Sunday, March 8, 2009

I've got Worms!!!

Ewwww... Ick!!! Right?!

Nahhh - Not in this case! I'm a Gardener, remember?!

See, last week when I attacked my compost bins and discovered an insignificant quantity of usable compost, I pretty-much decided that the "Old Fashioned" method of composting wasn't workin' for me (My Bad - but I just don't have the time, energy or desire to obsessively turn my piles every week)! Bottom Line: A dearth of earth is more work than it's worth!

Yes, I'll still maintain my bins, but I don't think I'm gonna get much in the way of compost...

At least not until somebody buys me a RolyPig!

So anyway, I went to the San Jose Composting workshop yesterday. I re-learned about "regular" composting, and learned *some* new-stuff about vermicomposting. Of course, I'd already Googled the hell out of it, and already kinda knew The Basics - but I figured it couldn't hurt to attend the workshop...

Plus, after the workshop, they sell "subsidized" bins to San Jose residents. So I picked up a Wriggly Wranch Worm Bin:

I also found a worm supplier who, as it turned out, was actually at the Workshop, selling his - umm - wares! He's a nice guy, very knowledgeable - and "local" to boot! And he responds to questions and emails quickly, which is always a "Plus" in my book! Anyway, I'd hoped to purchase some worms from him yesterday, but he was a very popular guy! Everybody was crowded around him (this was *after* the workshop, mind-you!), and it seemed as though he was conducting his OWN vermicomposting class! Had I been able to get close enough to listen in, I would've stayed...

Alas, I ended up leaving wormless! But I figured that was okay because I could assemble and set-up my bin - and just arrange to buy my worms from him directly at another time...

Plus P, a FaceBook Friend (and pal from the ceramics studio) said she could give me some worms from her compost bin...

So I emailed Jerry aka The Worm Dude (Cool site, definitely worth a look if you're interested in worm composting!), and he wrote back yesterday afternoon and said I could swing by today.

That was cool because P was also available. So I met WormDude Jerry around noonish and bought a pound of Red Wigglers (small composting worms - different from earthworms).

After that, I hooked up with P for lunch. We had a lovely late-breakfast at Aqui's and we discussed composting, and worms, and chicken sh*t, and rabbit poop while we ate our eggs, sausage and tamales! (Funny... All of the tables in our immediate vicinity were empty! :::shrug:::)

Nahhh... P is Good People and we had some good laughs! And she sent me home with a plastic bin o' worms and 3 swiss chard plants that will go into my raised bed.

Anyhooooo... Back to the worms: The Wriggly Wranch is identical to the Reln Worm Factory. It's a two-tray system that allows for "vertical migration" of the worms. When they fill the lower bin with castings, you encourage them to wriggle up to the upper tray (by giving 'em shredded newspapers to climb, and moving the fresh bedding and food to the upper tray), then you can remove the bottom tray, harvest the castings, and start all over again. It comes with a coconut coir brick that you soak in water and it expands like nobody's business. That's the worms' bedding. All you do is add worms and food! Adding shredded, moist newspaper (soaked for 24 hrs, then wrung-out) is also appreciated by the worms...

The main thing is finding the right location for the worm bin. Some people keep them indoors (but that ain't gonna fly with Rog!)

Around here, temps tend to be fairly worm-friendly (So sayeth The Worm Dude - and he's only a couple-three miles from me!). They'll slow down significantly during the winter months - but they shouldn't die. Summer temps can be deadly, however. And with the bin being black plastic, they can easily "cook!" Luckily, we have a breezeway alongside the house (actually, it's more like "hurricane alley" if you want to talk about 'breezes!'). It's a narrow walkway leading from the driveway to the back yard - with a fence on one side and the house on the other. It's situated on the NORTH side of the house and, literally, never sees direct sunlight.

Plus it's fairly close to the back door - and totally paved, right? No slogging through mud to discard kitchen scraps... In other words: Perfectomundo!

So the Wriggly Wranch is all set-up; my new worms are settling in; and I'd already started gathering kitchen scraps during this past week... I've actually got a plastic coffee can, lined with a biodegradable plastic bag (so I can toss the bag in the compost bin if things start to get stinky). It's sitting on the bar by the sink. And I've trained Roger to dump the coffee ground in there. Also any carrot peelings, lettuce leaves, "science projects from the back of the fridge" (provided they're strictly vegetative!), crushed eggshells and whatever get tossed in there.

To feed the worms, you bury a small amt of food in their bedding, in the corner of the bin. The worms will migrate to the food and convert it from kitchen waste to Super-Fertilizer. And I don't gotta do nuthin'! (Other than keep 'em fed and about as moist as a wrung-out sponge).

So I'm a Happy Composter!

