Yesterday I did something that I wouldn’t normally do, and the results were very cool!
As I was driving down my street towards home I saw one of my neighbors raking leaves in his yard (and could see that he had many bags of leaves already sitting in his garage). On a whim I pulled over, rolled down my window and asked if I could take the bags off his hands (knowing he would simply be putting them out for pick-up this week).
While this might not seem like a big deal for a lot of people – this was actually completely out of character for me! I’ve certainly had conversations with various neighbors (including this particular gentleman) before – but my natural tendency is always to shy away from such interactions. As such, I don’t really know any of my neighbors very well, even though we’ve lived in our current location for five and a half years!
No too surprisingly, the neighbor was more than happy to see his leaf bags disappear, so once I had parked the car I hastily ran back over and started hauling them back over to my place (he was off in another part of his yard by this point). This could have easily been the end of it, resulting in a nice little haul of leaves for my worm beds, along with a couple of (self-administered) pats on the back for stepping out of my comfort zone. But when I noticed that the neighbor was once again out on his front lawn rounding up more leaves I decided to head back over to lend a hand. I knew this meant that I would actually have to converse with him (haha), but I figured it was the least I could do to return the favor.
Well, long-story-short, we ended up having a really enjoyable conversation, and it’s safe to say I’ve made a new friend in the neighborhood.
As great as it is to have all these bags of leaves for my worm beds (will be writing about my winter preparation activities soon), as it turned out, the real “score” ended up being the friendly interaction with the neighbor. I learned a lot more about him (and about the neighborhood in general), and he now knows ME a lot better as well. It’s so easy to make generalizations about people we don’t know, and to assume they are totally different than us – yet it never ceases to amaze me just how similar we all really are!
One of the topics of conversation, of course, was my kooky backyard composting activities (in plain view from his front window – the and reason given for taking the leaves from him). I explained (half jokingly) that all of it was just a typical “day at the office” for me – part of my “job”. I expected a look of surprise, or perhaps some sort of deer-in-headlights blank stare, but he actually seemed to think it was all pretty cool. He explained that he and his wife didn’t really have all that much time for gardening etc activities due to their busy work schedules, but that it was something he’d like to get into at some point.
I realize that none of this is earth-shattering by any means, but the big “take away” for me was the fact that it’s really easy to make a positive connection with neighbors and other people we encounter on a regular basis. For those of us who are trying to spread the word about vermicomposting, and other earth-friendly activities, this represents a great opportunity for introducing people to these topics in a very friendly manner!
There is a well known saying in environmental circles, “think globally, act locally”. Being the rather shy web-guy that I am, I’ve tended to go at it the other way around – focusing primarily on spreading the word online (which can be VERY effective, don’t get me wrong), while doing very little in my own region. I’ve certainly spent a lot of time talking with people who have come to pick up worms – but all of this reminds me that I should make more of an effort to reach those who are unfamiliar with the concept of vermicomposting – starting with those who live in my own neighborhood!
Anyway – just some thoughts rattling around in the ol’ noggin!
Yesterday I decided to try a fun little experiment on the Red Worm Composting Facebook Fan Page. I posted the question, “What is YOUR biggest frustration with vermicomposting?” – then waited.
I didn’t have to wait very long – the answers started coming in almost right away! As of this morning, there were 47 responses! Have I mentioned how much I am LOVING the Facebook Fan page? I don’t think there has been a single blog post (here on the site) yet that has received 47 comments in less than 24 hours – in fact, there might only be one or two that have received that many at all! Very cool indeed!
I didn’t just ask the question to see how many responses I could get, though! I really wanted to see what sort of “frustrations” people are actually experiencing. In the “book” I talk about some of the things I think might be hampering a more widespread (mainstream) acceptance of vermicomposting. My suspicion has been that a lot of this can be linked to “critter hassles”, rather than a worm phobia. I am pretty sure that more people have started-then-stopped vermicomposting more often due to the presence of fruit flies / gnats / mites / maggots etc than due to anything else. I don’t have hard data here, but it’s something I see coming up over and over again.
