Thursday, May 22, 2014

Easy Vermicomposting

We had lots of educational fun at Nature Fest again this year. 
The kids sat through salamanders, bats, and of course, Birds of Prey
(Probably the trophy of the fest for kids!)
 For me, along with the bliss of sitting in a class taught by the local legend, Hector Black, we also got to listen to an amazing organic farmer, Randy Dodson, from The Waters Farm.
I've met his son and another worker on their farm and they all are a wealth of information!

Vermicomposting was one of Mr. Dodson's demonstrations.
It's a subject that I've wanted to learn more about but online sources and books often made it sound SO complicated. 

But Mr. Dodson made it as simple as pie!

(Vermicompost is used just as compost, manure, fertilizer, etc. So this is a cheap DIY project to keep your gardens frugal and productive!)

First- a tub or empty container with 2 rows of air holes. Don't make the lower row too low or all of your worms will escape. (Some might regardless.)
You can use old ones, yard sale finds, or they are a little over $5 at Walmart.
Next, place some moistened cardboard in the bottom. (I used rainwater to moisten mine.)Worms apparently aren't exceptionally picky, and just about any cardboard will work.But not too compact, just a layer will do.
Moistened cardboard on the bottom.
 Next; add some composted horse manure, a little peat moss,dirt, vermiculite, or a mix. I used year old horse manure. (Be aware of your horse manure- if they've wormed the horses and this isn't aged- it will uhm, worm your worms!)

You will want to moisten this.It needs to be wet enough to drip one or two drops of water if squeezed with one hand, but not standing in water.
Some nice composted manure, thoroughly moistened.

Worms need grit for their crops- who would have thought? You can use a handful of sand if you have it. I plan to get a handful from the creek later and add to my mix but for now, I've ground some egg shells and added that.

Now-Where are you going to get your worms?

Uncle Jim's is a good place if you must purchase them, I hear. But as for me- I think worms should be free! And, whaddaya know, so they are! See?
I keep a few boards thrown around the yard. (Yeah, my poor neighbors! :) But seriously, I don't know if they can even see them.) ...I started this habit for my chickens as a means of collecting a bug and worm feast for them. If you leave it long enough, you will find that you have plenty of worms to harvest for your compost. Try to get as close to a pound as possible, or more. Babies too! It's suggested to use 1 to 2lbs per square foot of bedding/dirt/compost.
Red worms usually stay in the top 3 to 4 inches of ground and will surface right under a board or anything left laying around for a while. Just turn several spots over with a shovel and break apart the clod and pick your worms.

Add the little squirmers to their new home. (Be aware that some will try to sneak out. It's okay, it doesn't mean you're a bad landlord! Enough will stay if you keep the apartment nice and comfy!)

You can use some shredded cardboard and tiny bits of kitchen scraps (just a handful!) to feed them. Just lay on top of the bed/soil. (They supposedly love the cardboard, which is why I guess you use so much of it in this process.)

Mr. Dodson said the waste from juicers is especially a treat since it's already so broken down and they particularly like sweets, like banana peels. You do not want to overfeed. It can build up mildew and ick, and harm the worms. Not to mention a smell! ...But if you have time to chop up your scraps, it will give them a head start, but isn't necessary.

What else can you feed them? Coffee grounds, wet hay, grass clippings, melon rinds, and other fruit and veggie scraps.

You will feed them once or twice a week, if previous feedings are gone.(They only eat about their body weight a day. So- if you can weigh the worms you add, that will give you a tiny idea of how much to feed.) I tried to start slow with feedings so as to avoid a problem. Also, you don't want to develop a 'composting' situation, so only add small bits of scraps.Otherwise it could heat up and harm your worms.
Bits or moistened cardboard, and kitchen scraps.

Now, finally, you will wet another big piece of cardboard.( I have 2 tubs (beside the rain barrels) in my yard where I can easily dip the cardboard and swish it side to side.) Then, just tuck them in and let them work their magic!

You need to keep them shaded. Remember they like it dark, they're used to being underground. You will need to keep them completely shaded , or in the garage, barn, etc. (There are vermicomposters that go under your kitchen sink. Pricey, though.) If using a dark container, which is good as far as keeping it dark, you will need to especially avoid the sunshine.

If you have them outside, you will have to pay more attention to moisture. Temps need to be between 60 and 80F. At 85-90F, they will leave and/or die.(They seem to be able to tolerate freezing temps and I asked if the containers could be sunken in the ground during the winter to help preserve them. Yes!)

One big 'blanket' of moistened cardboard to tuck them into their new home!

You will need to add water to the dirt to keep moistened. Better to keep it on the wet side than to have it dry out. Worms must have moisture, else they will start packing their bags and trying to get out! Worms can live in water, but they can't live where it's dry. (They are driven out of the ground during rain, for lack of oxygen.)

If you were to notice the least little bit of mildew or mold, I suggest you remove as much food scraps as possible, scrape the icky stuff out, allow it to stand outside (still kept dark by the cardboard covering) in a shady spot to air out some. Don't add anymore food for a few days until the problem resolves.

Gradually over time, your tub will fill up. Worms can double every 90 to 100 days if conditions are great, and that means faster fills in your tubs! And possibly more tubs! Think of the possibilities! Worm cousins, great-great-great cousins, great-great-great-great-great aunts!?!?!!

You can scrape your worms from the top, keeping the castings (ie worm manure, worm poop :) mostly in the bottom and ready for use in your gardens.

There are different methods to do this. You can just take the top 4 inches off and create another bin, and whatever worms may be in the castings can just go into your gardens. 

You can scrape off the top and pick through it for the worms, if you like. ...Boring!

You can even dump mounds of it onto a covered table late in the evening or after dark. Use an overhead lamp (let it hover over the mound for 10 minutes or so), which will drive the worms down so you can scrape the castings off the top. Do this little at a time until you've went through the whole bin.

You can also rotate which side of the container you feed them on. Before harvesting, you will know more which side they are on.

And their are other more elaborate systems you can research if you like.(Some with screens and stackable drawers.)

Vermicompost apparently has more nitrogen, higher nutrients, higher moisture (70%), and other benefits. It makes a great compost tea; suggested soak/steep 24 hours to retain the benefits. It can also be added straight to the garden after collection, as it won't burn like other manures.

The worms are also of value to expand your vermicomposts as they grow and reproduce, you can start more bins, feed them to your chickens, or sell to fishermen!

The biggest two problems?
Overfeeding and not enough water. 

If this can be kept in balance-  why you might could have an entire worm colony!

Happy frugal gardening!

 Isa 51:8  For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.


Joy said...

I am going to have to try this as we have chickens again!!
Thanks so much for posting! I think I have everything I need! Now just to lay down a couple boards in the yard (my poor neighbors too! Oh well!

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