50 Cocoon Challenge – 01-14-10

50 Cocoon Challenge - Cardboard
50 Cocoon Challenge cardboard-only system – looking almost exactly the same as when we began!

I’m sure some of you must be wondering what on earth is going on with my current “50 Cocoon Challenges” (cardboard & straw) these days.

Believe it or not, I actually found a baby worm in the cardboard challenge bin a few days after getting it set up (and of course, had every intention of writing about it! haha), but not a whole lot has changed in the bin since then. There ARE a few more tiny worms out and about now, but I was unable to find any larger worms – let alone adults! One of the difficulties associated with using corrugated cardboard is that I have no idea how many worms might be living inside some of the pieces (Red Worms LOVE to wiggle into the channels that run through the middle of this material). The cardboard itself doesn’t really seem to be decomposing at all. I thought for sure that we’d at least see some sort of fungus setting up shop, but if this IS happening, it certainly isn’t obvious!

The straw challenge bin seems to be showing a similar lack of decomposition (again, I was definitely expecting to see at least some fungal mycelia in there). The straw does appear to be a fair bit darker in color, but that’s about it.

50 Cocoon Challenge - Straw

What’s interesting though, is that there definitely ARE some larger worms in the straw bin. I was not able to locate any adults yet, but found at least 3 or 4 (might have counted one of them twice) worms that were similar in size to those added to my “four worm reproduction experiment“.

50 Cocoon Challenge - Red Worm

One thing is for sure – there won’t be worms in either one of these bins maturing as quickly as those in either my manure challenge, or my original food waste challenge systems. I can’t say I’m too surprised! We are talking about high C:N materials here, so neither are going to be able to support the same sort of microbial biomass (and thus food value) as those other two.

I am still definitely interested to see what happens in these systems over the long-haul though!

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    • Nathan
    • January 15, 2010


    What do new born baby worms look like?

    When I started my worm bin I had mostly cardbord a little bit of paper and some food waste, but I didn’t get any mold. Perhaps cardbord just isn’t something mold likes.

    • Eve
    • January 15, 2010

    In my experience corrugated cardboard just sits there looking like cardboard for ages. Then one day you realize it looks real wet. If you feel it, its all slippery and slimy. Like someone had mixed in a layer of sauce into the cardboard. The worms love it at that stage.

    • Bentley
    • January 19, 2010

    Nathan – Baby worms look just like tiny versions of the adults, but tend to be a bit more translucent (see-through). Some people assume “White Worms” (a common worm bin inhabitant) are baby worms, but the distinct white color, and the fact that they tend to be smaller than baby worms helps as far as telling them apart goes.

    You are probably right about “mold”, but fungi in general are well-known for their love of carbon-rich substrates like wood etc. I think part of the issue stems from the fact that the bin simply hasn’t been inoculated with the “right” kind of fungi. We’ll see what happens over time though – I suspect the decay will become more obvious before too long.

    • Bentley
    • January 19, 2010

    Thanks for sharing, Eve – I definitely know what you mean re: that slimy coating! (uugggh – haha)
    I can’t say I’m too surprised that worms love it! They do love their microbial soup!

  1. Bentley, with this project, you got me to add cardboard to my regular bins. I was reluctant, because I know what’s IN cardboard–lots of chemicals, including even traces of the pesticides from the trees made into the pulp, along with whatever was in the nearest river water, plus all the “emulsifiers” and thickeners they add, and so on.

    But I began to tear up toilet paper tubes and mix them into my bins. Yeow! I got an egg-case bonanza! Apparently worms REALLY, REALLY like cardboard. I actually had a terrible time separating my finished compost from my worms, because of all the eggs.

    I usually use your suggestion of punctured, single-layer black plastic laid between the new bedding (below) and the old (dumped on above), which, because of all the eggs, allows me to answer Nathan’s question with more detail. An absolutely newly hatched redworm looks like a tiny blob of pink bird poop. Pretty soon, it becomes something recognizable as a worm, but barely visible. (A lot of my eggs hatched while the “great migration” to the new bedding was occurring, so I saw several stages of infancy.)

    I never did figure out how long it takes from egg to baby, though. Some eggs were still visible in my finished compost almost two weeks after the worms had left for the new territory.

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