The topic of “homemade manure” is something I’ve written about quite a few times here on the blog (and elsewhere) over the years. I’ve grown to appreciate the concept even more in 2020, since it’s been even more important to be resourceful (especially early in the season).
I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I last had a source of farmyard manure, and our own supply of compostable kitchen scraps always become a precious commodity as the season progresses and my worm herds grow.
If you are new to “homemade manure” (HMM), the basic idea is that we are taking readily available (for the average homeowner) materials and creating a manure substitute that composting worms love.
Here is an equation that helps to explain:
“Food” + “Bedding” + “Living Material” + Moisture + Oxygen + Warmth + Time = Homemade Manure
If you want a habitat material, use mostly bedding, if you want something more nutritious, boost the amount of nitrogen-rich “foods” you are adding – it’s as simple as that!
Looking back at some of my earlier HMM “recipes” (I’ve included some links at end of this post), I shake my head a little over how much time/effort I sometimes put into making the stuff. One of my limited resources this (2020) season has been time, so it has become a lot more important to find ways to get things done as quickly as possible.
During the growing season up here, the most readily available nitrogen source comes in the form of green wastes from my yard. Grass clippings, comfrey, weeds all tend to be more abundant than kitchen scraps – so they become a very important worm food. (NOTE: they are a bit tricky to work with as-is, so I don’t recommend just adding them to a regular worm bin)
I have a good supply of paper wastes – eg scrap paper, paper bags, box cardboard, newsprint – so these tend to be my goto “bedding” materials. The only hassle is that they can take some time to prep (rip up etc).
For this HMM project one of the goals was to do as little work as possible!
I still have the “holey bin” from my “Vermi-Fertilization & Watering System“. I’ve been planning to set it up as an in-ground worm bin – and still likely will – but figured it could serve as an effective HMM “brewing” vessel in the meantime.
The set up process was ridiculously easy. I started with a thick layer of newsprint and paper in the bottom of the bin, and then literally just added alternating layers of green wastes and paper all the way up. Until I ran out of weeds anyway!
I then gave it a solid watering – although decided to move it over to my vermicomposting planter part way through so as to take advantage of the water draining out of the bottom.
If you are wondering about “living material” – the weeds had enough dirt/compost associated with them that I knew the mix wouldn’t really require any microbial assistance. So I kept things nice and simple.
One twist is that I will also be adding some of the household “wastewater” I’ve been collecting and using in outdoor systems (including the vermi-filtration system).
Over time as everything rots the level of material in the bin will go down. So, I will likely continue to add my alternating layers for a period of time before just leaving it be. When I cut the lawn the other day I added some paper and then some clippings to top things up a bit more.
A bin like this is great to keep in the sun since the extra heat will help to accelerate the break down process (and there are no worms to be concerned about), but I suspect I will need to water it fairly regularly with all those air holes.
I will be sure to let everyone know how it turns out!
A Few Other HMM Posts You May Want to Check Out
Homemade Manure – 09-04-13
Do Worms Like Homemade Manure?
Homemade Manure Revisited
Even More Fun With Worms? Sign Up for the RWC E-mail List Today!**
Otherwise known as: composting. Am I wrong?
Lol – similar approach, although too small a system, and the material removed won’t be a compost. Referring to it as “pre-composting” wouldn’t be far off. Basically material prep for a more optimized vermicomposting process.
I would bet that the material heats up pretty hot, pretty quickly. Grass clippings alone can get too hot to handle in just a couple days
Hey John – yeah even with the small(ish) volume the temps do get quite hot. Especially with it sitting out in the sun. That plus ammonia release would definitely make it a very unfavorable environment for worms. Wouldn’t be surprised if some have moved up into the lower reaches by now though. I remember a HMM batch I made last year or the year before – mostly with scrunched paper and poultry feed as I recall. I totally forgot about it and when I checked on it likely months later it was loaded with huge Red Worms! lol
Does food ever get too rotten to be fed to my worms? What about stuff that has gone smelly and anaerobic? Also, is compressed paper cat litter ok to add or use to absorb liquid?
Katie – that is an excellent question! The answer is definitely “YES” – but it’s not necessarily a permanent thing. Anaerobic breakdown processes can result in a variety of compounds that are worm-unfriendly or even toxic. As a basic rule of thumb, I would suggest being cautious with anything that has a strong, foul smell. But exposure to good air flow and aerobic microbes + some time can turn things around. If you have a large system (eg outdoors) with great air flow and plenty of safe worm habitat you would probably be ok just adding the smelly wastes and letting them mellow out over time, but if working with smaller systems such as enclosed indoor worm bins, I would recommend an aerobic aging period in a separate container first. Drain off excess liquid if possible then dump the smelly wastes onto dry absorbent bedding materials in a bin or bucket with good air flow. Mixing in some good “living material” (earthy smelling stuff like compost, decomposed fall leaves etc) should help to speed up the process. You will know the mix is “ready” once the really foul odors are gone. Even then, I recommend testing on a small scale.
As for the paper cat litter – that sounds great, but you might want to make sure there isn’t anything else in it that could cause issues. Also – I would guess it is probably expensive? Shredded corrugated (or “egg carton”) cardboard would be a great, free alternative.
Hi Bentley! I’ve got something similar to your HMM in my backyard. Originally I wanted it to be compost. It’s a bin no bigger than what you have ..It smells earthy and I’ve been turning it and adding layers of C-N to it as I refill the bin. How could I check to make sure it’s safe for the worms I’ll be getting in the mail soon? I’m thinking of adding shredded cardboard or newspaper to it so it’s more of a bedding than food source for them to transition in to..Would you recommend something else entirely for them to settle into after their long trip?
Thanks for your time!
Hi Amanda – apologies for the delay (just seeing this now). Smell can be a very important indicator of how “worm-friendly” something is. If your mix doesn’t have foul smells it should be good. I always still recommend testing with a small amount. Also worth noting that if the HMM is created outdoors and then used as food indoors you can end up introducing flies etc (not sure if this applies here but I figured worth mentioning for anyone reading this). Note: just because something stinks it doesn’t mean it can’t ever be used as a worm food. It usually just means it is too wet and needs more dry carbons and air flow before it is ideal. In a larger system if can likely just be added anyway since the worms will have their own safe habitat to hang out in.
So how did it turn out?