September 2010

Fruit Fly Freezing Wrap-Up

I’m sure some of you are interested to find out how my fruit fly freezing trials have been going. Well, the long and the short of it is that I am now quite convinced that freezing food waste (in my deep freezer anyway) does indeed kill off fruit flies, larvae and eggs.

My second trial involved filling a big ziplock bag with food waste that was clearly overrun with fruit flies (it had been sitting in a bag out on my deck for quite some time, and clouds of fruit flies would emerge any time I opened it up for a look) and then tossing it into my chest freezer. This time around, I removed the bag from the freezer within a day or so, opened it up, then put it into the cardboard box I used for my first trial (the idea being to allow the contents to “breathe”, while preventing any fruit flies from getting in).

When I checked on the box a couple of days later I was intrigued to see a small cloud of fruit flies circling it. I thought for sure that the material inside had become a breeding ground. When I opened up the box, however, there was not a fruit fly in sight. Clearly, the fruit flies in my house had been drawn to the box due to the tempting aroma, but had not been able to breach my defenses. Just to be safe, I popped the bag back into the freezer for another day before letting the bag sit out again. Recently, I went so far as to leave the bag open to see if I could get some of my own fruit flies to breed in the material, but haven’t even had any luck with that (seems the number of fruit flies in my house has dropped considerably). I will likely try leaving the bag outside for a few days for the sake of seeing how quickly fruit flies could colonize it if given the chance. But, all in all, I’d have to say I’m still thinking that freezing is a good way to get rid of them.

That being said, if anyone tries this out for themselves, please do let us know how you make out! If I wanted to be really thorough, I might try putting bags of infested waste in my refrigerator and in my smaller freezer (sitting above the fridge) just to see how the fruit flies fare in those situations. I’ll let everyone know if I decide to do so.

Previous Posts
Does Freezing Kill Fruit Flies?
Fruit Fly Freezing Update

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Wooden Stacking Bin-09-29-10

It’s been well over a month since my last stacking worm bin update (definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been that long!). My primary reason for not providing many updates is the fact that nothing has really been changing significantly in the system. I really wish I had decided to set this experiment up several months ago, since I’m pretty sure that one of the issues has been the cooler weather (especially at night).

Just to bring everyone up to speed here – the idea has been to see how composting worms do with a diet consisting primarily of coffee grounds (only other “food” material is the shredded cardboard bedding). Of course, I’ve also been interested in testing out the stacking system again (since it’s only been used once before) to see how it…uhhh…stacks up (yuk yuk) against some of my other systems.

The worms have done well down in the first tray. It looks as though they are processing grounds and shredded cardboard, and they just generally seem vigorous and healthy. There hasn’t been much in the way of upward migration, although, whenever I lift up the second tray there are usually some dangling down. Interestingly, I found a number of worms in the second tray this morning when I checked on the bin, but I’m pretty sure this has something to do with the fact that it poured rain for most of yesterday.

Red Worm

With temperatures only continuing to drop, it looks as though I’m not really going to have the chance to test out the bin itself – I really don’t have any interest in having it up and running indoors this year. I DO however want to keep going with this coffee grounds and shredded cardboard trial to see how things pan out over the long haul. My BOM-6000 bin is sitting empty in my basement at the moment, so I think that will be the perfect bin to move everything over to. What’s great about it (in comparison to the stacking bin) is that it can hold a LOT more material. One of issues I ran into with my stacking bin was a lack of space for adding new material (even with the second tray). I also think that the BOM will keep more moisture in, which should help to keep the grounds “worm friendly”.

Anyway – that’s basically in for now. I’ll likely write another update once I move everything over to the BOM bin.

Previous Stacking Bin Posts
Wooden Stacking Bin – The Return!
Wooden Stacking Bin-08-06-10
Wooden Stacking Bin-08-17-10

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Interview With Texas Worm Rancher Heather Rinaldi

Heather Rinaldi - Texas Worm Ranch

I’m sure that more than a few of you will be familiar with this week’s interview participant, Heather Rinaldi! She has been an active member of our (RWC) community for quite some time, and is also very active on the Vermicomposters forum. I was actually quite surprised to discover recently that I’ve only known Heather Rinaldi for a little over a year (definitely feels like longer than that). Looking back at our first interaction, I’m amazed we ever ended up staying in touch at all, given how long it took me to get back to her (sorry again, Heather!). Thankfully, she is a kindly, forgiving soul (haha) and decided to overlook my email tardiness, and we’ve been good worm friends ever since!

