50 Cocoon Challenge – Horse Manure

Red Worm Cocoons
Another batch of Red Worm cocoons, ready to be put to the challenge!

In my last 50 Cocoon Challenge update I mentioned plans for my next 50 cocoon experiment, involving horse manure rather than the typical home worm bin set up (i.e. food scraps plus bedding). Typically, when I announce these ideas/plans they end up falling by the wayside, or at least delayed for weeks/months.

Well not this time!!

I guess the results of my first trial were exciting enough to make me want to keep testing! Aside from that, the experimental set-up for our second round was so dead simple that I really had no excuse not to get it up and running right away.

50 Cocoon Challenge Manure Bin
A shallow layer of moistened, aged horse manure + 50 cocoons and we’re ready to go!

For those of you just joining us (or who need a refresher), the idea here is simply to see how long it takes for Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) to mature in various food/bedding set-ups. I know I wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the fact that I was able to find some mature worms in my ‘regular’ bin within 6 weeks from the time the cocoons were added – so it’s going to be a lot of fun watching the process all over again in the new manure bin.

My prediction is that the worms will mature even more quickly in this material, since it is basically their ‘ultimate’ food/habitat – but we shall see!

Stay tuned!

Previous 50 Cocoon Challenge Posts
The 50 Cocoon Challenge
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #1
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #2
50 Cocoon Challenge – Update #3

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    • robyn
    • July 16, 2009

    I am watching this with great interest..and i am going to begin my own trials this weekend. we will see….

    • Heidi
    • July 16, 2009

    This has nothing to do with worm cocoons (at this point I have only one), but I desperately need help from an expert!

    My worms are suddenly lethargic and gathering at the bottom of the bin. This is after three months of having them be so healthy and happy that I could HEAR them worming around when I lifted the bin lid. I’m trying to rectify this in a number of way, but I have two specific questions:

    1. I’ve been adding quite a bit of (of course, well-moistened) corrugated cardboard to the bin. Is there a chance that this has in some way harmed my worms?

    2. The many worm bin diagrams I looked at all said to drill aeration holes at the top of the bin, which is not on a level with the soil. I assumed that the air came in through the holes and sufficiently aerated the soil from the top down, while the drainage holes, of course, allowed any extra liquid to leak out. (I have had any leakage, and have checked to make sure the holes are clear numerous times.) Do I, however, need aeration holes that are actually on a level with the soil itself, leading directly into the dirt?

    Thank you very much if you have a chance to answer these questions. I appreciate any help you provide.

  1. Heidi,
    To me it sounds like it might be too wet or they may need air. If so, take the lid off and cover the bin with a piece of burlap (walmart).

    • robyn
    • July 17, 2009

    Hi Heidi,
    i Think there is need for a rescue mission. I would just get them out of there and start with new bedding. By the time it takes you to figure out whats wrong, you could lose them.

    Do you turn the bedding every now and then to aerate it? or it may be as you suspect, too much cardboard, and they are just seeking a better food scorce at the bottom. …Nah! Just get them out.
    Good Luck…


    • Heidi
    • July 17, 2009

    Thanks Mark! I may try that. I’m getting desperate!

    Robyn: Is corrugated carboard toxic to worms? That’s the only thing I’ve got to use as bedding, and if that’s what’s causing the problem in the existing bin, then it won’t do much good to start a new one with it. What do you think? I know you can use black and white newspaper, but there’s precious little of that in today’s papers. What else can you use for bedding?

    What does either of you think of doing an acid test? Would I test the cardbord, food, or soil?

    • Heidi
    • July 17, 2009

    Good news! I went to look at the worm bin while considering your suggestions, and the worms I saw (three escapees at the top of the bin) were anything but lethargic. They started booking it back into the bedding as soon as the (very mild) sunlight hit them. Also, there’s no unpleasant smell and I think I can hear my wormies worming around again. I’m going to leave the lid off for a few hours to help with circulation; I think the light will keep the worms from escaping.

    I’ll check out the canvas Mark mentioned and maybe bury the food closer to the top of the bedding, as Robyn suggested.

    Final question re mixing the bedding. I’m confused about that. The directions I followed gave specific directions for layering bedding and food scraps. After all that careful layering, is it okay to just mix it all up together into one huge mass? (I would, of course, always end with a layer of bedding on top to keep fruit flies out.)

    • Bentley
    • July 17, 2009

    HEIDI – it sounds to me like your bin may be in need of harvesting. When a bin gets too mature, this can have a negative impact on the worms, due to issues like those suggested by Mark

    I’ve had no issues with corrugated cardboard at all – I guess it would depend on where it came from and what was in it (assuming from a box of some sort).

    Another type of cardboard I love to use is egg carton (and drink tray) cardboard, although it can be tough to get a decent quantity of the stuff.

    Have you found any dead worms yet – or are they just lethargic? Have you been using corrugated cardboard the entire time or only recently?

    • Duff in VT
    • July 17, 2009

    Heidi, I sometimes take some compacted stuff from the bottom and bring it to the top. I do not add food for a few days before I do this and if I find uneaten food, I save it to put back toward the top when I am rummaging around. It gives me a chance to see what’s down there. Usually I find gobs of worms and some cocoons at the bottom.

    • Duff in VT
    • July 17, 2009

    Speaking of cocoons. I bought EF’s from Bentley and some from a local source. Both are doing well. Bentley’s are bigger and stripier and the cocoons are as pictured here on this site, lemon shaped and colored and very visible. The other worms are smaller and redder and, despite producing many babies, I cannot identify cocoons in the bin. There are many small, brown, semi-flattish things, but I am not sure if they are cocoons or what they are. Could these be a different species of worm? And, I intend to start a stacking worm unit and want to mix both bins. Will that be ok if I have two separate types of worms?

