on the other hand, decided to lay them back over top of the trench and the old tomato bed they came from. I will be building up a bit of a worm composting windrow there this fall (partially in an effort to help insulate the worms over the winter) and figured the bulky plant material would be of benefit.

Obviously, this is not a good practice, since it means that the disease is basically guaranteed to stick around until next season. In other words, using that garden for tomatoes next year would be a really silly idea!
In all honesty I had planned to move my tomato bed to the other side of the yard anyway, and I am also confident that if I treat my plants properly (starting with normal spacing) next year, they should do just fine (Dumb optimism? We shall see! :-)). I will once again be using plenty of worm compost to help keep my plants healthy, and have also decided to get serious about worm tea brewing (and use), so I’ll have at least a few things in my favor!

I also have a sneaking suspicion that bombarding these diseased plants with all sorts of composting microbes (not the mention the Red Worms themselves) will greatly reduce the population of disease organisms by the time spring rolls around.

Diseased Tomatoes

Despite the fact that I ended up with a pretty decent crop of tomatoes, it was obviously a tad disappointing that most of them were still green! Nevertheless, I decided to make every effort to NOT let them go to waste! I had been keeping quite a lot of space in our new freezer open for all the tomatoes I assumed I’d need to freeze, so BY GOLLY that space was still going to get filled! I have little doubt that I will indeed find plenty of uses for them once the cold weather hits and the taste of fresh garden produce is just a distant memory. They will be a tasty (and tangy) addition to soups, stews, sauces and omeletes for sure – and perhaps I will learn how to make some sort of green tomato salsa as well. Yum!

Sink Full Of Tomatoes

I’m not going to lie – there is a LOT of work involved in washing, chopping and bagging tomatoes for freezing. But in hindsight, I am glad I took the time to do it! What’s funny is that our freezer is basically jammed full (of garden produce) now, yet I was still left with a 5 gallon pail full of tomatoes! I can only imagine what would have happened if I’d actually ended up with a successful (non-diseased) crop. I guess I would have had to invest in a pressure cooker and some canning supplies as well!
😉

What’s kind of cool is that the last bucket of tomatoes, which has remained out in the sun on my deck, has continued to ripen and provide us with an ongoing supply of for cooking (eg. I made a big ol’ batch of veggie chili last week and put lots of them in it). I’ve had to remove a bunch that were developing the disease (and have fed them to my worms), but all in all I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how long they’ve lasted in general – I thought for sure that the last bucket would basically just end up as worm food!

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Largescale Manure Vermicomposting

Big Manure Pile
Horse manure (with bedding) pile – prime time Red Worm real estate!


Here is a question from Brent:

I was wondering if you had any info on system design for
composting horse manure? We usually have 3-4 horses on site and I am
currently composting teh manure/shavings mixture. The process take a
few months and I suspect the worms would be faster and more efficient.
Let me kow if you know where I can get info on larger systems and
managing these to take care of my manure. Thanks!

Hi Brent,
Great question! I’m certainly not a ‘design guy’ by any means, but I do have some thoughts to share on this topic. For starters, let me say that you are absolutely right – adding composting worms to a manure composting system should GREATLY speed up the process. I know I am a tad biased here, but I would also say that it will result in a vastly superior product as well – and technically TWO products, if you count all the worms you’ll be growing!

I would never suggest that you completely skip the ‘regular composting’ stage however – in fact, when you are working on a large scale with manure, implementing some sort of ‘pre-composting’ stage will be really important. It will help to rid the material of weed seeds and pathogens (research has shown that vermicomposting effectively removes pathogens as well – but never hurts to be extra sure!), and will also remove a lot of the heating potential and excess ammonia, both of which can lead to dead worms in a hurry!

There are multiple approaches you can take as far as the design of your system goes – what it comes down to is asking yourself how seriously you want to get into this? If you have plans to sell the worm castings (vermicompost), then perhaps you will want to invest some serious money in a fancy continuous flow system (more on that in a minute). On the other end of the scale, if you simply want to reduce the volume of manure on site, then maybe you will be ok with some very basic approach.