Heather is the owner of “Texas Worm Ranch“, in Dallas Texas, and has certainly been making a name for herself in the vermicomposting field. I’ve been eager to learn more about her business for quite some time now, so I’m very pleased that she agreed to take part in this interview!

Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you ended up becoming interested in vermicomposting?

I grew up in Northern Oklahoma (just across the border from where Mark from Kansas lives!) That is major farm and ranch country, so I am a country girl who grew up with all kinds of livestock. My parents and grandparents always had huge gardens, and as soon as I had my own home, the first improvement was putting in a vegetable garden. As a mother, I didn’t want my children playing on chemicals in the yard, and my husband and I immediately began doing all of our yard, landscaping, and vegetable gardening organically. I am an organic gardener, and approached vermicomposting as an experiment to see if I could be a better and more affordable organic gardener.

What led you to decide that you wanted to start up your own vermicomposting business?

About 3 and ½ years ago, our neighborhood began a community garden and I suddenly had a lot more garden space…and cost! I investigated affordable means to maintain my increased organic garden space. Of all the options, I was most impressed with vermicompost and vermicompost teas, which are highly regarded by organic gardeners for boosting health and production of plants while maintaining healthy soil. I started my own bin, and within a month of applying worm compost and worm tea, the other gardeners started saying, “I don’t know what you are using, but I want some of that!”
My fellow gardeners literally talked me into starting the business to supply them with what I named “Worm Wine ™”

Can you tell us about your business? What are your primary areas of focus, and what do you hope to achieve long term?

My background and passions are in health and the environment, so I really try to help people make an educated and supported move from chemicals to organic gardening and landscaping. One of the key learning curves is to explain the role of soil biology in successful plant health. Vermicompost and Worm Wine are natural talking points to begin that conversation.

At the Worm Ranch, we sell worms, vermicompost, and a vermicompost mix that I use to start seeds and transplants. Worm Wine ™, which I brew to order, is our most popular product. I also participate at local Farmer’s Markets, where I set up a storyboard showing and selling working worm bins, the VC and Worm Wine products, and my homegrown organic produce. The kids love seeing the worms demonstrated, and the adults become believers when they see the health and size of the vegetables and herbs I sell. A new business endeavor I have is to install organic gardens in homeowners’ backyards, and then provide free Facebook, email, and phone support to them. Last week, I was asked to supply herbs to the all natural taco stand at the health store that host’s one of the Farmer’s Markets I attend. They bought mine at the market and were getting rave reviews. I think I need there to be 8 days in a week, it has been BUSY, but exciting lately! The fact that vermicomposting can also reduce so much waste from the landfill is icing on the cake. It is so cool that the “lowly” worm can help individuals, families, communities and the world become a healthier place. I hope someday there will be a worm bin in every household!

You are located in Texas – do you find there is a lot of public interest in (awareness of) the realm of worm composting? Are there any location-specific challenges you’ve had to deal with?

Texas is really behind in the “green” movement, but it feels like it is speeding to catch up. I have spent a lot of time educating and gaining acceptance for the “crazy concept of worm composting”, but I think word of mouth has spread about its success in the garden, reduction of waste, simplicity and odor neutralization.

The two biggest issues in Texas are heat and fire ants. My outdoor trenches really suffered during the 107 degree (F) heat of August. We had triple digits for over 30 days. My worms in the garage (which is more like a basement, and cooler since it is built under the house) stopped laying cocoons. It was brutal! Fire ants can invade when it is dry, but I can usually solve that pretty quick by removing the nest and adding moisture.

Can you tell us a little bit about your actual operation? What types of systems are you using? Would you consider yourself small-, mid-, or large-scale? Is this a full-time venture for you or something you do for fun on the side?