And - just so's this post could be considered Educational - I will summarize what I've learned about vermicomposting here:

  1. Composting worms are different from earthworms, You can't dig-up worms from your lawn and expect 'em to be happy in a composting bin. Buy some Red Wigglers or Night Crawlers. Personally, I'd recommend The Worm Dude (appx $25 for a pound of Red Wigglers -and yes, he ships).

  2. Worm bins can be purchased or home-made. I'm lazy, so I opted to buy one, But you can Google Worm-bins and find a ton of ideas. Wood is a better insulator than plastic, but it will eventually break down.

    If you do choose to make your own bin, make sure you include screening or use super-duper small air-holes because you don't want to invite flies (or their larvae) into your bin...

  3. Worms like "moderate" temperatures. They'll slow down in cooler temps (50's or lower), and they might die if exposed to prolonged freezing temps (under 32°F). Our temps can dip into the upper 20's, but that's only for short bursts. The worms will cluster together, but they can survive. Upper ambient temps: They can survive temps in the low triple-digits - but they won't survive in a black plastic bin subjected to direct sunlight (even if the ambient temps are only in the 80's).

  4. Quantity of worms: 1-3 lbs will work for most families. It's just Rog and me here, so 1 lb should suffice. They'll consume roughly 1/2-3/4 of their body weight, per day. I have 1 lb of worms, so I can feed 'em roughly 1/2-3/4 lb of scraps per day (once they get settled in and happy). To start a bin, err on the side of "under-feeding" them - until they get settled in and you get a sense for what, and how much they like to eat.

  5. Yes, they'll survive if you go on vacation for a couple of weeks. Under-feeding is better than over-feeding. Don't dump too much food on 'em before you go on vacation. You might kill 'em!

  6. Worms are primarily bacteria feeders, they eat the food when it is all slimy and covered with bacteria (Tasty, yes?!)...

  7. Once you buy 'em, if all goes well, you won't ever have to buy more... They're hermaphroditic (male and female) and they reproduce like crazy. They'll control their population, by themselves, based on the quantity of food and amount of space available.

  8. Feed worms kitchen scraps by burying the food under one corner of the bedding. The worms will migrate to the food. By keeping the food in one corner (or moving it to a different corner), you can get a sense of what they like.

    Also, by keeping the food to one side or the other, that can help facilitate harvesting the castings. If you encourage them to migrate to ONE side of the bin, they'll stay there and not move until you start providing bedding/food on the OTHER side of the bin (that's especially useful if you're just doing a "one-level" bin. Mine is a multi-level bin).

  9. It should take appx 2-3 months for me to get enough worm castings that I'll want them to migrate UP to the next level of the bin. Then I'll harvest their, umm, output...

  10. Keep them moist. Spritz their bedding with a misty spray bottle if it gets dry. Their bedding should be like a wrung-out sponge. DON'T let the bedding dry out. DON'T dump, like, a Big Gulp's worth of water directly into the bed and DON'T let them sit in a puddle of water.

    Most likely, the kitchen scraps you give them should supply sufficient moisture on their own...

  11. Worms Like: Damp shredded newspaper (not shiny paper, though - just newsprint), damp cardboard boxes (pizza boxes!), paper towels. Also: Kitchen scraps like lettuce leaves, peelings (potato, cucumber, carrots, etc.), melon rinds, rotten fruit (they won't eat the pits, but you can pick them out later), crushed eggshells (best if you whir 'em in a blender 'til they're like a powder - WARNING: Don't open the blender in the house if you do this! Take it outside b/c you'll get a cloud of eggshell dust). Eggshells are good because worms need "grit" to faciliate digestion. Toss in a couple of non pulverized eggshells, worms like to curl up in 'em like a bed! Old tomatoes, mushrooms, veggies, etc. etc. etc. Although... Some foods with seeds (well, the seeds themselves anyway) *might* not be palatable to the worms and could "hide" in your worm castings - meaning when you spread the vermicompost (castings+remaining organic material), you might end up with "volunteer" plants.

    Hint #1: The smaller the foods are to begin with, the sooner the worms can break 'em down so shred 'em fine.

    Hint #2: (Especially useful during winter when your worms may not be eating as much), if you freeze veggie matter (and store it that way for awhile) - it will tend to break down the molecular structure and help facilitate the process. Of course, you'll want to thaw it before you put it in the bin.

  12. Worms Like - in moderation: Coffee grounds (and filters). Coffee is high in nitrogen and can heat-up the bin. Citrus (peelings or fruit). Highly acidic and can make for a very unfriendly environment for the worms.

  13. Worms DON'T like: Meats, oils, dairy products, moldy bread, hot peppers. Paper towels with a *small* amt of grease - or pizza boxes - should be okay.

  14. Harvest your vermicompost when it looks all black and fluffy. Apply liberally to your plants and they will THRIVE!

Okay, I think that about sums up what I know about worms! Wish me luck - and I'll keep you posted!

No comments:


View my page on Meet the Phlockers