All Angels Academy Interview

About a month ago I was contacted by Denise Albiza, a middle-school science teacher (grades 5-8) at All Angels Academy (Episcopal) in Miami Springs Florida. She was wondering if I might be able be an online “guest speaker” for her students as part of their first-day-of-spring celebration (earlier this week).

Although I don’t generally give vermicomposting presentations (not my preferred approach), the idea of talking – here in Ontario, Canada – to a class in southern Florida seemed pretty cool!

Well…unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned.

The idea was to do an interesting interview using a Facebook/Skype video chat app – Denise even learned how she could record it (so it could be shared later) – but somehow I managed to mess things up (I couldn’t get the app to work – or so I thought, and well…yeah…long story! Ugggh!)

Denise was a sport about it, and we DID still have a written chat (via Facebook), but unfortunately we were not able to get through all the questions the kids had come up with for me. They seemed very appreciative, regardless (recorded a very sweet video “thank-you” and posted it on my Compost Guy Facebook wall) – but, I ended up feeling guilty about the whole thing.

Anyway, I figured I should AT LEAST provide the students with written responses to all their questions, and decided to do so here on the blog since it might be interesting/helpful for others as well.

1) Do you keep your worms inside or outside?

I have worms both inside and outside. The great thing about worm composting is that it can be done on any scale, indoors or outdoors. For those who live in regions with cold winters, it means they can still compost all year round.

The vast majority of my worms are outside in big beds, since I have a lot more space out in my yard. During my winter (I’m in Ontario Canada) I try to keep one big bed active during the cold weather, while the rest of them get protected and basically “go to sleep” until spring. We’ve had a very mild winter and early spring this year, so all my outdoor beds are completely active (and thriving) again.

2) Have you ever mixed worm kinds? For example Red Wigglers with European Night Crawlers.

I have had systems containing Red Wigglers and European Nightcrawlers, but now prefer to keep these worms separate. Although they are closely related, the Red Worms tend to reproduce and grow more quickly than the ENCs (although, there have been some interesting/unexpected results in my “Euros vs Reds Head to Head Challenge” thus far!) so they may eventually outcompete them over time.

The two worms also seem to thrive in different kids of systems. Euros seem to like deeper, high-moisture bins and don’t seem to do well in really well-aerated, drier systems while Reds seem to thrive in a wider range of habitats.

I’ve tried Euros in a Worm Inn (flow-through system), for example, and found that they just wanted to dive down to the bottom (essentially defeating the purpose of having this type of system) – whereas Reds do very well in them.

3) What other kinds of worms have you experimented with?

I have also kept “Blue Worms” (Perionyx excavatus) previously. These are another composting species that do very well in warmer regions – even better than the Red Worms in fact. Their disadvantage is that they often tend wander from their beds/bins – especially during wet/stormy weather – and they are NOT at all cold tolerant, so not well suited for those raising worms in colder climates.

Distinguishing characteristics of these worms include rapid, somewhat jerky movement (which, as I’ve written previously, kinda creeps me out! haha), a clitellum positioned much closer to the anterior (head-end) tip, a body without any striping, often with a bluish sheen to it, and a thin pointed tail (“Spike Tails” is actually one of their common names).

These worms can often invade Red Worm beds on worm farms in warmer regions, so it’s not uncommon to find some in batches of Reds. Unfortunately, some worm suppliers will even sell (knowingly or unknowingly – hard to say for sure) batches of “Red Worms” that are almost entirely Blue Worms. Signs that you MAY have the wrong worms include: really crazy roaming behavior (eg. worms out of the bin and all over your walls etc), vanishing worm population when temps drop down below 50 F or so, and/or some of those other characteristics listed above.

4) How many worms do you have?

Well…I just did a count the other day! (lol)
Seriously though, that’s a really tough question to answer with any certainty. Needless to say, I have thousands and thousands, and thousands of worms. Probably not millions…yet!

5) Why do you think you like worms so much?

I’ve been really fascinated with nature for as long as I can remember, so I’ve always been interested in lots of different animals, including many of the “creepy crawly” ones.

My BIG fascination with Red Worms, though, has a lot to do with their ability to turn what some people call “garbage” into something almost “magical” – a rich compost that’s so incredibly beneficial for the health of soil and the plants growing in it.

