December 2009

Mark’s OSCR Videos – 12-22-09

The other night I forgot that I left my chamber fan on and remembered right before I went to bed. When I pulled back the tarp, STEAM was coming up through the bin! There was about 12 pairs of worms mating on the damp sides of the bin. The temps were ranging from 72 – 80 degrees F.

So I knew I wasn’t “cooking” the worms (as some people might think). The moist air condenses on the top and sides and returns it to the bin. I have been doing this for 3 days. The worms love it! When you look at the video, notice the silver post in the middle. The top of that board is 16 inches from the bottom. Kind of makes you wonder where 429 pounds of trash goes.

‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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Four Worm Update – 12-17-09

Mixed up, moistened and ready to brew some more!

Crazy week, but I just wanted to provide a quick update on my new “Four Worm Reproduction Experiment“. I decided to open up the bin today to see how things were looking so far.

This has been a really important reminder of the fact that the one KEY piece of information I left out of my two “setting up a worm bin” YouTube videos revolves around what to do with the bin during the aging period. I’m sure a lot of people have just assumed that simply leaving it be will be the best thing to do – and this helps to explain why I’ve received so many emails about excess mold growth and really stinky bins during this time!

Anyway, unless your plan is to leave the bin sitting for months without worms, I would strongly recommend opening it up at least a couple of times before the worms arrive. This will be a good opportunity to mix everything up and spray it down as well (again making sure never to add some much water that it ends up pooling in the bottom). This way you are helping to create a more homogeneous habitat, adding more oxygen into the mix, and your helping to create a more evenly moist environment.

I’ve decided to really take my time with this bin, so I will likely just do the same thing next week (open, mix and moisten), although I may also add some new bedding at that time as well). The week after that will likely be my worm-stocking week. There’s no rush here, and I really want to make sure the habitat is in good shape!

The bin smelled pretty bad when I first opened it up, due to the fact that there was a lot of water-rich waste materials concentrated in certain parts of the bin. With things spread out more, and my weekly mixing, I’m sure it won’t be quite so ripe by the time the worms are added.

Anyway – that’s basically it for now!
I’ll keep you posted!

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Mark’s OSCR – 12-16-09

Temp yesterday. The orange stuff is pumpkin

Thanks to everyone who sent some feedback on the OSCR. There was a lot of discussion about the crust around the heater cable.

If everyone remembers, I had an avalanche of finished Vermicompost; well it fell in my face, if we want to use my horror to amuse everyone again.

Any how, I figured late Saturday night that my heater was a dead so, I added 11 pounds of pumpkin to the back zone of the bin. My thought was that if it didn’t generate, oh well. The risk of over feeding was my primary concern, since the bin temp was low, that will causes worm activity to slow.

Then something odd happened. The weather got really cold – 10 degrees F (-12.2 C)! My garage got down to 25 degrees (-3.9 C)! At 5:00 CST, the back side of my bin was and still is at 80 degrees F. YES, EIGHTY DEGREES! [Editor’s note: This is an update from yesterday. I’m sure Mark will leave a comment letting us know if the temps have held]

‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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Mark’s OSCR – 12-14-09

[Editor’s Note: I couldn’t resist! Here is Mark practicing for his upcoming role as a compost eater! Haha!]

Hi everybody!

If you remember, my winter project is an OSCR flow through bin. I am trying to see how long it takes me to add and process 2000 pounds of trash/food to my bin. I only have a tarp covering it and I think there is 35 -45 pounds of worms in it, I have no idea.

Here is the latest update:

WINTER IS HERE! Well I don’t need that guy on the weather channel to tell me that.

It has been my experience that winter time is the hardest test for an outdoor Vermicomposter. My bin is again in my unheated, uninsulated garage. I do have a heater cable running through the bin that is supposed to keep the bin at 72 degrees F.

Uh Oh…what do I mean by supposed?

Turns out the heater cable heated the organic matter into this cement-looking crust that is sticking to the cable preventing the heat from transferring to the moist bin. Temperatures are dropping and it’s time for plan “B”. If you research the “Getting Started” and “BOM – 6000” section of this site you’ll see what I mean.

First of all I could not find my worms. They are “epigeic” (living close to surface). These topics point out that the worms will leave if conditions are not favorable to them. I am careful of what I put in the bin so, I am sure I did not kill them all; they were hiding in some warm spots. I did not dig around too much because in the summer I fluffed my bins to cool them down.

Next they are not as active as before. The guides say they are most efficient around 70 -80 degrees F. My bin got down to 58 degrees F.

With this in mind, they are not as hungry. I could tell because the bin started to smell sour. I did not feed for a week; I let the worms “be my guide”. The temp was staying at 60 degrees F and when the smell left, I added more food. More greens than browns with the hope of slowly kicking up the temp a little. The temperature went up to 70 degrees in the center of the bin which is fine – I’ll leave that area alone!

I went to the harvest chamber to see what the heck was going on down there!

Originally I was motivated by “Mike from Delaware” [Editor’s Note: Mark’s “brother from another mother??“] to not mess with the bin, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ll just rake this section over here …and here …and here …and here. I think all the original finished Vermicompost that I added is now out. I filled three 18 gallon bins. Once I started, VC fell down, that crusty cement fell, worms fell, unprocessed stuff fell.

