Today I decided it was time to do a thorough examination of my “Euros vs Reds Head to Head Challenge” bins. As you may recall, I managed to get the experiment back up and running (after replacing most of the Euros I killed early on) towards the end of January. On Feb 9th I discovered that all six Red Worms had indeed survived (I could only find three the last time I had checked), and by Feb 21st it was looking like the Reds were possibly starting to get ahead of the Euros when I found two Red Worm cocoons and only one Euro cocoon.
Well, let’s just say I was in for a pretty BIG surprise when I went through the bins today!
I started with the Red Worm bin, carefully removing all of the bedding looking for cocoons, juveniles and adult Red Worms. I took my time so as to ensure that my counts were as accurate as possible.
I ended up finding 18 Red Worm cocoons – this seemed pretty impressive considering how few worms are in the bin, and the fact that I could only find two cocoon the last time I checked (a couple of weeks ago)! I didn’t find any juveniles, and strangely, only found four adults (was expecting to find six). I think I will be doing a quick double check on that fairly soon just to make sure I didn’t forget to add one or two to my tally etc.
As you might imagine (based on my mention of a “BIG surprise”), it was in the Euro bin that things really got interesting! I naturally assumed it was going to be a lot easier to track down cocoons in this bin. For one thing, I figured there would be fewer of them. I also assumed that given the larger size, they would be a lot easier to spot. I was wrong in both cases!
Total Euro cocoons found: 33 (nearly twice as many as the Red Worms)
I have little doubt that I ended up missing some as well. I kept finding them in material I thought I had carefully sorted through. What made things challenging in this bin is that the cocoons were ending up well-hidden in among the worm casts, which were more abundant and larger than in the Red Worm bin.
All six adult Euros were easily found, as were two juveniles (second image below). I’m not too surprised to have found these young worms given the fact that I added two cocoons to the Euro bin when I started it up again (thus giving the Euros a head-start in terms of producing offspring).
In both bins, apart from worms, I found lots of tiny fast-moving larvae. Based on the fact that they had legs I knew they must be some sort of beetle larvae – very likely Rove Beetle larvae.
Sure enough, I ended up finding quite a few of the (even-faster-moving) adults. I’m still surprised that I was able to capture one on film! lol
Close up they do almost look like ants, don’t they? But they are actually very small – and exhibit the characteristic Rove Beetle upright tail when moving around.
Anyway – I’m REALLY interested to see how things progress from here. I thought for sure that the “advantages” I was giving the Euros initially were going to disappear very quickly, with the Red Worms growing in number much more rapidly. Now I’m not so sure! I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
I’ve decided to wrap-up my “Waste Optimization Challenge” experiment today after checking on the system (yesterday) and finding no evidence of the carrots that were added. Unfortunately, I haven’t been closely watching the system this past week, so I can’t say for sure exactly what day the last of the carrots finally disappeared, but I suspect it was within the last few days.
All in all, I had fun with this one. The results weren’t earth-shattering by any means, but it was still very interesting to see how the different treatments compared to one another. As alluded to in another post, for my follow-up to this one I’d like to see how waste processing in a bin with no springtails compares to a bin with lots of springtails. I think I will use only carrot peelings – some that are fresh and some that were previously frozen then thawed.
Should be fun!
Day 0 (Feb 10th, 2012)
Day 25 (Mar 6th, 2012)
A question from Kobus:
I recently bought a worm “farm”, which works very well.
The seller told me I can use the “worm pee” for my garden, diluted
1:20, but I cannot find literature to back this up, even on this
Is this true and can you please direct me to more information?
In all honesty, there isn’t such a thing as “worm pee”. Earthworms do not urinate like mammals. I have encountered people using that term to refer to “worm tea”, however.
The term “worm tea” is often used to refer to the leachate (drainage liquid) that seeps out from the bottom of vermicomposting system (obviously, only those systems with holes in the bottom). It CAN be used as a liquid fertilizer of sorts, but it’s quality will depend on the maturity of the vermicomposting system (and how well it has been maintained).
Generally, the older the system, the more vermicompost will have been deposited in it, and therefore the closer the drainage liquid will be to actual “vermicompost tea”. The leachate from newer systems, and those that are poorly maintained can contain various phytotoxic compounds, so it’s important to be a bit more cautious when using it. Diluting it and/or aerating before use can help though.
My personal preference is to focus on creating high quality vermicompost FIRST, and then to make a “tea” using that.
Hope this helps!
Yesterday I decided to harvest vermicompost from my WF-360 (so I am now back to one tray). It probably seems like I’ve been neglecting the bin for a while now – and it’s true, I have. But there’s more to it than simply being occupied with other things. Rather than continuing to provide the worms with lots of rich food waste, I decided to let them go hungry for a bit so they would convert more of the bedding material into vermicompost. Judging by the look of the material in the lowermost tray (i.e. the stuff I harvested), I’d say the strategy worked quite well.
