I recently received a couple of similar questions from “Gail” and “Kevin”. This is a topic that a lot of people seem interested in.
When I try to separate my worms from the compost I cannot
remove all the eggs and then I give up and put the worms back. Do eggs
have to be sacrificed? It seems mean, but I want my compost!
I harvested my bins for the first time this week.
Do you have a better method for harvesting cocoons than picking them out one at a time.
You have touched on one of the major dilemmas of vermicomposting, and something I’ve yet to see a really good solution for. As nice as it is to produce and use beautiful worm compost that we’ve made from “waste” materials, it’s not much fun to see all that “future worm composting potential” end up potentially lost.
I personally don’t worry about this issue as much as some, simply because I happen to have a very extensive network of worm composting beds closely associated with my gardens. As such, I know that any baby worms hatching out will end up finding a good “home” quite easily and quickly. I realize that not everyone has the desire, or even necessarily the ability to dig a big network of vermicomposting trenches (it can involve some serious labor), but something you MIGHT want to consider, assuming the compost is being used in your own garden, is a smaller pit-type system associated with each plant (or a small group of plants).
Just to give you an example of what I mean here – this year I planted a couple of small boysenberry bushes in a heavy-clay-soil garden I have not done much with (as compared to a lot of my other “vermi-gardens”, anyway). When I planted each of them, I started by digging a really big hole. Next I filled it most of the way with a coarse vermicompost material, containing lots of cocoons and even worms. Then – after planting the bush and adding more vermicompost – I added quite a lot of alpaca manure over top. Finally I covered everything with a thick layer of straw. You certainly wouldn’t need to use alpaca manure (or manure in general) though – food waste could work as well. It would have the added benefit of providing slow release moisture in addition to being a worm “food” source.
Getting back to the original topic…
HOW you are creating your vermicompost will likely have an impact on the ease with which you are able to separate the cocoons. In a plastic enclosed type of system, generally you will end up with a pretty mucky material which will obviously make it really difficult to do any sort of separation (even from the worms, for that matter – but be sure to check out some of the different approaches mentioned in the Harvesting section on the HOT TOPICS page for ideas about how to do that).
Vermicomposts produced in a really well-aerated system, especially some sort of “flow-through” bin/bed, will tend to produce a nice, crumbly vermicompost that should be a lot easier to screen. Start with a bigger mesh size (say 1/4″) and work your way down (anyone out there tried 1/16″?? I’ve meaning to). It’s not likely that you can ever separate them so that you only end up with cocoons, but I suspect that you could end up with a mix that makes it a lot easier to remove them by hand.
Something else you might want to consider is attempting to get your cocoons to hatch out in the vermicompost before you start using it. In the case of wet vermicompost, it is always a good idea to give it some time to air dry in a well-ventilated tub, or even in a heavy duty cardboard box (as suggested in “Worms Eat My Garbage”) – this can be a good time to see if you can encourage hatching to take place, and just generally round up all the babies left in the material. To accomplish this, you might try putting some cantaloupe or melon pieces on top of the compost, and simply cover it with some burlap (newsprint etc). Over time you should start to see lots of little guys congregating under the food materials. By the time your compost is nice and dry, hopefully you will end up being able to scoop up most of your remaining wigglers quite easily before you start using the material.
Anyway – just some thoughts on my end. Will be interested to see what others have to say!