Just about anyone who has vermicomposted for any length of time will have some experience with “volunteer” plants popping up in their system(s), especially when using a wide variety of fruit/veggie wastes (without any freezing ahead of time). For many this seems to be an annoyance – something to be avoided as much as possible.
I tend to have more fun with it – especially in outdoor integrated systems, where I will often just let the plants grow. Last season, for example, I had a very successful white pumpkin plant that took over my garden and produced 13 pumpkins in time for Halloween (I posted about this on Facebook, but unfortunately didnt get a chance to blog about it here).
Volunteers in my indoor worm bins aren’t nearly as fun, I’ll admit – largely because there are limited options for actually growing the plant out – but a recent mass sprouting event in one of my bins reminded me that perhaps there is more potential that I need to explore.
One day during the recent Christmas holiday season I was caught off guard when I walked past a small, neglected worm bin sitting on the floor in my basement, and out of the corner of my eye saw what looked like a yellow/green blob of…something oozing out from the bin! lol
Of course, upon closer inspection I quickly realized it was not a blob of anything, but actually a mass of seedlings that had managed to push the lid part way off!
At first I was a bit puzzled by the fact that there were so many seedlings growing so uniformly, but then it suddenly dawned on me that some weeks before that I had tossed in some pumpkin ‘guts’ (from the white pumpkins mentioned earlier) for the worms.
In this particular case, my first impulse was to turn the seedlings into a nutritious “worm food”, so I ended up mowing them down with a pair of scissors, and left them to rot and get consumed by the Red Worms living in the bin.
This got me thinking more about two different ideas:
1) The potential for using various inexpensive seeds as a source of “future worm food”. Just toss them in, let them sprout and grow a bit, then mow them down for the worms to eat.
2) The potential for doing the same thing, but for the purpose of growing microgreens for human consumption.
Clearly, a worm bin (especially a mature worm bin) provides fertile ground (literally) for seed germination. The trick for taking this to the next level (beyond the yellow-sprouts-in-your-basment phase – lol) would be to somehow provide the seedlings with more light, without stressing out the worms!
I would think that keeping the bin in a spot with better lighting (but NOT in direct sunlight), and using a thick layer of something like burlap as a cover (with no actual lid) could work well! I have a bag full of buckwheat seeds, plus plenty more of the white pumpkin seeds ready for planting.
I think there might be some more microgreens experiments on the horizon!
I’ve done this very thing! I regularly toss in sunflower seeds as a green manure type food source and to regulate moisture. They drink up extra moisture and then I know it’s dry by the state of the sprouts. I’ve not been able to cut edible sprouts-can’t seem to get them tall enough for an acceptable degree of seperation in the worm poo/people food zones.
Very interesting, Ray! And I really like the moisture-control angle. Hadn’t even thought of that.
Great idea. Will have to give that a try.
Volunteers! We used our worm compost in our newest boxes, and I’ve got about a dozen small volunteer tomatoes and I think a pepper plant in my winter garden right now since its been a “warm” winter in SoCal this year. We toss all our kitchen waste into our worm bin seeds and all, and I also throw in there produce that has spoiled or been eaten by bugs/animals from our own garden, so who knows which varieties any of this stuff will be. But we’re going to take advantage of it and let them sprout and either stay in place to harvest once these crops are gone, or transplant them into their own boxes.
Interesting idea on letting them grow into new food for the worms. I mean, in a way you’ve kinda built yourself a perpetual motion machine – or a self-recycling ecosystem I guess you could say. The sprouts pull from the nutrients of the worm compost in order to grow that big, so then if you mow them down and they degrade and the worms eat them, it’s just turning back into the soil that it was originally. The only difference you’re gaining is whatever nutrients are inside the seed pods themselves, which is only the volume of the seeds. Practically you’d accomplish the same thing by grinding the seeds before putting them into the bin (which we don’t do nor would I ever sit and grind all my compost before I throw it in the bin, the point is dump and forget), disseminating the nutrients of the seeds into the soil. The worms will eat the stuff, move around into a different place, and poop it out, mixing the nutrients around for you.
I do usually do exactly this for micro sprouts though – let them grow a little, then mess them up to kill them so they get consumed into the soil again.
run worm food through the blender, grind up seeds too
I think you might be able to achieve a net gain in nutrient content due to the plants converting energy from sunlight into sugar. As for keeping the plants happy with light and the worms happy with darkness, 2 possibilities come to mind. One is to use an opaque lid or cover close to the surface, with holes the sprouts could grow towards and through; the other is to mainly select very leafy plants that would work as a shade cover crop as they grew. Neither would likely give perfect results, but either one might perform adequately.
Yes – that is exactly my thinking as well, John!
So, assuming a system like this could be kept in a reasonably well-lit location, I would think it would be more productive than simply feeding them the seeds.
Good suggestions for keeping the worms shaded.
@Jon – Very interesting point about the sun energy! That is very true that a huge component of plants’ strength and health comes from sunlight. You may be onto something there!