It’s been nearly a month since my last Winter Vermicomposting update (see “Winter Vermicomposting-1-30-12“), so I really wanted to get out this week and see how things have been coming along. While I had hoped to do some tinkering (as mentioned in my last post) to see if I could make the bed a bit more worm-friendly, that just didn’t end up happening, so I was a wee bit apprehensive when I pulled back the tarp yesterday.
It looks like I had nothing to worry about! As it turns out, my additions of snow, food waste and wet coffee grounds seem to have helped create lots of moist habitat for the worms. I’ve actually been diverting the coffee grounds into my wooden bin for at least the past couple of weeks (can’t remember exactly how long it’s been), so I’m wondering if this is helped to decrease the overheating and subsequent drying out of the grounds.
I was amazed to find Red Worms all over the place in the bed – up near the surface, down deep – even quite close to zones that appeared to be quite warm/dry (yep, I forgot to take my thermometer out with me again – LOL). Although the picture below doesn’t do justice to some of the observed worm densities, you can at least see how nice and moist a lot of the grounds are now. Pretty cool!
I DID end up adding more coffee grounds yesterday – one of the batches actually had a LOT of banana peels in it for some reason, so that might make things a little more interesting! I also added a bunch more snow to help keep things moist and (hopefully) a bit cooler.
Will keep everyone posted.
Time flies when you’re having fun! Here we are at Day 17 in our Waste Optimization Challenge.
Although most of the results were fairly predictable, it’s still been really interesting to see how things have progressed over the last couple of weeks. All the once-frozen carrots have now disappeared, and it doesn’t look like the last group (added fresh) is going to last much longer.
A lot of people tend to be concerned about having lots of springtails in their vermicomposting systems – assuming they are negatively affecting the worms’ ability to process the wastes (or harming the worms in some way). I’ve always been pretty mellow about them since I know they play essentially the same role as the worms. After watching them closely during this experiment, however, I’m actually starting to think that they can be quite helpful (not just “harmless”)!
One thing I’ve noticed is that, unlike the worms, they will start colonizing the wastes materials pretty much right away. I suspect that his can help with the spread of microbial decomposers. As the wastes soften and become loaded with microbes, the worms can then get in there are really start fragmenting and mixing everything (and of course, digesting a fair amount as well).
Perhaps my next experiment should involve vermicomposting systems with and without springtails to see how much of a difference (if any) they make. Looks like I’ll be wrapping this one up fairly soon, so that might be a good follow-up!
Question from Christine:
I have been composting with worms for quite sometime now, and I have a
question that no one seems to have the answer to. I want to know why
they say to use red worms as opposed to earth worms for composting? I
have so many earthworms and would like to use them, so why do you
recommend red worms instead? Please let me know, thank you, chris
In a typical backyard composter (or composting heap etc) that’s in direct contact with the soil, regular soil worms will certainly come up into the lower reaches of the system and process the wastes – but it’s very important to realize that soil worms are NOT well-suited for composting at all, in comparison to varieties such as Red Worms.
Red Worms are among those earthworms known as “epigeic” worms – that is to say that their natural habitat tends to be near or even above the soil surface. They are specialized for life in rapidly changing environments – specifically, rich organic matter deposits such as manure heaps and compost piles. They can tolerate warmer conditions and much higher worm densities. They can also breed and consume wastes much faster than typical soil worms (which are classified as either “endogeic” or “anecic”).
In indoor systems, it’s actually next to impossible to keep and breed most soil worm species – at least when using your typical indoor worm composting bins/beds – so Red Worms (or other composting varieties) are always going to be your best choice when you are specifically wanting to process wastes materials quickly and effectively.
Hope this helps!
P.S. You may also want to check out this post to learn more about the different worm groups: Attracting Compost Worms in Your Backyard
P.S.S. The term “earthworm” refers to all three groups (mentioned above), including all composting species (even though they usually don’t live in a purely soil environment).
Yesterday, I realized with dismay that I had completely forgotten to take pictures of my optimization bin over the (long) weekend. Ugggh!
I immediately went down and had a look (and snapped some Day 11 pics). I was amazed by what I saw! Today’s (Day 12) image below should give you a pretty good idea. The carrot disks that had been frozen then thawed were completely gone (needless to say, there wasn’t even a trace of the peelings), and even the whole carrot (also frozen then thawed) had almost disappeared.
There’s no doubt now that the once-fresh carrot disks will win the title of “last food standing”, but as you can see, they are well on their way to being decomposed as well.
Will be interesting to see how long it takes for them to disappear completely!
Very quick update…
I checked on my two bins today to see how things were coming along. I didn’t want to dig around TOO much, but did want to see if there were any new cocoons yet.
There is definitely at least one in the Euro bin, and at least two in the Red Worm bin (first image below is a Euro cocoon, second is a Red Worm cocoon).
Looks as though the Reds may already be starting to pull ahead of the Euros – but we shall see. Again, I didn’t want to completely excavate the bins (would be pretty stressful for the worms if I was doing that every time I checked on the systems) – so I may have missed some cocoons.
It appeared that the worms had consumed most of the carrot waste previously added to the bins (more so in the Euro bin), so I decided to add a bit more to each bin, along with some water since the habitat seemed a little on the dry side.
I will likely do a more thorough cocoon (and juvenile) count next time around so we know for sure where we are at!
I’ve been having fun with my “Waste Optimization Challenge” experiment so far – and apart from “Day 3”, I’ve remembered to take pictures every day. It’s always interesting to look back to the starting image when doing (photo) experiments like this. While it may seem pretty obvious that changes are taking place from one day to the next, I’m always surprised by just how much change has taken place when I look back through the previous pics.
Below I have included pictures from Day 0, Day 4, and Day 6 (today). Not too surprisingly, the frozen carrots are breaking down more readily than the fresh carrots. The carrot peelings (frozen, thawed, and aged) are all but gone now, so it’s safe to say we have a clear “winner” (again no surprises there).
Looking a bit more closely, we can see that the originally-fresh carrots are being invaded now, but there’s no doubt that freezing alone can lead to much faster microbial-colonization – which then draws in the springtails (visible in the lower image) and worms!
Speaking of worms…I’ve been careful not to disturb the various treatments too much, in an effort to avoid any further mechanical break-down, so I really haven’t seen too many of them thus far. The ones I did see were underneath the peelings. I have little doubt that if I dug around in that part of the bin there would be a nice concentration of them just under the surface (likely quite a few of them underneath the previously-frozen carrot disks as well).
I’m now interested to see what happens with the remaining treatments. I’m sure the previously-frozen carrot disks will be the next ones to disappear, but I’m not 100% sure how fast the whole carrot will break-down in comparison to the once-fresh carrot disks!
Well, the results are in for our final Worm Factory 360 contest! Congratulations goes to Scott S. of Smyrna, Georgia! Way to go, Scott!
I want to take the opportunity to once again thank Kate and the gang at Nature’s Footprint for the opportunity to test out their Worm Factory 360 bin (more on that in a minute) and of course for these contests (resulting in three RWC readers receiving a free WF-360!).
Just so you know, my own WF-360 trial is nowhere close to being over – I’m only on the second tray after all! While my updates might not be QUITE as frequent, I’ll certainly continue to keep everyone posted on my progress.
For those thinking about buying one of these bins, make sure you grab it via the RWC contest page – since Nature’s Footprint has provided a coupon for 10% off (again – I am in no way financially involved in this).