June 2010

Lasagna Gardening with Red Worms

Back in May, I received an email from fellow Canadian, Paul Letby, telling me about his experimentation with “Lasagna Gardening”. Paul had enjoyed reading about my vermicomposting trenches (link takes you to vermi-trench section of “Hot Topics” page), but was looking for something he could set up quickly and not have to fiddle with too much. He still hoped to get Red Worms involved, and wanted to get my opinion on adding them to a Lasagna garden.

Based on the first set of pictures Paul sent, and the fact that we just generally seemed like long lost “brothers from other mothers” (haha), I thought it would be GREAT if I could convince him to share his project with RWC readers. Thankfully, I managed to do so!
Nuff said!

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It all started with a desire to get my own vegetable garden in my backyard, balanced with a realization I had almost no time. I could spend an evening or two making my garden and that was about it. Plus I had almost no time for weeding so I was looking for a way to reduce that too. So I poked around the internet doing searches on different forms of gardening, and came across Lasagna gardening. This looked exactly like what I wanted, so I researched the heck out of it and learned all I could. All these ideas came from the internet, and are no way mine, but I should give credit to Patricia Lanza, author of the Lasagna Gardening Series. The idea is to layer organics in a bed with a base of cardboard to inhibit weed growth.

Enough history, here’s what I did. I first got all my ingredients on hand, and in the spirit of cheapness I tried to get all my ingredients free. Cardboard was easy, we throw out vast quantities at work. Straw was also free through a friend from out of city, he even hauled five square bales in for me. Grass, turned out easy too. I pulled over on the way home from work to talk to a fellow mowing a commercial property. 16 bags delivered… free. Now I don’t know anyone who owns horses, so I did pay for about 10 bags of rotted horse manure, about forty dollars. Then one evening in May I put the whole thing together.

First I laid out the cardboard after soaking it down. Oh and I learned something here. Cardboard is really easy to tear when it’s wet. Like for my worm bin. I had actually ripped a bin full by hand while it was dry. Sore fingers. Then I spread a layer of manure on top, then alternated straw and grass until I had used it all up, ending with straw on top as a mulch(over the mulch…). Done!




I let the whole thing sit for about five days before I started planting straight into the grass. Well, except for the peas. I thought I’d try a little strip of dirt on top to get them started. Bad move, they all rotted with massive rains this spring. In a normal year, it probably would have worked. Oh, before I go any farther; my back yard is very exposed and all the neighbors can see what’s going on. They all wanted to know what I was doing, and when they found out you could tell they weren’t that sure about my sanity anymore. I love it! Especially because it worked!

Now here’s where this is a vermi-post. I added redworms from my bin to one of these three beds. I simply pulled away the straw and dumped them in with their bedding so they could get used to the new conditions at their own pace. That left two other beds. One small and another very long. I added ‘compost ecosystem’ to the small one and left the big one for now.



I’ll wrap this up with a quick update of where we stand here at the end of June. Tomatoes have gone ballistic, they’re covered in flowers and setting fruit in the Vermi bed. Strawberries are thriving, yet most of the crop lost to black birds. Lettuce and beets almost all lost to birds, those that are left look good. The bigger bed didn’t do so well and I attribute that to the crazy rain we had this spring so far. Most seeds rotted or taken by birds, and some extra tomatoes I put there are small and less vigorous. I have to replant as time allows. Compost Ecosystem bed looks good with squash and beans interplanted. All in all, the small bed with the redworms (aka the Vermi Bed) has far outperformed the rest so far. We’ll have to wait and see if that continues.

That’s it for now, I’ll send in short updates as things progress.

Paul


I want to take this opportunity to thank Paul for sharing his lasagna gardening efforts with us. I am definitely looking forward to future updates!

If you are interested in sharing your vermicomposting / vermi-gardening projects with RWC readers, please be sure to drop me a line to let me know!

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Outdoor Vermiponics-06-28-10

Outdoor Vermiponics Bed

I just wanted to provide a quick update on my outdoor vermiponics system. Things have been coming along quite nicely, and the rainy weather we’ve been receiving as of late certainly hasn’t hurt!

What’s funny is that I still have not even turned on the pump, nor put the white plastic sheet over top. The wet weather and relatively moderate (not scorching hot, that is) temperatures have allowed me to procrastinate a bit longer. I do plan to get things going “officially” this week though.

As you can see, the basil plants are doing quite well. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the tomato plant. It has not grown all that much, and the leaves are starting to brown in places, so I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not going to do all that well. I have a bit of a back up plan in mind, should I need to remove the tomato, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!

