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October 8th, 2009

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“I Murdered My Worms!”

***OK – So I lied! In my last post I mentioned that you likely wouldn’t hear from me again until next week. The funny irony being that not only have I added one more post for you, but for the first time ever – you can literally ‘HEAR’ from me! If you are on my newsletter list you may know that I’ve been planning to start adding audio posts and/or ‘podcasts’ to the site. Well I took the time to figure out how to do so this week – and I’m glad I did! You will need flash installed on your system – but most computers will already have this (helps you watch videos as well). I am definitely interested to get some feedback on this. It was fun recording my first audio and I can definitely see myself doing this fairly often. OK – enough blabbering. Here is the post…


A question from Charles:

Hi Bentley, my subject line may be overly dramatic, but I
think it pretty much sums up my problem. I started my worm bin about
a year ago. I got the right kind of worms, set up a cozy house for
them that I made out of those plastic grocery baskets that you’re not
supposed to “borrow,” and fed them what I thought was a balanced diet
of kitchen scraps, newspaper, and cardboard. That worked great for
the first 6 months, they happily bred, and their castings gave me what
was probably the best tomato crop of my life. Just today I tried to
harvest the castings for my winter garden, and found that all my worms
are gone and have been replaced by earwigs and black widow spiders!
I’m really sad. Do you have any idea what could have happened? I live
in San Diego, CA which has a mild, Mediterranean climate.

Thanks,
Charles

Hi Charles,
There are certainly some additional details about your situation that could help to shed some more light on why this might have happened, but I’ll still discuss the topic of “disappearing worms” in general to provide everyone with a broad overview.

Based on what you said, I suspect that your system has been sitting outside (it would be bad enough that you have ‘Black Widows’ in your yard, so I certainly hope you are not talking about an indoor system!!). Almost invariably, the ‘disappearing worms’ phenomenon seems to occur in outdoor systems – and this is not really too surprising when you think about it. Indoors, it is much easier to keep your worms protected from weather extremes, predation etc etc.

Another factor that almost always seems to come into play is some sort of ‘neglect’. Now don’t get me wrong here, Charles – I’m not trying to suggest that you were a bad ‘worm daddy’ (haha)! All I’m saying is that it is pretty hard for worms to vanish without a trace if you are constantly checking on the system (unless they are abducted by aliens – and we can never rule that out completely!). Worms DO decompose very quickly, but you would still see some evidence of dead worms or at least a declining population over a given period of time.

A common example seems to be when people go away for a holiday etc and come back to find the worms gone. There are certainly plenty of environmental factors that can come into play here. Was there a hot spell? A cold spell? Lots of rain? A drought? Any one of these could have a negative impact on an outdoor system – especially if it is fairly small.

I actually just received an email from one of my readers, telling me how he lost most of his worms during a period of heavy rain. If worms are able to easily escape from a given system, and conditions in said system are not ideal, they certainly won’t hesitate to move – especially during dark, wet periods.

The fact that you found spiders and earwigs makes me think that you might be on the other end of the spectrum – perhaps the system dried out?

If, on the other hand all this this DID happen within a matter of days (and if you’ve been feeding them on a regular basis still), and if there hasn’t been any rain or extreme weather – then we may have a bit of a mystery on our hands!

I would encourage you to add a comment below if you’d like to share a few more details about your situation – perhaps this will help to provide a clearer picture in terms of what might have happened (or at least eliminate some of the possibilities)
8)


MY AUDIO RESPONSE

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Written by Bentley on October 8th, 2009 with 20 comments.
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50 Cocoon Challenge Updates

Hi everyone – bit of a slow week. I’ve been pretty focused on some other projects so it’s been more of a challenge to find my vermi-inspiration.

My solution? Update posts!!
😆

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything about my 50 Cocoon Challenge bins. Nothing too ultra-exciting going on there, but it was still interesting to see how things have progressed in both bins.

As you can see in the picture above, the original material in the ‘regular’ food waste bin has been processed really well. It has been quite some time since I added anything – and the only thing I’ve actually added the last few times has been cardboard. Have I mentioned that Red Worms do pretty well even when neglected?
😉

Much of the material in the bin is a nice looking brown vermicompost, and I must say that the system is absolutely LOADED with worms and cocoons! I don’t want to sound like a broken record here (ok, maybe I haven’t mentioned it that many times – haha), but if you want to stimulate lots of reproduction make sure you are adding lots of paper products (like cardboard and/or newsprint).

Nothing much has changed in the manure bin – the adult worms in this bin DO seem to be larger than those in the regular bin (as do the cocoons), but there are definitely a lot fewer of them. In all honesty, this hasn’t been a really good example of an aged manure system. I haven’t had any good aged manure for quite some time, so I haven’t been able to ‘feed’ the bin at all. I’m sure that if I had added some more aged manure I would be seeing a lot more worms in there. Anyway, I will more than likely discontinue this particular trial and use the bin for something else. I actually just remembered that I have some rotten straw outside that seems to be attracting the ‘wild’ Reds from my yard – I’d be interested to see what would happen with this in an eclosed bin (one of the issues with it when it sits outdoors, or exposed to air in general, is that it doesn’t stay wet enough to be an ideal worm habitat).

Anyway – that’s it, that’s all! Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting for ya.
By the way – I’m gearing up to go away for our Thanksgiving long weekend (up here in Canada) so you may not hear more from me until next week.

Previous 50 Cocoon Challenge Posts
The 50 Cocoon Challenge
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #1
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #2
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #3
50 Cocoon Challenge – Horse Manure
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #4
50 Cocoon Challenge – Horse Manure – Update

[tags]worm composting, vermicomposting, vermiculture, worm bin, worm bins, worm bed, worm cocoon[/tags]

Written by Bentley on October 8th, 2009 with 2 comments.
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