July 2010

Vermi Tomato Buckets-07-09-10

Vermi Tomato Buckets

Anyone care to venture a guess as to which pair of buckets were the ones filled with vermicompost (instead of potting soil)?

As per usual, these photos just don’t do the plants justice, but I think it’s safe to say that a different between the treatments is readily apparent.

Just as a quick review, the idea here was to provide both treatments with plenty of alpaca manure, but in two of the buckets I added mostly vermicompost (containing lots of Red Worms) and in the other two, mostly “black earth” potting soil (by the way, you can read my first post about the experiment >>HERE<<). What's really interesting is that I'm pretty sure that some Red Worms STILL managed to get into the no-worm treatments, even though they were sitting up on the railing of my deck! It's amazing what they can do during dark, wet conditions! I suspect this because I saw a single Red Worm sitting under one of the no-worm buckets when I moved it for a photo shoot a little while ago (haven't see any since then). Whatever the case, it is safe to say these two treatments are still considerably different from one another.

Unripened Tomatoberry Fruit

While they may look a little less impressive, the no-worm treatments actually aren’t doing too badly. One of the plants actually has a fair number of tomatoes on it.

I am also being careful not to get TOO excited about the differences, simply because I doubt that the alpaca manure alone is providing all the nutrients these plants need. All I’ve really proven here is that vermicompost has some fertilizer value! If I wanted to show that is has something extra, above and beyond the basic nutrients it is providing, I would have to ensure that all tomatoes were receiving their full compliment of necessary nutrients.

This is what Ohio State University researchers have done in their vermicompost / plant growth trials over the years – and with some pretty amazing results, I might add!

Nevertheless, I still think this qualifies as “pretty cool”! It will be interesting to see how these plants develop from here. Obviously, if all we get from the vermicompost treatment is lush green tomato plants but little in the way of fruit, it will be a tad disappointing (he said in his best unbiased scientist voice – haha!).

Anyway – I’ll definitely keep everyone posted!

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Worm Inn Tomato Garden?

Worm Inn Tomato Garden

So my “hair-brained” tendencies kicked into over-drive recently (haha)…
It suddenly dawned on me that one of my old Worm Inns (the original design that features a pocket and doesn’t have the zippered screen top) would make a GREAT hanging tomato garden! Unlike regular hanging tomato gardens, the Worm Inn offers a lot of space for the roots – which is not only good for the plant, but also advantageous when you are trying to make it into a “vermi tomato garden“.
Being a hanging system already, and having the nice drawstring opening at the bottom, it almost seems too good to be true (when you are a Worm Head)!

It seemed rather fitting that this system became the “home” for the last of the tomatoes I had in smaller pots (nice to finish with a bit of a flourish, right?). It’s not the most attractive of gardens, I’ll admit, and it became readily apparent that my DIY skills certainly haven’t improved much! (the camo pattern + oversized hardware and chains made me feel like some sort of hunting biker vermicomposter as I put everything together – not that I have anything against bikers who hunt and vermicompost!). But I have to admit, I felt pretty proud of it once I got it hanging nicely, with the tomato plant all set to go (uhhh…grow?)!

The hard part (for me) was building the support frame and getting it to hang properly. Putting the tomato plant in was unbelievably easy! Far easier, in fact, than when I set up a similar system using a normal hanging tomato system (more on that in a minute)!

The only downside of the endeavor was that it was challenging to get good photos while I set everything up, but I’m confident that the simplicity of the process will become clear via my written description and the photos I have included.

Once the plant had been tightened into the bottom of the Inn, I simply filled it most of the way full with a wormy vermicompost mix excavated from one of my outdoor beds. I decided not to bother with soil at all, since it’s become clear in some of my other vermi-tomato systems that the plants don’t really need it, and in fact, that the coarse vermicompost is a much better growth medium (duh!).

After that, I simply added a layer of alpaca manure (mixed with a fair amount of straw), watered it, and attached the screen top via the velcro strips.

As of this morning (less than 24 hours after set-up), the plant is looking good, with its leaves and branches definitely starting to point up towards the sun.