On the basic end, you could literally just pile up the manure, let it sit (and heat up) for a period of time then add composting worms to it. Some of the most incredibly successful populations of Red Worms I have ever seen have been living in old manure heaps. The downside of this approach is that it doesn’t really offer you a good way to separate out the worm compost – especially if you are continuing to pile up more fresh manure on it.

Another low-tech approach which can be VERY effective is what’s known as the “wedge” system. In essence, I am talking here about a ‘souped up’ manure pile that is then simply extended into a windrow (or multiple windrows). If you have the space for this and don’t feel like spending big bucks on an actual system, this is definitely the route I would recommend taking!

In a nutshell, you would start with a relatively small pile (or piles) of manure – material that has already been ‘precomposted’ for a week or so – and add to it a few pounds of Red Worms (Eisenia fetida). Let the worms work this material for another week, then start adding new material to one end of the heap. Over time you will end up with windrows, and the beauty of this approach is that the worms are going to follow the end with the newest (highest quality) food material. Eventually (exact time will depend on how quickly you are extending the windrow), the material back where you started will be nice worm compost, with relatively few worms and cocoons – obviously, the longer you make the windrow the more mature this material will be.

If you are planning to market the finished compost, you may want to do this indoors, or at least under some sort of canopy to help prevent rainfall from removing some of the potency of your castings. The size of the windrows would be up to you – it is important that they are manageable however. Perhaps 3-4 feet in width and about 3 feet in height (length would simply depend on the amount of room you have).

Moving on to a more ‘high-tech’ approach…

If you DO have the dollars and the desire, you may want to go all-out with this and do something similar to the guys at Worm Power. In other words, build (or have someone build for you) some type of continuous-flow vermicomposting system. Here are a couple of interesting YouTube videos about Worm Power to give you a bit better idea of what I’m talking about:



I suspect that given the details you provided me with regarding your current situation, this approach might be a bit more than you would be interested in, but it’s always good to know what possibilities are out there!

Anyway – I hope this helps, Brent! The bottom-line is that I definitely recommend you get into vermicomposting, since you have access to a material that Red Worms absolutely love. Not only will they help you to reduce the volume of your manure, but you will end up with an abundance of top notch ‘compost’ (although I hesitate to even call it that), along with countless worms that can be sold or used in other worm composting systems.
8)

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Manure Chard Challenge – Another One Bites The Dust!

I hate to be a real ‘Debbie Downer’ today, but I figured I was on a roll with the bummer news, so it wouldn’t hurt to tell you about another experiment gone ‘bye bye’!
😆

All joking aside, as many of you know all too well, in the past I’ve had a bad habit of simply never writing again about various experiments that have gone awry – not because I was trying to hide my failures or anything like that (I openly admit that I’m a walking disaster zone – haha), but simply because I get focused on other (more positive) things and/or don’t really have the time.

Long-winded explanations aside, what I’m trying to say here is that my intention moving forward, is to keep everyone posted on any and all experiments and “challenges” that I start up, since I know the failures are just as important to learn from (if not more so) than the winners!

So yeah…on to the ‘Manure Chard Challenge
😆

The results of this one are actually very interesting to me! As I alluded to in my recent potato box meltdown post, I am really starting to suspect that the presence of high numbers of composting worms in a grow bed can potentially cause problems for developing plants.

Now let me clarify here – what I mean is that when the plants roots are located ENTIRELY within the confines of a worm bed there can be issues. My trench and vermi-mulch systems are different because much of each plant’s root system is actually located in the ‘regular’ soil itself (where Red Worms do not reign supreme by any means). The one potential exception seems to be my ‘laundry-line bean gardens‘, but the fact that I added LOTS of inert peat moss (where the densities of worms are likely lower) to those boxes probably helps to explain that.

