Cat Litter Composting-04-30-10
Back at the beginning of December I wrote about my plans to keep a (compostable) cat litter worm bed active all winter (see “Winter Cat Litter Composting Bed“), along with my main “Winter Worm Composting Windrow“. Well, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped they would (thanks to a big winter storm that blew in and caught me off-guard), and that component of my “Winter Composting Extravaganza” was abandoned.
Now that warmish weather has once again arrived I’ve been having a look at the bed to see how things are coming along. If you compare the above picture to this one (from the December post)…
…you’ll notice that the overall volume has certainly decreased! So clearly, even despite the fact that I wasn’t able to keep the bed “active” over the winter, something was still going on (of course, most of the activity likely occurred this spring).
Naturally, the big question on my mind has been: “how is the worm population doing?”. To find out, I’ve been digging around in the pile a bit every now and again this spring. Initially, the results weren’t exactly awe-inspiring! I found some worms down on the lower edge of the bed, but couldn’t find many further up.
The colonization of the pile still seems to be a work-in-progress (I wrote “worm in progress” on my first try – haha), but there are definitely a lot more worms to be found in the main bed! What’s interesting is that they seem to be mostly concentrated in the outer layers of the heap, and present in concentrated groups (i.e. they are by no means evenly distributed throughout the upper layers of the bed.
I think it’s just a matter of time before this bed is absolutely crawling with Red Worms. Now that consistently warm weather seems to have arrived, I don’t think it will take too long! I recently added some cocoon-rich material from another source as well (more about that in an upcoming post), so that should certainly help!
Anyway – I will definitely keep everyone posted!
**NOTE** – Cat litter composting warrants some caution, and should generally only be attempted by those with previous composting experience. Any dog or cat waste composting systems should dedicated to those waste materials alone (i.e. don’t toss them in your ‘regular’ compost bins), and should not be set up near any water sources. Cat litter shouldn’t be handled at all by pregnant women or young children.
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Do Worms Like Homemade Manure?
I think so!
This morning I was checking on a section of one of my outdoor worm windrows (worm beds currently sitting over top of my vermicomposting trenches) where I had added a lot of “homemade manure” not too long ago, and was totally blown away by the number of worms concentrated in this zone. What’s interesting is that I added lots of “real” aged manure (aka “worm candy”) to these beds not too long ago (and yes, I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since – haha), and the resident worms (those that overwintered in the trenches, along with countless others that hatched out this spring) absolutely went to town on it. It was like a worm magnet! My point here is that they LOVE this manure…yet the homemade stuff seems to be even more appealing!
It didn’t always look that way though! When I first made it I ended up letting it sit for quite a few days in the garbage can I mixed it up in. This was great for rotting it down and getting the cardboard nice and soggy, but I think it also allowed it to go pretty anaerobic. When I first put it in the windrow (likely for the first 2-3 days) the worms wouldn’t go near it! Then all of a sudden they went crazy for it!
Anyway, I definitely think I need to do some experiments with this stuff!
The Mad Worm Genius
Well, it seems Barabara (my new trusty worm news correspondent – haha!) has gone and outdone herself! Yesterday she pointed me in the direction of one the most interesting worm articles I’ve ever read. This one has nothing to do with worm composting, but if you happen to have any interest in the worm industry, or just generally have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, you’ll definitely want to check it out.
The article is called “A worm farm rewrites the start-up rules”, and tells the story of one Bruno Durant, a french Worm Farmer who moved his family to the U.S. in the early 90’s to start up a large-scale bait worm business (Silver Bait LLC) in Georgia (they later relocated to Tennessee). To me, that much of the story was fairly intriguing on its own – but it was the details about how he’s actually been running the operation that really blew me away.
Rather than relying on others for construction, supplies etc, he has basically done EVERYTHING (and I mean EVERYTHING) himself! Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
French-born, 50-year-old Durant grows 300 acres of corn here, to feed his worms, and he harvests it with second-hand machinery he renovated in his onsite equipment-maintenance building. He invented his own machinery to harvest the worms and he is about to complete work on a device that will mechanise most of the rest of the worm-culture process.
He’s also about to put in place a full-scale packing line (designed by himself and built in his onsite machine shop). The worms are dispatched for sale in small plastic containers made in his onsite injection-moulding machine and are delivered to his customers – bait wholesalers across the eastern US – in his company’s refrigerated trucks. He does purchase peat from Canada as the growing medium for his worms. But that’s about all he buys in.
As the author discusses, this isn’t exactly a typical approach for setting up a thriving business venture – especially in this day and age (with increasing focus on specialization etc) – but somehow Durant has made it work, and work WELL! Here are a couple more interesting tidbits…
Although Durant is unwilling to reveal much about Silver Bait’s finances – and as it’s a privately owned company, he doesn’t have to – he is clearly making money. A truckload of worms can be worth $30,000 wholesale, and a truck is on the road to customers at least weekly. Durant employs 15 to 20 people full-time all year and adds seasonal workers to meet demand. He concedes that the business is worth “several million” dollars.
Bruno Durant, then, is to fishing worms what Wayne Huizenga was to rubbish collection (Waste Management, Inc) and video rentals (Blockbuster): someone who saw a fragmented, inefficient business that he could make new. Through the scale of his operation, he could bring order to the sector, gain customer loyalty as a reliable supplier and take advantage of lower production costs to turn worm farming from a near-hobby into a serious business.
Be sure to check out the full article here: “A worm farm rewrites the start-up rules”
Thanks again to Barbara for the great find!
Red Worms in the News!
I received a fantastic email from one of our readers (Barbara), informing me about a handful of news articles focused on the topic of worm composting. I was going to start up a brand new category here on the blog so I could post all news mentions there, but realized that we do indeed have a category called “News” – so this will be the new home of these types of posts. If you come across vermicomposting news stories – please do pass them along!
