January 2010

Winter Worm Windrow – 01-16-10

Remote Weather Monitor
Not QUITE as warm as I would like to see!


Some of you may recall that my dad and I attempted to monitor temperatures in our big worm bed (sitting in his backyard) last year using a remote weather station (first written about here: Winter Worm Composting – 12-08-08). Well, it didn’t end up working quite as effectively as we had hoped, so we ended up sticking with our trusty long-stemmed thermometer for temp readings in the bed.

Remote Weather Monitor

Perhaps my dad is stubborn (like me), or simply an optimist, because this year for Christmas he ended up giving me yet another one of these systems to try out (in my own winter windrow)!
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I guess I am an optimist too, since I found myself working quickly (by my standards) to get the system up and running in the bed (i.e. it didn’t end up sitting in a closet until next winter – haha). Now that it is up and running, I am even more excited about it – actually seeing a live reading from the bed (as low as it seems to be) is just really cool!

I obviously didn’t just want to toss the monitor in the bed without any sort of protection. Even though it is designed to be weather-proof, somehow I doubt there would EVER be weather conditions that would come close to what you’d find in the middle of an active compost pile! So, I decided to toss it into a sealed ziplock bag full of drink-tray cardboard shreds, which will hopefully help to keep it nice and dry (not to mention clean).

When I took some readings yesterday using my regular compost thermometer, temps seemed to be all over the map. Initially, it looked really dismal, with most of the temps basically down around the 4-6 C (~ 39-43 F) range, but then I suddenly found a zone that had temps up between 25 and 30 C (77-86 F)!! Very odd!

Hopefully things will start to balance themselves out a bit. After turning the rope lights off the other day, I ended up deciding to turn them on once again, at least until things seem to really be back on track!

As you can see in the first picture – the location where my remote temperature sensor is sitting is still pretty cool! I just looked again and temps seem to have risen up to 7.2 C (44.96 F), and it is cloudy today, so it’s at least warmer than when I was taking readings earlier in the week!

Anyway – it should be fun to keep an eye on temps using this remote monitor! Makes me feel like I have my own high-tech composting operation! haha
8)

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

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50 Cocoon Challenge – 01-14-10

50 Cocoon Challenge - Cardboard
50 Cocoon Challenge cardboard-only system – looking almost exactly the same as when we began!


I’m sure some of you must be wondering what on earth is going on with my current “50 Cocoon Challenges” (cardboard & straw) these days.

Believe it or not, I actually found a baby worm in the cardboard challenge bin a few days after getting it set up (and of course, had every intention of writing about it! haha), but not a whole lot has changed in the bin since then. There ARE a few more tiny worms out and about now, but I was unable to find any larger worms – let alone adults! One of the difficulties associated with using corrugated cardboard is that I have no idea how many worms might be living inside some of the pieces (Red Worms LOVE to wiggle into the channels that run through the middle of this material). The cardboard itself doesn’t really seem to be decomposing at all. I thought for sure that we’d at least see some sort of fungus setting up shop, but if this IS happening, it certainly isn’t obvious!

The straw challenge bin seems to be showing a similar lack of decomposition (again, I was definitely expecting to see at least some fungal mycelia in there). The straw does appear to be a fair bit darker in color, but that’s about it.

50 Cocoon Challenge - Straw

What’s interesting though, is that there definitely ARE some larger worms in the straw bin. I was not able to locate any adults yet, but found at least 3 or 4 (might have counted one of them twice) worms that were similar in size to those added to my “four worm reproduction experiment“.

50 Cocoon Challenge - Red Worm

One thing is for sure – there won’t be worms in either one of these bins maturing as quickly as those in either my manure challenge, or my original food waste challenge systems. I can’t say I’m too surprised! We are talking about high C:N materials here, so neither are going to be able to support the same sort of microbial biomass (and thus food value) as those other two.

I am still definitely interested to see what happens in these systems over the long-haul though!
8)

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Mark’s OSCR – 01-13-10

Hi again,

Well it’s like this; you see I’m one of those guys that can’t leave my bin alone. I was looking at my trash weight and was thinking “how deep is the worm bed?” 10 inches if you were wondering, yep, 40 inches by 48 inches and 10 inches deep.

