February 2010

Worm Composting – The Fundamentals

Hi Everyone,
On a whim, I created a new video this afternoon. As the title implies, the aim is to provide an overview of the fundamentals of worm composting. It all started with me playing around with my favorite mindmapping software (Freemind). I love using this software since it’s a great way to get ideas out of your head and organized in a “big picture” manner.

This will probably seem like a bit of a dry offering in comparison to some of my other (more visually-appealing) videos, but hopefully it will serve as a good lesson for those just getting started, or thinking about getting started. In fact, I plan to add it to the “Getting Started” page for that exact reason.

Keep in mind that this was created for a YouTube audience – hence my mention of the Red Worm Composting website (obviously everyone watching the video here will be more than familiar with the site – haha).

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Four Worm Update – 02-16-10

Four Worm Reproduction Experiment

It’s been quite some time since I provided a “Four Worm Reproduction Experiment” update (in fact – the last time I wrote about it was when I added the worms at the beginning of January). There isn’t really anything exciting to report on, but at least this way you get a status report.

Something that occurred to me today (as I was digging around in the bin, trying to locate the worms) is the fact that choosing such a large bin might not have been such a bright idea, since it is almost certainly impeding the development of the worm population.

Despite digging around for a while, I was only able to located one or two worms (still not sure if it was the same one twice), and found no cocoons at all. It is safe to say that the worms have reached adulthood by now, but I just don’t think they are having a very easy time locating one another.

Red Worm

I still haven’t added any more food to the system since setting it up. I may do so fairly soon though since there is very little in the way of recognizable food waste left in the bin.

I’ll likely start looking for cocoons a bit more often now that I know that the worms are mature. I will also see if I can confirm that all four worms are still present in the system as well.

Stay tuned

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VermiPonics System – 02-12-10

Vermiponics System
Seedlings starting to emerge in the vermiponics bed

I guess it’s update-post day here on the blog (haha). Just wanted to let everyone know how the vermiponics system was coming along. As you can see, we’re starting to get some seedlings emerging in the bed! I wasn’t sure how quickly this would happen (or how quickly these plants typically germinate), but 2-3 days seems not too bad to me!

Vermiponics Radishes
Radish Seedlings

Vermiponics Lettuce
Lettuce Seedlings

Vermiponics Spinach
Spinach Seedlings

Vermiponics Garlic
The garlic plant has grown a little as well!

I’ve been curious to know how the worms are doing these days, but have resisted the urge to poke around (at least until the plants are fairly well-established). I have a sneaking suspicion that they are doing just fine.

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Winter Worm Windrow – 02-12-10

Compost Pile Temps Looking Good!

Super quick winter worm composting update. Temperatures have been gradually increasing since the last time I did anything with the pile (late last week, if I remember correctly), and have been over 20 C (68 F) for the last few days (even during the night).

I haven’t even touched the two bales of hay (grass and alfalfa) my dad brought over last week, but I did add (last week) a plastic garbage can full of leaf/grass waste from last fall, mixed with food waste – so that has certainly helped!

Hoping to spend a bit more time with the bed next week to see how the worms are doing!

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Garbage Can Potatoes

Compost Potatoes

I always get a kick out of watching all sorts of plants germinate and start to grow in my various vermicomposting bins and beds. I always feel badly for the ones that pop up in my dark enclosed bins since they always look so spindly and pitiful. In my outdoor systems it can actually get a bit annoying plucking all the seedling tomatoes etc etc out – well, the ones I don’t allow to grow, that is (see “Compost Bin Tomatoes“).

Quite some time ago, I noticed some potatoes sprouting in one of the plastic garbage cans I keep down in my basement. Of course, I’m not just talking about any old garbage cans here – these are bins containing older worm compost/habitat material.

As per usual, I didn’t give it too much thought – assuming the spud sprouts would simply end up in the “spindly and pitiful” category mentioned above.

Well ok, they ARE pretty spindly, but as you can see they’ve continued to grow up towards the light (the cans have other bins etc sitting on top of them, so not all that much light shining in), and are now even sprouting some leaves! I’m not all that optimistic that I’ll end up with a potato crop or anything (haha), but it’s still pretty cool!

I’d be interested to hear from others re: the sorts of plants that have popped up in your composting/vermicomposting systems!

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The Strawberry Store Vermicomposts

By Michael Wellik

For over 20 years I have been collecting varieties of gourmet strawberries of several species. This includes Fragaria vesca (alpine), F. moschata (musk), F. virginiana (Virginia) and several heirloom hybrids.

A recent video on YouTube shows pictures and introduces these strawberries:

Growing many open pollinated varieties like this has its challenges. The alpines are the only varieties propagated from seed.

Michael Wellik Inspects Strawberry Seedlings
Michael Wellik inspects alpine strawberry seedlings

Our seed produced varieties are sown almost every month of the year. The challenges include dealing with insect and disease pests in our seedling nursery. Another recent YouTube video shows how we do this:

Specifically, we have to deal with heavy populations of fungus gnats and several soil borne diseases like pythium (damping off) and rhizoctonia (root rot). I had little defense against the diseases since my business was and is certified All Natural. All I could do is manage irrigation to control conditions that are favorable for the diseases. For the gnats I was using a Bti formulation called Gnatrol that is not strong on all larval stages of this insect. Large populations of this pest lead to all stages of this pest being present at the same time. Vacuuming the adults was also a control method along with many yellow sticky traps which are really meant more for monitoring rather than controlling this pest.

