October 2010

Blue Worms – Perionyx excavatus

Perionyx excavatus

I wish I was an Oscar Mayer weiner,
But I’m def-in-ite-ly glad I’m not a squash!

😆

A BIG thanks to Larry D. for sending along this crazy (creepy) picture of Blue Worms (Perionyx excavatus) feasting on a squash in his bin. I’ve actually been meaning to write more about these worms for quite some time now but…well…you know the drill. (lol)

Here is what Larry had to say about the picture:

This picture is of PE’s eating a squash.Some people get confused as to worms not having teeth means they can’t eat solid food.These PE’s will create suction some how.When thier head goes real blount looking,they snatch off a piece of squash.This picture is taken during the day with my bin open outside in the shade.They love the surface,and don’t let indirect light discourage them from a good meal.You can tell by the groove they made,they like squash.

Blue Worms Eat Squash

I’ve played around with this species for long enough (several months) to reach the conclusion that I’m not a fan. Let’s just say that I won’t be starting up the website “Blue Worm Composting” any time soon! – they just give me the willies (haha), and they also tend to have a temperamental streak. They move like lightning, and don’t seem to be nearly as put off by light as Reds (especially when they are feeling unsettled). I’ve actually read cases of them being found up in trees and on top of tall buildings (not to mention traveling long distances) during rainy weather, and certainly witnessed some pretty kooky behavior myself.

If you want a worm that can quickly (and effectively) process waste materials, though, Blue Worms are top notch (the pictures say it all). Some of you (long-time followers) may recall the interview I did with Dennis Copson (Nature’s Big Bud). He only uses Blues (after switching over from Red Worms) and swears by them!

The KEY requirement, however, is warmth! These worms will drop like flies once temps get down below 10 C (50 F) or so – helping to explain why I no longer have them!
{insert evil laugh}

As you can see in the pics, one of the distinguishing features of Blue Worms (also called “Malaysian Blue Worms” and “Indian Blue Worms”) is the blue/purple sheen. Larry’s specimens seem to exhibit this quite nicely. In my experience, they can look a fair amount like Reds at times (or at least a bit duller in color) so it’s best to rely on some of their others morphological features and characteristics. One of their nicknames is “Spike Tails” – when I first heard this I had visions of little sharp spines sticking out from their tails, viciously slashing innocent vermicomposter fingers if they came too close (wouldn’t put it past them!!! lol), but I came to realize that this is more than likely due to the spike shape of their body. They tend to be thin and pointy in comparison to some of the other main composting worms. Another key feature is the location of their clitellum – up very close to their mouth, as compared to Reds (further back, with thickened head region).

Blue Worms - Perionyx excavatus

The movement of Blue Worms tends to be unique (and CREEPY) – apart from moving incredibly quickly it almost has an “inch worm” quality about it – mostly concentrated up in the anterior end (Reds seem to use more of their body).

Blue Worms have become something of a worm farming “pest worm” over the years. During hot weather they can sometimes invade Red Worm beds and expand their numbers quite quickly. As such, it’s not all that uncommon to end up with some in your Red Worm systems – what can be really frustrating, though, is the fact that some suppliers out there seem to have no qualms about selling “Red Worm” cultures that are almost entirely Blue Worms. Not so bad if you live in a warm location and are happy to create some worm compost – but pretty depressing if you live in a cooler location and end up with a dead worm population once the mercury starts to dip!

By the way, I happened to find one of Larry’s videos on YouTube today while looking for interesting footage for this post. Here is a vid demonstrating what can happen as a result of rainy weather.

Speaking of rainy weather – this is another interesting topic on its own. Blue Worms aren’t the only ones that seem keen to roam during wet weather. I’ve seen plenty of Reds doing this as well. Is it moisture? Is it the drop in pressure? Hmmm….we’ll have to explore that topic at some point!

