June 2011

Vermicompost Experiments-06-30-11

Hope everyone doesn’t get sick of these updates! As you can probably tell, I’m having some fun with these vermicompost experiments!

Ok – the chia growing experiment (above) has kinda run its course, so you probably won’t hear anymore about that. Had I set it up differently – namely, if I have put a small number of seeds in each pot – I likely would have continued to be interested in the results. As it stands, there isn’t anything more to be learned from it.

Clearly, the seeds had much better germination in the Pro-Mix (only) treatment – and clearly the treatment with the rock dust and coffee grounds mixed in with the vermicompost has led to stunted growth. There’s not a whole lot to say about the vermicompost & Pro-Mix treatment. Sure the plants look big and healthy, but there aren’t nearly as many as in the Pro-Mix alone, so that is almost certainly having an impact (obviously overcrowded plants aren’t going to grow as well as those with a bit more space).

About the marigold experiment…

Uhhh…guess I should have made sure they were all the same variety, eh??

I am still impressed though. The vermicompost and Pro-Mix treatment seems to have really boosted the growth – aside from a bushier appearance, it seems to be encouraging more blooming as well!

Again – no brainer – the mix with the rock dust and coffee grounds is impeding growth. Will need to look more closely to determine which of those two components (if not both) is causing the problems.

Ok – on to the radish experiment…

I should mention that the vermicompost I am using for this experiment is different than used in the previous experiments – as is the rock dust and grounds mix (there is a lower percentage of these components this time around). I’m interested to see if this makes a difference.

Based on germination rates and early growth, the treatments seem to be performing in a similar fashion (just so you know – in the picture above, going from left to right, it’s V/C + Pro, V/C & other + Pro, and Pro-only). Most of the seeds germinated, all treatments seem to have SOME stunted plants, and leaf size seems to be similar (perhaps a bit bigger in Pro-Mix only).

I am really interested to see how this one turns out in the long run though!

OK – one last experiment for the road…

That’s right – I started up yet another growth trial (I’m out of control!!!! Haha)! This time with Crookneck (Summer) Squash seeds. Four different treatments – 1) Pro-Mix, 2) Pro-Mix with 33% vermicompost, 3) Pro-Mix with 33% vermicompost/rock dust/coffee grounds mix, 4) Vermicompost ONLY (not the order in the picture by the way).

Only one sample per treatment, but again just a preliminary look to see if anything stands out right off the bat!

Stay tuned!

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Compost Tumbler Update

My dad and I put the finishing touches on my new DIY compost tumbler this week, and the system is now “officially” up and running. My first batch of waste materials consists of an assortment of stuff I just happened to have available – weeds, wet cardboard drink trays, coffee filters (with some coffee mixed in), and a bag of food waste (that came from my freezer). It certainly isn’t what I’d call an “optimized” batch (as the whole apple in the picture demonstrates quite effectively – haha), but I really wanted to get things rolling (yuk, yuk!) in terms of testing this puppy out!

As promised in one of my comments on the last tumbler post (see Compost Tumbler Vermicomposting), I do want to share a bit more background info about this compost tumbler project (how it came to be in the first place etc), and let you know where I am taking things from here.

In all honesty, it’s only been within the last few years (max) that I’ve had any real interest in compost tumblers at all! I’ve always thought of them as over-hyped, overly-expensive systems that probably don’t even live up to their promises etc. The fact that my main interest has always been vermicomposting likely played a role as well – since, as mentioned in previous posts, these systems aren’t ideally suited for effective vermicomposting (if used in the way they are intended to be used).

My opinion did gradually change, however, once I started coming across some of the nifty DIY tumblers people had made for themselves and posted videos about on YouTube. It looked as though compost tumbling might indeed be within reach for the average person who, surprise surprise, didn’t feel like shelling out hundreds of dollars! I also started to see some of the potential for using a tumbler as a sort of “food preparation system” (or “pre-composting” system if you prefer) prior to adding the materials to one’s worm bins/beds.

Nevertheless, actually tackling a DIY tumbler project still seemed out of reach for me given my fairly limited building skills – so I just ended up thinking of it as a potential “some day” endeavor.

All this changed when I received an email from a gentleman named Bob O’Donnell (back in February), asking if I might have an interest in some form of collaboration. Bob, a retired restaurant manager living in southern New Hampshire, has been quietly (but successfully) selling a set of compost tumbler building instructions – created based on the tumbler he built more than 20 years ago and has been using ever since – for quite some time. He happened to stumble across my Compost Guy website, and the rest is history.

Bob was kind enough to send me a copy of his guide, and I decided almost immediately that the first thing to do was to see if this was even the sort of project a DIY-clutz like myself (with help from a slightly more DIY- comfortable dad, mind you) could complete successfully. Given Bob’s friendly, conversational writing style and his easy-to-follow instructions I was fairly optimistic!

We did end up veering off from the original design in a number of ways, but I’m still confident that Bob’s system is something a lot of people (including non-DIYers like myself) could build without too much trouble. As for this potential “collaboration” mentioned earlier – based on our success (building the tumbler), I thought it would be cool to put together a small video series and bundle it with Bob’s original guide. As you might imagine, this isn’t something I can just offer for free – but I’m happy to report that everything (including all future updates etc) will be available for less than $15.

I really enjoyed Bob’s guide on its own (and he tells me he’s had zero refunds the entire time he’s been selling it), and his design has certainly stood the test of time – but I also think that sharing my own perspective (as a vermicomposter, non-DIY guy etc) and experiences from our tumbler project will help to make this an even more valuable resource.

