Worm Inn Journal-06-22-12

In my last Worm Inn Journal update I wrote about adding some comfrey leaves to the system in an effort to see if green wastes might offer a viable alternative to food wastes (which I happened to be running low on at the time). As it turns out, the worms seemed to go crazy for chopped up leaves (certainly didn’t hurt that they had been frozen-then-thawed, and mixed with well-aged manure) – so, late last week I decided to really take things up a notch by adding a much larger quantity of plant materials.

That being said, let me once again issue my stern warning for those thinking about doing the same thing…

NOTE: Please keep in mind that green wastes can release ammonia gas (toxic to worms in very small concentrations) and cause other issues like overheating in smaller, enclosed vermicomposting systems (especially plastic bins). They should only be used in very well ventilated systems in which a high quality worm habitat has already been established.

This time around I used a tub full of weeds yanked from my gardens – so a bit more like a “waste” material than the comfrey leaves (which were cut from a live plant). There was a fair amount of dirt and garden debris associated with the weeds so I didn’t bother adding any “living material”, but I did – as per usual – put them in the freezer before use.

Once my weedy mix was removed from the freezer and allowed to thaw out, I chopped it up. I didn’t check the weight of the material before adding it to the Worm Inn, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was at least 4 or 5 lbs.

The volume of the mix was quite substantial as well, leaving me with a very full Worm Inn once added!

As is often the case with yard wastes, this mix was on the dry side (by vermicomposting standards) so I added some water and put a folded newspaper (i.e. multiple layers of newsprint) over top before zipping up the lid.

I’ll be honest – I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Overfeeding is one thing, but adding that much green waste to a small vermicomposting system all at once is quite another matter altogether. (Again, please don’t EVER do this with an enclosed plastic bin!!) I at least felt comforted knowing that the worms had a good habitat down below, and excellent air circulation above, so it wasn’t likely that they ended up getting gassed out or anything like that.

When I checked on the Inn earlier this week, the weed mix had decomposed quite a bit, and the level of material in the system had dropped down as well. While there weren’t yet worms all through the material, there were loads of springtails, and good concentrations of worms down in the lower reaches.

I just checked on the system a few minutes ago and I’m happy to report that the worms are now up close to the surface (and throughout), the level of material has dropped even further, and a lot of it now looks more like compost than rotting plant waste.
This is actually a really pleasant surprise! I honestly didn’t think the weeds would be getting consumed this quickly.

I guess there’s something to be said of optimization of your waste materials and good air flow!

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  1. I have two 1m square bins, outside, into which I put all my garden waste, food waste etc?
    Have been doing for 3 years now? The worms seem to thrive, even
    when I’m forgetful and don’t water after dropping in fresh lawn clippings.
    This without freezing first. I don’t think you need worry, this mix is closer to
    what worms get in the wild?

    • Vincent Z.
    • June 23, 2012

    Would a screen cover over a plastic bin air out most of the ammonia gas? Of course the bin would be in a shaded area to not have direct sunlight.

    I have tons of garden waster compared to my food waste since I only cook for myself since I’m a student. So it would be nice to be able to use my garden waste for feed/bedding.

    FYI, I am just starting out. No worm bin yet.

    • Bentley
    • June 23, 2012

    Dave – assuming those aren’t tightly enclosed plastic bins, your approach sounds perfectly reasonably to me. I do the exact same thing with some of my larger outdoor bins. Once the habitat is established in bins like that, and as long as there is decent ventilation (thanks to wooden construction or lots of air holes), you can do just fine dumping whatever you want (within reason) on top. What I am cautioning is adding these green materials to smaller, enclosed plastic bins – your typical Rubbermaid type worm bin (or even plastic stacking bins for that matter).
    Vincent – yeah that would be much different. My concern in that case would likely be flooding more than anything else. If you are talking about a typical plastic backyard composter, you should be totally fine once the habitat is established (ie no need to leave lid off).

    • Donna
    • July 10, 2012

    I am excitedly awaiting the arrival of my first pound of redworms. Their rubbermaid bin has been ripening for over a month. maybe a silly question but can the bin contents be too broken down? there is a bit of mold growing on the top now, and the bottom is wet. i added more cardboard to the mix and there is no dirt in there. I too live alone and do no have a large amount of food scraps but can bring them from my mother’s house.

    • Bentley
    • July 11, 2012

    No such thing as a silly vermicoposting question, Donna! Your question is actually excellent.
    HOW you let your wastes age will make a really big difference. If wastes are mixed with lots of bedding and they aren’t allowed to get really foul, there should be no issues. Mold is very common before the worms are added. I recommend simply mixing everything up and really well and maybe adding some new bedding. If it seems on the dry side you may want to add some more water as well (my usual recommendation is to get it as moist as you can without pooling of liquid on the bottom).
    If you are letting wastes sit with not enough bedding and they get really foul smelling then my recommendation is NOT to add the worms – at least not until after you’ve mixed in a lot more bedding and allowed to system to sit for awhile longer (until most of the foul smell goes away).

    • Donna
    • July 12, 2012

    this is helpful Bentley. it is not foul smelling at all, so I will keep mixing the contents, adding food waste and more cardboard, making sure that I get down to the bottom of the bin when turning it over. I think that this will soak up what little water is pooling on the bottom. I do not have soil in there…was not sure about the soil around here. should a purchase a small amount of organic compost and add a shovel full?
    thank you,

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