February 2012

Worm Factory 360 | 2-14-12

I checked on my WF-360 system today to see how things are coming along. It seems the worms have once again done well with the food materials I added last time. Given the (larger) quantity, I’m thinking the freezing definitely helped.

Still plenty of recognizable food materials in there, but I could easily get away with adding some more food if I wanted to. Me being me – I’ve decided to just let the worms continue munching away on what’s there.

Lots of worms hanging from the bottom of the second tray when I lifted it up, and lots more down in the first tray. If I do decide to harvest some vermicompost this month, I’m sure I’ll be needing to separate plenty of worms from it as well.

The material in the first tray is looking quite nice, though – so it probably won’t be long before I do harvest. Hopefully by holding off on feeding this week I’ll encourage the worms to work on some of that unprocessed bedding.

Still no worms down in the reservoir, so I’m happy about that!

IMPORTANT: Remember, today (Feb 14) is the deadline for submitting your entry for the February Worm Factory 360 contest – the draw will be tomorrow. As mentioned previously, this is actually the LAST chance (at least for now) to win one of these bins! All you have to do is fill out a short (Nature’s Footprint) survey on the Red Worm Composting contest page.

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Waste Optimization Update

I wanted to add a quick update for my “Waste Optimization Challenge” experiment today, letting everyone know that everything is now up and running.

I removed the carrot chunks from the freezer, along with a whole carrot I decided to add to our experimental bin as well. I chose one of my basement bins that seems to have a decent population of worms in it. These (basement) bins are open systems, with thick layers of bedding on top of the composting zone – but I have actually decided to use a lid (with some big air holes) for our experimental bin. I really don’t want to be removing the top bedding all the time – remember, I plan to take a lot of photos – and I certainly don’t want to just leave the carrots to sit out completely exposed either!

I also decided to add an old towel directly on top of the carrot zone so as to encourage the worms to come up (big holes in lid will let in a lot of light).

Just so you know, I’m considering this “Day 0”, and all future updates will have the associated day number. (Will be easier to see how long it’s been since the start)

Should be fun!

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Damon’s Vermi-Vetch Garden

My latest “Worm Brief” (at time of writing) was inspired by this video that RWC worm-friend, Damon, recently shared with me.

I myself have toyed with the idea of growing vetch as an N-rich material for my worm beds (and composting systems in general), but have always worried about it getting out of control. I think Damon’s approach is a great way to keep the vetch in check, while also providing the worms with a good habitat.

I’m definitely going to be trying something similar this year – perhaps with some sort of “worm tower” placed in the middle of the bed so I can easily add waste materials as well.

Thanks again to Damon for sharing! Please give him a “Thumbs Up” if you are a YouTube user, and be sure to check out his cool site, Greenhorn Gardening!

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The Waste Optimization Challenge

My recent focus on “optimizing” waste materials for my Worm Inn and WF-360 systems has inspired me to set up a fun little experiment. In a sense, this could be considered the replacement for my “Particle Size Experiment” – but the cool thing is that it’s much simpler, and more-easily monitored.

The basic idea here is to compare the vermi-processing times of equal quantities of carrots that have been “optimized” in different ways. Two of the treatments will feature coarsely chopped carrots – one batch that has been frozen/thawed, the other one simply being left to sit in the fridge (until the frozen ones are ready to be used). The other treatment – added as an afterthought – will be the frozen/thawed/aged carrot ribbons, originally made for my Euros vs Reds experiment.

I made the carrot chunks, destined for the freezer (middle image below), a wee bit…uhhhh…chunkier than those headed for the refrigerator (you know me and my efforts to help the “underdogs”), but ALL three treatments weigh 212g, so essentially equal amounts of carrot biomass. NO, this is not a serious scientific study, by any means – but regardless, it should at least demonstrate how various optimization approaches can potentially help our worms to process waste materials more quickly!

Once the wastes are ready to go (I’ll likely let the frozen carrots thaw out tomorrow), I will then add them all to the same active worm bin, up near the surface – and basically just watch to see what happens over the course of several weeks. I am aiming to take photos every day so I can (hopefully ) create a little time lapse video once the experiment is finished.

Should be fun!

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Euros vs Reds-2-09-12

Quick update on the Euros vs Reds Head to Head Challenge front! I decided to check on my two bins yesterday. For one thing, I wanted to determine the number of worms in each bin – plus I wanted to feed them for the first time (not including the food that was mixed in when setting up).

As you may recall from my last update, I added six medium-sized Euros along with two cocoons to their system, and just left the Red Worm bin as-is. I could only find three of the Reds at the time, but I figured that – worse case scenario – they might simply end up being at more of a disadvantage out of the starting gates.

