January 2010

Worm Towers Revisted

I’ve been writing so much about WINTER worm composting lately that I figured it was high time I moved on to…uhhh…greener pastures (haha) – and what better place to start than with a post relating to one of my FAVORITE topics – vermi-gardening!

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post about a cool vermicomposting system called a “worm tower” that I came across on YouTube. As mentioned in that post, this is similar to an idea I’ve been meaning to test out myself for quite some time now (this year is definitely THE YEAR!!! haha) , involving the partial burial of a plastic garbage can composter in my garden.

Anyway, I learned recently that my good worm-friend Cassandra has been using worm towers quite successfully in her garden beds, and even made a video about it – so I thought it would be cool to post it here!

I’m certainly a diehard vermicomposting trench fanatic, but what’s great about these small towers is that you can basically place them wherever you want in the bed! I definitely want to set up a bunch of these this year.

One other thing that really caught my attention in Cassandra’s video was her use of a straw bale as a garden bed! I had hoped to do something similar with the straw bale walls of my former winter worm composting bed, and my dad even planted a bunch of seeds for me (again, this system sits in his backyard), but we didn’t end up having much luck with it. Whether it was poor germination or some rodent munching away on the seedlings that DID emerge, it was a pretty dismal show all around. I would like to try it again though!

Anyway, if you want to learn more about Cassandra and her raised bed gardens, be sure to check out her Organic Raised Bed Gardening website. She also blogs about her fun with vermicomposting at Go To Worms.

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Winter Worm Windrow – 01-27-10

Winter Worm Composting

Things have continued to chug along quite nicely in our Winter Worm Windrow for the past week. The remote temperature probe has consistently been displaying readings in the 15-23 C (59-73.4 F) range for the most part. We are finally now getting back into some real winter weather so I figured I should be proactive and get some more material heaped onto the bed this afternoon.

I’ve had a bunch of containers of manure taking up space down in the basement so I thought I’d start with those.

Manure Buckets

The total volume of manure would likely be in the range of 50-60 gallons (I don’t know the exact volume of the Rubbermaid tubs so I can’t say for sure) – so not a massive amount by any means, but still enough to help keep things nice and warm in the bed.

When I first pulled back the tarp (before adding the manure), I took some temp readings using my long-stemmed thermometer and was happy to see 20 C + (68 F +) throughout much of the bed. Things definitely seem to be balancing themselves out quite nicely.

Winter Worm Windrow

Rather than burying the manure, as I had done with the first two buckets (added back when I first received the material), I decided to simply dump it across the top of the bed, and then to add a thick layer of new straw over top.

Winter Worm Composting Bed

Sometime fairly soon, I will pour some more molasses water onto the bed to help ensure that there is enough moisture up in the manure layer, and to provide the microbes with some more “fuel”.

I know my over-confidence tends to come back and bite me when it comes to winter composting (haha), BUT I just can’t help but feel a LOT more optimistic that this experiment is going to end up being a success (i.e. we’ll be able to maintain warmish temperatures in the bed for the remainder of the winter).

February tends to be the coldest month of the year up here though, so we shall have to wait and see!

Previous Winter Worm Windrow Posts
Winter Worm Composting Windrow
Winter Worm Windrow – 12-03-09
Winter Worm Windrow – 12-09-09
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-12-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-13-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-16-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-20-10

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My new collembolacomposting bin all set-up and ready to roll!

In the last edition of the RWC email newsletter I included an article I wrote about “springtails” (Phylum” Arthropoda, Subclass: Collembola). These are tiny insect-like critters (they used to be included with the insects, but this is no longer the case) that are extremely common in a wide variety of different habitats – including various types of composting systems.

I’ve always been curious to know how significant a role they can play in the (worm-)composting process, since I know they love to eat microbes (primarily fungi, I believe) just as the worms themselves do. I joked in the newsletter about potentially setting up a “collembolacomposting” bin to see what these little guys can do on their own.

Well, today I decided to actually go ahead with the plan, and our collembolacomposting experiment is officially underway!

I have little doubt that springtails won’t be the ONLY critters in the bin. I don’t know how many of you have ever tried to capture springtails one at a time, but it’s NOT easy! I ended up having to add small amounts of compost along with some of these guys. I’m sure there will be various other eggs etc included with that material (even given the tiny amount added), and that we’ll start to see various mites etc popping up as well. The important thing is that there be NO earthworms!

Luckily, I happen to have a big plastic garbage can full of old leaves, grass clippings and food waste down in my basement (which will be added to my Winter Windrow fairly soon), so it was very easy to get the springtail bin set up this morning. I also ended up mixing in some other dry fall leaves I’ve had sitting around as well. Springtails seem to like conditions that are somewhat drier than those ideal for worm composting (one thing you will notice if you have these critters is that they come to the surface any time water is added, or when conditions just generally become wet down below).

As you can see, springtails are pretty tiny!