The Facebook poll was no different…
Of the 39 “frustrations” I wrote down from the group of comments, 19 made mention of some sort of annoying critter (if not more than one) – that’s 48.7%!! Not too surprisingly, most of the critter concerns had to do with flying pests (such as fungus gnats and fruit flies). One thing that DID surprise me, though, was that I didn’t see any mention of black soldier fly grubs – and there was only one mention of “maggots”. Based on the number of emails I have received about “big ugly grubs” (or something similar), my impression has been that BSFLs are a hassle for a lot of new vermicomposters (with outdoor or semi-outdoor systems).
The next most common frustration seems to be harvesting. There were 8 comments (20.5%) that mentioned this as a hassle. I am not too surprised about this one either – it can be a real pain separating the worms from the vermicompost, ESPECIALLY when using some sort of plastic bin system (i.e. a system that results in higher moisture content).
Here are some of the other things people mentioned:
– Blue Worms (invading)
– cold weather
– other people getting annoyed or not understanding
– summer heat
– finding worm suppliers
– takes so long for results (including worms not growing as fast as expected)
– too much waste – not enough worms
– stinky waste materials
– too messy
What’s really awesome about this little “experiment”, aside from making me realize I need to spend more time on the FB Fan Page, is that it helps me to see some of the topics people are really keen to learn more about!
I’d love to get some more input though – are there any other major frustrations you have with vermicomposting? (don’t worry if they’ve already been mentioned).
My aim is to start writing some posts addressing these concerns.
Thanks again to all those who participate!
It has been ages since my last Worm Inn Journal update (see “Worm Inn Journal-08-27-10“), and I’m just generally aiming to get things back to “normal” on the blog now that my two “babies” (Spencer and “Da Book”) are here!
Initially (for the first two and a half months or so), the system sat out in my backyard where it ended up getting invaded by fruit flies (with all the dying tomatoes lying around in my yard I ended up with a huge fruit fly population explosion). Once I started noticing that we were getting some heavy frosts I decided to bring the Inn inside, rather than take my chances during the unpredictable weather of late fall. I was a bit concerned re: the possibility of ending up with a serious indoor fruit fly population, but as I discovered, a fungus gnat population had taken over where the fruit flies left off.
What’s interesting is that the addition of a fair amount of “compost ecosystem” material (primarily added to help compensate for a large quantity of wet food waste I put in the system) – then simply letting everything sit for awhile – seems to have resulted in a significant reduction in gnat numbers. We shall see though – I’ll likely be adding more food wastes and moisture in coming weeks so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a gnat “comeback”!
I didn’t dig around too much today, so I can’t say for sure how the worm population is doing. My hunch is that the worms are doing well (as you can see, I did find some healthy looking wigglers), but I think they are mostly hanging out in the lower reaches of the Inn where there is a higher moisture content.
Speaking of moisture, I’ve decided to set up a handy-dandy automatic Worm Inn watering system, using a little drip bottle contraption (see “Worm Bin IV“).
It only releases 1 or 2 drops of water every 30 seconds (just an estimate), but I think it’s going to be a great hands-free way to keep everything nice and moist without having liquid running out of the bottom. As you can see in the first picture, I have put some layers of newsprint on top of the main composting zone. I’ve been finding that this is a good way help retain and distribute moisture (rather than getting poured down in one location, it soaks the newsprint and is then gradually released into the materials down below).
Anyway, that’s basically all for now. I will certainly keep everyone posted (and on a more regular basis than I have been).
It’s a boy!
On Thursday November 4th baby Spencer finally arrived (8 days overdue), at 8:51 pm. He weighed in at a whopping 8 lb 15 oz – just 4 oz shy of my (whopping) weight when I was born. We were half expecting him to emerge as a teenager given how long he’s been procrastinating, so we’re counting our blessings!
Thanks very much to Anna K. (RWC Worm-Friend) for the wonderful hand-knitted hats she sent me (including the worm-head hat that Spencer is wearing above) – let’s all team up and convince her to start selling these things!
As expected, our 3 yr old daughter Adaia is really loving her new role as “big sister”!
