June 2010

Worm Composting Grass Clippings

Grass Clippings in Worm Composting Trench

Since it was time to cut the lawn again today, I decided I wouldn’t waste any time getting my grass-clippings-as-worm-food trial started. Jeremy’s question about using grass clippings definitely inspired me to give this grass-only diet a try. Who knows – maybe I can even charge more for the worms raised in my grass fed bed (they certainly charge more for grass fed beef! haha!).

I’m not doing anything fancy at all with this experiment. I have simply designated a short stretch of my vermicomposting trench windrow bed as grass-only. Today, I pulled back the straw from this zone and heaped up some fresh clippings from my mower bag. I then covered them back up with the straw.

Normally, when I use clippings on my beds, I simply layer them on top of the straw, where they add some protective value initially, and food value over time. It will be interesting to see how things differ with the new approach.

Stay tuned!

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Can worms live on grass clippings alone?

Here is a question from Jeremy:

I am planning on starting my own worm bin. The main reason I
would want to start one is that I mow my lawn every week and I have
nothing to do with all of my grass clippings. I have an average sized
lawn, about 5k square feet, and I mow once a week during the summer
months. I have thought about a standard tumbler composter for the
grass, but the idea of a worm bin really intrigues me. My main
question is this, can the worms survive, and hopefully thrive, on a
diet that consists mainly of grass clippings? Of course I will throw
in whatever food scraps I can and probably shredded junk mail. I was
just wondering if they can handle that bulk of grass weekly. Thanks.

Hi Jeremy,
This is a great question – I’m sure many other have wondered the same thing (or something similar anyway).
The short answer is probably “yes” – composting worms could likely be sustained on a diet of primarily grass clippings. There is however a very significant “BUT…” as well!

Here are some things I definitely would NOT recommend doing:

1) Using large quantities of grass clippings in an enclosed plastic (eg Rubbermaid) type of “worm bin”. Accumulations of grass clippings left to sit tend to turn into a wet slimy mess in some spots, and a dry moldy mess in others – neither of which are great for worms. Add to that the fact that this material has a pretty low C:N ratio and tends to off-gas ammonia when left to sit, and you can probably see why you wouldn’t want a lot of it simply sitting in a normal worm bin. Sprinkling in small amounts periodically won’t likely cause issues though.

2) Filling a typically backyard composter with grass clippings, then buying a pound of worms and adding them to it (assuming they will magically turn the material into beautiful rich worm compost). Based on what I mentioned in #1, it should be pretty obvious why this is not the greatest of strategies. Grass clippings alone are absolutely NOT an ideal Red Worm habitat.

Now that I’ve rained on everyone’s parade (haha), let’s chat a bit about how they CAN be used as worm food!

In all honesty, I think you were definitely onto something with your idea involving tumbling the clippings. A compost tumbler is a fantastic tool for getting materials ready for worm composting. If you mixed up a batch of grass clippings and shredded cardboard (moistened), fall leaves, or straw etc and let everything compost for a bit in the tumbler (turning periodically of course), after a week or two I bet you would be left with a really nice “worm food”.

Grass clippings CAN be use as-is, but the secret there is having a large, well-established (and high quality) worm habitat in place already. For example, I add grass clippings over top of my trench beds all the time, and they provide a great cover material and food over time. I have also added plenty of clippings to well established backyard bins containing lots of worms. In both cases, these are systems with excellent ventilation, and also systems with enough quality habitat down below that the worms can simply let the clippings rot, and come up to feed from below at their leisure.

Once you have a good (sizable) worm habitat in place, and you start layering the clippings over top, I am quite confident that you could continue to do so (and stop feeding them anything else), gradually creating a grass-only worm composting system – along with an associated population of composting worms well-adapted for this environment.

Now you’ve got me wanting to try this!! Perhaps I will add only clippings to one stretch of trench for the rest of the season and see what happens!

Anyway – I hope this helps, Jeremy!

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Vermicomposting Haiku

Our roving worm news reporter, Barb V., recently told me about a cool thread that had been started over on the Garden Web Forum called “Compost Haiku“, and suggested this might be fun to try over here.

Based on the fact that we had so much fun with “You Know You Are a Worm-Head When…“, I agreed wholeheartedly!

For those of you unfamiliar with Haiku (or needing a review), it is a type of Japanese poetry. Each poem consists of three short lines, typically containing a specific number of syllables each. OK, so technically they are not actually syllables – they are actually referred to as “moras”, and you can read ALL about the nitty gritty rules and regulations on the Haiku Wikipedia page if you want.

For OUR (fun) purposes, let’s just stick with the commonly accepted 5-7-5 syllable guideline – and for the sake of not cramping anyone’s artistic style, you can even feel free to alter that a bit.

Here is an example – a very nice Haiku written by Barb V:

Surface solid squirm
Add melons, numbers explode
Where do they come from?

And a couple I came up with for this post (I’ll likely do some more for the comments section):

Open the worm bin
Take in the rich earthy smell
This is true beauty

Hand fork moves swiftly
Red Worms dance in the sunlight
Simple excitement

So, as you can see, all of these follow the 5-7-5 syllable guideline, and of course have something to do with worm composting.

Now have some fun!

Thanks again to Barb V. for the great post idea.

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Vermi Tomato Buckets

Worm Composting Tomato Planter

I recently wrote about my “wooden vermi tomato boxes“, and mentioned the fact that I’ll be trying a number of different vermi-gardening approaches with tomato plants this year. One such approach will be bucket planters – specifically, tomato planters that also contain a (hopefully) functional worm composting system as well. Basically, this will be like a scaled-down version of the wooden box planters, and will contain only one plant.