So what happened with the chard experiment?

As mentioned in my last chard challenge update, plant germination success and just growth in general have clearly been better in the ‘manure-only’ bucket. Close to the end, I had two very sad looking seedlings in the worm bucket and six healthy looking seedlings in the manure bucket – so there was obviously something going wrong here!

In a rather funny twist, when I dumped both buckets out to see how things were looking with the manure in each bin (and to determine the status of the worm population in the worm bin), I discovered that a handful of worms had somehow managed to get into the manure-only treatment!
😆

I’m impressed – these buckets were up on pedestals and separated from one another, so I’m really not sure how this happened. I can pretty much guarantee that the material was completely worm-free to begin with as well. I do seem to recall some rainy weather closer to the beginning of the experiment – so maybe some adventurous escapees from the other bucket managed to sniff out and discover the virgin territory of the no-worm bin. Who knows?!

Another interesting observation was the fact that even though both buckets received the same amount of water, the contents of the worm bin appeared to be much wetter and compacted. This is of course not too surprising since the worms were obviously converting the manure into a material (castings) with a smaller particle size, and likely a greater potential for water retention. I can’t help but wonder if this extra sogginess contributed to the issues with the seedlings (just as I wonder if this was one of the main issues in the potato boxes). The material in the manure bucket looked moist but had much more of a porous (ie great aeration) look about it – probably much better for the roots!

I didn’t actually quantity the population of worms in the worm bucket, but it did look as though it contained at least the original 1/4 lb (if not more) – I know some of the worms left the system initially, but I’m sure there have been plenty of little worms that have grown up etc during the course of the experiment.

…..

Anyway – all in all, another interesting set of findings! Later in the week I am going to be writing about some results on the other end of the spectrum – i.e. from systems where the plants have appeared to reign supreme (and the worms have suffered as a result).

Stay tuned!
8)

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Worm Composting Potato Tower – Wrap-Up


Back to the drawing board!


Some of you may have seen the “writing on the wall” (literally and figuratively) if you’ve been following the comments section on my previous vermicomposting potato tower post. As I alluded to there, things kinda went downhill for my potato plants shortly after writing my update.

I think a big part of the problem stemmed from the fact that I added a LOT of manure (and very little straw) all at once to the boxes shortly after adding the second level on my ‘towers’. I think it was, in essence, the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. In hindsight however, I can now see that problems must have been brewing beneath the surface for some time now.

Interestingly enough, the worms in these systems have been doing extremely well! In fact, I’ve actually been harvesting worms for customers from these boxes recently since the worm densities are higher than in many of my other beds! I’ve certainly come across some potatoes in the material as well – but nothing remotely like the huge crop I had hoped for.

What’s funny, and just a tad ironic, is the fact that I found a HUGE red potato (bearing an uncanny resemblance to a human heart, I might add – haha) in my corn patch! You may recall that I allowed a few leftover potatoes (from last year) to grow in the bed even though my main focus was on the corn and beans planted there this year. I have not really searched for any more potatoes in this bed (and this jumbo spud was actually found by accident), but I have little doubt that the results will be more impressive than in my potato boxes!
😆

Big Red Potato


So what went wrong, anyway?

For starters, I am definitely getting the impression that an abundance of composting worms living in the root zone of developing plants can indeed create issues (have seen evidence in some of my other experimental systems). I’m starting to think that it is pretty tough to get the best of both worlds (i.e. big healthy plants, plus big healthy population of Red Worms). I’ll be writing more about this in an upcoming post as well (inspired by some interesting observations from my trench and vermi-mulching efforts this year), since it is certainly a significant finding.

Also, as others have suggested (via comments), wet manure probably also isn’t exactly the ultimate medium for growing potatoes – even if the worms are busily converting it into worm castings. Perhaps if I had mixed in more straw I would have been ok – hard to say for sure.