I have been watering the bed manually with a watering can (when it hasn’t been pouring rain), and sprinkled some alpaca “pebbles” over the top to provide some initial slow-release fertilizer for the plants and some food for the worms. Speaking of worms – I still have not really added any to speak of. There have certainly been some in materials that have been added though (namely, in the gravel from my first system, and in some compost ecosystem material I added recently) – and I will likely just let them grow in number on their own.

Anyway, that’s basically it for now! I will likely provide another update sometime in July.
Stay tuned!
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Tax Rebates for Vermicomposting?

I KNEW that India was much more on the ball (than North America) in terms of their widespread use of vermicomposting, but this definitely takes the cake!

This article, from “The Times of India”, is yet another of (roving RWC correspondent) Barb V’s great finds. Here is a blurb:

“The 100 families in our society produce about 50 kilogram of wet waste every day. Instead of dumping it in the garbage bins, we dispose it in the vermicomposting pit made in our society and produce manure out of it. It is our duty to manage the waste, not the responsibility of the municipal corporation,”said Jyotsna Chowdhury, a resident of Woodland Harmony housing society. The project is not really difficult. It just needs to be run and supervised meticulously, she added.

“In our township, about 60 kilogram of wet waste is generated per day. We compost the waste in our vermicomposting plant and every three months, it produces 600 kilogram of manure. We followed the corporation’s order that the housing societies should take care of the wet waste on their own. We are trying to do our bit for the environment,”said Sunatra Pandhare, chairman of Gajanan (B) society. She said the residents were awarded a rebate of five per cent in municipal tax for implementing the vermiculture project.

Here is a link to the full article: “900 Societies Decomposing Waste

I can ONLY IMAGINE how much more money I would be sinking into my vermicomposting projects if I knew I could get a tax rebate!
Next on my To Do list – convince my wife that we need to move to India!
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Redworm One

Redworm One

I recently received an email from our good buddy, Larry “The Garbage Guru” Duke (a veritable vermi-celebrity over on the Vermicomposters forum! haha) telling me about his latest project. I asked if I could share his email with our readers and he happily obliged

Hey Bentley,
Just wanted to post an unusual project that I’m working on. I try to think of unusual ways to reach people, including children in any way I can.
And one unique thing that I am working on, but have a ways to go, is a project called “Redworm One”! This involves a 56 Ford F100 – one of the most sought-after trucks for car collectors. Originally it was being built with a different theme, but when i got into redworms to try and help my wife,s beautiful flowers be even better, I stumbled across this website through a character named “Mark from Kansas”!
I was looking through composting literature and next thing you know, I saw a larger than life worm bin unlike any thing I had ever seen. And next thing you know, I told my wife i was going to build one of those bins! And when I get motivated, it’s game on!

I watched all of Mark’s videos several times and then just went to work. I built it without plans or measurements of any count. And it just happened to go together perfectly. Now I don’t recommend just anyone trying this because it could get expensive messing up. It’s better to have a plan. But these are stories for another day.

Anyway, I’m building this truck to go to car shows and hopefully schools, and other events that might interest people in vermiculture. The way I’m building this truck is with a worm hood ornament that I need to have made out of some kind of junk. Most of the money that I was building it with came from money from discarded waste, like aluminum cans. And also the metal came from junk vans that I cut the metal out of and used.

The hood will tilt forward and you can play composting videos and watch them from the drivers seat – via a flat screen under the hood – at the car show or other event. On the back you can put links to websites and maybe an estimate of how many worms I have at the time – such as “50,000 worm power…ask me how”! I also could give out plans to build bins and such. When the hood is tilted it will read “I got worms” like a billboard.
Anyway, that’s just a general idea and I have plenty of other stories to tell if anybody is interested. I have other things I have plans to build for vermiculture.

I CAN’T WAIT to see Redworm One when it is finished! Larry tells me it is further along than in the picture, but still a long way to go.

Thanks again Larry, for sharing!
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Colorado Compost Tea Man

Barb V. passed along an interesting little article about a guy (Justin Rogers) in Alamosa Colorado making and selling his own worm compost tea. Here is a blurb:

Rogers, along with his brother Mark and father Gregg, began making the β€œtea” to replace harmful chemicals on their potato fields near Hooper.

Soon, fellow farmers were asking for their brew.

Now, the family brews 1,000 gallons a week. Rogers sells about a tenth of the supply to the general public on Saturday mornings at Z Rock landscape supplies.

The mixture takes 24 hours to concoct. The base ingredient is Vermicompost, commonly known as worm castings, Rogers explained.