Anyway – enough of an eyeball-full for now. Thanks again to Larry for the pic (and the video).
8)

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Interview with Cristy Christie – SLO County Worm Farm

Before anyone starts assuming this interview was set-up as some sort of inside deal with one of my family members, let me quickly point out that Cristy and I are not related!
😆

In the short time (less than a year) we’ve know each other, Cristy and I have however become close “worm friends”, and I’ll be the first to admit that there is also a bit of an interesting back-story here.

As some of you (on my email list) may recall, late last fall I had a small (and very quiet) “pre-launch” for a vermicomposting business guide I was putting together at the time. The small group of people that joined became what is known as the Red Worm Composting “Inner Circle”. As it turned out, while I did not end up getting the actual guide launched (aiming to do so before the end of the year) – [LONG STORY (haha)] – I did spend a lot of time outlining my various ideas/approaches in a series of e-mail lessons. One of my main areas of discussion was website creation/promotion, and in an effort to help illustrate what it was that I was attempting to teach the group, I decided to select a couple of “guinea pigs” – basically, members who were eager to get websites set up – for “follow-along” lessons. Cristy was one of these individuals.

What impressed me right off the bat with Cristy (literally from the very first email she ever sent me – before the group even started) was her infectious enthusiasm, and intense focus on the topic of (entrepreneurial) vermicomposting. I could tell right away that she was the type of person who did her “homework”, and also someone who would put in the “blood, sweat and tears” necessary to get her venture off the ground.

As optimistic as I was, I’ve still been amazed (and inspired) by the progress Cristy has made (including the creation of her own beautiful website: SLO County Worm Farm) in a relatively short period of time, and feel like a bit of a “proud papa” knowing that I’ve been able to play a small role in helping her along. Needless to say, I see a bright future for Cristy in the vermicomposting industry.
8)


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


I’m probably one of the last “type of person” you would think of when it comes to becoming a worm farmer. When those who know me learn of my new venture, they usually just laugh or say something like: “ YOU??? Are you kidding? You’re a hair stylist, a makeup artist and a real estate broker! What do you know about worms!” And they’re right! I knew nothing about worms! I never really lived in one place long enough to even have a garden! I loved living on the road selling real estate in exotic resort areas and even spent a decade living on a yacht, for pete’s sake!

But you know, life has a way of changing on you and you better change with it.
My sister and I had been looking for a business that would add some fun to our lives. But a desire for more income is definitely part of the goal. (And when you’ve passed the half century mark, your options get a bit limited!) Our husbands are entrepreneurs and own their own businesses and we are the office support. It’s great to work from home but bookwork isn’t what I call “fun.”

Patti, my sister, actually started it. I mean the idea of worm farming. We’re a family of creative brainstormers. We opened ecommerce businesses and researched a variety of ventures. Then Patti called one day about a year and a half ago. “Cristy, I’ve GOT it! We’re going into the WORM business!” All I could think of is “Oh no, Patti has really lost it!!”


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


Well, Patti sent me some books (what was I going to say? NO????), dozens of emails with internet links and newsletters from Worm Farming Secrets. We know those guys, right? (I love confessions! wink wink). The more I read, the more intrigued I became. I’m an avid recycler and the stress population and industry is putting on the planet is huge, but I really didn’t know about the power of composting worms! I became engrossed in learning, reading and visiting every worm website I could find. And of course I spent hours at redwormcomposting.com! This was fascinating!

I bought a stackable system and accidentally found a resource for worms…an acquaintance who has them to compost their kitchen waste. Ken gave me a 5 gallon bucket full of this dense black gooey stuff loaded with worms and sent me home. (Ken later confessed that he had neglected his stacking worm bin for months, which was why it was in the dense gooey condition it was in!) To that date, I had only read about and watched dozens of online videos. I had no idea what it really looked it until that fateful day. I figured out how to separate the worms from the vermicompost, put them in with some kitchen scraps and the recommended bedding and waited to see what would happen.

For me, I knew I needed to find out 1), if I would even LIKE dealing directly with these squiggly, squirmy little creatures (they looked so fragile!!), and 2) if I could keep them alive. Reading had convinced me it may not be as easy as Mary Appelhof makes it sound. After a few months, some amazing results with personal trials growing vegetables (the broccoli!!! Unbelievable!!) and the fact that they were multiplying like crazy and not dying or mysteriously disappearing, I knew I could take the next step.