I have little doubt that a good number of our readers will recall my “You Know You Are A True Worm-Head When…” post from last year. It turned out to be one of the most popular posts on the blog, and one that people definitely seemed to have a lot of fun with. In light on this, I thought it would be fun to see if we could put together a sequel! As you’ll see, there were a LOT of funny/creative contributions, so it might be a bit challenging to come up with a bunch of new ones – but I’m sure we can do it (and worse case scenario, we’ll certainly have some fun revisiting the old list)
Here are all the original contributions:
You Know You Are A True Worm-Head When…
…you’re the only person you know who gets excited about rotting produce.
…any time you try to type the words “world”, “warm”, “word” or “work” you end up with “worm”.
…you have a worm bin that doubles as a piece of furniture.
…you’ve attempted to name all your worms at least once.
…your heart skips a beat walking down the plastic bin aisle in department stores.
…you start seeing EVERY container as a potential worm bin.
…you are shocked when your friends tell you they spent $200 on new “bedding”.
…your worms get more respect that your cats/dogs.
…on warm, rainy days you walk along the sidewalk on tippy toes, looking down constantly.
…the phrase “they’re only worms!” deeply offends you.
…you love the smell of a worm bin in the morning.
…you welcome guests into your home by saying “hey, wanna go see my worms?”.
…you’d be a millionaire if you received a dime for every fruit fly and fungus gnat hatched in your home.
…you include ‘vermicomposting’ as part of your skill-set on resumes.
…you start eyeing produce (with an evil glint in your eye) in your fridge well before it’s past its prime.
…the picture above makes you smile.
…Your 2-year-old has his own pretend “worm bin”.
~ Rich A
…You stand in line at Starbucks for the free grounds instead of the double mocha latte with a boost.
…You have watched the Dirty Jobs show about worm farming and you ask yourself “Where’s the dirty part of the job?”
…You count egg capsules and start naming potential hatchlings.
…In your war against commercial chemical fertilizers, you want to play TAPPS and have a 21 gun salute when a fellow soldier(worm) dies.
…Your a disabled man, but you dig another 6X3X3 pit on your hands and knees to expand your squirm.
…When you name your first two kids Wiggley and Squiggley.
…When you think about starting a vacuum bag recycling program to feed your worms.
…When you look around your neighborhood for piles of leaves and cut grass to use as bedding for your worms.
…When you frequent the local stores to ask for aged vegetables for your wormy friends to eat.
…When the young children visit, they step over the dogs to visit
A poem from my wife:
Recipe for a wormhead
A wormhead has alot of passion
To make this happen you gotta ration
To make a combo of compost into soil
You need leaves, garbage but please hold the oil
You make this barrel so you can churn
And add a windwhirl so it can turn
In the process this begins to get hot
Lets throw in some egg shells, coffee and grass in the pot
As it rots in this barrel and goes through it’s phase
The wormhead has this look of amaze
Then juices start flowing and we’ll call it teas
He hands it to me as food for my trees
He’s getting it all ready and here comes the worms
He’s gaining anxiety for all that he’s learned
Now here comes the good part that all has been done
He’s prospering well for all he’s begun
~ Mark From Kansas
…living a life where saying “I have to go water my worms” actually makes sense
…You go out to eat, eye other peoples leftovers that would make great worm food and you sneak some into your pocket to bring home…of course your pocket has a baggie for just such occasions.
…You asked your friends and family to save worm food for you.
…Your Christmas card has a picture with you and your worms. You realize later, only when someone points it out, that your spouse and kids were not in the photo.
…When touching poop is not a scary thing anymore.
…You keep a zip lock bag in your car just in case you find something you can feed your worms laying on the ground.
…You have stopped your car by the side of the road to pick up a banana peel someone dropped while crossing the street.
…You shred every piece of paper you toss out, not just the paper with confidential information on it.
…When your shredder gets full, you keep the contents.
…When you shred the envelopes from the power company, you cut the plastic windows out first.
…Your friends give you wilted produce as gifts.
~ Scott B.
…Ask the produce worker if you can have his “leavings” when he cleans up the produce.
…Decide if you want to keep the leftovers for yourself or feed to the worms.
…when you tell people you have worms and your smiling.
…when your spouse knows your a little off but saves scrapes anyway, or is that love?
…when you lay awake at night and wonder about your worms.
…when you go to check on them and the moving mass of diving reds just makes your heart warm.
…when all you ask for for Christmas has to do with worms.
~ Rick D.
