May 2011

Used Jet Worm Harvester

I recently received an email from Veronica G., asking me if I might be able to let RWC readers know about the “lightly used” worm harvester she has for sale. What’s funny is that a good friend of mine had asked me just a short time before receiving Veronica’s email if I happened to know where she might be able to find a used harvester (strangely enough, she tracked one down on her own almost right away). Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some other RWC readers (a bit more serious about their worm farming activities) thinking about potentially purchasing one of these, so I’m more than happy to help Veronica get the word out about it.

***IMPORTANT UPDATE: Veronica was able to find a buyer quite quickly, so the harvester is no longer available***

Here is the pertinent info Veronica provided me with:

Jet Worm Harvester

SPECS

Model 2420

2-36 Inch Screens

103 Inches Long (8 ½ ft)

36 Inches Wide

41 Inches High w/o Legs

Weight-130 lbs.

Aluminum Loading Chute

Aluminum Paddles

1 Additional Screen

If you go to the jetcompost.com website, you can see the model 2420 that I purchased. You will also see that with the loading chute, aluminum paddles and 1 additional screen that the MSRP is $3,676.00.

I am asking $1800 for my harvester. It was very lightly used (about 10 times), I purchased it brand new, have been the only user and it has been stored almost exclusively inside. If anyone is interested or wants to make me an offer, please let me know. I live in Stoutland, Missouri and will do my best to help make pick-up or delivery as easy and inexpensive as possible.

If you are interested and/or you would like to see some more pictures (close-ups), just drop me a line and I’ll help you get connected with Veronica.

**Want Even More Fun With Worms? Sign Up for the RWC E-mail List Today!**
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Do Composting Worms Pose a Threat as Invasive Species?

Concern over the potential for non-native earthworms to become invasive, and have a negative impact on ecosystems in various parts of North America has gained considerable attention in recent years. The full scope of the problem has yet to be determined, but there is substantial academic research evidence to suggest that various species of earthworms have been significantly altering native ecosystems in regions where they’ve been introduced – particular in areas where no earthworms have been previously found. (Callaham et al. 2006).

My own introduction to this topic came in the form of an online article I happened upon several years ago entitled “Wisconsin cracking down on ‘infected bait’” – and I actually made mention of it here on the blog (see “Nightcrawlers Ruining Northern Forests?” – unfortunately it looks as though the original article is no longer available). In all honesty, while the topic certainly caught my attention and I took the claims seriously – the full extent of the issue (and the potential implication of composting worms as threats) did not fully register until fairly recently. On that note, I’d like to take the opportunity to say thanks to my good friends Mark (“from Kansas”) and Allison Jack for helping to get this topic back on my radar screen. Both of them have been in contact with researchers in this field, and they were able to get me pointed in the right direction so I could learn a lot more myself.

I’ve been a pretty vocal proponent of the use of Red Worms (Eisenia fetida/andrei) in outdoor systems over the past couple of years, and the upcoming release of my “Better Backyard Composting” series (which will certainly offer outdoor vermicomposting as a beneficial strategy) makes this all the more timely – and my writing about it all the more important! I should point out that my intent with this first article is not to provide complete coverage of this topic – I simply want to get the ball rolling, introduce the topic to those who might not be familiar, and generally provide some commentary based on what I’ve gathered thus far!

Some things to consider…

  • Much of the concern seems focused on northern deciduous and boreal forest ecosystems – particularly those with no native species of earthworms. It is believed that glaciation – which affected much of northern North America – wiped out all native earthworms, and thus all species found in this part of the continent are thought to be introduced (mainly from Europe). Some of the areas where research has been conducted include the northern states (particularly Minnesota), Alberta Canada, New York State and the Great Lakes Region (Larson et al. 2010).
    **This is NOT to suggest that there is no potential for concerns in other areas, however**

  • One of the main issues is the resulting loss of the “O Horizon” – the uppermost layer in the soil profile (consisting primarily of fallen leaves and other organic matter in forest environments) and mixing of organic matter into the “A Horizon” (next layer down) once certain invasive species become established. When no earthworms are present, this organic matter breakdown generally takes place over the course of years – whereas the process is often greatly accelerated when earthworms are present.

