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Our Worm Composting Beginning – “A Crazy Idea”

Worm Composting Beginning

Our Worm Composting Beginning

I’m not sure if our worm composting beginning is different than most. I had been composting (hot/thermophilic composting) for several years now. Any food scraps we obtained in addition to grass clippings and fall leaves when into the compost bin. When we got chickens that reduced a lot of food waste going into the compost bin. This composting was a slow process, taking a year or more. My wife mentioned to me once about worm composting, I just dismissed it as another one of her “crazy idea’s”. A few weeks later she sent me a link via text or email, I cannot remember now, about worm composting. I think it was an article from “Mother Earth News”. I read it and was surprisingly amazed and impressed with the whole process. As I often do, I buckled my seatbelt and began my extreme research on the topic.

The Research

As I searched the web, I discovered a website that stood out among the rest.  It was redwormcomposting.com, published by Bentley Christie, a wealth of information about composting with worms.  I can’t say I did everything exactly the way he recommended, but I trudged along, learning all along the way.  Wanting to start as soon as I could with little or no cost, we purchased a couple of bins. See the pic above.  They were clear, a no-no, but they were cheap.  I figured it would be fine as long as I kept them in a fairly dark place. I learned a lot from redwormcomposting.com and still do.  Eventually, I ordered his audio course “Easy Vermicomposting” which was great.  I listened to all of it twice and some of it even more.

Our First Worms

Before I realized the difference between common earthworms and composting worms I had gone down to my local creek and dug up a bunch of worms in the moist ground.  I put them in that container with some ground leaves, a hand full of dirt, and a little cut up cardboard.  I then added some chopped up squash for a food source.  Then I decided I wanted some more worms for the other bin but wanted to get actual red wigglers.  I did some searching for a local supplier, Midwest Worms, and found a guy named Lonnie, who gave me about half a coffee can of red wigglers for free.  He told me those worms I dug up would probably not work.  He also gave me about 2 gallons of aged horse manure for free.  I eventually ordered another pound of worms to “get the ball rolling faster” you might say.

Upgrading My System

Stackable Worm Bin

I learned about stacking systems and flow through systems (CFT’s) and decided to build my own.  The first homemade system I built was a stackable system with 2×4’s. I will say that the worms really flourished in this system, they seemed to multiply very fast.  Over the next few months, I ended up with  trays on it and had pulled worms out of it several times to start 2 more 10-gallon Rubbermaid type systems.  Then I built a 3.5 by 5-foot CFT ( continuous flow through) bin and populated it with Red Wigglers from the stackable system mentioned earlier.

As you can see our worm composting beginning started out pretty easy and smooth.  We studied and learned fairly quickly and are eager to keep learning.  No real problems at this point with the worms and they progressed and multiplied very quickly.  With such a smooth beginning we started looking at the idea of raising composting worms to sell.  But that is the next part of the story so stay tuned it will be coming soon…

If you have started to consider getting into worm composting take a look at our products page, we would love to help you get going and are here to answer any questions you might have.

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How Much Can I Feed My Composting Worms?

How Much Can I Feed My Composting Worms?

How Much Can I Feed My Composting Worms?

How much can I feed my composting worms?  Feeding composting worms is really simple.  Unfortunately, there is so much confusing information online about how much composting worms can eat.  One of the first things I remember reading was that they can eat their weight in food scraps each day.  Then I saw on another website that they can eat half their weight each day in food scraps.  So what is the real truth?  The quantity composting worms can eat varies greatly and is affected by several factors, food type, environmental conditions, and bin conditions.

Food Type

Some foods contain a lot of water like melons and worms can eat their weight each day if not more.  Some foods take longer to break down and start to rot, and it takes worms much longer to process these foods.  Worms also eat their bedding which is usually not going to break down as fast as some foods but will be processed faster than others.