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


We live in wine country. Paso Robles, CA has become one of the major wine producing areas in the state. There are also many organic farms here too. I will be contacting some of them through farmer’s markets and our large personal network and see what the response is. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing right now, as I don’t yet have any vermicompost to sell. I will explain this later. I really think vermicompost tea is going to be big. The data is compelling. I have talked to only a handful of organic farmers. They are excited to know there is a local worm farm and my prospects are very bright.


You are down in California – do you find there is a lot of public interest in (awareness of) the realm of worm composting? Any location-specific challenges you’ve had to face?


This part has been a wonderful eye opener for me. Seems a lot more folks know about worms and their benefits than I imagined! The awareness level is quite high. The environmental concerns are genuine and the desire for healthier lifestyle and better, more nutritious food is growing rapidly. I feel very positive about being in the right place at the right time to fill some big needs.

A challenge I am faced with is easily and conveniently obtaining a feedstock – locally. I want my product to be consistent and of high quality. This can only be obtained with a consistent worm diet. So I’m still working on this and think it will be resolved soon.

I have also learned that many, many people have not had great success keeping their own worm bins healthy and stable. They just give up. I’ve done it so I understand. I’m anxious to be able to lend a hand to anyone who wants to try again or get started for the first time. Next Spring I intend to start a trench vermicomposting garden as Bentley has done so successfully. Maybe I’ll have a “Get Into the Trenches” party! We can all dig a part of the trench and fill it up together in no time! I think this is a great method and eliminates a lot of the reasons I hear as to why people have given up on their bins. I will be able to show people how it’s done. I think it will be great fun and help spread the word.


You and your husband built your own large-scale flow-through worm bed. Can you tell us about it, and how it’s been working for you?


We have an engineer in our family who decided building a continuous flow-through worm bed would be a fun project. After a remarkable effort, it was assembled and filled in early June of this year. I hope to make the “first cut” in early Spring. It is 20 ft long and 4 ft wide. We set it up on our shop/barn. I don’t have to worry about birds and it is insulated with 3” closed cell insulation board. The temperature so far has been very comfortable; they are actively multiplying so they must be happy! Because I named the vermicompost Black Diamond Vermicompost, I nicknamed my worm bed “The Diamond Cutter.”

I really don’t care for “reactor” and the other names given these systems are just too long! There are about 60-70 lbs of worms happily chowing down right now. I base this on the amount of feed I give them weekly. When I make the first cutting, I’ll be sure to let you know how smoothly it goes!


What are your primary food materials, and how are they handled (extra processing etc steps) prior to adding to the bed?


Pre-composted horse manure is the feedstock. Feeding is the most laborious part of the venture. (Because I haven’t really sold anything, I can’t really call it a “business”…yet…) But pre-composting is very important to curtail weed seeds, pathogens and release some energy. The compost bin is 4x4x4 and is covered. It is also aerated and the temperature is monitored. I keep a log to be sure the bin gets to 140 deg. F for several days. This process takes 2-3 weeks, then fed to the worms as needed.


What has been the most rewarding/enjoyable aspect of building your business? What has been the most frustrating or even disheartening aspect?


Learning something so completely out of my realm has been very rewarding. It was also one of the more worrisome aspects. Every corner I turned presented something new and unknown. Many months ago, I remember feeling totally overwhelmed and started having major second thoughts. I felt I needed to be a soil scientist, or at least an avid and successful gardener. Other worm farmers told me not to worry. I should simply let the worms and what they produce do the “talking”. When I relaxed and put this philosophy into practice, a lot changed. There are many vermiculture scientists out there. They are doing great work we can learn from.

Frustrating? I could say I had a love/hate relationship building my website. It was such a learning curve!! But through monumental patience, tenacity and sensitivity, my web guru got me through it and I’m happy with the results. Watching the site traffic grow has been fun too. Keeping up with the blogging part will be another story!