  • This rapid breakdown of O Horizon can greatly impact nutrient cycling – some evidence to suggest that certain key nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) become less available, or end up lost via leaching as a result (Hale et al. 2005; Frelich et al. 2006). It has been found to reduce understory vegetation and result in the loss of certain plant species altogether (namely those dependent on the habitat, and other benefits provided by the O Horizon).

  • Full grasp of the potential long-term impact this could have has not yet been determined. As per usual in the world of scientific research – much more work is needed.

  • There seems to be some debate among researchers regarding the importance of the natural spread of established earth worm populations VS human-assisted introduction/spread (Hale 2008b) – the latter certainly being the one that gets the most attention.

  • Different invasive earthworms species have different habitat/feeding preferences (belong to different “functional groups”) and thus different impacts on the ecosystems into which they spread or are introduced. Different combinations of species can result in different impacts as well (Hale et al. 2008).
    Bottom-line, it’s important not to make generalizations.

  • Threat posed by more recently introduced species, such as Amynthas sp (“Jumpers”) has not yet been adequately assessed – more work also needed in this area (Callaham, 2006).

Here are a couple of BIG questions on my mind (will then addresses each of these based on what I know so far):

1) Is there ANY research evidence to suggest that Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida/andrei) are negatively disrupting native ecosystems in any part of North America (or the world for that matter)? Is there even evidence to suggest that they would if given the opportunity?

2) If YES (for #1), what is the evidence (what sort of studies have been conducted, results etc)? If NO – are there other widely-used composting worms that pose real (or at least potential) threat?


Red Wigglers | Eisenia fetida/andrei


Based on information I’ve come across thus far, feedback from the earthworm professionals I’ve been in touch with, and my own extensive experience with these worms, there doesn’t seem to be strong evidence suggesting that they pose a threat to natural ecosystems (but this is certainly still something I am looking into). Firstly, I should explain (for those not already aware) that E. fetida and E. andrei, while determined to be two distinct species (Dominguez et al. 2005), tend to occur in mixed populations in the same habitats – my understanding is that they can only conclusively be distinguished from one another via molecular analysis. As such, it makes sense just to consider them together.

For one thing, these worms don’t tend to occur in “natural” habitats at all – but rather, tend to be found in concentrations of very rich organic matter such as manure and compost heaps. It’s not so much that they won’t survive in decaying leaf litter (they likely would) – it’s more that the chances of them actually thriving in this environment seems quite unlikely. Some experts cite the inability of Red Worms to withstand cold winter temperatures as one of the main reasons for there being less of a concern with them – I’ve actually found them to be quite cold-tolerant, so I’m somewhat less inclined to build an argument around that, but I guess it would be location dependent (they seem to do ok with minimal protection here in Southern Ontario – but in more northerly regions, and/or in more of a “natural” environment, perhaps they don’t overwinter nearly as easily).

As luck would have it, I happen to live about 15 minutes from a world-leading earthworm researcher and worm ID specialist, Dr. John Reynolds. That’s not to say that we’ve met (haha) – but I have been having email exchanges with him for quite some time. As soon as the invasives issue ended up on my radar screen I decided to get back in touch with Dr. Reynolds to chat about potentially sending in some worms for identification (more on that in a minute). While I was at it, I ended up asking for his professional opinion on the E. fetida/andrei (as invasive species) situation. My question was basically, “in your professional opinion, are these worms a potential threat?” – to which he responded:

No. Eisenia foetida [note: alternate spelling] because of its high optimum developmental temperature requirements it is not now found widely in nature. Since the decline of horses in agriculture, most populations are in articifial situations. If you looked at three of my recent monographs covering eastern North America you would see the limited distribution of Eisenia foetida.

[I’ve included a listing of the monographs mentioned in the References section]

My own “wild” encounters with this worm seem to be very much in-line with Dr. Reynolds’ findings. Quite literally, the ONLY place I’ve ever encountered these worms, other than in composting systems, is in aged, outdoor manure heaps – usually those containing mostly bedded horse manure.

So what about OTHER composting worms?