On a related note…

About a week and a half ago, I had an interesting meeting with a person who sells rain barrels and various types of composters here in Ontario. We had a great chat in my backyard (with me showing off my hair-brained vermi-projects of course! haha) and just before he left he happened to mention a hanging tomato garden kit he was planning to start marketing. When he saw my eyes light up at the mention of this (you know me and tomato gardening!! haha), he pulled one from his car and told me to “play with it”!

[Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE what I do?!]

A hanging vermi-garden was the ONE thing I hadn’t set up yet (but was itching to try), although I had been close to purchasing one of the more typical hanging tomato kits from the store.

After thanking him profusely, and seeing him off on his way, I immediately started thinking about how I could turn it into a worm-powered system, rather than using it as directed. Speaking of which, I certainly smirked to myself when I came across the bit in the instructions that said something along the lines of “use potting soil NOT compost in this system”!


I was very impressed with the design (and size) of the system, and the fact that it even came complete with a self watering system (which, alas, I was not able to use due to space constraints)!

Long story short, I got that system set up later that same day and the tomato I planted seems to be doing just fine (after an initial period of decline).

Comparing the two hanging systems, there is NO doubt that the Worm Inn will have the greatest chance of success. Aside from the significantly greater volume, it is also a much more “breathable” system so it should provide a much more worm-friendly environment for all those wigglers.

Whatever the case may be, I will certainly keep everyone posted on my hanging tomato vermi-adventures!

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Vermicompost – A Living Soil Amendment

My good vermi-friend Allison Jack recently put together a FANTASTIC video all about vermicompost (and vermicomposting in general). She actually included a couple of my still shots – one featuring worms breeding and another one showing cocoons – which is cool (especially given the fact that my name appears at the end, alongside some serious vermicomposting “heavy hitters”)!

There is some really fascinating information presented, not to mention incredible microscopic video footage of the worm compost ecosystem!

Be sure to check it out

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Outdoor Vermiponics-07-06-10

Vermiponics Grow Bed

I hadn’t planned to provide another vermiponics update quite so soon, but decided I should share a couple of recent changes.

Unfortunately, as can sometimes happen when things are shipped long distances (from one country to another in this case), damage can occur. When I first opened up my flood and drain system (back in April) I noticed a crack in one corner of the grow bed. It was fairly minor so I didn’t give it much thought (or bother to make mention of it). What I discovered however, is that the integrity of grow bed rim is VERY important in terms of supporting the grow bed over top of the reservoir. Once I started adding water to the bed I could see that the crack was getting bigger, and another crack even appeared in another corner.

Rather than risk having the bed fall down into the reservoir, I decided to make some wooden supports for it, so that no strain is put on the cracked rim. Hindsight is a funny thing, and now I find myself wondering why on earth I didn’t think of this before. Aside from eliminating stress on the grow bed, having it elevated like this is WAY better! When the pump is running, I now get a nice fall of water down into the reservoir which helps to keep things nicely oxygenated down there. Plus it is so much easier to add more water to the reservoir and just generally see how things are doing down there (with the pump etc).

Vermiponics Basil

You’ll likely notice that I still have not added the sheet of white plastic over the bed. As it turns out, I have decided that I won’t likely bother with this at all. The system is not heating up nearly as much as I had expected, and we are in the middle of a crazy heat wave at the moment. Rather than using the timer that came with the system, I’ve decided to simply keep the water running during the day and unplug it in the evening. This should definitely help to keep temperatures cooler in the bed as well.

Since making the change, and allowing the pump to run for longer periods of time I’ve noticed a real change in the plants – they really seem to have perked up nicely (even the tomato). Should be interesting to see how things progress from here!

Previous Outdoor Vermiponics Posts
Outdoor Vermiponics-04-26-10
Outdoor Vermiponics System
Outdoor Vermiponics-06-28-10

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Bokashi Gone Bad!

Tune in at 11 for ALL the details!