As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about at all! Yesterday I found all six of the Red Worms that had been originally added to the bin when I first started. They were very young when added, and not all that much time has elapsed, so there’s no way they’ve had time to mature, reproduce, lay cocoons, AND have young hatching out! There DO seem to be some mature ones in there now, though – well, at least two or three of them. I found two that were clearly mature (well-developed clitellum, like the one in the photo below), and one that was borderline (very close, if not already mature).

I was very pleased to find ALL six Euros (those added last time – obviously NOT the originals! lol) as well – PLUS there was a very small juvenile! So, at least one worm has hatched out from those two cocoons I added. I’ll keep my eyes open for any others over the next couple of weeks.

As for feeding…

I had cut some carrot peelings, tossed them in the freezer, then allowed them to thaw out and age prior to my feeding session yesterday. I wanted to have a uniform material, and one that the worms could readily feed on soon after it was added. Since these bins are very small, and there is only a handful of worms in each, I settled on 100g (0.22 lb) as the amount of food to add.

Once the peelings were added, I added a layer of dry, shredded cardboard over top.

I am definitely feeling better about the experiment now that the ball is rolling, and the worms seem to be doing well! I look forward to seeing how things go from here.

Stay tuned

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Worm Inn Journal-2-08-12

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last update. My last feeding was 1.039 kg (2.29 lb) of relatively fresh (but chopped-up) kitchen wastes. The worms have done very well with this food, so I certainly had no qualms about adding even more today – 1.91 kg (4.21 lb), to be exact.

The difference this time around was that I froze these wastes – twice in fact! I was originally planning to add more material late last week – the day after my last WF-360 update – but when that didn’t happen, I decided I should probably toss it back in the freezer so I didn’t end up with a foul mess by the time I did use them (they were just sitting in a plastic bag, with no bedding materials).

As it turns out, they were pretty funky by today anyway (after sitting out since Sunday)! So ripe in fact, that I decided to give them a good rinse with fresh water, in an effort to remove any foul liquids that might harm the worms.

Rather than trying to cut everything up in my plastic weigh boat (actually the worm tea collector for the WF-360), I dumped the material in a bucket and really went to town on it with a hand trowel (along with my heavy duty scissors).

Still feeling a little uneasy about dumping the slop directly onto the main worm zone in the system, I decided to lay down a folded piece of newsprint over top of the upper bedding materials. This should help to soak up excess moisture, and allow the wastes to break down further in an environment with lots of air flow – likely rendering them worm-friendly fairly quickly.

Once the waste had been added, I simply added a thick layer of new bedding before zipping the lid closed.

I will check on the situation in a few days and – if it seems like most of the bad odor is gone- will likely pull the newsprint off to the side (maybe use it as my uppermost bedding layer) so the worms can more easily access the scraps.

It will be interesting to see how quickly these wastes are processed in comparison to the fairly fresh material!

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Northern Short-Tailed Shrew

Northern Short-Tailed Shrew

Writing this post kinda makes me feel like I’m in “Back to the Future” (or “Twelve Monkeys”) since it’s intended to support a “WORM BRIEF” (a new feature of the RWC newsletter) that doesn’t yet exist – at least not as I’m typing this!

Kinda cool!

Anyway…as you can see, I want to tell you a little about a critter called the “Northern Short-Tailed Shrew”. Up in my “neck of the woods” (a.k.a northeastern North America), this is a pretty common little mammal – I was actually tempted to call it a “rodent”, but as I discovered (thanks to good ol’ Wikipedia), rodents are a different Order (Rodentia) from moles and shrews (Soricomorpha). This shrew is primarily carnivorous, feeding on insects, mollusks, and…DUHN DUHN DUHN…EARTHWORMS, among other things. There’s actually a pretty crazy list of rather unexpected food organisms on the Northern Short-Tailed Shrew Wikipedia page (voles? other shrews? mice? Yikes!).

These little blaggards (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) have become a bit of a nuisance in my outdoor beds in recent years. I initially thought I had field mice, or some other small rodent, simply making nests (no harm, no foul) – but then I found one that had been attacked by a neighborhood cat (poor little fella pictured above).

Speaking of the neighborhood cats – every summer, my backyard seems to become something of a hot spot for local, semi-feral felines. You can’t blame them, really! It’s nice and sheltered back there, I don’t own a dog, there’s usually have a nice growth of catnip (on vermi-steroids), and of course, there’s even some wild game for them to hunt! lol

I captured one of these patient pusses on film a couple of summers ago – check out that poise and FOCUS!

Worm Bed Guardian
Worm Bed Guardian Close-Up

Thankfully, the shrews don’t seem to be putting a serious dent in my outdoor worm herd. I’ve heard some horror stories from worm farmers who have dealt with moles, and my impression is that they (shrews) aren’t nearly as bad – even if they CAN (according to Wikipedia) eat up to 3 TIMES THEIR OWN WEIGHT per day!

YIKES, I say again!

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