Lumbricus rubellus


This is the worm I am now very keenly focused on. It is certainly mentioned frequently in the literature as an invasive species (Hale et al. 2005; Larson et al. 2010; Frelich et al. 2006 – among numerous others), and over the years it has been repeatedly referred to as a “composting worm”. What’s intriguing is the fact that I’ve come across multiple mentions of key “surveys” examining the presence (or lack thereof) of L. rubellus in samples obtained from worm farms in Australia, Europe and North America. One such mention can be found in Edwards and Bohlen (1996) – p.251:

“In surveys of commercial earthworm farms in the US and Europe by Edwards, and Australia by Buckerfield and Baker, the earthworms sold under the name L. rubellus were all E. fetida or E. andrei.”

I just HAD to get to the bottom of this, so I contacted Dr. Edwards himself. Unfortunately, his response only served to muddy the situation even further (for me anyway). Here is some of what he said:

The picture with L. rubellus is somewhat confused, the report in the Vermiculture Technology book on the survey on worm farms dates back to the 1980s and is no longer valid. This review was never published except mentioned in various papers.

The current situation is that L. rubellus is being used in vermicomposting. For instance, a earthworm farm in Illinois run by Bill Kreitzer. L. rubellus is interesting because it is one of the few vermicomposting earthworms in soil improvement. Hence, there is quite a lot of interest in this species. The same situation exists with Dendrobaena veneta.

Hmmm…

Bottom-line, this is definitely something I want to look into a LOT more. My own sneaking suspicion is that L. rubellus is not employed in typical vermicomposting situations quite as much as some people might think. That’s not to say it won’t sometimes be found in vermicomposting systems (especially those in outdoor locations).

According to Dr. Reynolds, separating L. rubellus from E. fetida is “not difficult” based on “a couple of characters which can be seen with a magnifing glass, even if they are not mature.” (including common features like coloration, and morphology of tail region). As such, I think there needs to be a lot more focus on educating people about the differences between these species.

I’m pretty sure that L. rubellus is quite common in my region (and I think I’ve found some already), so I’m hoping to track down a bunch of them and A) get a positive ID on them (by sending in to Dr. Reynolds) and B) test them out as “composting worms”.


European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis / Dendrobaena veneta)


This is variety of worms (or several closely related variety of worms – yet another issue I’m interested in getting to the bottom of) that MAY pose a potential threat (hard to say for sure). While they are fairly similar to Red Worms in terms of habitat/food and general environmental requirements, I get the feeling they are able to adapt to semi-soil environments somewhat more easily than Reds. I have seen no mention of these worms in any of the literature I’ve come across thus far, so they at least don’t seem to be a major known threat – but my suspicion is that their frequent use as a fishing worm, and their potential ability to live in more of a “natural” environment, may leave their status in question.


African Nightcrawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae) & Blue Worms (Perionyx excavatus)


These species MAY have the potential for causing issues in sensitive ecosystems located in warmer regions, but they certainly won’t pose any threat in northern regions of North America. Both of them die once temps drop below 10 C / 50 F, so there is very little chance of them over-wintering in most areas, let alone thriving.

I’ve had Blue Worms in outdoor systems previously, and while they certainly did well during the summer, once cooler temps of fall arrived their activity declined rapidly and they started to disappear. I was unable to locate any the following growing season.

——

OK – well, I think I’ve provided enough of an “eye-full” for one blog post! This is definitely a topic I plan to revisit on an ongoing basis – so no need to get it all out today! haha

Obviously, given my entrenched (no pun intended) position in the world of vermicomposting – not to mention my financial interests in, and reliance on, this field – it’s no-brainer to assume that my views on all this are going to be at least a little bit biased. I think what’s helped me remain reasonably objective here is the fact that I am a life-long naturalist with a strong background in ecology and conservation biology. Bottom-line, I wouldn’t have brought this up at all if it wasn’t something that I felt the vermicomposting community needed to be aware of, and learn more about.

My intent here is not to leave people with any sort of final consensus or conclusions regarding the issue of invasive earthworms – the scientific research in this field has not reached that point, so I’m certainly not in a position to do so. Conversely, I don’t think it’s something that should be swept under the carpet either.

