August 2010

Wooden Stacking Bin-08-06-10

Wooden Stacking Worm Bin

Last week I wrote about setting up my wooden stacking flow-through bin, after a very loooooong period of sitting idle down in my basement (see “Wooden Stacking Bin – The Return!“).

Well, today I decided to add the worms so as to really get things rolling with this experiment. As you will likely recall, I will only be adding coffee grounds and shredded cardboard to this system in an effort to see if this approach will work. If we were also adding food waste to this system I probably would have waited a little longer before adding the worms, but in all honesty, the grounds don’t see to be going through much of a “rotting” process at the moment, so my hope is that the addition of the worms, and the “compost ecosystem” material that comes with them, will help to get this moving along.

I’m not overly focused on EXACT quantities of worms being added, opting instead for a quantity that “seems appropriate” (you just kinda get a feel for this sort of thing after awhile). Basically, I filled a small tub with very worm-rich material (from one of my productive outdoor beds) and then added a bunch more worms by hand.

Tub of Red Worms

Before I added them, I made sure to water the cardboard and grounds quite thoroughly. Moisture is definitely going to be something I’ll need to keep an eye on – and I suspect that I’ll be adding water regularly (unlike with a plastic enclosed system). Adding the worms simply involved making a shallow depression in the middle then dumping in the contents of the tub.

Adding Red Worms to Stacking Bin

I ended up having to spread the material around a fair bit so as to get the lid back on in a reasonable manner (i.e. not teetering on top of a mound of compost material). I’m not impressed at all with depth (or rather the lack thereof) of these trays – but hey, the show must go on, right?

That’s basically it! I will likely leave the worms alone for a few days (other than peeking in side to see how they are doing) – I won’t add any more coffee grounds (not that there is any room – haha) until sometime next week. The material the worms came in will certainly still have some food value, so I’m not exactly worried they will end up starving to death!

I will provide another update in a week or so!

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Spongy, Muddy Vermicompost?

Here is a question from Andre:

After 5 months on vermicomposting I decided to harvest some
booty. I made a bucket/screen getup with 1/4 holes. After running
about 1/4 of the castings through it I ended up with about a cup full
of spongy amorphous castings like the consistency of drying mud. The
compost is coming out of 20gal plastic bins that are drilled full of
1/8 inch holes. Any advice on how to get it dry and free of the tiny
baby worms?

Great question, Andre – and likely a very similar situation as that faced by countless other enclosed-plastic-bin vermicomposters!

I hate to say it, but unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that it’s more difficult to produce really nice worm compost in an enclosed plastic bin system – even with LOTS of air holes drilled in the sides and lids (even with fancy vents). Plastic is simply TOO effective when it comes to retaining moisture!

The good news is that you have a number of options as far as remedying this situation goes. For starters, you might think about switching over to a completely (or at least partially) lidless approach. It is amazing how much of a difference the simple act of removing your bin lid can make in terms of reducing the moisture in the bin, speeding up the vermicomposting process, and even helping to create a much nicer end product!

If you don’t want to leave your lid off all the time, you might try simply doing so on days (and during daylight hours) when you happen to be around – this alone could have a pretty significant impact on the system. Whatever your approach (lidless or semi-lidless) I DO recommend that you always maintain a nice thick layer of bedding in the bin (as much as the bin will hold). This way you will help to keep light from bothering the worms (and influencing their level of activity in the bin), you help to prevent the bin from drying out too quickly, and you help to keep your system “off the radar” of various annoying critters (like gnats and fruit flies).

Assuming you have no interest in using a lidless bin…

Your other option involves some sort of vermicompost remediation before attempting to screen and/or use the material.
This does not need to be a complicated process at all! Simply dumping the contents of your bin out onto some sheets of corrugated cardboard (or a larger bin with layers of cardboard at the bottom), then letting everything sit for awhile should work wonders.

Don’t forget to regularly break-up and mix the materials (a small hand fork should work well) during the drying process though! I kid you not, when I say that there must be potential real world building applications for the use of vermicompost “cement”! This is incredibly hard stuff if left alone to dry.