Back at the end of June I was still trying to find homes for tomato plants residing in smaller pots (in fact, I STILL have two more left!). I knew I had a couple more buckets in my shed – only problem was that they contained bokashi waste materials and had not been opened in more than two years!


Well, I guess my desire to take care of my tomatoes ended up beating out my fear re: what might be lurking in the buckets (haha), so I ended up opening them up! Me being me, of course I couldn’t resist taking pictures while I was at it – and making a project out of the less-than-pleasant experience!

OK, so it wasn’t THAT bad! I was expecting a lot worse. Still, both buckets did contain a pretty foul mix of anaerobic slop – especially the one that was actually open a crack (pictured above).

I knew I couldn’t expect my worms to consume the material, but I also knew I had to do SOMETHING with it, so I decided to lay out some cardboard and pour the stuff out onto it. My hope was that most of the liquid would slowly drain away, and that the mix would eventually become aerobic.

Of course, I couldn’t just leave it as it was, based on the smell and the unpleasant appearance. I opted to add a layer of straw over top, and recently added a layer of grass clippings as well.

I did all this on June 27, with the hope of seeing Red Worms colonizing the mix at some point (since loads of them near by). Well, the smell has certainly dissipated a fair bit, and a fair amount of liquid seems to have drained away, but there is still no sign of worms (as of Jul 5th). Maggots and other critters have moved in though, so I guess this is “phase I”.

Should be really interesting to see how long it takes before it is “ready” for worms.
I’ll keep everyone posted!

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Silver Lake Vermicomposting-07-01-10

Leanne and David Erb (with their two young children) pose for a picture in front of their worm bed

Yesterday, my dad and I filled two large tubs with worm-rich material and packed up the car with various other vermi-goodies, before setting out on the 2+ hour drive up to Silver Lake Mennonite summer camp.

I was eager to see the Silver Lake flow-through worm bed up close, and to provide the Erb family with one last batch of worms before the first wave of young campers start arriving next week.

I must say right off the bat that the big wooden bed – built by Leanne Erb’s husband David – is every bit as impressive (more so, in fact) than it appeared to be in the photos Leanne sent me (included in this post: “Silver Lake Vermicomposting-06-11-10“)!

It looks as though Leanne has been taking very good care of the worms inside as well. The REAL test, of course, will be when she starts adding multi-pound batches of food waste to the bed each day, but based on how well everything is coming along, I suspect that the system is going to work very well for them (as will the worms).

I was very interested to see what the floor of the Silver Lake system looked like – I wasn’t sure what material they had used for the grate. When Leanne told me it was made of chicken wire I couldn’t believe it, but then I saw the system of support beams that David installed underneath and most of my concerns went away.

The cardboard sitting directly over the grate is decomposing nicely, and vermicompost is already starting to fall down into the harvesting chamber. Leanne mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of worms in the material that had fallen down thus far, but I think once the level of material in the bed increases and there is a lot of food waste up near the top she’ll find fewer and fewer worms in the compost.

I decided to take up my last bag of alpaca manure (will be getting another batch tomorrow) and some stacks of cardboard coffee trays (continually collected by my wife’s co-workers for my ’cause’ – haha) for Leanne so she could provided a bit more variety for the worms and soak up excess moisture from the food waste. I’m sure a group of young campers could have those trays shredded in short order!

On an unrelated (but still interesting) note…

When we first arrived, Leanne showed us the camp vegetable garden. I made a remark about the impressive size of the sunflower growing in the middle (probably about the same size as the biggest “Kong” sunflower I have growing at the moment). When Leanne pointed to a much smaller sunflower and told us that it had been started at the exact same time, I was completely floored – and couldn’t wait to hear about the worm compost I was sure she must be using to achieve those results.

Well, as it turns out, the “secret” had nothing to do with worm compost (oh well – haha!), but Leanne had employed an interesting growing strategy with the larger plant. I can’t remember the exactly name of the technique (something done in Germany, I believe), but it is something akin to “Lasagna Gardening” / sheet composting (layered system of rich organic matter).

Pretty cool!

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