The Texas Worm Ranch started as something to do as just a little side job, and it has quickly mushroomed into something much bigger than I ever planned. It is now a full time job (plus)! I struggle with needing more space and a part time employee, but am just working with what I have. At this point, I would say we are mid-scale. I have a multitude of different systems—several outdoor “in-ground” trenches that are 4 ft by 8 ft, a variety of Rubbermaid tote systems, and a fabric flow-through. I also did vermigardening trenches October through May last year. I try to maximize my space by having “walls of worms”—bins on shelves along the wall. I try to diversify with my products and services, so I am not dependent on one revenue stream from the operation (garden installations, yard fixes, Worm Compost, Worm Wine, and Worm Sales).

What are your primary “food” materials, and how are they handled (extra processing etc steps) prior to adding to the bins/beds?

Since I am trying to make a good garden product, I like to use a lot of coffee grounds, tea bags, and legumes. This helps up the nutritional content of the VC. All of our family vegetable, fruit, and garden waste goes to the worms, as well as some grain products (if the weather isn’t too hot). Indoor bins get newspaper, office paper, and cardboard as bedding. Outdoor trenches get fall leaves or straw as bedding. We get about 80 lbs of produce scraps a week from a local restaurant, our house is a known refuge for post-Halloween jack-o-lanterns, and I sometimes rescue bagged leaves from the curb and an eternity spent in hell (otherwise known as the landfill). I really get so much waste, that it sometimes incidentally sits a day in a 10 gallon container, so it incidentally gets pre-rotted…but I don’t worry about that too much. It all seems to work out well in the bins.

What has been the most rewarding/enjoyable aspect of building your business?

I have enjoyed sharing time with my kids, teaching them hands on about taking care of the Earth, and developing an understanding of a good work ethic, business skills, and customer service. I get the most satisfaction out of seeing families have a successful organic garden, or a new vermicomposter having success and really getting into the worms. Generally speaking, worm enthusiasts and organic gardeners are wonderful people!
What has been the most frustrating or even disheartening aspect?

I wish I had more time, energy, and less heat!

What recommendations would you offer for those people thinking about exploring the business side of vermicomposting?

Grow your business organically; don’t put yourself at risk by buying into “get rich quick schemes”. Understand that at first you are educating your clientele, gaining acceptance for something they may not understand, and gaining credibility. Deliver more than you promise, and continue to be an educational resource after you sell your “product” or “service”. If you help someone have a successful experience beyond the “sale”, you will be rewarded with personal satisfaction and more business!

Is there anything else you would like to share? (projects, thoughts etc)

I just am so grateful to have fellow vermicomposters to talk with and learn with. There is a great network of people in vermicomposting, and I appreciate all the knowledge sharing and support we give each other. That starts with you, Bentley!

I’d like to take the opportunity to say thanks to Heather Rinaldi for taking part in this interview! If you’d like to learn more about Heather and her vermicomposting business be sure to check out the Texas Worm Ranch website.

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RWC 2.0 – Let the Good Times Roll!

Let The Good Times Roll!

Dear RWC Worm Friends,

While may not seem like a whole lot has changed here at Red Worm Composting this year, I can assure you that there has been a great deal going on “behind the scenes”, so to speak.

All those wonderful words of encouragement and support that readers have continued to share with me have been humbling to say the least, and it’s finally led me toward something of a “tipping point” with this project. Not to put myself down here (haha), but I’ve literally never in my life worked on something that has felt like it really “mattered” to other people…until now. As such, and given the fact that I am definitely in one of my main “passion zones” with this worm composting stuff, I’ve decided (once and for all) that my work here is something that’s definitely worth pursuing more seriously.

What about your worm business, Bentley? Isn’t that what you’ve been focusing on as a ‘career’?

Good question!