Some people are (understanably) “creeped out” by the thought of keeping worms – especially in their homes – but I am always amazed by the number of people who look at them differently once they see what they can do.

6) We have issues with fruit flies- do you have fruit flies in your worm bins? What do you do about it?

Fruit flies are (unfortunately) the ONE “problem” that pretty well every vermicomposter ends up with at one time or another. I get them even now – 12 years after I started vermicomposting.

To deal with them I use what what’s referred to as a multi-pronged strategy – since there is no single method that guarantees you will get rid of them.

A) Fruit flies are often the result of adding too much food at once and/or adding foods that aren’t yet ready for the worms. So the first thing you want to do is get rid of excess food from your bin – especially the bulky stuff.

B) Stop adding food wastes altogether – this is the food source for the fruit fly larvae. Try to hold off feeding until there is no longer any sign of the adults.

C) Add lots of bedding materials – these can help to prevent the flying adults from moving around too much – also provides the worms with a food source that the fruit fly larvae won’t want to feed on.

D) Use a vaccuum to suck up as many adults as you can. This sounds very funny I’m sure, but it’s a really effective way to get rid of the breeding adults. If you do this every day (during a bad outbreak) along with the other strategies, it will help a LOT.

E) Set up apple cider vinegar traps. Add a small amount of apple cider vinegar to a jar, with just a drop of dish detergent (gets rid of surface tension), cover with plastic wrap, and then poke small holes in it. Swirl around the cider vinegar then place near your worm bin. Set up a few of these – they should trap quite a few adults.

Moving forward, I recommend feeding less, doing more to optimize the worm food (chop it up, freeze it etc before adding to bin), and keeping a really thick layer of bedding materials over top of the composting zone.

7) What is your preferred method of harvesting your compost?

I prefer to use my version of the old fashioned “light harvesting method” (what I’ve jokingly referred to as the “Turbo Light Harvesting Method“). Worms are repelled by bright light so you can use this to your advantage when it comes time to separate the compost from the worms.

Basically, you just dump the material out – ideally into a large, shallow container – shine a bright light over top (the sun works even better), and gradually remove material from the top, allow the worms time to move downwards

It’s important that the compost be dry enough before you begin, since it is very hard to scrape it off when it’s wet. So, you may need to let it sit out for a number of days before beginning the harvest. Make sure you break it up a lot as it dries since this will not only speed up the process but will also help to prevent the formation of a solid block of material (VERY hard stuff once dried out).

Eventually, after scraping away for awhile, you should end up with most of your worms down at the bottom. They can be added to a new system.

One other approach you may want to try if you are using a typical plastic, enclosed tub system is “David’s Tub Harvesting Method“.

8 ) What other kinds of worms can be used for composting?

There really aren’t that many different kinds of composting worms (commonly used). Apart from Red Worms, the main ones include European Nightcrawlers, African Nightcrawlers, and Blue Worms. Red Worms are definitely the best all-around choice (in my humble opinion) though. They are very easy to work with, and tolerate a wide range of conditions.

When you live in a sub tropical or tropical climate, African Nightcrawlers or Blue Worms may be a better choice, though, since they will process wastes much faster than Red Worms in warm conditions – and, not surprisingly they can tolerate hotter conditions.

One other variety commonly used to process waste materials is the Alabama Jumper, but it tends to be more of a “soil worm” than the others (mentioned above), so it is typically put to use in different ways (soil remediation etc).

9) Who buys your worms?

The COOLEST people in the world!!! lol
In all seriousness, most of the people who buy my worms are those who want to start vermicomposting (composting with worms), but somtimes people also want to raise worms for fishing or to feed various kinds of animals (fish, birds, turtles, frogs etc).

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    • Steve L.
    • March 23, 2012

    Well deserved recognition Bentley! Super post!

    • Heidi
    • April 10, 2012

    Great article! Have you done anything with worm towers that are directly in the garden (PVC pipe drilled with holes for the worms to crawl in and out of to eat)? I’m in Wisconsin and trying to decide if red wigglers or nightcrawlers will work better. I know reds like to be more of a surface dweller so worry about the summer heat in the garden. I plan to keep them active thru out the winter too.


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