As per usual, I am very happy that I decided to try this out – not only did I end up with an abundance of marketable worms, but it’s been yet another valuable learning experience! I definitely haven’t closed the door completely on some variation of this concept either! Next year I will definitely give it another shot to see if I can make it work. I think that rather than starting with wet material containing lots of worms, I will use a more mature compost material (the stuff I often refer to as ‘compost ecosystem’), and won’t actually add any manure either. I won’t likely end up with as many worms, but I have little doubt that the potatoes will do much better!

We shall see!
8)

Previous Worm Composting Potato Box Posts
Worm Bed Potato Gardens
Worm Bed Potato Gardens – Update
Worm Composting Potato Tower – Update

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Worm Bin Bedding – In More Detail

Worm Bin Bedding Materials
Some examples of good quality worm bin bedding – ideally the newsprint would be 100% black and white though


I recently wrote an issue of the newsletter about something I referred to as ‘mature worm bin syndrome’. For those of you not on the newsletter list, or who happened to miss it – in a nutshell, I was discussing what can happen with a typical (enclosed plastic) worm bin over time if you neglect to continue adding ‘bedding’, or if you really didn’t add enough to begin with.

Let’s start with a review of the term ‘bedding’ – what exactly am I talking about here?

Bedding, in this context refers to the carbon-rich, absorbent materials that are used to create some habitat ‘structure’, and to help balance out the water-rich, low C:N waste materials usually thought of as the worm ‘food’ in a worm bin. In actuality, ALL organic matter in the bin basically becomes food over time – some things are simply shorter term food sources than others.

I can’t emphasize enough just how vitally IMPORTANT these bedding materials are in terms of keeping the worms healthy and your system operating efficiently. The best bedding absorbs and holds moisture, while allowing oxygen to penetrate the composting zones. Often, a combination of different bedding types is the best approach since it allows you to take advantage of the strengths, while balancing out the weaknesses of these materials.

For example, peat most and coco fiber (‘coir’) are great bedding materials since they are extremely absorbent, and offer a huge surface area (due to tiny particles) for microbial colonization. The small, tightly packed particles are not however great for air flow, so you might want to mix them with one of the bulkier materials like shredded cardboard, which will also help create more habitat structure for the worms. Shredded cardboard is quite good on its own, but its limitation is that it doesn’t absorb and hold moisture nearly as well as peat, coir, compost or aged manure do, so again, using a mixture of bulky and particulate bedding materials is not a bad idea.

I tend to think in terms of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ types of bedding. Primary materials can basically stand-alone (even though mixing them, as discussed, can enhance their potential). Secondary materials on the other hand, should generally only be added to a system where some type of primary bedding is already present. Here is a run down of some common examples of primary and secondary bedding:


Primary Bedding Materials
– shredded cardboard
– shredded paper (ideally NOT bleached white office paper)
– shredded newsprint
– moistened/rinsed peat moss
– coco coir
– well aged manure and compost (not ‘pure’ worm castings however)


Secondary Bedding Materials
– fall leaves
– straw/hay
– saw dust / wood chips / bark (definitely avoid cedar – may want to stay away from all conifers)
– rice hulls
– yard waste


Secondary bedding materials tend to be slower to break down, and better for structure than for water retention or food value. It is important to mention that these secondary bedding materials CAN become good quality primary bedding via decomposition. Rotten straw and leaves for example, are excellent bedding/food. What it really comes down to is the material’s ability to hold water and sustain microbes (which are of course interrelated as well – microbes need moisture to thrive). Also, as you can probably tell by now, the distinction between bedding and ‘food’ can be hazy at best. Take aged manure (which is already often mixed with some other type of bedding such as straw or wood shavings) for example – in my mind, it is basically the ultimate all-in-one bedding material, since it holds water extremely well, offers a considerable amount of nutrition, buffers against potentially harmful materials/situations (eg. overfeeding), and offers excellent habitat value as well.