My hope is that we’ll be able to open up a respectful dialogue (hopefully with some of those involved in the research as well) so as to develop a better understanding of the current situation.
8)


Supporting Literature (Including References Cited)

Callaham, M.A.Jr., Gonzalez, G., Hale, C.M., Lachnicht, S.L., Zou, X. 2006. Policy and management responses to earthworm invasions in North America. Biological Invasions 8: 1317-1329.

Dominguez, J., Velando, A., Ferreiro, A. 2005. Are Eisenia fetida (Savigny, 1826) and Eisenia andrei Bouche´ (1972) (Oligochaeta, Lumbricidae) different biological species? Pedobiologia 49: 81-87.

Edwards, C.A. and P.J. Bohlen. 1996. The biology and ecology of earthworms (3rd Edition). Chapman & Hall, London, 426pp.

Frelich, L.E., Hale, C.M., Sheu, S., Holdsworth, A.R., Heneghan, L. Bohlen, P.J., Reich, P.B. 2006. Earthworm invasion into previously earthworm-free temperate and boreal forests. Biological Invasions 8: 1235-1245.

Hale, C.M. 2008. Evidence for human-mediated dispersal of exotic earthworms: support for exploring strategies to limit further spread. Molecular Ecology 17: 1165-1169.

Hale, C.M., Frelich, L.E., Reich, P.B., Pastor, J. 2008. Exotic earthworm effects on hardwood forest floor, nutrient availability and native plants: a mesocosm study. Oecologia 155: 509-518.

269. Reynolds, J.W. 2010. Earthworms (Oligochaeta: Lumbricidae, Sparganophilidae) of the Atlantic Maritime Ecozone. Chapter 13, Pp. 225-281. In: Assessment of Species Diversity in the Atlantic Maritime Ecozone, D.F. McAlpine and I. Smith
(eds.). Ottawa: NRC Press, xii + 785 p. [paper in English; abstracts English and French].

273. Reynolds, J.W. 2010. The earthworms (Oligochaeta: Acanthodrilidae, Lumbricidae, Megascolecidae and Sparganophilidae) of northeastern United States, revisited. Megadrilogica 14(7): 101-157. [paper in English; abstracts in English, French, Spanish, Italian]

275. Reynolds, J.W. 2011. The earthworms (Oligochaeta: Acanthodrilidae, Eudrilidae, Glossoscolecidae, Lumbricidae,
Lutodrilidae, Ocnerodrilidae, Octochaetidae, Megascolecidae and Sparganophilidae) of southeastern United States.
Megadrilogica 14(9-12): 175- 318. [paper in English; abstracts in English, French, Hungarian, Spanish]

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Bentley’s DIY Backyard Bin

In the summer of 2006, just one year after we moved into our very first home (my current “suburban worm farm”), I decided to build myself a wooden compost bin. I’m sure to most people that will sound like a fairly normal, reasonable thing to do (assuming one has an interest in composting) – but I should explain that for ME this was a monumental undertaking! You see, while my grandfather probably could have built a house, blind-folded with one hand tied behind his back (and only tooth picks for nails!) – haha – this apple fell pretty far from that tree it seems (and ended up over in the compost heap)! To this day, I continue to look back in amazement – not only because I was able to build the bin but, perhaps even more importantly, that it has remained standing for close to 5 years!!

Unfortuntely, one of the downsides of not having a lot of DIY talent is that even when one DOES manage to build something, one typically does so in a rather haphazard manner, without any consideration for documentation and future reference. As such, the bad news is that I don’t have any sort of “plans”, and even if I did – you probably wouldn’t want to follow them! haha

That being said, I do at least want to make an effort to provide some of the specifics for those who might be thinking of building something similar.

SPECS
1) Dimensions: 5′ x 3′ x 3′ – open bottom
2) Lumber: standard fence-boards (for slats) & 2×2’s (frame)
Fence-boards: [5 boards high X 5ft length X 3 sides (includes lid)] + [5 boards high X 3 ft length X 2 sides] = 105′ total board length
2x2s: 4 X 3ft lengths = 12′ (uprights) + ~ 16′ for upper frame + ~ 12′ for lid supports = 40 ‘ total (actually not that much since the upper-inner frame pieces do not run the entire length and width, and the four lid supports are shorter than 3 ft each).