Environmental Conditions

Worms have an ideal temperature range at which they eat and reproduce quicker.  If the temperature is below or above that ideal range the rate at which they process food and bedding decreases.  If we want them to process food quickly we will have to maintain that optimal temperature range.  The Red Wiggler and European Nightcrawler’s optimal range is approximately 60-80 degrees F.  The tropical composting worms such as the African Nightcrawler’s optimal temperature range is 70-85 degrees F.

Bin Conditions

There are several factors in the worm bin that can have a significant effect on how much I can feed my composting worms.  If the aeration is very good as with a CFT (Continuous Flow Through) bin, which may be the most efficient of all for vermicompost production then processing the food waste will be very fast.  Stacking systems can also work very good if they have good ventilation holes.  Plastic bins with the lids on and holes drilled for air are usually the worst for air flow but can be improved quite a bit if the lids are left off and they are not allowed to get too deep.

Maintaining the correct moisture content is also crucial.  Too much moisture decreases aeration of the worm habitat.  Too little moisture decreases the worm’s ability to breath since they breathe through their skin.

An acidic worm bin also negatively affects the worm’s ability to process food as quickly.  There are some foods that are much more acidic or have high ammonia content that can create severe problems and can even kill the worms.  But this is usually a consequence more than a problem.  When we feed the worms more food than they can process under the given conditions it will cause the worm bin to become acidic.

The Easy Solution

First, make sure they have plenty of good bedding.  Then, in the beginning only feed them about 1/4 of their body weight in food scraps.  In a few days check and see if it is gone.  If it is, feed them a little more, if not feed them less.  Whether you feed them every few days or only once a week, base the amount you feed them on how fast they have been eating up to that point.  If you increase the amount incrementally you will never feed too much and you will find the optimal amount based on the conditions you are providing.

As you can see it really is simple.  With a little knowledge, common sense, and some patience you will have answered for yourself “How much can I feed my composting worms?” If you are looking at getting some composting worms and being more responsible with your food waste we have the composting systems and worms to help you get started, just check out our products here.

 

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Worm Composting Basics – Composting with Redworms

Worm Composting Basics

Worm Composting Basics

Worm Composting with redworms is great for apartment dwellers who don’t have yard space, or for those who don’t want to hike to a backyard compost bin with their food scraps. Some kids like to keep worms for pets! By letting worms eat your food wastes, you’ll end up with one of the best soil amendments available—worm castings. This short article will teach you the worm composting basics.  This is the cheapest and easiest to manage worm bin system that I’ve seen:

http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/easywormbin.htm

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Worm Bin Bedding: How Important is it? Really?

Worm Bin Bedding

Worm Bin Bedding, No Better Place to Lay

I have read many times “you cannot have too much Worm Bin Bedding.”  But until I started studying it I don’t think I ever realized just how awesome it really is.  Bedding, if it is the correct or best kind, provides so many benefits to the worm bin system.  It can increase oxygenation, freedom of movement, manageability, and overall efficiency.  It, also, can decrease some of the problems that pop up which are mentioned below and helps to eliminate offensive odors.  

Oxygenation and Moisture

The best worm bin bedding is coarse enough that it provides lots of little air pockets.  This provides a much more oxygenated system.  Worms need oxygen just like we do.  They can survive on a small amount but thrive when more is present.  Worms breathe through their skin, which requires moisture.  So to take advantage of this increased oxygenation it must also be a material that absorbs moisture well.   Good bedding helps provide the needed moisture but also helps prevent excess moisture.

Freedom of Movement

The coarse nature of the bedding also provides great freedom of movement for the worms.  I admit that I am not really sure how great of an advantage that is.  Some minor advantages, I suppose, would be being able to get to the food sources they have easier.  Also, to more easily get away from problem area’s, such as areas heating up, or too acidic.  Potentially, ease of movement could promote more reproduction since the worms will possibly encounter each other more often.

Manageability of the System

When you have plenty of good bedding the system becomes much easier to manage.  Plenty of good bedding functions as a balancing mechanism.  If you feed too much or too little bedding helps compensate for both.  Bedding acts as a food source if the worms are fed too little. And it gives the worms a safe zone to go to if you feed too much and cause an area to become sour.  Because worm bin bedding is a carbon source, it absorbs unpleasant odors that may develop.