Read the full article here: “‘Compost Tea’: Home-brewed fertilizer gains fans

I love reading about people involved in vermi-entrepreneurial activities like this! It also reminds me that I need to make some of my own vermicompost tea this season!
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Tomato Bucket Vermi Experiment

I have a sneaking suspicion you guys are going to be pretty sick of hearing about tomato growing fairly soon, so I better quickly write about a couple more vermi-tomato topics before we reach the saturation point here!
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At the end of my recent “Vermi Tomato Buckets” post I mentioned the bucket “experiment” I had started up, and refused to say any more about it. I have little doubt that most, if not ALL of you haven’t been able to sleep since as a result of that cliff-hanger (yuk yuk).

Goofiness aside, I do want to tell you about this fun (and definitely not scientifically rigorous) experiment I set up. The concept (as per usual) is pretty simple – I want to see if the presence of a population of Red Worms affects the growth (ideally, in a positive manner) of bucket-grown tomato plants.

I started by adding a small amount of “black earth” potting soil at the bottom of four small buckets. I then drenched the soil and allowed it drain a couple of times. I just wanted to make sure the soil was “worm friendly” for the Red Wigglers in the worm treatments (potting soils often come with fertilizer salts in them).

Next, I planted “tomatoberry” plants in two of the buckets, filling the remaining space with more of the black earth.

The other two buckets were set up in a very similar manner to those I wrote about in my Vermi Tomato Buckets post – that is to say that they were basically just filled the rest of the way with a coarse worm compost mix that was removed from the bottom of my big wooden backyard worm bin.

Lastly, I added a small quantity of alpaca poopy pebbles (just some scientific lingo for you – haha) at the top of each bucket. These should act as a slow-release fertilizer, and of course a “food” material for the worms. I may add other “food” materials as well (to ALL buckets of course), but we shall see.

One concern is that worms will somehow find their way into the non-worm treatments. I’m sure some of you might recall what happened with my “Manure Chard Challenge” last year! As such I’ve been keeping the two non-worm buckets up on the railing of my deck so as to (hopefully) avoid any vermi-contamination. In doing so, I have basically given these plants a bit of an edge over the other pair since this location gets a bit more sun each day. I have also hampered the worm side a bit by using a slightly smaller bucket for one of the plants. Don’t worry – if the manure-only side triumphs, I promise not to use either of those as excuses! haha

Anyway, it should be interesting to see what happens! Nothing too dramatic to report thus far. The plants in the worm treatment do seem somewhat more vigorous and robust but I certainly won’t be jumping to conclusions any time soon.

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Four Worm Update-06-23-10

BOM-6000

I felt like an archaeologist this morning as I unearthed my ‘4 Worm’ BOM-6000 from beneath a heap of stuff down in my basement, and then brushed off the dust before nervously peering inside!

It has been ages since I did ANYTHING with this system, and even longer since I last posted an update here (the last update was “Four Worm Update – 02-16-10“).

I can’t say I was too surprised to see that the level of material in the bin had dropped drastically, and appeared as a much more amorphous mass of brown stuff, rather than the various different materials that had been added. I also wasn’t all that surprised to see that it had become pretty wet ‘n sloppy (with a beautiful sewer smell down in the bottom – haha) as well.

Something I didn’t end up writing about back in March or April (I think) was when I added a good heap of “Homemade Manure” to the bin – which helps to explain why things have become pretty wet over time.

The good news is that the system also happens to be full of big fat Red Worms, along with loads of worm cocoons! This highlights the fact that: 1) Red Worms are pretty tolerant creatures, and 2) Can survive (and even thrive) for months without any additional “food” being added to their system. That being said, it’s important to point out the fact that had I continued to add food waste to this system (without bedding) things definitely would have gone south on me and I likely would have killed off all the worms fairly easily.

That is an important distinction to keep in mind – and an important warning to those of you who don’t really add much new bedding after the initial set-up of your worm composting bins. You can certainly get away with this for awhile, but once the bedding you started with is mostly processed, you’ll almost certainly start to see what I’ve referred to as “Mature Worm Bin Syndrome” – even in a nicely aerated system like da Bom!
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I ended up mixing in quite a lot of dry drink tray cardboard, and added a thin layer of it on top as well. I will check on the bin again soon to see how much moisture I am able to soak up, and if it still looks too wet I’ll simply add more.

At SOME point I will certainly be curious to see how many worms we have in the system! We are getting close to the 7 month mark since the bin was first set up. Obviously this won’t be a realistic demonstration of Red Worm population growth (since not even close to optimal conditions) but it will still be fun to do a count (or at least an estimate, if it looks like it’s going to take hours upon hours to do a tally).

Will likely provide another update in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned!
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