About 4 years ago my wife, Maureen, watched a segment of on a “green” channel about an ex NFL football player in Michigan who was growing vegetable transplants in his greenhouse using vermicompost from his worm farm. She urged me to produce organic fertilizer using worms. The saga begins.

I setup a “Rubbermaid” bin and purchased some red wigglers to get started. The bin was always very wet from adding food scraps from our kitchen. When the lid was opened the worms were on the sides and the underside of the lid. I guessed that they wanted to escape. There had to be a better way of doing this. I started looking at a lot of different types of bins in an effort to recycle organic materials and produce vermicompost for my strawberry business.

At a time when I was very frustrated with the pest situation and also with the worm bins, I received a large wholesale order from a landscaper from upstate New York. I checked out his website and one interesting thing that I found was that he was brewing a vermicompost tea and spraying it on customer’s lawns. I did a ton of online research and contacted the landscaper for information. My pitiful worm farm wasn’t producing enough vermicompost to use so I purchased a bag from an online supplier. I chose a supplier who had a kit and instructions for brewing tea.

Compost Tea Brewer

I brewed a 2 gallon batch of tea using 2 oz of vermicompost per gallon of water. The brewing process used an air pump and air stones purchased at a pet store. The first batch of tea was applied to a couple of plug trays as a drench. It was a desperation drench. I was surprised that there were no ill effects of the tea so I brewed more and applied it to more trays. At every irrigation, I drenched with tea. It seemed that the plants were responding and greening up and pest pressure seemed to be easing. I was amazed.

From there I started amending my soiless organic mix with vermicompost. I tested rates of amendment from 10% vermicompost: soiless mix to 100% in 10% increments. There were benefits. It seemed that 20% was the minimal rate and since I didn’t have any of my own production yet I decided to use that rate. The top end of amendment appeared to be 70% vermicompost: soilless mix. Above that rate the plants seemed to be stunted.

To this day I use the same rates as a soil amendment and for brewing tea. Our tea brewer has grown to be a 35 gallon tank [image] and a double outlet air pump. Instead of air stones I’m now using ¼” soaker hose. For the brewing process I now use different additives to feed the microorganisms that are being encouraged to grow during the brewing process. These additives include unsulfured molasses and soluble kelp to grow the good bacteria. To encourage fungal growth humates are added to the brewer. I also purchased a KIS 5 gallon brewer and am comparing it to my home made system. The research never ends but the pest pressure that I once dealt with has subsided. The pests have not been eliminated but they are manageable now.

The business is growing and so is the need for more and more vermicompost. Much of the current testing involves vermiculture and vermicomposting. We are looking at bin designs like the OSCR bin. I built one last fall and am just now in early February 2010 starting to regularly harvest very rich vermicompost. The upside with this system is that harvest is greatly simplified.

Vermicomposting has changed our production system for the best. The business is now sustainable. Organic waste is converted by the worms to a usable product that not only feeds the plants but protects them from pests.

Michael Wellik is a trained entomologist and expert strawberry grower. You can peruse his strawberry selection at The Strawberry Store, and learn about his vermicomposting activities (and business) on his Vermitec website.

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VermiPonics System – 02-09-10

Vermiponics System

Things have been chugging along nicely in my new mini vermiponics system. Since getting things set up last week, I have started to stock the system with some worms and have added a bit more poultry feed to help get them started.

I’ve also been adding some compost ecosystem material over top of the upper gravel layer so the seeds will have a good zone for germination. This should also help the worms to feel a little more at home as well.

Speaking of seeds, on a recent visit to the grocery store I noticed they were starting to sell seed packets so I decided to grab a few for this system. Their selection was pretty poor, but I think we’ve got a nice little selection for the vermiponics garden.

Seeds Planted in my Vermiponics System

As you can see, I chose lettuce, spinach and radishes. I think these will be fun (and relatively fast) to grow, and will do fairly well in my coolish basement. Planting them simply involved sprinkling the seeds in three different zones of the bed, then covering up with a thin layer of the compost material (which was then moistened with a spray bottle).

I think we’ll see some other plants pop up as well. I noticed that some pepper seeds had germinated in the material I was adding to the bed, and there seemed to be a fair number of the seeds being included in general.

I also saw some germinating garlic cloves so I decided to plant one of these (pictured below) in the bed as well!

Vermiponics Garlic

Oh – one other things to mention. I noticed that the water in the reservoir was forming an ugly film on the top (despite the fact that water is constantly cycling through the bed and down into the reservoir) so I decided to add an extra boost of oxygen via an aquarium air pump (with tubing and an air stone).

I must say, this project has me feeling like a little kid again! Oh wait – I kinda feel like that every day! A little kid…in a candy store! Yeah, that’s it!

I can’t wait to see what happens!

Stay tuned!

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