My latest batch of “homemade manure” – yummy, yummy (for worms)!
It’s been quite some time since I’ve made any mention of my “homemade manure” concept (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, be sure to check out these blog posts: “Homemade Manure” & “Homemade Manure Mania“).
Just as a review, the basic idea here is that I am attempting to create a nutritious “homemade” material that provides all (or at least most) of the great benefits offered by some (aged) livestock manure (of course, not all manures are created equal). In my mind, an ideal worm food provides a well-balanced nutritional profile (thus encouraging the development of a diverse microbial population), while also providing some “structure” and the oxygen-availability that goes along with it (i.e. we don’t want a big, gooey, anaerobic mess).
The first time around, I was using a LOT of food waste – material I spent many hours blending up, I might add! While it was certainly fantastic stuff, my time is definitely a lot more valuable than that (spending a morning producing a tub of worm food just doesn’t cut it). As such, this time I decided to use poultry feed as the primary “food” component. For the “structure”, water-retention, and C:N balance, I used multiple types of “bedding”: shredded cardboard (and brown paper), fall leaves, and coco coir. To kickstart the microbial community, I mixed in some molasses and also added a scoopful of compost ecosystem material at the end.
Here are the photos to basically show the process of creating my latest batch of homemade manure:
I filled the tub about half full with shredded cardboard then added lots of water (all said and done, it was probably around 2 or 3 gallons
After mixing/soaking cardboard & paper, I added some molasses
Next, some fall leaves I had on-hand
A few scoops of poultry feed
Some coconut coir to soak up liquid pooling in bottom
Scoopful of “compost ecosystem”
Homemade manure, all ready for chow time!
Adding homemade manure to winter worm windrow
As you can see, I decided to use the material right away in my big outdoor bed. I will likely make a few more batches of the stuff to REALLY help kick that system into overdrive in time for spring!
I am happy to report that making this time of homemade manure took far less time (would have been even faster if I had had the shredded cardboard all ready to go) since it was just a matter of mixing everything up.
I am very interested to see how the worms respond! I’ll certainly provide a follow-up at some point.
Ok, so here we are six days after I added 15 lb of bulky food waste to my experimental Worm Inn, and the level had gone down enough to warrant adding even more! So, I did just that – this time it was only 10 lb (haha). As you will see in the video, it almost didn’t even fit – but my trusty hand rake came to the rescue.
I have little doubt that I am NOT going to be able to simply continue processing wastes at this rate – there are a lot of resistant materials going in there, and I really haven’t done enough with them to ensure that they’ll end up broken down any time soon.
What I would like to start doing at some point is really focus on making the materials a lot more worm-friendly before adding them. I’m not sure I’ll go so far as to blend them all, but I will likely try to macerate them by hand as much as possible (after putting them in my deep freezer for a few days and letting them thaw out).
Anyway, this has been a lot of fun so far. Needless to say, I am blown away by the fact that the system has handled so much waste being added to it (without creating a horrible stench, killing off my worms etc etc).
Recorded a new video today, after noticing that the level in the system has dropped significantly.
A couple of important take away msgs:
1) I am NOT suggesting that anyone should attempt to overfeed a worm composting system like this – ESPECIALLY not if you are using an enclosed “Rubbermaid” type of system. This is just me having fun with one of my systems – keep in mind that I have a decade of worm composting experience and that this is one of my major passions in life – the last thing I would want to do is lead a vermicomposting newbie astray! Be sure to check out my “Getting Started” page if you are fairly new to the hobby.
2) I am NOT suggesting that plastic worm bins are “bad” – not by a long shot! They are great systems, especially when you are just starting out. They are very easy to set up and don’t cost much money. With proper aeration (be sure to check out my “Mini” Bin to see how this can be improved) and/or drainage you can probably process a fair amount of wastes in a medium to large bin system. I still use enclosed bins myself (mainly for experiments though), but have switched over to using a lot of open system (even a simple plastic tub without a lid works well).