Optimization

The worm composting system is basically optimized by adding plenty of good bedding.  By accomplishing all the things mentioned already, increased aeration, increased movement, good moisture absorption, and buffering of the ph the worm composting system becomes very efficient.  It creates an environment that the worms thrive in.  The result is faster processing of the waste products as well as the bedding.  Reproduction rate of the worms will increase.  The worms will grow faster, possibly even bigger as long as they are not too crowded. Good bedding also provides extra carbon which makes for a more aesthetic casting because it’s less “muddy” and more like pellets. And all this makes worm composting easier and more fun.

Some of those great beddings are Peat Moss, shredded paper, aged manure, regular compost, and my two favorites, cut up cardboard and shredded leaves.  Cut up cardboard is one of the best and some say that it increases reproduction.  Leaves are great nutrient rich bedding but not as good at absorbing moisture.  The best bedding of all is really a mix of several.

Here at RAWkin Worm Farm, we desire to help you see how awesome worm composting is.  We have everything you need to get started.  Take a look at our products today.

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Worm Composting Basics by Cornell University

Worm Composting Basics

What is worm composting?

Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm compost. Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body. Compost exits the worm through its’ tail end. This compost can then be used to grow plants. To understand why vermicompost is good for plants, remember that the worms are eating nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable scraps, and turning them into nutrient-rich compost.

Materials to use (and avoid) in a classroom worm bin

For millions of years, worms have been hard at work breaking down organic materials and returning nutrients to the soil. By bringing a worm bin into the classroom, you are simulating the worm’s role in nature. Though worms could eat any organic material, certain foods are better for the classroom worm bin.

We recommend using only raw fruit and vegetable scraps. Stay away from meats, oils and dairy products, which are more complex materials than fruits and vegetables. Thus, they take longer to break down and can attract pests. Cooked foods are often oily or buttery, which can also attract pests.

Avoid orange rinds and other citrus fruits, which are too acidic, and can attract fruit flies. Try to use a variety of materials. We have found the more vegetable matter, the better the worm bin. Stay away from onions and broccoli which tend to have a strong odor.

Setting up a worm bin

Setting up a worm bin is easy. All you need is a box, moist newspaper strips, and worms. To figure out how to set up a worm bin, first consider what worms need to live. If your bin provides what worms need, then it will be successful. Worms need moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Bedding, made of newspaper strips or leaves, will hold moisture and contain air spaces essential to worms.

You should use red worms or red wigglers in the worm bin, which can be ordered from a worm farm and mailed to your school. The scientific name for the two commonly used red worms are Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus.

Containers

When choosing a container in which to compost with worms, you should keep in mind the amount of food scraps you wish to compost, and where the bin will be located. A good size bin for the classroom is a 5- to 10- gallon box or approximately 24″ X 18″ X 8″. The box should be shallow rather than deep, as red wigglers are surface-dwellers and prefer to live in the top 6″ of the soil..

Whether you choose a plastic, wooden or glass container to use as a worm bin is a matter of personal preference based primarily on what is available. Some teachers have extra aquariums available. Some have wooden boxes which they would like to reuse. Others may prefer to buy or reuse a plastic container, such as commercially manufactured storage bin (e.g. “Rubbermaid,” “Tucker,” “Sterilite”).

No matter what material you choose, make sure to rinse out the container before using. For wooden bins, line the bottom with plastic (e.g. from a plastic bag or old shower curtain). Cover the bin with a loose fitting lid. This lid should allow air into the bin.

Harvesting

If you take care of your worms and create a favorable environment for them, they will work tirelessly to eat your “garbage” and produce compost. As time progresses, you will notice less and less bedding and more and more compost in your bin. After 3-5 months, when your bin is filled with compost (and very little bedding), it is time to harvest the bin. Harvesting means removing the finished compost from the bin. After several months, worms need to be separated from their castings which, at high concentrations, create an unhealthy environment for them.