OK, I think we have basically established what bedding is, and why it’s important – so now let’s chat about the how factor – i.e how do we properly put these materials to good use?

Most people are at least aware of the fact that some sort of bedding needs to be added when a worm bin is first set up – although, as I mentioned in the newsletter, I am constantly surprised by how little bedding my customers are adding to their bins (they often bring them to show me when buying worms). It is important to remember that you can really never add ‘too much’ bedding – as many of us know from first-hand experience, the same definitely can’t be said of food! (overfeeding is easy!).

I think my videos can be a bit misleading in some ways since I talk about adding almost equal amounts of food and bedding (assuming you are going to leave the system to sit for a while), but what I don’t mention is the fact that I will often go back and add even more bedding once the level of material in the bin has shrunken down substantially (happens pretty quickly). When there are worms in the system, there should definitely be a significantly higher ratio of bedding to food materials – although again, the case of aged manure is an exception since it basically can serve as both.

Even when people DO add a fair amount of bedding when first setting up their bins, I get the feeling that there are a fair number who then promptly forget about the importance of these materials moving forward – ie they basically just add food waste from then on. You can definitely get away with this for quite a while (especially if you are using some sort of open system), but eventually it can catch up with you, and manifest itself as the ‘mature worm bin syndrome’ I wrote about. The worms may start crawling, dying or disappearing for no apparent reason, the bin may start to give off foul odors – or any number of other potential symptoms may develop.

Adding at least some bedding on an fairly regular basis is of course the key!

In my newsletter article I suggested adding a small amount of bedding when you add food materials, and this is definitely not a bad idea at all – especially when you are adding really wet stuff. Dig yourself a depression, layer the bottom with dry bedding, add the food, then cover completely.

I failed to mention however, that there is another, much easier, approach. Basically, you just make sure you maintain a nice thick layer of bedding of top of your main composting zone at all times…that’s it! As this material gets moistened, shrinks down, and get consumed, simply continue to top it up (with dry material). Make sure there is enough so that you can easily bury food waste in it.

An added bonus to this approach is that it tends to dry out the upper part of the bin, thus discouraging the worms from roaming up there. Also, you will likely find that it does wonders for helping to keep the contents of the bin from getting too soggy in general (a situation that can lead to all sorts of annoying issues).


Anyway, I just wanted to write a follow-up post on this topic since the newsletter article seemed to strike a chord with quite a few readers. I definitely don’t mean to imply that all my advice is ‘gospel’ by any means (I always encourage people to test things out for themselves), but if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years as a passionate amateur vermicomposter, it’s that the liberal use of good bedding (aka ‘habitat’) materials can help you avoid a lot of potential headaches (or even solve issues that arise) in a worm composting bin.

So, say the mantra with me now…”bedding is my friend”…”bedding is my friend”…”bedding is my friend”!
😆

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Laundry Line Bean Gardens

Laundry Line Bean Gardens

In my ‘Vermi-Mulch Bean Garden‘ post I mentioned the fact that there was still yet another vermigardening project I wanted to write about here. So, here ya go!
🙂

Looking back now, it’s hard to say for sure how I settled on the idea of creating a set of laundry-line ‘hanging gardens’. I suppose I was in the process of planning out the gardens for the season – feeling inspired by my new ‘gardening bible‘ – and I saw the unused laundry line as potential climbing plant real estate. Initially I thought I would simply dig beds at the base of each support pole, but I eventually decided it would be really cool to actually have a pair of planter boxes instead. Not only would the plants benefit from the raised bed approach, but it would also afford me the opportunity to try out yet another red worm gardening experiment.

As per usual, I enlisted the help of my dad and we focused on getting the boxes built as quickly as possible – the growing season was already well under way by this point, and the seedlings I wanted to plant in the boxes had become quite gangly and unhealthy.