The drying stage has a number of great benefits, apart from improving the potential for screening and using the material. For one thing, it provides the compost with the time to fully stabilize in a nice, aerobic environment – very important for the creation of high quality vermicompost. Anyone who has dumped out the contents of a mature plastic worm bin will undoubtedly agree that the aroma that wafts up 9 times out of 10 is anything but aerobic!

This drying period can also provide you with the opportunity to extract the zillions of baby worms (including those still in cocoons) usually remaining in the material! One approach that can work involves adding some watermelon, cantaloupe, or really any moist fruit waste to the top (ideally covered up with bedding materials) then waiting for the little wigglers to start congregating underneath and scooping them up when they do. Given enough time, even the the most recently deposited cocoons should release their weeny, wiggling cargo.

Anyway, I hope this helps, Andre!

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Worm Cocoon Hatching-08-04-10

Small Red Worm
Likely the largest Red Worm found in my cocoon experiment bins!

I’m sure that many of you had written off my first worm cocoon hatching experiment as a “goner”. Yet another of Bentley’s hair-brained experiments that had fallen off the tracks, never to be written about again!

Well, we were pretty close to reaching that point -that’s for sure! But something possessed me to sort through the bins this morning (and it certainly wasn’t an abundance of free time on my hands! haha) – in hindsight I’m really glad that I did though! I hate leaving loose ends, and of course it’s always nice to get at least a few “results”.

My last update was almost exactly two months ago today (anyone still doubting the power of the “worm clock”? haha) – see “Worm Cocoon Hatching Experiment-06-02-10“. I didn’t really give it much thought as I was counting the worms today (likely due to the fact that I couldn’t really remember what I found last time), but it’s interesting to see how things have changed since then!

Cardboard – Room Temperature
Immature Worms – 24 (was 7 last time)
Mature Worms – 0
Empty Cocoons – 13 (was 3 last time)
Full Cocoons – 0 (was 13 last time)

Cardboard – 3 Day Fridge Exposure
Immature Worms – 33 (was 6 last time)
Mature Worms – 0
Empty Cocoons – 11 (was 2 last time)
Full Cocoons – 1 (was 14 last time) – the 1 I found was clearly no longer viable

Cardboard + Cantaloupe – Room Temperature
Immature Worms – 43 (was 9 last time)
Mature Worms – 0
Empty Cocoons – 11 (was 3 last time)
Full Cocoons – 0 (was 13 last time)

Cardboard + Cantaloupe – 3 Day Fridge Exposure
Immature Worms – 39 (was 7 last time)
Mature Worms – 0
Empty Cocoons – 13 (was 3 last time)
Full Cocoons – 1 (was 13 last time)

Right off the bat, it is important to note that there are now cocoons missing from each system (recall that we added 16 originally). This is quite surprising since the actual shell (for lack of a better word) seems to be quite resistant to breakdown (and I was not able to find any that seemed partially broken down). In case you are thinking this may come down to negligence on my part, let me assured you that I literally went over each piece of cardboard and any remaining debris with a fine toothed comb (ok, it was actually a fine metal probe – haha)!

Another obvious observation is the fact that a lot more worms hatched out after my last update. No surprises there. It IS interesting to see the difference between the cardboard-only and cardboard-cantaloupe treatments – don’t think I’d be so bold as to suggest that there is a “significant” difference (since we’d need to conduct and analyze this experiment in a much more scientifically-rigorous manner), but it does look as though the presence of a good food source (even in small quantities) may influence hatching rates. Other possibilities could include higher mortality in the cardboard-only bins (not an unreasonable idea since I found at least one small worm that appeared to be dead in one of the cardboard-only bins).

It’s important to mention that the cardboard-only room temperature treatment was quite dry when I opened it up – a fair bit dryer in fact than the other cardboard-only bin. I’m not sure why exactly this is, but I suspect that this contributed to the lower worm numbers there.

Worm activity, as indicated by the accumulation of cardboard castings, was clearly higher in the cantaloupe bins. I suspect this was not only due to the higher number of worms in these bins, but also the larger average size (no hard data here – just based on observation).

Worm Eaten Cardboard

Speaking of size, as you can see (in the first picture) the largest worms were still very small! I wasn’t able to find a single mature worm, and in fact most still looked like hatchlings.

Small Red Worms

I have little doubt that this stems almost entirely from the fact that I provided the worms with so little in the way of sustenance. Even the cantaloupe bins had a pretty meagre spread for the little wormies by the time they hatched out.