A close-up shot of the same springtails

Anyway – It should be fun to see how things develop in the bin!
Stay tuned!

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Mark’s OSCR – 01-25-10

Hi everybody,

I’m going into the 15th week with my OSCR. If you remember, one of the goals of the OSCR is to reduce labor by having the Vermicompost flow through. Well, that is not happening. In one of my earlier posts, I reported that the heater cable wasn’t working the way I wanted to and then I broke the cable. I resorted to a space heater in the harvest chamber because we were experiencing below zero temperatures.

The problem with that is the space heater dries out the bottom, as a result, no flowing through of the Vermicompost. One thing that had me scratching my head was, with all of the trash I have added, why is the bed itself only 10 inches deep? Or 11 cubic feet (thank you for the calculation Eve).

On January 16th, Letty gave me some melon.

She suggested that if we take the two halves, one faced up and one faced down, and put them in the bin, the worms would gather on the melon and we could harvest some worms. Before we did that I β€œfluffed” the bin.

On the 23rd of January, I could not find the melons. After pondering the disappearance of the melon and all other observations, I need to do a dump harvest. Enjoy this video.


‘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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Worm Inn Journal – 01-22-10

Worm Inn Pro

Well it’s certainly been a loooooong time since my last “Worm Inn Journal” entry, so I decided today was the day! I dunno if I have some sort of vermi-clock in my head or what, but I always seem to write these updates after a very specific amount of time has passed (3 weeks, 1 month etc). In this case, it’s been exactly 3 MONTHS since my last WIJ post!

Trivial observations aside…

Part of the reason I wanted to start writing about my Worm Inn again is due to the fact that I want to start keeping tracking of how much material I am adding (and eventually removing) from the system. I’ve actually been giving this system a lot of attention (by my standards) in recently weeks just to see how much of a difference it can make, and I’ve been quite impressed with the results. As you may (or may not) recall, all I did was add a couple bags of pretty poor quality “compost ecosystem” material (basically old habitat, with SOME cocoons and worms in it) when I first set up the system, but the worm population seems to have grown by leaps and bounds since then. SO, I think we are ready to see what this puppy can really do!

As I wrote earlier in the week, I recently obtained some horse manure. This is really fresh stuff – and is primarily intended for my winter windrow bed – but I decided to add some to my Inn (all at the top, just to be safe) to help provide a good starting place. From here on out, I will likely stick to “regular” home vermicomposting materials like food waste, coffee grounds, cardboard etc.

I certainly don’t expect to be posting numbers like Mark from Kansas (whose OSCR bin has engulfed 600+ lb of waste without even breaking a sweat – haha!) – but of course we ARE dealing with a pretty significant size differerence here!

Anyway – it should be fun!
I’ll be sure to post my next update in the next week or two.

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Winter Worm Windrow – 01-20-10

Not too shabby!

Just a quick winter worm composting update (hopefully everyone isn’t getting sick of these!). Things have continued to warm up in the windrow, with some zones actually borderline HOT. It always amazes me what can be done with a relatively small amount of waste and some good insulation! Oh, and a black tarp never hurts! haha!

Yes, today is sunny, so that is certainly contributing, but the bed has been on an upward trend in general so I’m happy about that.

I recently obtained a decent amount of horse manure, and I’ve started adding that (a couple of small buckets) to the cooler end of the bed. I dug around a bit more today in an effort to find worms, but I’m still not seeing all that many. I’m sure the rope lights have contributed to this, but I’ve now unplugged them so hopefully more worms will feel comfortable moving up in the bed.

Still lots of work to do in order to get this bed in really good shape – but we certainly seem to be making good progress so far!

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One Person’s Trash…

Nesting Plastic Trays

…is a vermicomposters TREASURE??

I am often amazed by some of the stuff people throw out! Quite some time ago, my dad told me about some colorful trays that some local university students had put out for trash pick-up. Having spent enough time learning about (and of course taking part in) my vermicomposting activities/business, he knew instantly that I would put them to good use.

Vermicomposting aside, in all honesty I am REALLY surprised that anyone would throw these things out. They are fully-intact (no cracks etc) and could certainly be used in any number of small-scale storage applications. I won’t complain though, since this is definitely a serious “score” for me!
[You know you are a worm-head WHEN…]

Some might adapt these stacking tubs into some sort of flow-through worm composting system – but I will simply be using them as temporary holding/concentrating containers. I’m sure some of you will remember my “turbo light-harvesting method“. The big trays I use for that are fantastic, but it also helps to have smaller trays to hold (and further concentrate, if need be) those worms that have been harvested.

I have a tiny kitty litter box that has – up until these bins came along – been one of my most useful holding containers, but somehow I don’t foresee it being used all that much any more!

Anyway – I would love to hear from anyone out there who has found really cool “garbage” that has ended being useful in your vermicomposting efforts! Once you are truly hooked, every empty container suddenly becomes a potential worm bin, right?

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