**IMPORTANT NOTE**: I’m rather embarrassed to admit it, but I should point out that I DID use “pressure-treated” lumber for this bin (gulp) – straight from the lumber yard. I was young and foolish – please forgive me! haha
These days I would certainly recommend using second-hand, or untreated wood (there are various ways you can protect wood yourself in a more enviro-friendly manner).

In case you are wondering about fasteners…

In hindsight, I probably should have used small wood screws to attach everything, but I simply used a LOT of small nails (probably about 100 more than were needed – haha!).

Some may also be wondering about the compost door at the bottom (in some images). While this was certainly on my mind when I built the bin, the fact is I didn’t want to push my luck, so I decided to build it without a door initially. As I’ll explain further down, a couple years later, with the help of my brother, I did end up installing a door (and thank goodness for that)!


Bit-O-Backstory

I recently tracked down an article I wrote on a (now-defunct) website I’d started with a friend, called “EcoSherpa”. Here is a funny/interesting blurb that relates to the hole-in-the-ground images below:

I started with a simple hole in the ground, which I filled with old straw, cardboard, food waste and the contents of several worm bins I’d kept inside over the winter. My hole-in-the-ground served as my composter for several months (did I mention that I like to procrastinate?)…


Ahhhhh – procrastination! Those were the days!
😆

Interestingly enough, this reveals that I was actually using a vermicomposting trench (without really thinking about it) a couple of years before I became a trench composting fanatic!

Joking and interesting observations aside, I should mention that creating some sort of pit down below your composter is a strategy I now recommend for those setting up new backyard systems. Not only does it provide you with a decent amount of extra volume, but it can also serve as a protective zone for the various critters in your compost bin ecosystem (including composting worms, if you happen to be using them). This helps with over-wintering in cold regions and hot summer conditions as well (not to mention when your bin goes “thermophilic” on you after adding too much material at once!).

Moving on…

Once I finally DID get the bin set up, I decided to add some cardboard.

Believe it or not, within a day or two, I had managed to add most, if not ALL, of the material shown in the next image!

Yet another reminder of the fact that I had some time on my hands!
😆

—–

There’s no denying the fact that my bin has served me (and my Red Worms) very well over the years! I certainly haven’t tracked the total amount of organic waste it has converted into compost, but I do know that a huge amount of material has gone into it – never to be seen again (wow, that sounded a lot darker than I intended it to! haha) – food waste, yard waste, straw, manure, fall leaves, jack-o-lanterns, dryer lint, bokashi bucket contents, vacuum bag contents, grass clippings, cardboard, shredded paper…and likely some other things I just can’t remember!

I even attempted to convert the system into a winter composting system! For my very first “Winter Composting Extravaganza” I created make-shift insulation walls using garbage bags stuffed with old plastic shopping bags etc (and covered the bin with a tarp).

It kinda felt like I was “recycling”, and it certainly helped to keep in some of the microbial heat being generated, but alas it did not work out quite as well as anticipated, and I ended up burying the whole thing in snow before the end of the winter so as to make sure the worms didn’t freeze solid.

The following winter, I got a bit more serious about the project and created an actual insulation wall using some scrap lumber, flattened cardboard boxes, and some old insulation that had been sitting in my dad’s basement (the cardboard was used to sandwich the insulation in between the outer frame and the composter).


This approached proved to be a lot more promising, but unfortunately we ended up leaving for an extended trip towards the end of the winter, so I decided to once again bury the whole thing as a precautionary measure.

If you want to learn more about my early winter composting efforts, be sure to check out my “Winter Composting Page” (on the Compost Guy website)

—–

In early summer of 2008, I decided it was finally time to install a compost-access-door on the front of the bin! Even though I had set the system up nearly two years before, I had yet to remove any compost from it!!