I know you attended this years NCSU Worm Farming Conference in May. Can you share your overall impression? Is this something you would recommend for others already in the “biz” (and those thinking about getting into the industry)? Why?


Being in a room with 120 worm fans from all over the world was simply fantastic. The fact that every one of them would love to share with you everything they know was even more fantastic. I don’t believe there is another forum where you can get such a vast amount of information on the subject in 2 days. The conference was well organized and well rounded. Speakers covered everything from the basic worm anatomy to intense scientific studies. Worm farmers shared business plans and offered advice based on experience. Presenters from around the globe shared their work and dreams. There was plenty of time for Q and A too. The level of work being done in all areas of recycling is exciting and promising.

Should you attend? If you’re reading this, then you’re probably interested in vermiculture, so, yes, you should attend. I love networking and anecdotes. I always learn something. But what is just the best — is listening, really listening. And what a forum! All those people attending that know different things than you do! Doing business just a little different than you do (or think you’re going to do, in my case). All together at the same time and all wanting to learn more about worms and their “magic”! All they do is eat the garbage we don’t want and make the most phenomenal stuff out of it! If you are into worms, small scale or large, for personal or business reasons, then you should attend. Someone will want to listen to your stories and someone will ask you a bunch of questions. Some folks attend every year! If you are thinking about getting into the industry, it is an intelligent investment to help you make good decisions and ensure your success.


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


Like any business, you need a plan…your plan…not someone else’s plan. And you need money. All business needs capital. Worm professionals have written much about their plans, dreams, successes and failures. Learn from them. What is cool about worms though, is you can start small and grow. Let it get as big as you want, providing you have the time and space. What you cannot do is completely ignore them. They are living creatures. What you cannot do is make them work faster. You can only buy more worms.


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


I would venture a guess that very few reading this blog are not interested in worms or vermicomposting. Less than 2 years ago I was one of them. I knew nothing about worms or vermicomposting. If you had asked me what “vermiculture” was, I would have no definition to offer. But here I am, fully entrenched in the worm world and see huge potential. Spread the word! We are tired of no-taste fruits and vegetables. We are tired of no-nutrition food. If you don’t want to “sell” or go into business, then help your friends set up worm bins! Or give your vermicompost away as gifts instead of buying something they probably don’t want or need anyway. A lot of people don’t like the idea of growing worms but they know how good their poop is! There’s plenty of need out there; we should be happy we are able to make it available!

As I said earlier, I wanted to find a business that would make money and be fun too. That can be a big challenge, depending on your personal definition of “fun”. So far vermiculture has been a lot of learning and a lot of work. But I’m really enjoying all of it. Besides that, I have met some amazing, compassionate, sharing people along the way. Relationships I will have for a very long time. Dad taught us this: “Enjoy your work, work hard and do it well…the money will follow naturally.” For this venture, I think Thomas Edison really pegged it: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Heck…I like overalls!

Thank YOU Bentley!!


Thanks very much to Cristy Christie for taking part in this interview. If you would like to learn more Cristy and her business, be sure to check out the SLO County Worm Farm website.

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5000 Facebook Fan Fest!

It’s FINALLY here, folks! The Red Worm Composting “5000 Facebook Fan Fest!
After having so much fun with our “1000 Facebook Fan Fest” back in the spring, I decided we should do it again! Of course, this time around I wanted to make it even BIGGER and BETTER than before (somehow I don’t think the “2000 Facebook Fan Fest” would really cut it – haha)!

We’ve got a much BIGGER goal to shoot for; there are MORE (and BETTER) prizes to win. There are even MORE opportunities to win! It’s gonna be a blast!
8)

OK – the first order of business is to hammer out some official rules here – PLEASE READ THE RULES CAREFULLY before participating!