“Diners in the basement: Restaurant feeds worms too”
This is a VERY interesting article (from the Associated Press) about a restaurant in Idaho that uses a lot of its food waste (~ 100 lb a day) to feed a large worm composting bed in the basement.
Here is the intro blurb:
For eco-restaurateur Dave Krick, it’s not just about where his food comes from, but also where it’s going.
And in the case of his Red Feather Lounge and Bittercreek Ale House, some 100 pounds of it a day are feeding an extra 200,000 diners — Vermont red wiggler worms that live in the restaurants’ basement, working around the clock to turn kitchen waste into nutrient-rich compost.
Be sure to check out the full article >>HERE<<
“Worms are an easy-to-love fertilizer”
This article provides a decent overview of vermicomposting, written from a beginner’s perspective. He mentions “African Red Wigglers” as being the most commonly used worms which is definitely misleading (the most common “African” composting worm is the African Nightcrawler, and they certainly aren’t used nearly as often as Red Worms).
Here is a blurb:
A starter population of a half-pound (200 to 300 worms, or about two handfuls) goes through about five pounds of well-chopped kitchen scraps a week, a process that can be speeded up by first freezing the food (thus breaking up cellular walls). They can be fed daily or less often, and the finer the dice, the more the worms eat and the faster they reproduce. Avoid wheat, citrus, garlic, bones, dairy and oil. They’re fine with onions, shredded newspaper, coffee grounds (and paper filters), tea bags (remove the staple). They love melon, including the rind.
I always caution people about these guidelines regarding how much worms can eat, but I definitely agree with the idea of chopping and/or freezing the wastes first!
Anyway, be sure to check out the full article >>HERE<<
“Turning garbage into gold”
This is an article about worm composting in Palo Alto California.
They might not have names, but the worms in Kristen and John Anderson’s College Terrace worm composter are still the family’s pets. Eight-year-old Sophie loves to play with the wriggly critters and John says they do seem to have their own personalities.
Read the full article >>HERE<<
Thanks again to Barbara for sharing these!
Early last week I received a VERY cool “present” in the mail in the form of a small-scale flood and drain hydroponics system. Someone (who had been following my earlier vermiponics series) is quite keen to have me test it out for them, and potentially sell these units from my website at some point. While I’m always open to new revenue-generation ideas for the site (since these allow me to devote more time to the project), I also really want to be familiar with the things I’m selling so that I can be sure my customers are receiving really good value. Given the fact that I’ve been trying to come up with a ideas for how to build my first outdoor vermiponics test system, the timing of all this has worked out very well! I am definitely NOT a talented DIY person, so the less building I need to do the better! haha
As such, I’ve decided to put all my focus on testing out this particular system to see how it performs out on my deck. As I mentioned, it’s what I would consider “small-scale” for an outdoor system, but it IS a lot bigger than the mini-test system I set up in my basement a couple of months ago. The grow bed itself is exactly the same size as previous reservoir (employs the same type of plastic tray), while the reservoir this time around is 27 gallons – so I think this will provide a nice step up from my first system, while remaining small enough for me to manage easily.
We’ve had a warm spring thus far, but we’re still a number of weeks off from the standard yearly start of gardening season (i.e. the generally accepted date when you no longer need to worry about frost damage), so it may be a little while before I get things seriously rolling. In the meantime, I do plan to get the system set up, stock the bed with worms, and get some seedlings started indoors, so everything is ready to roll for the end of May. I am hoping to pay a visit to a hydroponics store this week to get some additional supplies (gravel etc), so I should have an update fairly soon.
In general, you should expect to hear a lot more from me on the vermiponics front this year. I’ve been in close contact with Jim Joyner (who I wrote about in my first vermiponics article), and it sounds like he is gearing up to test out a new system this season and quite keen to keep the channels of communication open about all this.
A little while back, Kirsten Dirksen of faircompanies.com sent me an email to see if I’d be interested in taking part in an interview that would basically involve me helping her with some worm bin problems. According to her Huffington Post (where she also blogs) Bio, Kirsten is a “[t]elevision producer-turned-blogger-turned-ecogeek” and “co-founder of faircompanies.com, a news/blog/video site focused on environmental sustainability for people and the planet.” – so, needless to say, I didn’t make her wait very long for a reply.
Apart from being impressed with Kirsten’s credentials, I thought the interview sounded like a fun (and different) idea, and I was also really eager to get in some more practice on the interview front after my somewhat iffy debut on the Agroinnovations Podcast series (which can be found here: Part I, Part II). I assumed it would be fairly similar to the podcast interview – basically a conversation over Skype, recorded as an audio file – and as it turns out, I was semi-correct. Kirsten did indeed propose that we chat via Skype, and she did plan to record everything…BUT…she also informed me that it needed to be a video webcam interview!
Well – long story short – I thankfully decided to put my insecurities and nervousness aside and to just go for it and see what would happen. What’s funny is that it ended up going REALLY well – we had an awesome discussion, and being able to see Kirsten while she talked (she actually still had to type quite a bit since the reception was pretty choppy) actually made it a LOT easier (not more difficult, as I had expected). Lesson learned!
I should mention right off the bat that very little of that interview is actually included in the video Kirsten created, but it’s really cool to see things on her side of the camera, and just generally see how she tied in some of the things I was saying to her own worm bin activities. We probably talked for close to half an hour, so it’s no real surprise that a lot of it had to hit the cutting room floor in order to create a 5 minute video.
Anyway – it was a lot of fun, and I’m definitely glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to take part!
Thanks again to Kirsten for inviting me to take part. Be sure to check out her worm bin video series on the faircompanies website (link near beginning of this post)!