This time around, I enlisted the help of my older brother. I won’t claim that he’s a DIY-master by any means, but he’s probably a bit more proficient with tools than I am, and there is just something about having other non-DIYers lend a hand that serves to boost your builder’s confidence! We even made a bit of a backyard BBQ party out of it!

Creating the door was actually quite easy. We simply cut two of the front boards out, close to where they were nailed to the frame, then attached a few small pieces of left-over 2×2’s and a couple of metal hinges.

Installing the new door was pretty cool, but I must say that seeing all that beautiful, dark vermicompost down at the bottom was amazing!! Needless to say, I’ve been putting a lot of that material to good use ever since!


Builder’s Note
Those of you who are pretty handy might want to consider adding some sort of raised grate floor to a bin like this. That way you will easily be able to access a lot more vermicompost, and you will have yourself a nice little flow-through system!


—-

Ok, here’s one last pic for the road! In the fall of 2006 I added a LOT of tomato waste to the bin. As a result of this, during the following growing season a LOT of tomato plants popped up in and around the bin.

Me being me, I decided to let a bunch of them grow!
8)

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Vermicomposting Trenches – Revisited

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, or have at least spent some time perusing articles, the term “vermicomposting trench” will more than likely ring a bell. These in-ground vermicomposting systems quite literally opened the door to an entirely new, exciting world of vermicomposting/gardening possibilities for me – and I certainly haven’t been shy about letting people know!

Pretty funny when you consider how it all began…


The Backstory

In late spring of 2008, shortly after starting up my own worm composting business, I decided to get in touch with a popular local restaurant to see if they might be interested in giving me some of their compostable waste materials. As it turned out, the owner was very eager to sit down and chat about the possibilities, since this had been something weighing on his mind for some time. All of their organic wastes had simply been getting tossed in a dumpster up to that point, so he was certainly open to the possibility of exploring some environmentally-friendly (and hopefully less costly) options.

Long-story-short, thanks to a BIG dose of naive excitment on my part, and my ability to convince the owner (and even his rather cynical manager) that I knew what I was doing (haha), I left that meeting having agreed to take the ENTIRE composter-friendly waste stream (fruit & veggie waste, egg shells, and coffee grounds) off their hands – literally hundreds of pounds (and many garbage cans full) of material each week.

C’mon – it’s almost entirely water, right? No big deal!
😉

Well, for the first couple of weeks it probably didn’t seem like such a big deal. I had lots of “food” for my worm herd, and I was getting lots of exercise outside, hauling bins and chopping up the materials by hand (with a shovel, that is! lol). Gradually my enthusiasm started to wane, however, as it became apparent not only that the project was going to require a HUGE time commitment on my part but, even more importantly, that perhaps my medium-sized suburban property might not be the ideal setting for dealing with all that organic waste.


After quickly overloading all my various composting/vermicomposting systems, and then many of my various empty containers, I went into squirrel mode and started digging holes all over my yard so I could bury all evidence of my unbelievable stupidity (haha)!

Eventually I even ran out of good spots to dig holes…but still, the wastes kept a comin’!
😆

It literally got to the point where the stench of rotten food waste would hit my nose as soon as I stepped out on my back deck (to this day, I am amazed that I didn’t end up with a single complaint!). I knew that even if I DID pull the plug on the project (increasingly looking like an inevitable outcome), I’d still have to deal with a LOT of rotten material that was only becoming more foul with each passing day. I needed a drastic solution, and I needed it “yesterday”!

That’s when the trench idea popped into my head! I can’t remember for sure, but I would NOT be surprised in the least if my first plan was simply to dig a really deep trench and then bury everything – but regardless, I (thankfully) ended up settling on the idea of setting up the trench like a giant worm bin instead.

The rest, of course, is history!
😎


I certainly won’t claim that my vermi-trenches ended up being the answer to ALL my waste troubles. As it turned out, I did end up having to discontinue my waste pick-ups in early September (only a few months after I began) due to time constraints and cooler weather (thus slower processing speeds). Still, just the fact that I was able to quickly take care of what would have become a much nastier situation, and then to continue on with the project for a few more months is nothing short of a miracle!