It all started with me simply needing bigger pots for two tomato plants I’d been growing on my deck. They were doing quite well in old hanging basket pots I’d recently transferred them to, but I knew I’d need something at least a bit more substantial if I had hopes of producing a decent sized fruit-bearing plant.

I’d heard of people growing tomatoes successfully in buckets, and I ended up finding a couple of buckets with drainage holes already drilled in the bottom (from my “Manure Chard Challenge“) so that sealed the deal.

Like the wooden box systems, I decided to do a bit of a hybrid approach with these buckets, and opted to fill the lower part of the bucket with “black earth” soil. The media in the “old hanging basket pots” had been a mix of coco coir and vermicompost that I’d been using to start seedlings. The remainder of the space was simply filled with wormy vermicompost (pretty coarse stuff harvested from the bottom of my big wooden worm bin)

I thought I might try some different “food” materials – which will simply be placed on the surface, perhaps with some burlap over top – but so far I’ve only added a bit of alpaca manure.

The growth of my first two bucket plants has been fantastic so far – they are by far my largest tomato plants, and are showing no signs of slowing down their growth!

I recently set up four more tomato bucket systems for a bit of a fun experiment, but I’ll leave you in suspense (haha) until I write about that in an upcoming post!

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Red Worms Love Alpaca Manure!

Red Worms Love Alpaca Manure

Ok, so I don’t really think I’m going to blow anyone’s mind with that headline! It’s not like I was trying to get the worms to eat nuclear waste or something!

Just thought I would write a quick update to let everyone know that my suspicions have been confirmed – Red Worms do indeed seem to LOVE this material. And it’s a good thing too, since I just got a bunch more bags of the stuff!

It does seem to take a number of days before the worms are REALLY all over it, but that is certainly understandable given the fact that it is reasonably new material – and as such, has not really been exposed to the elements the way most of the aged horse manure I use has been.

Anyway – I’ll continue to experiment with the alpaca poop, and will of course keep everyone updated on my findings.

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Congratulations, Buddy Byrd!

It’s official, folks – the winner of the “1000 Facebook Fan Fest” (and the “Best Facebook 1000 Fan Date Guesser” title) is Buddy Byrd!

I can’t believe how close this one was – and in fact, part of the reason it took me a couple of days to make an announcement about it is because I still wasn’t 100% sure who the winner was! After consulting with “Facebook Insights” data (yes, I felt rather smart and savvy saying that – haha), it seems that Buddy (June 12) edged out David (June 13) by a smidge!

Thanks to everyone who participated! I definitely had a LOT of fun with this – although it certainly got a little crazy once the guesses started flying in all at once (I had to turn comment moderation off completely for a while there just so people could see what others were guessing right away).

It was so much fun in fact, that I’ve decided to gear up for the “5000 Facebook Fan Fest”! Now before you start grumbling about how it’s going to be years before we hit that – be assured that we’ll be there much sooner than you might think! It will also be nice to open up the field a bit more this time, to make things interesting! More participants, more guesses – more excitement!

Of course, I’ll need to make it worth the wait with a better prize as well! I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to give the winner – but I will wait until I announce the contest before letting the cat out of the bag.
Stay tuned!

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Outdoor Vermiponics System

Outdoor Vermiponics System

I finally managed to get my outdoor vermiponics system set up today. As per usual, this is a project I had hoped to get to a bit earlier in the season – but when it comes down to it I just can’t help but feel pumped up about the fact that I was able to get it up and running at all (WAY too many vermi-projects this year – haha!).

I should mention right off the bat that I am very much in the preliminary stages of getting this system set up properly. I don’t yet have the pump and timer etc plugged in. I really just wanted to get the growing media in the bed and plants added, so they could start to spread their roots out a bit.

My main grow bed material is something called “hydroton” – basically expanded clay balls. This is really lightweight stuff though so I ended up weighing it down with all the material from my smaller indoor system (primarily volcanic rock gravel). One of the added benefits of doing this was the fact that – amazingly enough – lots of worms were still living in this material. I’m sure many of them hatched out from all those cocoons that were left in there. This should be a good way for me to kickstart the vermi-ecosystem in the bed.

I also mixed in some brand new shredded drink tray cardboard (aka “egg carton cardboard”). As explained the last time around, I like to include these sorts of materials to make it a bit more worm-friendly. I’m sure the worms would do just fine living in the clay balls on their own, but what can I say – I like to pamper my worms!

I am going to keep things fairly simple as far as plants go, and stick with basil for the most part. I also added one grape tomato just for fun. I am actually quite curious to see if it will thrive in a system like this – since it is a bit more demanding in terms of nutrient requirements.

Basil Seedling in Vermponics Bed

I started the basil in those little paper pots I wrote about not too long ago. They have been taking forever to germinate and grow to the size they are now (with a small second set of leaves coming up). Hopefully they will start to grow much more quickly now that they have room to spread out a bit.

For the time being, I will simply be pouring rain water through the bed to keep it moist and to help flush out any remaining clay dust. All water will be drained from the reservoir until it looks fairly clear. At that point I will start up the pump and timer and we will be officially off to the races!

Young Tomato in Vermiponics Bed

While I was at the hydroponics store buying the hydroton, I grabbed some white plastic sheeting as well. I plan to place a piece of this over top of the system (with holes cut out for the plants to go through) in an effort to keep everything from overheating. I can only imagine how warm the reservoir water would end up getting if it simply sat in direct sunlight all day long. This should help to create a worm-friendly zone up near the surface of the gravel as well (where I plan to add “food” for the worms).

Anyway – that’s basically it for now! You can expect to see another outdoor vermiponics update sometime in the next week or so.

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