Ah yes….I live in the UK but all this sounds sooo familiar! I, too, find myself regarding the past their sell by date veg and other food as potential worm food-When I’m at a Pub, or Restaurant, I eye the left overs with a glint in my eye, summoning up the courage to ask for a “doggy bag” to take home (or should that be a wormy bag? On courses, where we share lunch, I am the only one taking home other people’s leftovers! Not forgetting Freecycle as a source of wormy accessories and homes. I’ve been known to go up the garden to cover my wormery with extra fleece/bubble wrap in my pyjamas on cold nights! I’ve ceased worrying what the neighbours think! Worms make me smile….I talk to mine! How about you?
~ Angie H.
…When you make RED WORM COMPOSTING your home page.
…When you put on rubber glove so the worms won’t get anything from off your hands.( even though you washed them twice ).
~ Scott D.
I love those comments… and got the funniest looks when I asked the church ladies that came over for tea if they wanted to see my worms….I shoulda had my camera…. but guess what? Two of them said Yes… they are gardeners, so were quite interested.. and I am going to help one of them get started in vermiculture this spring..I have gotten to the point where I ask the local produce manager for wilted lettuce, etc.. and he gives it to me.. wooo hooo
…When you worry about how your worms are while away on vacation…
…When you start to worry if you’re too excited about poop…
…When you can sit for hours watching your worm bin…
…All of the other comments are sooooo true! Its very reassuring!
…you show mating worms to your son and don’t understand why he isn’t as excited as you are even though you exclaim, “But you don’t understand how exciting this is!”
…your boss gets you a kitchen composter for Christmas! (thanx, John!)
…lose count of how many cocoons there are when you’re harvesting.
…when your proper and dignified mother proudly gives you a bag of carrot peelings she saved for your worms.
…Also, when your mother buys a Worm Inn in support of your project, but then does nothing with it. bless her heart
…you keep your worms in the living room for fear they will get too cold (in the winter) and too hot (in the summer-I live in south FL).
…when you are buried in an avalanche of toilet paper rolls, egg cartons and brown paper bags every time you open a closet
…when you ask for boxes at the grocery store over plastic bags NOT because you are trying to be eco-friendly
…when you spend time day dreaming about the ultimate grinding machine that doubles as a worm harvester
…when you have one small tree and a few shrubs on your property yet you are still pricing chippers
…when you close your eyes and all you see are worms
…when quality time with your spouse involves watching movies while hand-shredding cardboard
…when you’re seriously considering having your ashes poured onto your wormbin (is that sick or what?)
…when the thought of feeding some of your worms to your baby finches breaks your heart.
~ Kim from Milwaukee
…When you prepare new worm beds months before harvesting.
…When you know your ABCs: Amazing Bin Crawlers!!
…You start a worm bin because you are too cheap to keep buying them (worms), but once you get it going, you won’t let your fishing buddies anywhere near your babies.
…you visit Redwormcomposting.com multiple times per day.
…you tell your friends that no newspaper or cardboard boxes are safe in your house.
…you stet up your own neighborhood recycling center for cardboard boxes, old newspapers, vegetable scrapes, coffee grounds/filters, and tea bags.
… your friends think you are weird because you take home all the pizza boxes from the pizza party.
… your friends, instead of going to the recycling center, just give you all their cardboard boxes.
… your teacher wants you to write a report on any pet of your choice and tell how to take care of it, you write one about your worms.
…you’ve just read through all the archived posts on redwormcomposting.com in case you missed something cool. You did.
I know I’m a true worm head when,
I go to cook at my Long Term, Nursing and rehab facility, and my co-workers ask me if I want the watermelon rines.
…When all of your self-help advice to your friends starts with “do you know about red worms?”
…When you get sunburnt sorting through your worm bin even though you’re wearing 55 spf sunscreen. (Seriously, there must be a time warp every time I start to play in my worm bin. Hours can pass in no time at all.)
…Your idea of quality time with your kids includes sorting worms from VC on the kitchen floor (and a requisite bath afterwards, of course!)
Some of you may recall the neighborhood pumpkin raid I went on last year. I ended up with a pretty good haul, and my worms were undoubtedly impressed with the wonderful feast laid before them!