This doesn’t even factor in the positive impact the trenches have had on the adjacent garden beds (specifically, the plants growing in them)! I certainly haven’t conducted any rigorous scientific research, but I still think it’s safe to say that the trench systems have had a positive impact on my backyard plant growing efforts!




PROS of the Approach

1) Eco-friendly approach for fertilizing your plants while taking care of your organic “wastes”.
2) Can help to reduce the need for summer watering – especially when water-rich food wastes are used.
3) The system is quite well-protected against hot/dry and cold conditions.
4) Once set up it can be used for multiple seasons
5) No need to harvest compost
6) Can be a great way to handle lots of compostable waste materials

CONS of the Approach
1) Labor-intensive when first set up.
2) Not ideal for locations with high water table and/or potential for flooding
3) May not be ideal for locations with REALLY hard clay soils or underlying layers of rock.
4) Extra precautions may be needed in locations where various animals can wreak havoc (moles, rats etc)
5) Certain (non-native) earthworm species may not be appropriate for use in some locations – especially those worms adapted for at least a partial soil habitat.
6) Can sink substantially if you don’t continue to add wastes periodically (better suited as a “continuous” system than a “batch” system).


In case you’re wondering why I don’t really write about my vermicomposting trenches anymore – it’s because they’ve basically filled in permanently and turned into vermicomposting windrows! haha
I am still using them in the exact same manner as before during the growing season (i.e. continuing to add rich organic wastes, and planting crops nearby) – and I’ve continued to be impressed with the results!
8)


To learn more about my adventures with vermicomposting trenches, be sure to check out the list of blog posts I’ve linked to on the “HOT TOPICS” page!


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Lasagna Gardening 2011

Last year RWC-friend, Paul Letby, was nice enough to share his vermi-lasagna-gardening project with us (you can find a link to his posts >>HERE<<). Seeing what Paul was able to do in just his first season easily convinced me that this was an approach I really needed to try out myself! So, that's exactly what I'm going to do! Yesterday I set up a fairly modest "lasagna"-style test garden in my yard using an assortment of materials I had on-hand.

Once I had selected the site for the bed, I laid down some corrugated cardboard. Last fall, I actually stacked a fair amount of cardboard outside in the yard, so I had a nice selection of wet, partially-rotten material all ready to go for the occasion.

I also recently did some yard/garden clean up work, which left me with a nice mix of rotten sunflower waste, old straw, fall leaves, lawn thatch and various other dead/dry plant materials. I decided to use this for my “brown” bedding layers, including a fairly thick layer directly over the cardboard at the bottom.

My next layer consisted primarily of coffee grounds and filters. I decided not to go overboard with the grounds in this bed since it’s a fairly acidic waste material, and also tends to be a bit less “worm-friendly” in zones where a lot is added at once.

After watering everything down…

…I added another layer of “brown” wastes (still looking a tad unsightly, wasn’t it? haha)

Next, I added a fairly thick layer of material I often refer to as “compost ecosystem” (essentially aged-manure habitat material + worms etc).

Although I had a decent amount of frozen food waste available (have been saving it up for some time), I decided to only use a couple bags of the material – I have something else in mind for the rest once it thaws out. I’ll certainly be adding plenty more to the bed over time, but this should be perfectly fine for getting the ball rolling.

I then added another thick layer of compost ecosystem material along with some old straw…

…before covering the bed with a thick layer of new straw (as shown in the first picture above).


I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to grow in this bed. I thought some sort of squash would might be a good choice since they seem to thrive in compost-gardens like this. The only problem is that the plants will likely end up spreading all over the yard, which might be a pain. Will have to give it some more thought while I let the bed age prior to planting.

Speaking of which – the very earliest I’d be planting anything in the bed would be towards the end of May (likely later if the weather remains cooler than normal). I’ll be sure to provide a status report sometime between now and then, though.
Stay tuned!
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Bentley’s MNN Interview

A few weeks ago, one of my long-time online eco-buddies, Shea Gunther, invited me to take part in an interview for his regular column on the Mother Nature Network.

