The Cocoons in (Worm) Compost Conundrum

Great “food for thought” email from Lori:

I’m just getting through harvesting about 25lbs of worm castings!
(they’ve Been busy!) My question is – I did the “pile” method, scooped
off the top, threw the worms from the bottom, into new bins (actually,
I did NOT throw them! Lol!)….I know there were LOTS of babies & eggs
in the finished, could I not feed them? Maybe keeping a small food
source to the top side – as the babies grow bigger, I could search them
out, and as the eggs hatch, wait on them as well? I feel I should
still be feeding them?
Not sure if this would be worth it, or just leave them to be, with the
compost? Seems so wasteful? Like I don’t wanna throw away?
Wondering what your thoughts are?

Hi Lori,
You’re definitely NOT alone in wondering how to deal with all those cocoons (and baby worms). As you point out, it seems like such a shame to just leave them in the compost – especially when you consider that, on average, each cocoon produces 3 new Red Worms!

While European Nightcrawler cocoons do tend to be big enough for separation using a 1/8″ screen, unfortunately I don’t know of ANY effective way to separate Red Worm cocoons (at least not within a sane time frame – lol). In all honesty, your feeding/separation idea is the best approach for those who don’t want to lose the young worms and cocoons. With the right “bait” and a lot of patience, this method can work really well. Simply add some nicely aged horse manure and/or some other worm treats like watermelon or canteloup…and wait. Just make sure the food is all in one spot – and is easily accessible for periodic harvesting.

I myself don’t worry too much about any of this since I prefer to employ an integrated composting/gardening approach in my yard.

No matter where I end up adding vermicompost, a safe composting worm habitat is always going to be close by. So, any worms left in the material will have some place to go – vermicomposting trenches/windrows, worm towers etc.

I don’t typically harvest much vermicompost during the winter – but if I do, it’s going to end up sitting some place warm until I can use it anyway.

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    • John W.
    • July 24, 2014

    I use to worry about throwing away all the cocoons. I found that when I used the speedy light method that Bentley has blogged about that I could easily find a lot of cocoons. They showed up like jewels under the light.
    I don’t think its worth sorting to take all of them, but it is a easy way to collect a lot.

    • Kurt S
    • July 28, 2014

    I just realized that it was time to harvest my 1st bin. I choose to do the split bin method of moving the vermicompost to the left and adding new bedding. Then I got the idea to put 1/2 the bin in the sun and force the harvest. So the other day, I put the compost bin half of the bin into the sun, this forcing the EF’s lower into the compost. So, as I said, for clarification, I moved almost all of the almost processed bedding into 1/2 the bin and filled the void with machine shredded cardboard box, coffee grinds from starbucks, corn meal, vermicompost, machine shredded news paper, and garden soil. So then I figured on one sunny day, to drag the bin from under the carport n South Florida into the partial sun. This forcing the vermin deeper and laterally while giving me the ability to harvest the top layers of vermicompost.

    I got two cubic feet, that I hand sorted into clean compost with a few hundred cocoons separated as well as about fifty hatchlings. Hatchlings were hand repositioned into the next bins fresh bedding as well as the final disposition of the est 300 cocoons and any under decomposed big pieces. I got over two cubic feet of vermicompost and have plenty to go. This is first of two bins 2’X3′ aprox. I will again, put the 1/2 bin in the sun, and force the vermin south and sideways as I harvest castings. I’m not sure I will take the time to sort cocoons next time, It took me all day and I have plenty of vermin already. I also split my other bin too, but it needs more time before I try to harvest the left half. Both bins are active in the new bedding and I am confident that the transition to the new bedding will be complete by the time the old bedding is completed. hey, that is the way things are supposed to go?

    Bon Chance!

    • Kurt S
    • July 28, 2014

    I just realized that Mary Apleholf’s directive suggested that after the vermicompost was harvested, that one could form a slurry (the only time she supported is) and feed the segregated compost for three weeks or so, thus drawing any straglers, hatchlings, and any strays to just under the feed trough formed in the compost with slurry feeding.

    There was also a you tube video with “Dirty Jobs” about commercial farmers in Texas or Florida. They would put a stale piece of bread on surface, and a few days later some critter would be found under the slice. I guess if we were not in a hurry, we could harvest the compost/castings. Then allow to dry, mature while stale bread were to lure strays to the surface just under the bread. If we waited the full length of gestation plus a few days for them to figure it out and then make the journey to the bread. We could easily collect all the potential of the harvest and transfer the potential into our new bedding or the bedding of a new start bin.

    Breaking Bad rocks!

    • Bentley
    • August 3, 2014

    Hey Kurt – your sun-harvesting method sounds interesting. I’ve never thought of trying that.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Kurt S
    • August 4, 2014

    Thanks Bentley. I have all the finished vermicompost stacked in the 1/4 corner right now. I’m waiting for them to move on, but am finding they really seem to prefer the home they have made for themselves. I have population of the new bedding, it’s just that the majority want their old digs… Interesting. I am feeding on the opposite side, may be time to try some cantaloupe lure.

    Has anyone ever tried to soak the bedding in diluted worm tea? You know, after steeping with molasses and aeration, to dilute it with rain water and use it to moisten the new bedding. Possibly make it more inviting to them like the finished compost they seem to prefer…

    I have a new trick, I call it the casting couch. More like casting cloth. I have this coconut cloth that I get when the fronds fall from the coconut trees. I layer it atop the bedding instead of cardboard, black plastic, or burlap. I mist moisten it as it really does not soak up water. I find that they love it as a swingers club/lavatory/nursery. Within a few days I can return and shake off the cloth into a soda can flat (low cardboard soda case tray) I get pure castings and a few cocoons about a full cup or so. And it is relatively fresh so that is what I use to inoculate my tea.

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