Unlike the ‘Worm Composting Potato Towers‘ I ended up taking a somewhat more conventional gardening approach, but basically by accident (which I’ll explain in a minute)! Rather than solely adding Red Worm ecosystem material and aged manure, I also added a lot of peat moss. Looking back now, I am really glad that I did!

Thankfully, the planting day just happened to really, really wet (it was literally raining ‘cats and dogs’ as I put the plants in), so that helped to get things off on the right foot (especially since peat moss can be a royal pain to fully moisten). Essentially the layering of ‘soil’ materials was as follows – at the very bottom there was a nice thick layer of aged manure; next (and filling up the majority of the box) there was the peat moss; lastly, there was a thick layer of worm compost ecosystem material (same stuff used for bean vermi-mulch gardens).

The large quantity of peat moss turned out to be important because it helped to ensure that the overall level of material in the boxes didn’t shrink down too much – in fact, initially (as it soaked up water) it helped to boost the volume of material. As I’ve written before, I am usually not a big fan of using peat moss all that much (since harvested in an unsustainable manner), and my original plan had been to simply fill the boxes with the composting ecosystem and horse manure. I quickly realized however, that I was going to need a LOT more material than I had on hand. Luckily I happened to have the bag of peat moss, so I decided to use it as a filler.

Initially the growth of the beans was pretty dismal – not too surprising, given the serious neglect they had suffered as seedlings. Gradually they did however seem to take hold and start making some progress. The real turning point seemed to be when I decided to add a considerable amount of ‘Black Medic’ (Medicago lupulina) which I’d uprooted from my lawn. I thought perhaps that the rhizobial bacteria that help this weedy legume grown (by ‘fixing’ nitrogen in the roots) might also be beneficial for the beans I was trying to grow. Interestingly enough, shortly after adding this material, the bean foliage became a darker green, and growth of the plants in general was much more vigorous.

I have three different types of beans growing in these boxes: 1) Yellow pole beans, 2) Chinese Long Beans and 3) Scarlet Runner Beans. I also added a few marigolds to help fend off pests.

As you can see in the first photo, the plants have grown really well! In my head I had envisioned a complete overhead canopy of bean foliage (and hanging beans of course), but beggars can’t be choosers, right? I am shocked that the plants have done as well as they have! I have quite a few tentrils creeping out along the laundry lines (and strings I tied up), and LOTS of beans ready to harvest.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Another positive is the fact that the scarlet runners have been producing an abundance of beautiful red blossoms for quite some time now, adding a bit of extra aesthetic appeal to my otherwise deteriorating backyard show.

As for the worms…

Periodically, I added more aged manure on the surface of the beds to help sustain my wigglers, but in all honesty I haven’t really spent too much time investigating their current status. I’m sure there are still plenty of them in there, but I suspect that (unlike the case with the potato gardens) the plants are the ones really reaping most of the benefits in this partnership. Once the bean plants are finished producing their crop I will certainly dig around a lot more and will report back on what I find. My prediction? Loads of teeny tiny worms living in a less-then-ideal composting worm environment!

Anyway, I’d definitely say that the experiment as a whole has been a huge success. Next year I will undoubtedly do this again, but I’ll make sure to take better care of the plants and get them in earlier so I can produce a much more impressive overhanging show!

In the meantime, I’m going to try and figure out what to do with all these yummy beans!
😉

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Worm Inn Journal – 09-10-09

my new worm inn pro stand
New homemade stand with a Worm Inn Pro ready to go!


Well, it’s certainly been awhile since I’ve written anything about Worm Inns! For quite some time I have had two of these systems up and running in my basement, and have been really impressed with the quality of vermicompost they produce.

I must admit to being a wee bit disappointed with the stands I bought for them however. While inexpensive, and seemingly an ideal size, they’ve become more and more unstable as the weight of the systems have increased over time. Apart from that – in order to actually harvest vermicompost I’ve had to prop the systems up on wooden planks, and even then it is a pain! The good news is that there ARE really nice laundry hamper stands out there that will work a lot better than mine.