I was reading about Bob Lauver’s blog about his first 24 hours with his worms and how it smelled. Bob, if you are reading this, take my word for it and don’t try this. I harvest my bin upside down and I have to lie on my back to do so. The finished Vermicompost… TASTES like it smells! Thank the Lord Almighty that a worm didn’t land in my mouth too. My days as a Vermicomposter could have ended right then and there. I’ll take one for the team but, that’s a little to far 🙁

Here are some pictures of the harvest and finished Vermicompost.

The stuff that fell through. I had three 18 gallon tubs of this stuff.

The moisture meter reading on the harvested stuff.

I let it dry for a few days, and after I screened it to 1/8 of an inch, I had this rabbit manure looking stuff. I tossed it back in.

Screened finished Vermicompost.

This is what the bin looks like today.

I got the temp up a little.

‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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Four Worm Reproduction Experiment – Part Deux

BOM-6000 Ready To Rock and Roll!
BOM-6000 Bin Ready to Rock and/or Roll!!

It has been a long time in coming, but I’m pleased to announce that my second “Four Worm Reproduction Experiment” is finally underway – well at least partially anyway! Yesterday I got the bin set up and ready for the aging period, which I have decided will be 1-2 weeks for this particular system.

As you can tell from the image above (and likely remember from my recent mentions of this experiment) I have decided to test out the new BOM-6000 worm composting bin – so it’s kinda like a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity, which is cool!

The set up of the system was very similar to that shown in my various worm-bin-set-up videos. Basically, I added a LOT of shredded cardboard plus a LOT of food waste, then moistened everything down a bit before closing it up.

I stuck with my old favorites – corrugated cardboard and drink tray cardboard primarily – but also added some toilet paper roll cardboard (the official name of course!) and some brown paper.

I didn’t weigh the food waste I added but I might estimate it as 3-5 lb worth of fairly regular household stuff – coffee grounds and filters, fruit/veggie peels and scraps, egg shells etc. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I didn’t put too much effort into the moistening process – basically just added enough to help out a little. The food waste itself will contribute a lot more moisture as it starts to break down. Next week at some point I will definitely open up the bin, mix everything up and likely spray everything down again. More shredded cardboard will likely be added at that time as well.

Everything was covered with a fairly thin layer of dry bedding materials. No real earth-shattering rationale here – just something I tend to do!

I made sure to activate (haha) my “Dipteran Defence System” due to my recent run-in with fruit flies (happy to report that they are gone) and fungus gnats (happy to report they are greatly reduced in numbers)! I was all out of pantyhose…er…I mean my wife doesn’t have any available for me to steal, so I ended up using some old baby cloths on the upper vents.

It will be interesting to compare the two types of vent screens (still have pantyhose on the lower vents) to see how they stack up against one another. I suspect that the cloth ones will gradually rot over time.

Speaking of the screens, I am a little concerned about the lower ones. Something I didn’t think about was the possibility of them becoming dislodged due to digging around and mixing. We shall see what happens!

Anyway – that’s pretty much it!
I am definitely excited about this – and can’t wait till we actually add the worms!

Stay tuned!

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Winter Worm Windrow – 12-09-09

Winter Worm Windrow Under Snow
Finally looking like a real winter worm composting extravaganza!

Figured I might as well include a winter windrow update along with the winter cat litter bed update I just posted. As mentioned, a big winter storm has hit our region and things are finally starting to look pretty wintry out there!

Things have been a little crazy as of late (those on the newsletter list will know why), so unfortunately I haven’t done quite as much work with this bed as I had hoped to do by now – and this neglect is starting to show.

Last time I reported that temperatures in the bed seemed to be right in the range I wanted to see (20 C / 68 F), but clearly there has been a temperature drop since then!

I actually did manage to get over to my dad’s place last week and we started bringing over some of the rotten straw bales from the old winter worm composting bed. We even added the material to the windrow – but I am starting to realize that the bed really needs a fair amount more material.

I’m still very optimistic though. My dad and I also brought over a LOT of wet coffee grounds that had been sitting in open containers out in his yard (reminds me, I really need to write a post about the worms we found in this stuff!). As I’ve written before, coffee grounds seem to be an excellent material for generating heat, so I’m hopeful that adding a bunch of it will help to get things back in the range I want to see.

I also have my jumbo food scrap bags which are still getting filled with food. My plan is to fill three of them, then bring them inside to warm up before adding the material to the bed. Hoping to also get a hold of some more straw bales (new and rotten), so that should really help in terms of keeping everything nicely insulated.

Stay tuned!

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Winter Cat Litter Composting – 12-09-09

Snowy Cat Litter Composting Bed
Whoops! I forgot to put a tarp over the cat litter bed before the big storm hit!

Looks like our very first winter storm of the year is here! Of course, I totally forgot to put a tarp down over top of the cat litter composting bed as I had planned! Oh well – no biggie!

I think the layer of “packing snow” will actually help to get things going a bit in the pile. The highest temperature I could find was around 10 C (50 F) – actually not too bad considering the fact that the bed has been completely exposed to the elements, but I’d still like to see it go up.

I poked a bunch of holes in the heap with my compost thermometer so that should help to get some oxygen down into the composting zone. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens over the next few days. If the snow doesn’t melt away at some point, I will likely just brush it off before adding the tarp(s).

Will keep everyone posted!

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