There is no doubt that I LOVE entrepreneurial vermicomposting, and that I’ve had a LOT of fun with the business side of things. There is also no doubt that the revenue generated has been really helpful (crucial, in fact) in terms of allowing me to continue developing this website, and just generally helping to “keep the wolves from the door”. While I originally expected that my own “real world” vermicomposting business (up here in Canada) would grow to the point of basically becoming my primary focus, I’ve come to realize that it’s my “work” HERE (RWC) that actually gives me the greatest sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. I love having the opportunity to write about my goofy experiments and “hair-brained ideas” and having it all translate into something meaningful/interesting/educational/inspiring for all sorts of like-minded “worm heads” around the world!

So, what’s a worm composting blogger to do?

I’m certainly not going to throw myself into the worm business, only to see future development of RWC fall by the wayside! Nor am I going to stick it to my family by blindly chasing after my dreams (especially given the fact that our second child is expected to arrive in just over a month)!
My solution? To throw myself into some projects that will allow me to do what I love (to educate and inspire via my writing), while also helping to generate additional revenue for the RWC project. Of course, it’s also vitally important that my normal blogging, video creation and…uhhh…{cough}…newsletter writing, not be tossed out the window either!

OK, OK – I’ll be the first to admit that my poor “newsletter” is ALWAYS the first thing to take a hit for the (RWC) team when I get busy, and I do sincerely apologize to all those of you who have been waiting patiently for something to arrive in your inbox these past few months! In all honesty, I am still not 100% sure what direction I am going to head on that front, but I DO actually still recommend that people sign up for the email list if you are not already a member! Why? Because, in doing so you effectively attain “extra special” status in my books (ALL my readers are of course “special”!), and even though I might not write to you for periods of time, it definitely doesn’t mean you aren’t important! Membership still has its “privileges”! (nudge, nudge, wink, wink – Haha)

Moving on…

With ALL that heavy stuff out of the way, I now want to talk about some of the exciting things I have in store for RWC readers in coming weeks: 3 Interviews, 1 Contest, 1 Guide, and a “Book” (and a partridge in a pear tree?).

3 Interviews – I am very pleased to report that I have convinced three wonderful worm women (say that three times fast!) to take part in written interviews for the site. It’s been a while since I posted my last interview, so I’m really excited to bring things back to life on that front. All of these lovely ladies have inspired me with their dedication to the field, and I have little doubt that our readers will benefit from their words/experiences as well. They are all what you would consider worm composting “professionals” (this is basically their “job”), but they come from different backgrounds, and have created businesses centered on their own unique passions and talents.

1 Contest – We held our very first “official” RWC contest – the “1000 Facebook Fan Fest” back in the spring and it was definitely a whole lotta fun! I hinted at the fact that I wanted to come up with a BIGGER, BETTER version, namely the “5000 Facebook Fan Fest”, but nothing more has been said about it since then. Well, buckle your seatbelts, folks! It’s HERE (almost)! Should be a blast! While we may have “only” gained another ~400 or so new fans since the spring, I’m feeling pretty optimistic that we can still hit 5000 in a matter of months rather than years!

1 Guide – you’d think with all my work on this site that I would AT LEAST have some sort of worm composting guide available! Sheesh! I know I’ve provided lots of information about worm composting on the site, in videos, and in the…uhhh…{cough}…newsletter – but it’s a little all-over-the-place, to be totally honest! Aside from that, some of this content was created literally years ago, so it might not really reflect where I’m at with my current perspective on vermicomposting. I can’t tell you how many times people excitedly report that they’ve created my “Deluxe” worm bin (featured on YouTube), assuming this is still my favorite worm composting system in the whole world (let’s just say I’ve “moved on” from my Deluxe worm bin days! haha), or who have sent me emails inquiring about some suggestion I made back in 2007! LoL
Needless to say, I really need a resource that summarizes my current overall vermicomposting philosophy (and methods), and provides me with the opportunity to educate readers about a variety of topics I don’t really write all that much about on the site (since I’m too busy writing about my goofy experiments, and hair-brained ideas)! Well, the good news is that I have been putting together a fairly substantial worm composting guide – the only problem is that it may still be some time yet before it is released. In the meantime, though, I’ve decided to put together a compact version for my wonderful, patient…uhhh…{cough}…newsletter list members!

