Rotten Hay Vermicomposting

As I mentioned in my most recent (at time of writing) hay bale vermigardening update, when I noticed just how much fungal growth was developing in my treated hay bales, I thought might be fun to try testing it out as a worm food.

It just so happened that I had a tray of concentrated Red Worms on hand (you can find out why in my most recently published YouTube video), so I thought I might even end up with a big gob of them up in the hay.

To moisten the hay I dunked it in a tray of water and flipped it over a couple of times.

Next, I simply added it to the tray with the concentration of worms (sitting in mostly processed vermicompost) and covered it with a garbage bag to keep in moisture.

What’s interesting is the hay had a strong smell to it – reminded me of a brewery – when I first added it to the tray. I was actually worried that it was going to stink up the basement.

But by the next day the smell was completely gone!

Not too surprisingly, this seemed to be associated with the growing numbers of Red Worms that were venturing up into the material (quite obvious by the next day).

Within a few days, the material not only had a beautiful earthy smell to it, and loads of worms crawling throughout it, but it looked a lot different. Initially, there was a lot of obvious fungal growth (as you can see in the very first image above) – making the material look a lot more solid.

Once the worms had worked on it for a few days, it seemed much more like a bunch of grass stalked (unfortunately, this is not really all that obvious in the image below).

Researchers have found fungi to be an important source of nutrition for composting worms, so this definitely makes sense to me.

This also makes me a bit more optimistic about my hay bale vermigardening project. While the fungi have clearly been dominating the bales so far, it’s only a matter of time before the Red Worms take over – munching mycelia as they go – rendering the environment much more plant-root-friendly!

We just got another huge dump of rain yesterday, so I’m hopeful the tide is shifting already!

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    • Bobbi
    • July 15, 2015

    I have five or six bales of moldy hay sitting around (thanks to a leaky tarp). Maybe I should look at your pictures more closely and see if I can make use of it! 🙂

    • Bentley
    • July 16, 2015

    Hi Bobbi
    If you have composting worms, I promise you can make use of it! Just soak it down and add it to a vermicomposting system (a bit at a time).
    Or maybe try some hay bale gardening (this might require some more time before the bales are ready for planting)

    • Bobbi
    • July 16, 2015

    Hi Bentley 🙂 I don’t actually have any worms, I tried a small container and ended up killing them after almost two years. I suspect it was the container, there wasn’t enough ventilation.

    I really need to do something with that hay. If I do I’ll share! 😀 Some of the bales have been sitting out in the weather for months, so I suspect they’re well into decomposing. I need to go take a look!

    • SegRider
    • August 3, 2015

    This is another excellent post on the use of rotten hay. I have a lot of dry grass and leaves that I am trying to produce this rot and haven’t had success. Open piles don’t go and I get foul rot in bags. My standing 4X4 compost bin is FULL of worms,but I can’t harvest the yet. I am setting up the bins with David’s method. Works great. Haven’t decided on over-wintering a few bins yet, having too much fun.

    Where can I post pics of my system? Not Youtube capable yet.

    • Bobbi
    • August 4, 2015

    SegRider, do you have a link for ‘David’s method’?

    • SegRider
    • August 4, 2015

    I use a bin with 8 2″ holes in one end. Works fast and worms have less stress.

    • Bobbi
    • August 4, 2015

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Mr-Yan
    • August 9, 2015

    Fungi as an important food source for composting worms eh?

    So I could run cardboard through an oyster mushroom grow bag then use that into my worm bin. Would that still take the place of cardboard as bedding?

    • Bentley
    • August 15, 2015

    SegRider – feel free to email me re: pics
    Thanks for helping Bobbi find that harvesting article.

    MR-YAN – That would be a great approach, and you’d end up with a material like well-aged manure that’s basically half food, half bedding. You might still mix in a bit of cardboard to increase air flow (I’m picturing the spent mushroom substrate as having the consistency of a compost), but it probably wouldn’t be critical.

    One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen (many years ago now) was a video featuring a “living machine” system that started with brewery waste. This was first used as an oyster mushroom growing medium, then fed to Red Worms (with the resulting vermicompost likely put to use for something). The worms were then fed to fish in an aquaponic system, which in turn was used to grow plants.

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