Truth be told, I hadn’t even considered harvesting this early due to the fact that I was only on the second tray. In my mind it made sense to keep moving upwards with new trays until the very last tray (4th in my case) was full. An e-mail exchange with Kate (from Nature’s Footprint) reminded me of the fact that it’s the time (passed since starting the bin) that’s probably a more important consideration than the number of active trays.
Kate also shared with me a very cool (and easy) approach for harvesting the vermicompost without losing lots of worms (one of my other concerns had been the fact that most of the worms were still in the lowermost tray). It’s similar to my own “turbo light harvesting method“, but rather than ending up with a gob-o-worms down at the bottom of a harvesting tub, you’re using two Worm Factory trays – driving all the worms from the upper down to the lower tray.
My first step was to create a new “bottom tray” (which, as touched on earlier, is now my only tray). This involved lining one of my unused trays with newsprint, and then simply transferring to it all the material from my second tray.
Once all the material was transferred from tray #2, I placed my new “bottom tray” underneath the tray I wanted to harvest vermicompost from (the original “bottom tray” – confused yet? lol). At this point I had the system sitting underneath a bright lamp so as to drive the worms downwards.
Before removing any material I loosened it up quite a bit with my trusty hand fork. The disturbance, combined with the increased light penetration helped to get the worms moving down. After leaving everything to sit for a little while I started slowly scraping off the upper layers of vermicompost and then loosening more material down below.
There was still some intact bedding in the tray – primarily the remains of the newsprint around the sides and at the bottom. I ended up removing most of this and transferring it to my Worm Inn system since there were quite a few worms living in it, and (obviously) it wasn’t yet “finished”.
I ended up finding some pretty serious concentrations of worms in places – typically associated with the remaining bedding.
All in all, I was really impressed with the look of the vermicompost I removed, and the ease with which I was able to drive the worms into the tray below! Apart from a few stragglers congregated along the sides (where there are no grate holes), the vast majority of them seemed to head right down even before the light hit them.
After all the vermicompost had been removed, I took off the harvesting tray and provided the worms with a long-overdue meal of peeled carrots. Inspired by a recent “Worm Brief”, I also added some rich “living material” (which actually contained loads of tiny worms) from another bin. As per usual, I topped everything with a layer of shredded cardboard before putting the lid back on.
As for the vermicompost, I am storing it in a former worm bin. The idea is to keep it fairly moist while still providing it with a good supply of oxygen.
I’ll let everyone know when I start using it!
All these years I’ve assumed that it was solely the “magic” of the vermicomposting process that made me so passionate about (some might even say “ADDICTED to“) this rather odd field of endeavor. Well, now I’m not so sure.
Thanks to a posting (from Daniella M.) on the Red Worm Composting Facebook Fanpage recently, I came across a really interesting article all about how a particular bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, can trigger the release of seratonin in our brains, helping to us to feel…well…happier!
This particular microbe is among the those in the group known as the “actinomycetes” – bacteria that exhibit some of the same filamentous growth habits of the fungi. This is also the same group of microbes responsible for that oh-so-sweet-earthy smell of rich soil and compost.
Now it’s all starting to make a bit more sense isn’t it? I mean seriously, who HASN’T smiled after taking a big ol’ whiff of a (good quality) vermicompost?!
Here are some excerpts from the article (link to follow):
The drug-like effects of this soil bacteria were discovered, quite by accident, about a decade ago. A doctor named Mary O’Brien created a serum out of the bacteria and gave it to lung-cancer patients, in hopes that it might boost their immune systems. Instead, she noticed another effect: The hospital patients perked up. They reported feeling happier and suffered from less pain than the patients who did not receive doses of bacteria. Further studies in mice confirmed the mood-boosting effect of the soil bugs.
As I huff the soil, I have no way of knowing exactly how much M. vaccae is floating into my lungs — or whether it’s enough to change my mind. But I can sure smell this compost. The odor hits like a punch and triggers a memory: I recall a day in Western Massachusetts on a friend’s farm, turning earth with a pitchfork. Dried mud extended up my arms, like a pair of long-sleeved gloves, as if I were dressed for a gala event with forest-fairies. I felt dazzled that day, boozed up on sunshine, and in love with the potatoes I’d just dug out of the soil.
That same smell hovers over this dish now — a sexy, outdoorsy tang. It’s an odor produced by microbes in the soil as they break down plants. Scientists call it “geosmin,” this dirt smell that lends the earthy taste to beets and carrots. It’s the flavor of life.
Be sure to check out the full article here: How to Get High on Soil (I recommend following the links in the article as well).