One “Book” – Yes indeedy, I am actually getting quite close to putting the finishing touches on the first “official” RWC eBook. Let me say right off the bat, that this probably isn’t be the type of “book” that most people would be expecting (it’s not a “how to” guide), but in thinking about it a lot more, since starting to write it earlier in the summer, I’ve come to realize that it’s probably a really good place to start (he said with a facial tick, while chewing his nails nervously)! In a sense, it lays the groundwork for all this other “stuff” I’ve been working on and have planned for the site.

So yeah…that’s basically where things are sitting these days. Probably a bit MORE info than a lot of people felt like getting hit with on a random Wednesday afternoon, but hey – that’s me! Mr. Unpredictable!
You might say I’m kinda like a box of chocolates…ya never know what you’re gonna get (but I’m always sweet! Yuk yuk!)

Over and out!

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Silver Lake Vermicomposting Wrap-Up

Containers of worms from the Silver Lake flow-through bed

This morning when I looked out the back window I was puzzled by the sight of multiple buckets of soil-like material sitting in my driveway. My brain hadn’t quite woken up by this point so it ended up being an interesting couple of minutes as I slowly mulled over the possibilities. Was this some sort of strange gift from a neighbor? Did my dad bring me some manure (from his friend’s horse stable)? Did I move bins out on to my driveway then suffer some sort of amnesia-inducing trauma? Was I being rewarded by the “Worm Fairy”?
Finally it hit me!

Leannne…Silver Lake…yeah, that’s it!

I know some of you have been wondering what happened with the Silver Lake Camp vermicomposting project – more than likely due to the fact that I haven’t provided an update since the beginning of July. Sorry about that!
Unfortunately, I just didn’t have time to make another trip up to the camp (4 hour round trip driving), and Leanne was incredibly busy with running the camp once the kids arrived, so we didn’t end up touching base as often as I initially thought we might.

I did receive an email from Leanne early on reporting a pretty serious set-back. Not too long after I went for my visit, the floor of the bed collapsed! It sounded like quite the ordeal to move all the material/worms, build a new (reinforced) floor, then put everything back in the bin again! I was really impressed with the fact that they didn’t let this challenge sideline them completely.

In her last e-mail, Leanne estimated that they ended up vermicomposting about 200 lb of food waste by the time the last group of kids were on their way home. They managed to harvest and use about 20 lb of vermicompost as well.
Not too shabby at all (especially with all things considered). Diverting 200 lb of compostable food waste from the landfill is very commendable indeed!

I am hopeful that Leanne and David will be interested in setting up the project again next year! I’ll certainly be interested in once again lending a hand (and hopefully will even be able to get a bit more involved).

Previous Silver Lake Posts
Summer Camp Vermicomposting
Silver Lake Vermicomposting-06-11-10
Silver Lake Vermicomposting-07-01-10

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Earth Machine Winter Worm Composting

Here is a question from Eric:

I started composting roughly a year ago and now winter has come. I was
using a 21gallon drum when I started and asked for my birthday in July
for a composting bin(my girlfriend and parents thought I was crazy but
accepted it). I just turned 17 and I feel the need to do my part in
helping the planet…granted I want to change the way we live today
and I hope to do so in the future but as I am 17 this is the most I
can do right now. I have 2 Earth Machine Composting Bins. The picture
would be on google images if you don’t know this bin. I noticed your
website about winter composting and your methods and I am just
wondering how YOU would insulate the bin if you owned it.

Hi Eric,
I also have two Earth Machines in my backyard! They are the most common backyard composter in my neck of the woods since the regional waste department gives them away for free! I generally don’t attempt to protect mine over the winter, simply because my trench bed systems are better suited for the job – but it certainly can be done.

However, it’s important to point out right off the bat, that the activity inside the system will be largely dependent on how severe your winters are. If you live in North Dakota, Northern Minnesota, Alaska etc, you may be able to provide enough protection to keep the worms (or at least some cocoons) alive, but you almost certainly won’t be able to actually keep the system totally active (without artificial intervention, that is). If I were doing this in my area (zone ~5a), I would likely be aiming for worm survival, not active composting. My actual winter systems are always substantially larger.