Well, unfortunately I haven’t really had time to do something similar this year, so I was pretty happy when Larry D emailed me to tell me about his own (2010) pumpkin pick-up! I think he might have still been feeling some glow from the nice words I shared about him in the the book when he decided to start carving some of them! Haha
This was a craigslist find for free. I literally thought I could help this lady out. She has five sites in town. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera on the table. When I got there, there was literally a semi trailer full still left. I contacted someone else, who was going to try and contact the food bank! Imagine a semi load x five going to a landfill! But I know every year I got a pumpkin supply!
I call this “The RWC Great Pumpkin Patch” composting experiment! I made some crude Jack-o lanterns,that I filled with dry horse manure with bedding. It should be interesting to see if the worms climb in them, or wait for them to collapse. I will keep the manure topped off, so the worms can live inside when they start breaking down. This isn’t one just any one should try. These are 30 pound pumpkins, I would guess. And I actually cut up two more and divided that between this and other bins. I picked up 30 pumpkins total. So that was some mega weight. I’ll snap a photo here and there on their progress! Happy worm Halloween!
Thanks again, Larry!
I received a REALLY intriguing email from one of our readers, Larry P, a number of weeks ago. It touched on a very important/relevant topic – and one that seems to have a lot of people confused.
NOTE: There is reference to a “14 Day Castings” formula in Larry’s email. As you will see, I have omitted specific (proprietary) information since it’s not meant to be publicly shared. Based on the fact that there has recently been a very heated debate on this topic on the Vermicomposters forum I want to make it CLEAR that I am in NO WAY attempting to attack OR defend anyone here. My aim is to hopefully shed some light on the topic based on what I’ve read etc. I certainly DO hope to stimulate some discussion here BUT definitely won’t tolerate mud-slinging (we’re trying to clear the water, not add more mud to it, right? haha). Ok nuff said!
I’m trying to figure out why put the compost or black peat moss through the worm. My organic chemistry professor always harped at me about Stoichiometry. If the were 6 carbons, 12 hydrogens, 3 nitrogens and 2 oxygen atoms on one side of the equation, then there should be an equal number on the other side of the equation after the reaction. There are retailers out there that say just put your worms in black peat with some chicken feed and lime and presto worms castings, ie black gold. Why not just spread the black peat? What makes the casting so much better than the black peat moss? If you start with a half bucket of black peat and the worms turn it into a half bucket of castings you still only have the same amount of carbon and nitrogen. Why are the castings so much better?
I’ve done the black peat thing. The formula is [I’ve omitted this information since it’s not meant to be shared publicly] and in 14 days you have about 10 pounds of beautiful looking castings. However are all castings equal? Are the wet mucky red wiggler castings any better just because they are fed a variety of food stuffs? So is it simple in simple out? Complex in complex out? Has anyone actually analyzed different castings? Is the value of the casting so Mother Nature complex that it can’t be analyzed? That there is more to it than just the amount of available individual elements. Just like compost really can’t be elementally technically defined.
Thanks again for bringing this up (sorry it’s taken so long for me to post something on the blog though). Rather than tackle your specific questions right off the bat, I think it’s probably not a bad idea to lay some groundwork here.
Some potential questions to get us started:
What exactly are “worm castings”?
How are “worm castings” different from “vermicompost”?
Are all castings/vermicomposts created equal?
Can you produce worm castings in 14 days?
What exactly are “worm castings”?
Worm castings are literally the little nuggets that come out the back end of earthworms (i.e. “worm poop”). They tend to be rich in plant-available nutrients, various other plant-growth-promoting substances, and countless beneficial microbes. Academic research has repeatedly shown that the use of worm castings (even in relatively small amounts) can have a significantly positive impact on plant growth. They have also been found to help protect plants from diseases and pests.
How are “worm castings” different from “vermicompost”?
One thing you’ll notice if you read a lot of the academic literature is that the term “vermicompost” is generally used more often than “worm castings”. Although these terms can be (and are) used interchangeably, “vermicompost” is almost always (if not ALWAYS) the more accurate term since it is very difficult to create a mix that is 100% pure worm castings. Invariably, even with long vermicomposting bed retention times & screening etc you are going to end up with some materials that have not passed through the digestive tract of an earthworm and/or resistant materials that are unaffected by the passage through the worm gut.