To prepare for harvesting, do not add new food to the bin for two weeks. Then try one of two methods for harvesting:

Push all of the worm bin contents to one half of the bin, removing any large pieces of undecomposed food or newspaper. Put fresh bedding and food scraps in empty side of bin. Continue burying food scraps only in freshly bedded half.

Over the next 2-3 weeks, the worms will move over to the new side (where the food is), conveniently leaving their compost behind in one section. When this has happened, remove the compost and replace it with fresh bedding. To facilitate worm migration, cover only the new side of the bin, causing the old side to dry out and encouraging the worms to leave the old side.

Hands-On Method:

Dump the entire contents of the worm bin onto a sheet of plastic or paper. Make several individual cone-shaped piles. Each pile will contain worms, compost and undecomposed food and bedding. As the piles are exposed to light,, the worms will migrate towards the bottom of the pile. Remove the top layer of compost from the pile, separating out pieces of undecomposed food and newspaper. After removing the top layer, let pile sit under light for 2-3 minutes as the worms migrate down. Then remove the next layer of compost. Repeat this process until all of the worms are left at the bottom of the pile. Collect the worms, weigh them (for your record keeping) and put them back in their bin with fresh bedding.

Regardless of which method you choose, the compost you harvest will most likely contain a worm or two, along with old food scraps and bedding. If you are using the compost outdoors, there is no need to worry–the worms will find a happy home and the food scraps and bedding will eventually decompose. If you are using the compost indoors, you may want to remove old bedding and food scraps for aesthetic purposes and ensure that there are no worms in the compost. Though the worms will not harm your plants, the worms may not like living in a small pot.

For both methods, you may continue to compost your food scraps after harvesting. Just add fresh bedding and food scraps. If, for some reason, you do not want to continue composting, please offer the setup to another teacher or to someone who will take the worm bin home. Anyone with a garden will find the worm compost extremely valuable. As a last resort, if you cannot find anyone who wants good worm compost, you may add the worms to a garden bed.

Using worm compost

You can use your compost immediately, or you can store it and use it during the gardening season, or whenever. The compost can be directly mixed with your potting soil or garden soil as a soil amendment, which helps make nutrients available to plants. Or, the compost can be used as a top dressing for your indoor or outdoor plants.

You can also make “compost tea” with your compost. Simply add 1-2″ of compost to your water can or rain barrel. Allow compost and water to “steep” for a day, mixing occasionally. Then water plants as you normally would. The resulting “tea” helps make nutrients already in the soil available to plants.

Biology of worms

Worms can live for about one year in the worm bin. If a worm dies in your bin, you probably will not notice it. Since the worm’s body is about 90% water, it will shrivel up and become part of the compost rather quickly. New worms are born and others die all the time.

Worms are hermaphrodites, which means they are both male and female at the same time. In order to mate, they still require two worms. The worms line up in opposite directions near their band (or clitellum), which contains some of the sexual organs. The worms are attached for about 15 minutes while they exchange sperm cells. Several days later, eggs come in contact with the sperm cells and form a cocoon, or egg case. The cocoon separates from the worm, then fertilization takes place. Inside the cocoon, 2-5 baby worms may be found.

The baby worms live in the egg case for at least 3 weeks, sometimes longer depending on the surrounding conditions. For example, in the winter time, baby worms may stay in the cocoon for many weeks until the temperature warms up again. When the baby worms eventually crawl out, they are the thickness of a piece of thread and possibly 1 cm 1/4″ long. Usually the worms appear white, as they have not yet developed pigmentation, or do not have enough pigmentation (or blood) to be seen.

Successful vermicompost projects

Many schools have been successfully composting with worms over the past few years. Some elementary school classes keep worm bins as part of an environmental unit, others for science. In most cases, teachers find a variety of multidisciplinary ways to use a worm bin. For example, one class called their room the “Worm World.” Writing assignments, math lessons and art work focused on worms as a theme.

©Jen Fong and Paula Hewitt

Worm Composting Basics by Cornell University