If you DO live in a warmer zone than me though, you should be able to keep the system at least semi-active during the winter months. Just keep adding waste materials to it and see how it goes! If you end up filling it all the way to the top, this is probably an indication that the composting process has slowed down considerably. I recommend buying yourself a long stemmed compost thermometer, since this will help you to determine how things are coming along down in the bin as well.

Anyway, here are some of the things I would recommend…

Hopefully your two bins are side-by-side – this will help you to create more of a “united front” against the cold. Plus, it will save you time as far as setting everything up goes. Assuming this is going to be a one-off, protect-it-then-let-it-sit affair, you will likely want to time your operation strategically. No use getting everything going before the “real” cold hits (really hard frosts – maybe even a little snow) because you might end up overheating the bin(s) and burning through your “fuel”.

The first thing I would recommend for any type of backyard composter bin (assuming it is open-bottomed – which, by the way, is fairly important for a winter bin) is to dig a decent pit down below it, assuming you don’t have one already – this might be 1-2 ft in depth. Of course, the diameter of the hole should be smaller than the diameter of the bin so that it sits nicely over top. In the bottom of this hole I would add a bunch of bedding material and “food”. Because you are looking for more of a “time release” food value, you definitely don’t need to age (or finely chop etc) the wastes before you add them – unless of course we’re talking about yard wastes like old weeds etc (which should be chopped up a bit). If you can get some nice aged manure, this would be a great addition as well. Over top of your pit zone, I would simply add the material that was already in the composter.

If you live in a region with lots of fall leaves, I highly recommend you use these for insulation (also great to add to the bin). Straw and hay can also work really well. All you need to do is heap them up around the outside of your bins. Ideally – assuming you have enough leaves etc – I would pile them all the way to the top of the bins, and then would even take things a step further by securing a tarp over top. If you live in a region that receives lots of snow, heaping a lot of it over top of the tarp can serve as a great extra layer of insulation as well.

By the way – I realized while writing my response that you didn’t actually mention worms at all, so perhaps you are not planning to vermicompost. The good news is that the same basic principles apply – the key is to provide enough “fuel” (waste materials) and insulation to at least keep the system from freezing, if not totally active. Microbial activity will add warmth, and your insulation system will help to keep it in.

Hope this helps, Eric!

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Fruit Fly Freezing Update

Mobile fruit fly incubation lab? Let’s open it up and find out.

Last week I started a simple experiment for the purpose of exploring whether or not freezing can effectively kill fruit flies (adults, larvae and eggs) – See “Does Freezing Kill Fruit Flies?” if you missed the post.

After forgetting about the scraps in my freezer for a couple more days than intended (haha), I removed them earlier this week, and proceeded to give some thought to how I wanted to let them sit. Given the fact that, as mentioned, we’ve had some fruit flies buzzing about in the house as of late, I certainly didn’t just want to open up the bag and leave it to sit on the counter (not sure my wife would have been too thrilled about that option anyway! lol).

As you can see in the picture above, I ended up settling on the idea of “sealing” my open bag inside a cardboard box. While I did make an effort to tape up the obvious gaps/openings, I knew the box would still “breathe” quite well. Once taped up, I simply left the box to sit down in my basement for a few days (certainly more than enough time to allow for the hatching of viable fruit fly eggs).

I decided to check on everything today, and found that…drum roll please…not a creature was stirring (ended up feeling pretty guilty seeing all the little lifeless springtails I inadvertently killed off 🙁 ). No fruit flies flying out or signs of any active larvae in the waste materials. The microbes have done just fine though! There seems to be plenty of new growth in that department.

So, the initial semi-conclusion here is that it looks promising that freezing can indeed kill off fruit flies. Now it’s time to REALLY convince myself!

I’m going to grow an actual thriving fruit fly culture (basically taken care of already thanks to me forgetting a bag of food scraps out on my deck! haha), and will put more material into a larger bag which, once again, will get tossed into the freezer. This time I will likely shorten the freezing time and lengthen the post-freezer sitting time, just to make sure I’m covering the bases here!

I’ll keep everyone posted!

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