Cantaloupe Rid Remains
Scraps like these were the only evidence of cantaloupe ever having been added to the bins

YES, in hindsight I feel really guilty for subjecting the little lad-ladies to this!! As such, I came up with a way to hopefully make the rest of their days as comfortable and food-filled as possible!

So, WHAT exactly happened to the 139 weeny wigglers once I was finished sorting through the bins?!?!

Well, Bob…I’m happy to report that all worms were whisked away on what could be only considered a wonderful and wormy “vacation of a lifetime”! Our wiggler friends were taken to the Forest Green Worm Inn Spa and Vermi-Retreat where they will enjoy sumptuous feasts (all you can eat food waste, and alpaca manure microbial buffets!), the finest of shredded cardboard and coco coir bedding – and most importantly, the opportunity to grow, prosper, and wiggle their way back to good health! With any luck, our wormy friends will also get to know each other a wee bit better (wink wink), and produce some new wormlings of their own!

Stay tuned!

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Worm Inn Journal-08-02-10

I am very happy to report that I am finally back in action with my ongoing adventure with Worm Inns! Many of you will likely recall that I decided to take down my “Overfeeding Challenge” Worm Inn back in May (see “Worm Inn Journal-05-13-10“) so that I could put all my focus on my outdoor systems and gardening efforts.

As you can see, for my latest round of Worm Inn fun we have a NEW look! The camo pattern is pretty darn sweet (lol), and I am quite proud of the wooden stand I managed to put together (with my dad) – but my supplier sent me a sharp looking green Inn (an unexpected surprise), along with the PVC stand kit I had requested!

Just as a review, the stand kit consists of eight PVC corner pieces and four zip ties. The PVC piping for the actual structure can easily be purchased at your local hardware shop (unlike the corner pieces, which can sometimes be a tad challenging to track down). I ended up buying my piping from Home Depot. It is 3/4″ schedule 40 PVC – not the fancy white stuff they were charging an arm and a leg for, but an inexpensive gray version that will be every bit as strong. It comes in ten foot lengths – you will need to buy three of these and then have them cut down to size (or do it yourself). To build the stand you’ll need eight 18″ lengths and four 36” lengths.

I’ve gotta say that I was kicking myself for procrastinating (waiting so long to buy the piping) once I started putting the stand together. I can’t believe how EASY it was! All said and done (including securing the Worm Inn with the zip ties), it probably took me 5-10 minutes MAX! Needless to say, it took a LOT longer to put together the wooden stand!

I’ve written a fair bit about setting up a Worm Inn, but the way I see it, there’s no harm in reviewing the process here. It is pretty simple and straightforward – basically just a bedding-food-bedding layering system. But BEFORE I did any of this, I made sure to secure the drawstring bottom. This consists of tightening the strings, then constricting the bottom with a couple of wraps around (with the string) before finally tying a knot (don’t go too crazy here – you want to be able to get it undone eventually! haha).

This is something I always do when setting up a new Worm Inn – just to make sure everything is nicely contained. Once there is a decent amount of vermicompost in the bottom of the system we can simply go back to using the drawstring opening the way it was intended.

The “bedding” I would typically use when setting up a small worm composting system is shredded cardboard – I’ve found that this alone works great.

Today, because I happened to have a nice tub of coco coir just sitting around waiting to be put to good use, I decided to use some. Combining a really absorbant, fine-particle material like coir with a bulkier material like shredded cardboard is actually a great approach since you basically end up with the best of both worlds (water-holding + aeration).

Adding the “food” was a very simple matter of dumping a bag of food waste that had been sitting in my deep freezer. Nothing fancy here AT ALL. Freezing is a great strategy in its own right though, since it does a great job of starting the structural breakdown of the materials.

Once the food was dumped in, I simply covered it up with more coir and then a final (very thick) layer of cardboard.

As you can see, I set up the new Worm Inn outside. I think I am actually going to keep it outside for awhile to see how it works in an outdoor location. As per usual, I will let the system age for a week or so before adding the worms.
I don’t currently have plans for any sort of off-the-wall experiment. I think for once I might actually use a worm composting system the way it was intended!
We shall see!

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