Earlier in the summer, Robyn (creator of the Worm Inn) sent me a batch of Worm Inn Pro models, so that I could sell them up here in Canada. This was my first time actually getting to see this version, and boy was I ever impressed!! I’ve decided to keep one of these systems for myself so that I can really put it to the test and see how it performs in comparison to my two ‘regular’ Worm Inns – hence me starting up the long-lost ‘Worm Inn Journal’ series once again.

Rather than buying another laundry hamper stand this time around, I opted to create my own stand. Well OK, my dad technically ended up building it (since he was over and was looking for some way to help out), but in spirit it was a team effort! We aren’t the best handy-men in the world, that’s for sure – but we’ve had some fun this summer building things!
😆

By the way – the Worm Inn Pro you see in the photos is actually one I’ve been getting ready for a customer (I’m nice like that – haha). In future Worm Inn journal entries you will notice a different Worm Inn hanging on the stand. I’m still not sure which design I’m going to chose this time, so you’ll just have to wait and see!

Since I was already setting up the system for my customer, I thought it might not be a bad idea to take some pictures, and once again review the basics of setting up one of these systems.

The first thing I always do when first setting up an Inn – and something I always recommend to customers – is tying off the bottom. The drawstring tightening apparatus works perfectly fine for closing things off as far as keeping everything from falling out goes, but it’s not a bad idea to create a tighter closure initially just to make sure you don’t get wandering worms, or liquid coming out of the bottom. All I do is constrict the opening by tying a knot (with the drawstrings) just above the tightening gizmos. Once you perform your first vermicompost harvest you should be fine leaving it untied.

Next, I added a ‘false bottom’ of shredded cardboard (in this case, egg carton cardboard). This helps to separate the main composting mass from the bottom of the Inn, and provides a zone where any excess moisture can be absorbed before pooling in the bottom.

I then created a moistened food/habitat mixture to add over top of the dry shredded cardboard. A simple mixture would be fruit/veggie scraps mixed with moistened shredded cardboard. In my case, I had some nice juicer pulp on hand, along with some old leaves left over from last fall. As I’ve written before, brown fall leaves make an excellent secondary bedding (and food) material since the worms love them. They can also help to inoculate the system with beneficial microbes, so that never hurts. A little bit of compost from a backyard composter, or even a pinch of garden soil could be beneficial as well if you don’t have any leaves on hand.

Next, I thoroughly sprayed down the material in the system. Speaking of moisture – unlike an enclosed plastic ‘worm bin’ type of system, with an open flow through system like the Worm Inn it can be a lot easier for things to dry out – so adding moisture on a fairly regular basis (assuming you are not constantly adding loads of wet waste) may be something you’ll want to keep in mind.

If you were going to keep things simple, you could probably just add an additional layer of cardboard and stop there, leaving the system to sit for a period of time (at least a couple of days) before adding the worms.

In this case, I decided to add one additional layer of food waste (some baby spinach that was starting to get a little gamy), before topping up with more cardboard. I then gave the system one last spray down (I have been adding more moisture most days since then as well) before closing it up and letting it sit.

A couple days later I also ended up adding some ‘compost ecosystem’ material I happened to have on hand to help the worms adjust to their new home even more quickly, as well as to help hold moisture. Good (but sterile) alternatives would be peat moss of coco coir.

So there you have it! Once the system is up and running, I’d recommend keeping a nice thick layer of bedding up top at all times. The zippered screen lid is an excellent first line of defence against flying pests, but it never hurts to be extra careful – aside from that, the cardboard should also help to keep in some moisture. By the way, speaking of the zipper – if you want to be super careful, you MAY want to add a piece of tape over the spot where the two zipper sliders (not sure of the technical term, haha) come together since there is a small hole here.

Anyway, I will certainly be writing more about my own Worm Inn Pro once it is set up and ready to roll, so do stay tuned!
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