November 2011

RWC Update

Hi Folks,
Just wanted to let everyone know that things are probably going to be a little quiet around here over the next month or so (as this past week has likely indicated). Needing to put a lot of my focus elsewhere for the time being unfortunately.

That being said, I will still be providing Worm Factory 360 and Worm Inn updates (one of each this week for sure), and the WF-360 contest is still alive and well – so, as of tomorrow (December 1) you will once again be able get your name in the draw (when you complete a short survey on the contest page).

Things WILL get back to normal early in the new year for sure.
Thanks for your patience and understanding.


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A Little More “Real World” Inspiration

Cornell researcher and RWC community friend, Allison Jack, recently pointed me in the direction of a cool editorial entitled, “How can you miss 58 Million worms?”. This seems to be “real world” vermi-inspiration week here at RWC (haha), so Allison’s timing couldn’t have been better!

The author, Patrick Burke, provides commentary regarding the failure of New York State government to acknowledge two high-potential waste management strategies (large-scale vermicomposting being one of them) in its recent “plan for economic growth and job creation”. Needless to say, I totally agree with Mr. Burke’s assessment, and was very inspired by some of the figures he quoted.

Here is a blurb:

The largest vermicomposting facility in the Western Hemisphere is located in the FLR. It produces 2.5MM pounds of the highest grade certified organic compost annually, with an estimated value of $5MM-$7MM (yes, the compost is more valuable than the fluid milk). It has been recognized by the USDA and by the horticulture scientist at Cornell as the leading form of organic compost which also suppresses harmful plant pathogens leading to the elimination of chemical pesticides.

Be sure to check out the full article here: How can you miss 58 Million worms?

In case you are wondering…the “largest vermicomposting facility in the Western Hemisphere” is owned by Worm Power.


On a semi-related note – here is an excellent video that Allison put together highlighting the benefits of vermicompost. I’ve posted it here before, but I’m sure a fair number of you have not yet seen it.

Thanks again, Allison!

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Interview with George Mingin – Kookaburra Worm Farms

It’s been more than a year since I posted my last RWC interview, so I am certainly pleased to finally have a new one for all of you! George Mingin is the owner of Kookaburra Worm Farms, one of Australia’s largest worm farming operations. I connected with George this fall when he became a member of the Worm Farming Alliance, and I must say I’ve been really blown away by his friendly, candid nature on the member’s forum. Traditionally, large-scale worm farmers have tended to be a rather elusive, secretive bunch, so it’s certainly refreshing to find someone so happy to share with others. A short time after George joined the WFA, I asked if he would be interested in taking part in an RWC interview, and he graciously took me up on the offer. I am especially grateful to George for taking the time to answer my questions since he is just entering his busiest time of year (keep in mind, he is in the southern hemisphere), and demand for his worms is very high this year.

1) How did you become interested in vermicomposting/vermiculture?

This is quite a lengthy story so I will give an abridged version. Back in the late 80’s I was running a business in recycling consumer waste plastic. My business partners were also collecting newspapers from a domestic curbside collection service. The price he was recieving for recylced newsprint dropped considerably and my partners asked me if I knew of a way to recycle newsprint. I had no idea, but kept my ears open. Some time later at a field day where I had a stand for my recylced plastic, I overhead a person from the stand beside me saying something like “worms will eat garbage, worms will eat blabla, worms will eat NEWSPRINT. My ears pricked up!!! Hence I got involved in worms for converting newsprint and many many other organic wastes on very large scale trials with a business called “Waste Organic Recylcing Management Systems”.

2) What made you want to start up your own worm farming business? What did your family think about this?

I got back into worms after I instigated a complete lifestyle change for our family, in 2000, by moving 1500 miles towards the equator, away from our city lifestyle to the country eco-village lifestyle (where the weather was much warmer as well:-). When we built our new eco-friendly home we had a worm driven composting toilet installed. It was an absolute disaster because our builder did not install it correctly and the design was very poor. I was constantly down inside the tank scooping out poo and muck and whining to my wife how bad the toilet was designed. She had had enough of my whining and one day said “you’re a designer, why don’t you design a better one then instead of whining about our current one?”. So I did, and in the process of building a prototype I was looking around for worms to buy to put into the prototype toilet and came across a worm farmer who was selling worms for fishing. He claimed to be making good money from his worms, the exact opposite of my experience with worm farmers in the past. I convinced him to sell a quarter of his business to me and so started Kookaburra Worm Farms. My young family at the time were totally behind me and my kids loved their new little playmates. My boys and I have always been mad keen fishermen and having our own ready supply of fishing worms was like heaven.

3) Did you have any previous work/business experience that helped with the new enterprise (what sort of career did you have before getting into worms)?

I was a mechanical designer, working in drawing offices. I then had experience with sales, marketing and fixing customers problems on large scale production machines. My last professional job was being in charge of the design and development office of a large multinational packaging corporation. This background helped tremendously with the start up design of a worm farm that was meant to be a commercial venture from day one. I had been exposed to “systems methodology” in my porfessional work experience and with the help of a friend living in our Eco-Village, we designed and re-designed our worm farm on a systems methodology basis. I am continuously looking to improve our production processes and I am already up to Mark 7 in the worm system design that we use.