I had a small hole in the middle, it was like a chimney, I noticed warm air would rise and I thought “cool what a great way to keep the surface warm”, so, I made the hole a little bigger and it worked perfectly.

Now here is the funny part, when I was measuring the depth I pushed my level through the chimney to get a measure and it got stuck. (Like this)


Then I tapped it down harder with my rubber mallet. (Like this)


Wouldn’t you know it, the level was hung up on the heater cable; I snapped it right in half!

Plan B

I have a lot of time and money invested in this bin, not to mention how many worms that are thriving in my garage. I have sweat equity in this bin, I can’t let them freeze, and I would lose too much money.

I had to put a space heater in the harvest chamber (it has a thermostat) to keep it warm. It has been doing well and I haven’t lost bin heat. The addition of the space heater is a major change from the way my OSCR was set up from the beginning and what I have been writing about. I installed a cover over top of it so no moisture would drip into the heater (the blue thing).


My bin is 40 inches by 48 inches and 10 inches deep.

These pictures show what red worms can do to garbage under optimum conditions. 581 pounds of trash reduced to how many cubic feet in 13 weeks?



This stuff would still be in the landfill today if not for the worms being kept warm. I only intend to use the space heater for another 8 weeks and then turn it off till next winter.

There are those who are opposed to artificial heat. My feeling is that this is MY herd and I am not breaking any rules about vermicomposting, this is my research and future business.


‘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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Winter Worm Windrow – 01-13-10

Compost Thermometer
Now THAT’S more like it!


Hi Everyone,
I just wanted to provide a quick update post on the winter worm windrow front. As you can see (in the picture), things are definitely looking up already!

Yesterday after I wrote my blog post I added some food waste and some molasses-water to the bed, and also buried a decent sized “hot water bottle” (simply filled a big jug with hot water) in the middle as well – all in an effort to help get some sort of upward temperature trend started.

Interestingly enough, the temps in the bed were already up a little bit by that point (but nothing to get overly excited about), so I was fairly optimistic that I would find a somewhat warmer worm bed by today. I certainly didn’t expect to find any temps close to 20 C (68 F) though! (I actually ended up finding a warmer zone than the one I was reading for the photo above).

In some ways I definitely lucked out this week! Apart from all the great stuff that’s been added to the bed, the weather has actually warmed up a fair bit, and it has been quite sunny! The tarp is black, so it’s safe to say that any sunlight falling on the bed can certainly help to warm it up. Temperatures are actually expected to climb just above the freezing mark by Saturday (still with sunny conditions), so think the bed is definitely going to be in really good shape by early next week. In fact, I will more than likely unplug the rope lights sometime over the next few days and see if I can maintain decent temps without them.

Anyway – just wanted to share that with everyone!
Whoohoo!
8)

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

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Winter Worm Windrow – 01-12-10

Winter Worm Bed
Winter Worm Windrow – On the road to recovery? We shall see!


As newsletter subscribers will likely know by now, things have NOT been going all that well on the “winter worm windrow” front. Unfortunately, I haven’t had all that much time to tend to the system since my last update (“Winter Worm Windrow – 12-09-09“), and not too surprisingly, temperatures have only gone down since then.

Compost Thermometer

When my dad and I opened up the tarp yesterday, it became pretty clear that the situation was even worse than expected. The upper materials were completely frozen and the warmest temps we could find further down seemed to be in the 4 C (~ 39 F) range.

My dad brought me a bale of hay and a bale of straw, and I had already been warming up some coffee grounds and food scraps indoors for a number of days (they had been sitting outside previously), so I was feeling optimistic as we started our rehabilitation efforts.

I decided to start be breaking up and spreading out some of the uppermost materials so as to provide us with a more stable surface upon which to pile all our new bedding/food. Next, I connected a length of rope lights to an outdoor extension cord and ran them through the middle of the bed.

