October 2009

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

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Worm Inn Journal – 10-06-09

It has been a week or so since my last Worm Inn journal update, so I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know how things are progressing with the system.

As you may recall, I only added a couple bags of ‘compost ecosystem’ material (and pretty low-grade stuff at that) to my Worm Inn when setting it up – in other words, I am basically starting with very few adult worms. As such, I had originally planned to go easy on the system for the first little while just to make sure I didn’t create a nasty disaster zone.

Given how well things have been going however, I’ve decided to start pushing the limits a bit! As I’ve discovered, with a nice open system like this it is much easier to get away with ‘overfeeding’. While there are still some of the risks involved, such as fruit fly (or other critter) invasion, I am starting to realize that as long as I mix food with lots of bedding there really isn’t any limit to the amount of material that can be added (until the Worm Inn is completely full of material, that is). It’s just like storing food scraps in an aerated scrap holder – the materials certainly start to rot and break down, but because there is enough air flow and all the excess moisture is being soaked up (or evaporates), it never turns into a stinky mess.

I dug around in the material today and there seems to be quite a few small worms happily munching away on the food added thus far. Not too surprisingly, some other ecosystem critters are doing very well also – but unlike what often happens in an enclosed plastic system, I’m not being overrun by any one particular organism. There seems to be a nice balance.

Last week I added a big heap of carrot tops (foliage cut from carrots I harvested) as a slow release food source and a means of helping to keep everything moist down below. Today I added another big bowl full of juicer pulp (along with other cut up fruit/veg waste), and some cardboard. I also watered the system down a bit just to make sure that conditions continue to stay nice and moist for the worms.

I will now continue to add lots of food scraps, likely on a daily basis. I think I may even start weighing everything just to get a sense for the amount of material that is going in.

I’ll be aiming to provide updates at least once a week!
Stay tuned

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Worm Composting and Brewery Waste

Here is a question from Geoff:

I’m starting a batch of homebrew and had a question about
the cheesecloth and grains I used. In your opinion, can I add these
items to my worm bin?

Hi Geoff,
This is a great question, and something I’m sure a lot of other homebrewing vermicomposters have wondered about as well. If you asked me this back when I was initially learning as much as I could about vermicomposting I likely would have said “ABSOLUTELY – Go Nuts!!” (or something equally as enthusiastic – haha) because I’ve read that spent brewery waste can be a great vermicomposting ‘food’. Vermicomposting expert, Dr. Clive Edwards says this about the material:

This needs no modification in terms of moisture content to grow earthworms. Worms can process it very quickly and grow and multiply rapidly in it” (Edwards and Bohlen, 1996; p.247)

Based on this glowing recommendation, I was very excited when I was able to secure a quantity of this material from a local brewery a number of years ago. I was a teaching assistant for a university soil science course at the time, and was setting up worm composting experiment to help students determine the vermicomposting potential of various ‘foods’. I figured the brewery waste treatment would end up as one of the most successful of the bunch – interestingly enough, it ended up being quite the opposite.

We found that even when it was mixed well with bedding materials (thus helping with aeration), it still became a nasty stinky mess, and the worms didn’t seem to want anything to do with it. Over time I’m sure they eventually consumed it (it’s all a bit hazy looking back now), but it certainly wasn’t processed “very quickly”, nor did the worms “grow and multiply rapidly in it”.

I am sure not all brewing waste is created equal – and this likely explains how our results with it could end up so drastically different than those upon which Dr. Edwards was basing his assertion. I am certainly NOT trying to discourage anyone from testing this stuff out – that’s for sure!

With any sort of wet, starchy sludge, I would say that a fair degree of caution is warranted – particularly in smaller, enclosed plastic bins. I’m sure this stuff would have worked much better out in my big backyard bin or trenches since there is much better air flow, and much more habitat for the worms to hide out in. These types of materials can create a stinking anaerobic mess very quickly, literally fermenting in your bin and releasing alcohols etc. You may see a major increase in white worms and white mites as well since they tend to thrive in wet, acidic environments.

You never know though – perhaps your particular mix of spent grains (along with the cheesecloth) will be totally fine. Try it out in moderation at first and see how the worms respond!

Just my 2 cents worth!

Edwards, C.A. and P.J. Bohlen. 1996. The biology and ecology of earthworms (3rd Edition). Chapman & Hall, London, 426pp.

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Dryer Lint Worm Bin – Update #4

I just happened to check on my ‘dryer lint worm bin’ the other day (this system has been neglected so badly it’s not even funny!). As you can see, the contents have really settled down, and there is a lot of vermicompost in there. There were actually quite a few worms up on the lid so I suspect we are starting to head towards a ‘mature worm bin syndrome’ situation. While I haven’t been adding any new food (which would certainly accelerate the onset of problems), I did add a lot of wet stuff initially without properly balancing with dry, absorbent bedding (in this case, dryer lint).

Digging around in the bin I saw that there were still LOADS of healthy looking Red Worms (more evidence of the fact that neglected worms usually do far better than those you try too hard to ‘take care of’), but the material they were living in was pretty swampy, both in appearance AND smell!

I decided it was probably time for me to do some maintenance on the bin, and given the wet stinky conditions I knew that there was only one real solution – adding dry bedding!!

I pulled back the sludge on one side of the bin and stuffed in some dry lint, then did the same thing on the other side. I was a little worried given how dry this material was so I also decided to add some watermelon at the same time.
Keep in mind, that all of this is a SUPER lazy approach to vermicomposting, and NOT what I recommend as far as properly taking care of your worm composting system goes!

Anyway – it will be interesting to see what happens once the lint gets moistened nicely. Bare minimum, it should at least help to soak up a lot of the excess liquid and make things a bit more aerobic in there. Perhaps the worms will move into the new bedding fairly quickly as well.

I’ll keep you posted!

Previous Dryer Lint Vermicomposting Posts (oldest to newest)
Composting Dryer Lint
Composting Dryer Lint – Update #1
Dryer Lint Worm Bin
Dryer Lint Worm Bin – Update
Dryer Lint Worm Bin – Update #2
Dryer Lint Worm Bin – Update #3

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