Just a very quick post to point you in the direction of what looks to be a cool resource. Credit for the find goes to ‘Mark from Kansas’. He is in “research mode” at the moment (in case you are wondering why he has been so quite as of late), and came across a really interesting section all about Soil Biology on the USDA website: Soil Biology.
Some of you might wonder what “soil biology” has to do with worm composting (after all, we’re not using soil, right?) – well, there are certainly a lot of parallels, and a solid understanding of soil biology can indeed help a great deal when it comes to understanding the inner workings of your composting systems.
Anyway – just wanted to provide that link for those who might be interested. Thanks again to Mark for tracking it down.
I know these winter worm composting updates must be getting pretty boring, given how well the system has been doing, but alas, I still don’t have any major disasters to report on. Things have continued chugging along beautifully in the bed, even without much in the way of “food” being added.
As you can see, temperatures in the heart of the system are between 25 and 30 C (77 to 86 F), although the readings are a little lower on the remote temperature monitor I have sitting inside the house. I decided to unplug the string of rope lights a little while ago, and there seemed to be a minor dip in temperature, but nothing overly significant.
With the system doing so well, the REAL question of course, is how well the worm population is doing. I decided to finally do some serious digging around a few days ago to see for myself.
I quickly noticed that the springtail population seems to be doing just fine! Below you can see masses of them covering some green tomatoes that were once in my basement freezer (I didn’t do a great job with my food freezing last fall, and have decided to feed my worms with it instead).
I was happy to see that the Red Worms also seem to be doing well – definitely comparable (if not better) than in my big straw bale bed last winter!
Normally, even when you keep the system fairly warm, you just don’t end up seeing the same densities and size that you would during warmer weather. In the case of this system, I will likely be harvesting worms for customers fairly soon.
Since the bed volume seemed to have gone down a fair amount by the end of last week, I decided to add a bale of alfalfa hay over top. I am really interested to see how the worms react to this once it starts to break down!
To help things along a little, yesterday I buried some shredded cardboard then poured a watering can full of molasses-water over the central zone. Hopefully the cardboard will help to hold a bit more moisture up near the top (where the alfalfa is) making this zone a bit more inviting for microbes and worms alike!
Stay tuned! More boring updates on the way!
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
Winter Worm Windrow – 01-27-10
Winter Worm Windrow – 02-12-10
Has Bentley lost his mind!?! ~15 lb of food waste added at once!
I decided to really go off the deep end with my Worm Inn on Friday! I had a three bags of food scraps sitting out on my deck and I figured I might as well see if I could fit them in the system.
I even made a short video about it! As you’ll see, I decided it was also time to start harvesting some material from the bottom.
Before adding all this waste (14.87 lb to be exact) I did some digging around and was REALLY impressed with the incredible abundance of worms in the system. It’s amazing how a population of Red Worms will rise to the occasion when there is a serious quantity of food available. I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone should go out and totally over feed their bins though! I would NEVER do this with any sort of enclosed plastic tub system (unless it was huge, with plenty of air flow), and it may come back to bite me even with this system! We shall see.
As you can see in the image below, I added some peat most and a fair amount of mature compost material over top of all the waste – just to help suppress any odor that might develop while the worms are working on all this material.
So far so good – but we’ll see how things look a little later in the week!
As you can see, the plants have continued to grow in the vermiponics system. One correction to mention right off the bat though – in my last post I mentioned spinach seedlings coming up. As it turns out, those were actually more lettuce seedlings. The spinach has in fact been very slow to emerge, with only a few seedlings visible at this time.
I get the feeling my lighting set up isn’t powerful enough since the plants are looking a wee bit spindly. I AM using fluorescent “grow bulbs” but they are also very old, so maybe it would help to replace them. I should obviously start thinning the plants out as well since the overcrowding certainly isn’t helping the situation!
I’ve been digging around in the bed a little bit just to see if I could locate some worms. While I haven’t had much luck in that department, I did notice that there are a LOT of White Worms (aka “Pot Worms”), and the springtails seems to be doing very well also. I am pretty sure the worms are doing just fine – but I’ll have to wait for a while before I can do a real assessment.