    • Heidi
    • July 17, 2009


    I hadn’t thought of harvesting. It was my understanding that as long as there was still fresh bedding (including the orignal bedding with which I started the bin), all was well. But mere age and potency of compost can do it as well? I started the bin about three months ago.

    Sounds like cardboard should be fine. I’ll look to other solutions.

    I haven’t SEEN any dead worms, but from what I understand they decompose pretty quickly, so they may have been there at one time. The cardboard is a fairly recent addition, but I added it at the same time that I stopped feeding them so much food in order to let the bin work itself out. It was getting a touch (just a touch) odorous.

    I realized that I have another question: I realize that if food goes uneaten long enough to being to mold, then I’m giving them too much food. If such a miscalculation DOES occur, however, how toxic is the mold to the worms?

    Also, I found a slug in there. I have no idea how it got there. Can it eat my worms?

  2. I have an idea for you. How would you like to triple you worm population?
    Start making a second bin and harvest like Bentley said. Only this time, get some 1/8 inch hail screen from the hardware store. Make a 2 foot by 2 foot frame and staple the screen to it. Over a newspaper lined wheel barrow, grab a handful of vermicompost put it on the screen and shake.
    The large pieces of food and the worms will stay on the screen, dump that into your new bin. What will fall into the wheel barrow will vermicompost, baby worms, and if you look very close COCOONS. I am sure of it, after three months there has to be tons of them.
    Use your wheel barrow contents as a top layer in your other bin being mindful to cover it with a thin layer of bedding.
    Make a third bin because, in 6 weeks those cocoons will hatch.

  3. Oh and please don’t tell Bentley I told you this.

    • robyn
    • July 18, 2009

    Hi Guys,

    Let me describe what i do. I got interested in worms about 10 years ago, and believe me i have spent many hours researching on the net aswell.

    I make the bedding from expanded core peat bricks (excelent moisture retaining spongy fibers), Sugar cane mulch, which is a bit like a bale of dry grass but flatter this just helps to fluff things up a bit, a good helping of beneficial bacteria in the form of home made compost or finished castings or both, and then a generous amount of horse or cow manure. mix these all together, no layering. Make it at least 30cm/12inch deep, to help maintain temperature. Don’t pat it down at all, its really light and spongy and will hold heaps of oxygen for your worms to breath. You know what? i have never used paper or cardboard, i guess you could substitute sugar cane mulch for paper but i recon i would put i through a shredder first.

    Normal kitchen food scraps, (no citrus, onion, meat or dairy) i collect this in a bucket over about a week. Then with a big 600w food processing wand i will process it while still in the bucket, might have to add some water at this stage too. Does’nt have to be too fine. Then i take it down the back to where the worms are. Tip this slop into another bucket, (just so my kitchen bucket stays nice a clean) Then add the same amount of finished compost from the tumbler and another amount of horse or cow manure or any aged manure really. Mix with water to make a nice sloppy consistancy. I plop this stuff on top of the bedding in a few places, never cover the entire bed just incase it heats up. i dont bury it. I cover it with wet hesian bags then on top of that i put plastic weed mat (the type that breaths) this keeps the bags from drying out too fast. You can then walk away and leave it for a week. But i cant resist checking in on the progress. after 48hrs the worms are massing all over the food. its so cool.

    Sorry if this is too long. i should start a blog or something.


  4. I did it…i started my blog. please come see..join and follow me.



    • Heather
    • July 23, 2009

    Hi Bentley,

    Wondering how long your horse manure composts before you add worms to it? I have 3 stables near me and access to all the stall shavings/manure I want. Just don’t want to commit mass murder on my worms from it being too hot? I also am somehat worried about horse de-wormer and other chemicals in the horse stuff. How much do I need to worry about it? Stall shavings may be cedar–any worries there?

    I never believed I would be so obsessive about worm well-being, lol.

    • Bentley
    • July 23, 2009

    Hi Heather,
    I get my horse manure from other people, so it’s hard to say for sure how long it has composted. The latest batch I grabbed was steaming hot and obviously fairly new. I added some to my outdoor systems and watered it well, and the worms already seem to be heading into it. Horse manure is one type of manure that really needs little in the way aging and/or composting. I certainly wouldn’t throw worms into a pile of it straight from the horses rear, but once it’s heated and darkened over the course of a few days it should be ok. If it looks like it’s been colonized by fungi (often just a whitish coating on the turds) you are probably ok. If adding to an enclosed bin I might be a bit more cautious, waiting perhaps until the turd nuggets (scientific term, I assure you – haha) aren’t as recognizable and the material is darker and more earthy smelling.

    I haven’t seen any issues with wood chips in bedding, but I’m not sure what type of wood it is. As for dewormer, I don’t think it’s a major concern if the material has been piled and allowed to heat outside for a bit.

    Remember, if the worms have a well-established habitat – especially if it is large and completely open, you should have NO issues layering the material on top, no matter how fresh it is. They can always stay down below until it is to their liking.

    Hope this helps!

    • Neville Wade
    • August 13, 2009

    I use horse manure all the time and I get mine from a friend who has stables . She tells me when she is going to worm her horses and when I pick up that manure I will leave it for 3 to 4 weeks before I use it . allthough at this moment I have so much manure. that when I get the new stuff it just sits there till I amready to use it.. A good tip…… I put my dry manure through a garden mulcher and then before I feed it to my worms I simply wet it down and squeeze out the excess moisture. Hope thi may help someone Regards Nifty

    • Neville Wade
    • August 13, 2009

    Hi robyn .
    I had alook at your blog and found it very interesting. I am from Pacific Haven which is near Howard Qld.[ not far from Bunderberg. I like your idea of cane mulch and am going to try this myself. I love worms to. Regards Nifty

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