I consider Shea to be something of an eco-brutha-from-anutha-mutha – since we not only share the same birthday (although, Shea’s a bit more of a youngin’! haha), and an appreciation for pirate jokes (Arrrrrh you serious?!), but we’re also both keenly interested in eco-entrepreneurship. Needless to say, it’s always great to hear from him – but actually being invited for an interview on MNN was a MAJOR honor!

To put things in perspective a bit, MNN has ~ 27,700 Facebook “Fans” (as I write this post) – that’s almost exactly 10 TIMES as many as we have for the RWC fan page (and believe you me, our number is none too shabby, especially considering the narrow focus of the site)! I must say that I was feeling a wee bit nervous about the whole thing – especially when I saw the accomplishments of some of his previous interviewees – but I decided to focus instead on the exciting opportunity to give a “shout out” for vermicomposting in a more eco-mainstream setting! Thanks again, Shea!!
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Anyway – be sure to check it out here:
Bentley Christie is crazy about worms, composting worms that is

P.S. I was really pleased to have been given the opportunity to mention the exciting/inspiring work of someone else in the vermicomposting field as well – Maria Rodriguez!

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Better Backyard Composting Week

Hi Everyone,
I wanted to let everyone know that this is a bit of a special week here at RWC. All posts this week (with likely some overflow into next week) are going to relate to the topics of backyard vermicomposting and vermi-gardening – both of which feature prominently my soon-to-be-released video series, called “Better Backyard Composting”.

As the name likely implies, the main aim of the series is to help people to get more out of their composting efforts. Beyond using “normal” backyard composters (a topic that will certainly be covered) I also want to show that there are plenty of great “outside of the bin” options as well.

A big part of my motivation to put this course together came from the fact that there are SO MANY people up here in Ontario (and elsewhere I’m sure) that have backyard composters sitting out in their yards (often waaaaaay at the back, behind the shed – haha) basically doing nothing. I love the fact that so many municipalities up here give these bins (usually Earth Machines” or something similar) away to anyone and everyone who wants one – but it’s a real shame when you consider the fact that A) our tax dollars are, for the most part, being “wasted” on the program and B) a lot of people who are (potentially) interested in composting just aren’t getting involved.

And then there is the “Green” Bin program that’s been rolled out in my region during the last few years {SIGH}. While, in theory, I do like the idea of making this available (certainly some benefits – especially for materials that would otherwise get landfilled), the problem – in my humble opinion – is that it can send the wrong message to the public. Basically, “don’t worry about those nice compost bins we gave you, here is a new garbage can for you to use”. Just another “out of sight, out of mind” / “we’ll take care of it, don’t worry!” governmental initiative.

OK, now that I sound like some sort of anti-governmental subversive (haha), let’s look at the positive side of the matter! A big part of why I’m so passionate about this topic comes down to the simple fact that I’ve witnessed first-hand what can happen when you spend more time focusing on your backyard composting & eco-gardening efforts. As I explained/showed in my “Magic of Vermicompost” post, my own yard has undergone a pretty remarkable transformation over the past few years – especially “cool” given the fact that I’ve never been a particularly talented gardener (quite the opposite in fact) and, to this day, literally put zero effort into taking care of my lawn (other than cutting it periodically during the growing season). This experience has given me hope that by showing people the benefits of backyard composting etc, it will be easier to get more involved than by giving them free bins and boring them with cut-and-paste generic composting how-to info!

OK – enough about all that! Let’s get back to this week! Here are some of the things I will be writing about over the next few days:

1) I have some fun, NEW backyard projects to tell you about!
2) Popular topics revisited – will spend some time looking back some of my key backyard vermicomposting projects (such as vermicomposting trenches).
3) “Invasive” Earthworms – this is actually a topic I’ve been meaning to dig into for quite some time. It’s something I get asked about from time to time, and an issue that’s important to address when considering the use of composting worms out in our backyards.
4) Setting up a backyard composter for vermicomposting – I’ve written about this before (and it even came up quite recently), but it’s definitely a topic worthy of revisiting.
5) DIY backyard vermicomposting bins – while I’ve certainly mentioned my “wooden backyard worm bin” before, I’ve never really written (here) about its creation or the overall topic of DIY outdoor bins.

Do stay tuned! Should be fun.
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