Comfrey Red Worm Diet – 6-14-19

Back at the end of May I wrote about a new bin set up to test the viability of Comfrey as a sole worm food for Red Worms (see “Comfrey as Sole Food Source for Worms“).

[Just as a reminder, when I say “sole food source” it should be assumed that plenty of bedding materials will be added as well to help keep things balanced.]

As you can likely guess, this has been (and will likely continue to be) a very low key experiment. Comfrey can take some time to break down – even when chopped up – and it is not something I just want to keep piling into the bin, due to the nitrogen (and water) content.

Today is just about exactly 3 weeks from the start of the experiment (and nothing was added after the initial set-up), so I thought it might not be a bad idea to check on the system and add some more food/bedding.

Clearly the overall level of material had dropped quite a bit, and I saw some evidence of what might have been slime mold growth. Digging around, I was also surprised by just how many cocoons I found.

There weren’t huge numbers of worms up near the top – and a lot of them seem to be smaller/younger, but there were enough to give me the impression that things were going OK.

That being said…I did end up finding a couple of dead worms (during a pretty quick exploration). I can’t say for sure whether or not they were Red Worms – the material I used from the outdoor bed could have easily had some soil or semi-soil worms in it as well, and they certainly wouldn’t have done well in this system.

Further down, I found plenty of intact shredded cardboard and some larger worms. I suspect that if I had done a more thorough dump and sort examination, the worm population as a whole would have semmed quite healthy.

Nonetheless, things did look pretty wet and – just to be on the safe side – I plan to up my cardboard/paper bedding inputs moving forward.

Speaking of which…

I added a nice thick layer of shredded brown paper and cardboard as my “bottom” layer today.

Next, I just added more comfrey and once again snipped it up with a pair of scissors…

…before finally putting the loose plastic bag back in place.

Coming back to the high densities of cocoons, slime mold, and dead worms – I have a sneaking suspicion the comfrey decomposition (which can start slow and then become a rapid liquification) ended up lowering the habitat quality, and maybe even killing off a decent number of worms (hard to say for sure). This type of stress can trigger a lot of cocoon laying – a strategy to help ensure the survival of the population in case all or most of the worms die.

I’m optimistic that things will be better balanced moving forward since I’ll only be adding comfrey and bedding (and more bedding than before, like I said). I wouldn’t be surprised if the original aged manure habitat combined with the liquid-comfrey resulted in excess levels of nitrogen (leads to ammonia release).

Anyway – should be interesting to see how things proceed from here!
Stay tuned.

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    • Carol K.
    • June 20, 2019

    I have several big comfrey plants and even before your “Sole Food Source” article thought about cutting some, drying it, crumbling it up, and using it next time I change bedding in my 3 bins – a task that is rather overdue, but other things can have a lousy way of interfering with my worm herding…
    ANYhow, having read in the past about how good for animals like ruminants and even chickens is the addition of comfrey to their diet, I cut a small armload of comfrey a couple of weeks ago. Since I knew I would not have time to deal with replacing bedding right away, I decided to dry it and when I get to it, I’ll mix it into the top layer of new bedding. Hopefully I’ll tackle that chore within a week or so. (Right now the basement is in chaos as we are dealing with some water issues down there, thanks to the never-ending rain we have been getting all spring here in central Ohio. Bummer.)
    Bedding will consist of (currently dry) shredded leaves saved from last fall and a mix of shredded brown paper & cardboard, all of which I will pre-soak to the optimal wrung-out-sponge degree of wetness. I have had really good results from that combination before.
    Of course, summer always brings a glut of veggie & fruit waste that will go in as well, so this won’t be very scientific. Favorites of the herd and their accompanying growing numbers of pill bugs are corn cobs, overripe )forgotten in the fridge) avocados, and melon rinds. The fauna in the bin seem to ignore potato peelings; I have long since stopped adding those – I just put them in the outdoor pile. And I no longer add raw tomato seeds after the Great Tomato Sprouting Fiasco that occurred in my plants over several years after repotting them with worm compost that had millions of seeds in it. I think I shared that tale a while back…From now on, tomato waste gets cooked!
    All the best, CK

    • Roger
    • July 23, 2019

    Where can I buy comfrey plants, seeds, cuttings, in WA?? PLEASE

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