Anyway – just wanted to provide people with a “heads-up” about all this! Hoping to have the initial package (will definitely be adding more over time) available quite soon – will share more details once it is ready to roll.

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Junk Mail Update

Ed. NOTE: If you missed Mark’s first installment, you may want to check it out here: Vermicomposting White Paper

Hi everybody!

The weather here has been very hot for June and the wind seems to be blowing at 15 – 20 mph daily as well. I can only imagine how some of the farmers felt during the dust bowl of the 30s, I can see how wind erosion can kill a lawn. Yesterday was the first measurable rain this month with some golf ball size hail. Some of the farmers have plowed under their wheat and the cattle ranchers have had to put out hay for feed because not a lot of grass has grown.

If you remember, I was trying to neutralize some of the chemicals that could be present in junk mail. After about 2 months, I am looking for a few things to call this project a positive result.

(1) The worms are alive and well.

(2) Considering the heat, the leaf structure is strong with very little bug damage.

(3) It bloomed.

One thing that concerns me is that the container is too small and the plant will get root bound.

Anybody got any ideas?

I don’t want to steal anybody’s Marigold project (wink wink) but, in the other square pot, the other Canna bulb never germinated so, I pulled it and planted 4 Marigolds which has several worms in the soil as well.

Worms are doing well.

Great color, these have been outside for about 2 months.

Marigolds doing well and nice growth on the Canna.

‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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Lasagna Gardening-06-24-11

Just a quick picture update for those of you interested in my lasagna gardening project this year.

I didn’t end up adding any more food waste to the bed, but I guess the waste materials already in there have been enough to help my summer squash plants grow. It’s been very dry (up until the last day or so) during the past couple of weeks but they seem to be doing quite well anyway (and I have of course been watering them to help them along).

Now that they are getting fairly big (compared to seedlings), I will likely put a layer of straw back down on the bed to help keep moisture in and make it easier to bury wastes. I will also add a bunch of food waste in the middle zone as planned.

Will keep everyone posted!

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Cristy Christie in the News!

RWC worm-friend, Cristy Christie (no she’s not related! haha), was recently on a local (California) news show talking about worms and vermicomposting and they posted the video online.

Way to go, Cristy!

Here is a link to the interview I did with Cristy back in the fall:
Interview with Cristy Christie – SLO County Worm Farm

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Vermicompost Experiments Update

Hi Everyone,
Just wanted to provide a super quick update on the vermcompost growth experiment front. As you may recall, I set up a couple of preliminary trials (see “Vermicompost Growth Experiments“) about a week and a half ago just to get the ball rolling.

Some pretty interesting results already, I must say! As you can see in the picture above, the Chia seeds have started sprouting and one of them clearly has a LOT more plants coming up. Surprisingly enough, it is actually the potting-soil-only treatment! Of the two vermicompost treatments, the one without the rock dust (one on left) seems to be doing better so far – while there seems to be a similar number of seedlings, leaf size on average seems to be larger in the no-rock-dust mix.

I am happy to report that my two sad looking marigolds have bounced back from their near-death experience (haha), but nothing too earth-shattering to report in general. It’s too early to say for sure, but once again the rock dust vermicompost treatment may be impeding growth a bit. The marigold in that treatment (middle one in the picture) doesn’t look as full and healthy as the vermicompost-only (left plant) and the potting-soil-only (far right plant).

Very important not to reach ANY conclusions about any of this. For one thing I want this to be an ongoing experiment – I’m really interested to see what happens over the long-haul. Also, it’s once again important to realize that there is only one rep per treatment so not exactly rigorous scientific work here!

I DID decide to start up what I’d consider to be a much more scientific trial today though. I am testing the growth of radish plants from seed. Similar to these other experiments, I am looking at potting-soil-only, 33% vermicompost + soil, and 33% special vermicompost (with rock dust and some grounds) mix + soil.

I am using a 6-cell seedling holder for each treatment so we may actually be able to do some real comparisons here.

Will keep everyone posted!

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Compost Tumbler Vermicomposting

Something I get asked periodically is whether or not a compost tumbler can be used for vermicomposting. The answer to that question is YES…and NO!

NO, I definitely wouldn’t recommend using a tumbler as an actual worm bin – even if you were able to keep temps cool enough to avoid killing the worms, and could resist the urge to turning it all the time – but YES, a tumbler can be a really helpful vermicomposting tool – specifically, for helping us Worm-Heads to create some really nice “worm food”. This is exactly what I intend to start doing fairly soon.

Some time ago I mentioned my plans to build some sort of DIY compost tumbler. Well, let’s just say it’s been a pretty busy spring, so the project (among others) ended up getting side-lined a wee bit! The good news, though, is that thanks to my dad’s ongoing help, the tumbler is very close to being ready for action!

So why/how is a compost tumbler good for making “worm food”?

Tumbling waste materials is a great way to mix them up and allow them to go through an initial “pre-composting” phase prior to feeding them to your worms. Worms love moist, microbe-rich foods so they are much more likely to move into (and quickly process) pre-composted wastes vs those simply added directly to the system. In larger worm beds (where more material is added at once) pre-composting can also be important since there will be less potential for overheating.

A big part of my focus early on will likely center on various mixes with coffee grounds. I’ve been pretty happy with the way the worms have responded to the grounds in my beds this year (as compared to previous years), but I suspect I can make this material even more appealing if I pre-compost it with some other wastes (cardboard etc) beforehand.

Anyway – I will certainly keep everyone posted!

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