4) What kind of worms do you currently breed? Are some worms a lot easier to raise than others?

We breed Eisenia Foetida/Eisenia Andrei – Tiger/Red worm, Perionyx Excavatus/Spenceralia – Indian Blue, Eudrilus Eugenia – African Night Crawler, Amynthus sp – Cod Worm/Gardeners Friend and recently we added the Eisenia Hortensis/Denrobaena Veneta – European Nightcrawler to our repetoire. By far the quickest breeding worm is the PE – Indian Blue. It is in fact too fast and leads to contamination of our other worm species. It would almost be a pest species if we did not have a good market for them in a major Zoo as Platypus food. The easiest and most productive worm has been the EE – African Night Crawler until it contracted a disease that made it uneconomical to breed in commercial quantities.

5) Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced (with your worms in particular) along the way? Any other major challenges?

How many pages can I have for this one:-(? I used to say that I could kill worms easier than I could breed them. I stopped saying that when it became apparent that this was a self fulfilling prophecy:-( For about 5 years we had major struggles with our worms. The major ones all stemmed from climatic conditions. Even though we live in a warm sub-tropical climate, we found it still very difficult to consistently produce worms outdoors. The weather was either too hot +110 F or too cold at nights 32 F, or too dry or too wet or too many predators etc etc. We eventually took the plunge and built a purpose designed, climate controlled worm breeding shed. This cured most of the environmental factors, but we still had to contend with disease and unexpected power outages. It also made us very focused on efficient worm breeding systems as space was now a limiting factor. We still have our challenges, but they now stem from pushing our systems to the limits and often exceeding them.

6) Do your worms receive a specific “feed” or are they waste processors (what kind of waste)?

We used to use two types of waste produced by our local sugar cane refining factories. They are called Bagasse, the fibre component after the sugar juice is squeezed out of the cane and Mill Mud, the sludge from the bottom of the mollases tanks which is dirt mixed with thick sugar syrup. We now use relatively small amounts of these two waste products and focus more on sprouted grains as a major component of our feedstock and minerals as crushed basalt rock derived from a quarry. We mix several ingredients together to create what we call “live food” ie: food that is alive with beneficial micro-organisms that serve as the major component in worm food.

7) How does climate (in your area of Australia) impact the operation of your business? How have you compensated?

At first glance our sub-tropical climate would appear to be ideal for growing worms outdoors. But as explained above, worms need a very stable environment like the one found underground in their natural environment. Therefore we went with a climate controlled shed that holds the ambient air temps at around 78 F.

8 ) Is there widespread interest in vermicomposting in Australia, or would it be considered a fairly obscure “hobby” etc?

I am led to believe that Australians and New Zealanders are well ahead of the rest of the world in their knowledge and use of vermicomposting, particularly for home based conversion of organic food and garden waste. This is borne out by a few statistics such as the sales of Can O Worms (plastic stackable worm farms) is around 4000 per month in Australia and only 3000 per month in the US, with Australia having less than one tenth the population of the US.

9) Is there anything else you would like to share with RWC readers? (this is where you can write about any fun projects you are involved in etc – just generally whatever else you’d like to get “out there”)?

I involve myself with so many different worm related projects that it is difficult to list them all. I have designed worm driven composting toilet systems, been involved in large scale waste conversion using worms, fishing worms is a personal passion, seeding farming lands with worms and worm eggs for soil improvement etc etc.

I would like to offer a little bit of my personal learning from working with worms. Observe, observe and observe. Through watching how worms work, what they like and dislike and how they behave in their natural habitats, you can then develop the most natural, efficient and effective ways to grow and use worms for your advantage. Worms are still an emerging trend and I believe will continue to grow in popularity and demand for many years to come.

“Small pile of worm cast”

“Worm Beds – Mark 1”

“Worm beds – Mark 2”

“Worm beds – Mark 3”

“Worm beds – Mark 4”

“Worm beds – Mark 5”

Worm extracting and feeding equipment

“Worms a plenty”

“(Experimental) Mark 8 Worm Beds”

“Worm Beds – Mark 7d”

Thanks again to George for taking part in this interview! If you would like to learn more about George and his worm business, be sure to check out his websites: Kookaburra Worm Farms and Worms ‘R’ Plenty.

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North Carolina Airport to Start Vermicomposting – in a BIG Way!

Thanks very much to RWC reader, Auriel, and Treehugger, for pointing me in the direction of an article in the Charlotte Observer (online)!

I am a sucker for cool examples of vermicomposting being embraced on a large-scale out there in the “real world” – so this one certainly caught my attention! It seems the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport will be launching a massive vermicomposting project (as part of a very large waste recycling program) early in 2012!