Da RULES


  • You may choose 5 Dates (possible dates for the RWC Fan Page hitting the 5000 fan mark) – UPDATE: See new rules (in red) down below
  • Aside from leaving comments here (for the benefit of others and to make it more fun!), YOU MUST email me (not Mark) your official entry in order to qualify. Please include your first and last name (general location would be great, but not critical), your 5 dates (year, month, day), and include “Contest” or “Facebook” in your subject line. No email, no entry in contest! Okely dokely?
  • Unlike the first contest, multiple people can choose the same date – all those who choose the correct date will have their names tossed in a hat and winners will be drawn. If there aren’t enough people on the winning date, the two closest dates will be used (and those names will be drawn for remaining prizes), and so on and so forth
  • The deadline for getting your entry in is Thursday, November 25, 2010 (likely a familiar date for my American friends) at midnight EST
  • Speaking of “EST”, that will be the “official” time zone for winning date (in case we hit the mark near midnight like last time!)
  • “Mark from Kansas” IS eligible to participate (since I know Larry Duke is going to ask!) LOL
  • Unfortunately, most of the prizes will only be available to those living in (mainland) USA and Canada – but there will be some “bonus prizes” (to be announced at a later date) available regardless of location
  • Prizes MAY change between now and the end of the contest – but they can only get better (or remain the same).

**Important Rule Update (Oct. 11)** – I’ve decided to reward those who don’t wait until the last minute to submit their dates for the contest. Here is the breakdown in terms of how many guesses you are entitled to, based on when you send them in.

Oct 11-Oct 16: 8 dates
Oct 17-Oct 31: 7 dates
Nov 1-Nov 15: 6 dates
Nov 16-Nov 25: 5 dates

All those who have submitted thus far are allowed to send me three additional dates.
Thanks!


PRIZES

1st Place – 2 lb of Red Worms + Worm Inn (and stand kit) + Bonus Prize
2nd Place – 1 lb of Red Worms + 1 lb of European Nightcrawlers + Bonus Prize
3rd Place – 1 lb of Red Worms OR 1 lb of European Nightcrawlers (your choice) + Bonus Prize
4th Place – Bonus Prize


OK – clear as mud?
🙂

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section – and again, please DO tell everyone your chosen dates here as well so that we can all see what dates people are choosing (but of course, don’t forget to email me your “official” entry).

On a semi-related note, I wanted to take the opportunity to “share the love” a bit with our last two interview participants. Both Heather and Maria have their own Facebook Fan Pages, so please do “like” those pages while you are in Facebook mode. Here they are:

Texas Worm Ranch (Heather Rinaldi)
Byoearth (Maria Rodriguez)

UPDATE: Cristy has also created a Facebook fan page now as well. Be sure to give her a “like” while you are at it: SLO County Worms

Oh – one other thing. In the spirit of the contest please “like” the heck out of this blog post (button below), and blast out some “tweets” (if you are a tweeter on Twitter! haha). I myself, while certainly a “twit”, have yet to get really active on Twitter. One of these days, though, I tell ya I’m just going to break out and go crazy with it! I can feel it!
😆

(@CompostGuy, in case you are curious)

THANKS EVERYONE!!

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Interview with Maria Rodriguez – Byoearth

Shortly after the NCSU Worm Farming conference (in May) this year, I received very positive reports on the event from two separate worm-friends. Interestingly enough, both people seemed very impressed with a presentation given by a young entrepreneur from Guatemala named Maria Rodriguez. One of my friends even went so far as to connect me with Maria via email so that I could learn more about what she was doing.

Before I emailed Maria, I decided to learn more about her company, Byoearth, and was further intrigued to say the least. I didn’t waste any time asking if she would be interested in taking part in an RWC interview. Thankfully she accepted!
🙂


Can you tell us about your background, and how you became interested/involved in vermicomposting?


I was 20 years old and ending a career on business administration & tourism in Guatemala City. On a regular day, I received an environmental management course, and as we learned about the different opportunities there are to transform degradable waste, I heard “worms”. It was love at first “heard”, my heart pounded strongly because I had found the answer to my prayers, a unique way to connect my true passions, nature & entrepreneurship. From that day on, all I became interested in was worms and how to develop a professional business plan inspired by vermiculture & vermicomposting to end rural poverty in Guatemala. To do so, I participated and won a national business plan incubator that was promoted by Technoserve and USAID (2006). 