Generally, the longer the material is left to get vermi-processed, the higher the percentage of castings. Also, the higher the density of worms being employed, the more quickly you will achieve a high percentage of castings.
I still tend to use the two terms interchangeably myself – but just something to keep in mind!
Are all castings/vermicomposts created equal?
Absolutely NOT! Not even REMOTELY close. This is really where the “conundrum” lies. Everyone (and their mothers) can call their material “worm castings”. As far as I know, there is still no official castings certification board, or any real set of recognized industry standards. HOW the “castings” are created, and what “food” materials are used can both have a hugely significant impact on the type of material that get’s produced.
Assuming the vermicomposting process itself is optimized (and kept constant), the use of different food/bedding materials will result in vermicomposts with different nutrient profiles, microbial communities etc. Generally speaking, all vermicomposts produced in a reasonably “optimal” manner (as semi-oxymoronic as that might sound – haha) are going to possess beneficial qualities, and as such will help to promote plant growth.
One of the issues encountered by those using enclosed plastic bins, for example, is excess moisture. This contributes to the development of anaerobic decomposition processes, and the various resultant metabolites (some of which can actually be toxic to plants). It’s not uncommon to dump these bins many months after setting them up, only to find that much of the material at the bottom is in basically the same (undecomposed) state that it was in when added!
As such, well-aerated systems (such as various flow-through designs) have the tendency to produce the best vermicomposts (and in the shortest periods of time).
Can you produce worm castings in 14 days?
SURE! You can produce worm castings in minutes or even seconds. How fast can a worm take a poop?
The big question, though, is what percentage of castings are you going to end up with after 14 days? Well, it’s going to depend on the types of materials in the system, and the densities of worms being added. The variety of composting worm being employed will also more than likely affect the results.
The larger industrial flow-through beds – based on the original design created by Dr. Clive Edwards and his Rothamstead research team in the early 80’s – used by the likes of Worm Power, Oregon Soil Corporation, and Sonoma Valley Worms, generally have retention times of at least 30-60 days (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen mention of 60+ days as preferred by both Worm Power and Sonoma Valley). When you give the worms that much time to process the materials, you’re more than likely going to end up with a vermicompost with a high percentage of castings.
I myself have seen what really high densities of worms are capable of, so I have little doubt that you could produce a decent quantity of castings in a 14 day period – and as long as the process itself was optimized (with a good moisture/oxygen balance), whatever you were going to call the end product, I’m sure it would possess at least some beneficial properties (it would more than likely be superior to the starting materials).
Getting back to your questions, Larry…
Hopefully I’ve helped to shed some light on WHY it is beneficial to process materials using composting worms (some helpful links at the end of this post for further reading). I myself wouldn’t likely be trying to process either “peat” or “compost”, however – since these are both highly stabilized materials. If these were bedding materials that were also mixed with a fair amount of nutrient-rich “food” materials I’m sure you could produce some decent vermicompost (in 14 days? Again, this would depend on a number of different parameters). The main thing to get across here is that vermicompost is HUGELY different than peat moss alone – although it does share some of the same beneficial properties (water-retention, soil structure enhancement etc).
There has indeed been a LOT of academic research focused on vermicompost. I HIGHLY recommend that everyone (interested in the subject) checks out the Ohio State University Soil Ecology Lab website. In particular, be sure to visit the Publications page. I recently discovered that they have made many of these research articles publicly available, which is AWESOME for all those that don’t have academic library access. One article that provides a really nice overview of the topic is “THE CONVERSION OF ORGANIC WASTES INTO VERMICOMPOSTS AND VERMICOMPOST ‘TEAS’ WHICH PROMOTE PLANT GROWTH AND SUPPRESS PESTS AND DISEASES” (**Opens as a Word Document – so if you don’t have this program it might not work. For everyone who doesn’t have MS Word, I highly recommend “Open Office” – and open source equivalent).
Also, be sure to check out the Cornell Vermicompost page. It is a fairly new resource, but there is already a lot of really interesting stuff there!
As the “Part I” should indicate, I am more than likely not finished with this topic just yet.
Thanks again to Larry P for writing in!