I’m sure many of you will recall the post I wrote about using rope lights as a potential method for warming up indoor worm bins (see “Winter Worm Bin Heating – A Novel (and Festive?) Approach“). Well, given the grim situation I seemed to be facing with my outdoor bed, I thought it might be more appropriate to test the lights as a means of helping to warm up my windrow.

Once the length of lights was partially buried, we then added a bunch of shredded cardboard. I wanted to have an absorbent layer to add the coffee grounds and food waste on top of, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to bulk up the bed with some more carbon-rich material in general.

Next we added a thick layer of hay (which should provide both food and insulation), before dumping all the coffee grounds on top

We covered the grounds with another thick layer of hay before adding the food waste (which looked a lot less impressive, volume-wise, than it had while sitting in my “jumbo food scrap bags“)

We added one last layer of straw, then I poured a mixture of water and “friendly microbes” (originally purchased for bokashi making) – which also contains some molasses – over the bed, primarily in the zone where the rope lights are hopefully going to help warm things up. Hopefully this will help to kickstart some more microbial activity (thus generation of warmth).

Watering Can

Finally, we added a ratty old blanket, to serve as a bit of extra insulation, before covering the bed with the tarp once more.

I decided not to bother adding any of the straw just yet. I figured there was no point adding heaps and heaps of extra insulation before there was any real warming going on since it will only end up getting in the way as I tend to the bed this week.

I am planning to pour a water/molasses mixture on the bed today, and may even bury a hot water bottle in the middle to see if I can help to get things rolling.

The problem with a big mass like this is that once it gets super cold it can be VERY difficult to get it heading back in a positive direction!

Hope fully we can do it!
8)

Stay tuned!

Previous Winter Worm Windrow Posts
Winter Worm Composting Windrow
Winter Worm Windrow – 12-03-09
Winter Worm Windrow – 12-09-09

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Mark’s OSCR – 01-08-10

Hi everyone – just a quick post for you! Here are some photos of my bin this morning. The outside temp is 0 with a wind chill of -15 degrees F!


Ice on OSCR
Uh oh – ice on the outside of my bin!


Compost Thermometer
82 degrees F in the bin! That’s warmer than my house!



‘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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The Coffee Grounds Conundrum – Part II

Coffee Grounds Sludge
Wet, sloppy coffee grounds sludge from bins sitting outside at my dad’s place


I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, and finally tracked down the photos this evening. Some of you may recall my original “Coffee Grounds Conundrum” post, in which I outlined some of the ways that coffee can tend to be a rather unpredictable vermicomposting food material.

Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve encountered a situation even MORE baffling than those described last time!

Early in December, my dad and I made an effort to start transporting some of the rotten straw bales from last year’s winter worm composting bed over to my place so I could use the material for my winter worm windrow.

Remembering that my dad also still had a significant quantity of coffee grounds sitting out in his yard (in bins), I decided it might not be a bad idea to take that material back home as well (coffee seems to be really effective in terms of helping to generate heat). The bins that the grounds were sitting in were completely open to the elements, so needless to say the grounds themselves were basically a stinky anaerobic sludge.

Here’s where things get bizarre…

As soon as we started digging into the material (in order to transfer it to the bins I’d be taking home) we started finding concentrations of Red Worms. Not just any ol’ run-of-the-mill Red Worms either – most of them were BIG!
They certainly weren’t distributed throughout the grounds, but the fact that there were any in there at all is pretty mind boggling!

Red Worm in Coffee Sludge

Here’s the real kicker though – we have NO clue how the worms got in there in the first place. My memory is a little hazy now, but I KNOW for sure that at least one of the containers was a heavy duty plastic garbage can with no holes in it whatsoever.

The only thing I can imagine is that the shovel I used to fill the can with grounds (before transporting to my dad’s place) had some Red Worm cocoons on it and they eventually hatched in the material. That might explain why the worms were able to survive in such nasty conditions (when they hatch into a given environment they tend to be much better able to adapt than when they are introduced as adults).

Anyway – I just thought this was really intriguing, and certainly worth sharing…even a month later!
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