Please tell us about ByoEarth. What sort of organization is this, and what sort of projects are you involved in?


Byoearth is a social venture founded in 2007. We are a social business, whose profits are re invested to provide a social benefit, a vermicomposting and vermiculture scalable model for fringe rural / urban areas.
Therefore, Byoearth, is involved in sustainable development projects for Guatemala. One of these projects is based in Guatemala´s City garbage dump area, where more than 2,000 families face a daily struggle to survive with the trash that the city generates. Byoearth partnered with Fundación Junkabal to encourage women of this particular area to learn about vermiculture and the opportunity it brings to become entrepreneurs, provide an economic income to support their families and help the environment. The result has been surprising and we are now making other products out of waste, hand made bags with used plastic bags (for example). The project is called “Fertilize your future” and has been a light at the end of the tunnel for many women.
“Fertilize Your Future” (Abona Tu Futuro), is open to donations, volunteers and new ideas to scale up. The project was one of the presentations given at NC State University 10th annual vermiculture conference.


Is vermicomposting something a lot of people are aware of in Guatemala? Do you find that a lot of people are really interested to learn more about this field? 


Vermicomposting has been done in Guatemala for many years in coffee farms. Red worms came to our country approximately 25 years ago. Nevertheless, the industry has grown potentially for many reasons (in my opinion and experience). Most farmers, gardeners and plant growers are used to chemical fertilizers, not only they are available in stores but they expect to see fast results and performance. Another reason is that there is no notion on earth worm husbandry; so many projects tend to fail quickly. Over the past two years, many international and local organizations, given the food crisis we have faced as a country, have realized the important of worms and organic fertilizers so they are becoming more interested to learn more and to practice. The organic movement around the world has also impacted Guatemala and many people now see the value of organic products, urban orchards and many related topics, like vermiculture and vermicomposting. At the same time, it is important to mention that vermiculture with a social impact is really hard to find. Byoearth was born this way and it will continue to promote vermiculture in Guatemala and around the world with a training model that is accessible for the world´s poor.


What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced along the way?


I’m proud to say that I’ve never faced an obstacle that has stopped me from working, spreading my ideas or going forward. Nevertheless, I should mention that one of the obstacles that I’ve been facing along the way (even now a days) is trying to change peoples mindset on two concrete issues: 1. chemical fertilizing 2. recycling degradable waste. These obstacles are very particular but are part of our culture (in most cases), we have been thought to use chemical fertilizers and we haven’t been taught to recycle degradable waste. The interesting thing is that these obstacles become a challenge and to overcome challenges is exciting, especially when I’ve worked so hard to develop a social venture that will help me do so.


I understand you are using coffee pulp as a feedstock in your operation. Can you tell us a bit about this waste material, and how it is prepared (if at all) prior to feeding to the worms? What quantities are you vermicomposting?


I began my production plant in a family owned coffee plantation. 60% of the coffee bean is used as feedstock and each year we process 200 tons of coffee pulp with worms. Coffee pulp is an abundant byproduct in the coffee plantation and needs almost no preparation, since it naturally decomposes. We started using coffee pulp three years ago, and the farm had a big coffee pulp reserve from previous harvests. Over the next few months, we need to find another source of feedstock since our worm population is increasing as we speak and they are demanding more food.


Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? (future plans, other projects, ideas etc)


I am very excited to continue working with Byoearth that is scaling up organically and would like to welcome any ideas to upgrade production in urban and rural areas.
Also, congratulate your readers that believe in vermiculture and vermicomposting and encourage them to keep taking good care of their worms and to share the good news with their neighbors. We need a worm bin in every house!
Worm regards!



Byoearth Production Facility



Feedstock (coffee pulp) slurry



Coffee Pulp



One of Maria’s countless helpers


I’d like to extend my thanks to Maria Rodriguez for taking part in this interview. If you would like to learn more about Maria and her amazing company be sure to visit the Byoearth website.

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