Here is a blurb:

The airport’s initial plan is to order 300 pounds of worms for $6,000. The worms’ home is expected to take up some 8,000 square feet, or around the size of an average Family Dollar store.

In the giant worm bin – the technical term for it is “continuous flow vermicomposting system” – the worms will eat their fill, leaving behind worm “castings,” as the crawlers’ excretions are politely known.

The castings will be harvested from the bottom of the worm composter. The worms will then crawl upward toward the fresh (to them) food.

Over the next five years, the recycling center as a whole is expected to save the airport about $1 million in waste disposal costs, paying for itself, officials said.

Be sure to check out the full article here: Worms to turn out compost at airport’s $1.1M recycling center

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R.I.P Particle-Size Experiment

I’m certainly not shy about admitting that a fair number of my “hair-brained experiments” don’t end up panning out. I don’t think it’s so much the fact that they don’t get finished that ends up frustrating readers – but rather the fact that I have a bad habit of simply never writing about them again!

Well, I’m at least turning over a new leaf in that department (haha), and as such, wanted to let everyone know that I dismantled my “particle size experiment”. I still definitely want to test the effect of particle size at SOME point – but it’s going to be at a later time when it’s feasible to properly plan out, set up, and maintain. Unfortunately, I just haven’t had time to keep up with this one, so there’s nothing really to compare.

Always keen to “turn ‘wastes’ into resources” – I ended up excitedly dumping the contents of my three bins into my two active systems – namely, the Worm Factory 360 and the Worm Inn! As you can see (below), my first Worm Factory tray is now quite full.

Some people might feel inclined to add a second tray at this point, but I’m definitely not in any rush to do so. I want to give my worms a chance to really work on the contents of this tray (expand in numbers etc) before starting to encourage them to move up. So far, I’ve been really impressed with the vermicomposting activity in this single tray – the worms are very active and healthy, it smells good, and the wastes are being consumed. I actually ended up adding some frozen carrot “disks” (originally intended for the particle size experiment) to the tray before adding the material from one of the experimental bins simply because the worms have been doing so well with the wastes added so far!

The Worm Inn ended up getting the contents of the other two experimental bins, simply because there was a lot more room in the system. Should be interesting to see how things progress in both of these systems over the next couple of weeks!

If you happen to be wondering about my “community experiments” idea (or rather someone else’s idea that I had planned to run with) – the long and the short of it is that the project will likely have to wait for now. Perhaps it will be something to test out in the new year!

In the meantime, there might be one or two smaller (low maintenance) experiments to try out on my own – I’ll keep you posted!

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And the Winner is…

Just wanted to let everyone know that we have a WINNER for this month’s Worm Factory 360 draw!

Congratulations to Juliette, from Santa Monica California!! I had the pleasure of sending Juliette a congratulatory email earlier today and she is definitely excited!

Thanks again to Kate and the Nature’s Footprint gang for helping to make this possible.

Thanks also to all those of you who took part. Even if you didn’t win – there will certainly be more opportunities to try again!

Speaking of which – there will be another contest starting in a couple of weeks.
Stay tuned

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Worm Inn Journal-11-14-11

The week before last, I wrote about getting my Worm Inn back up and running (see “Worm Inn Journal-11-04-11“). As is the case with my new Worm Factory 360, I’ve been taking a pretty mellow approach – well, I guess that is until today!

Since it IS a Worm Inn, this week I’ve decided to add a decent amount of food waste. I raided my chest freezer down in the basement (where I’ve been stock piling waste materials) and, after adding a small amount of frozen lettuce to the Worm Factory (the worms are doing VERY well in there so I know they won’t complain), I basically dumped the rest (likely about 7 lb worth) into the Worm Inn, directly on top of the newspaper strips that were serving as a cover for the composting zone. Of course, I then added a bunch more bedding on top of the waste materials (the image below was taken before the additional bedding was added).

This isn’t intended as the start of an “overfeeding challenge” or anything like that – I simply prefer to add food in this manner rather than smaller amounts on a regular basis. I am sure I’ll now be leaving the system to sit for a little while since the worm population is still quite low – but we’ll see how things pan out over the course of the next week or so. One of the nice things about the Worm Inn is that, as long as you have plenty of absorbent bedding in the system, you can basically add as much waste as you want (within reason). Worst case scenario – it will just become an aging bin for your waste materials. Excellent aeration, and moisture absorption is of course the KEY – so if you did this without any bedding, the results wouldn’t be nearly as nose-friendly!

Something else worth mentioning…

Last week I added the contents of one of my thriving “nematode farms” to the Worm Inn. I am hoping that this serves to provide an ongoing “ounce of prevention” against my tiny flying friends. I’m really interested to see what sort of populations of fruit flies and/or gnats develop (or even IF either of them ends up getting established). There are plenty of them (especially fruit flies) flying around in my basement at the moment (one of the bonuses of creating my little “farms” – haha), so really, unless the nematodes provide some assistance, I am pretty much guaranteed to end up with one or the other (or both).

Anyway – that’s basically it for now!
Will write more soon.

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