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Winterizing the Worms
Category: Worms | Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 5:11 pm
In early October, one of the apartment maintenance crew told me that frost was predicted that week. It seemed awful early, but spurred me to act on my idea to keep the outdoor worm bins warm over winter.
I'd already split my original 14-gallon "worm Friendly Habitat" bin into two 10-gallon bins made from Rubbermaid totes, while harvesting my first layer of wormcastings. Each of the totes had about two pounds of worms at this point.
I have two big rectangular plastic tubs that I bought at Goodwill with dreams of giant worm bins. I'd used them in turning my first two batches of compost, and found that they each held the full contents of one of the 40-gallon trash cans. So I filled one of those with compostables, topped it with a layer of the older compost, and set the two small bins on top of it. It was just a tiny bit short for both of them to fit flat, but it was close enough that they were both stable.
I was hoping that the heat from the composting would keep the bins on top at a comfortable temperature. As it happened, the pile -- not being very deep -- warmed up only moderately, and cooled fast. I never turned it, because as soon as I lifted the bins, I found worms crawling all over the compost!
They have since spread all through the 40-gallon bin -- while an active population of worms remained in the smaller bins, too. The bedding in the bins, both small and large, felt chilly to my fingers, but the worms seemed happy campers.
Last week the forecasts really began threatening us with freezing nights, and I wanted to improve the insulation for the worms. I filled the second 40-gallon tub with compostables -- using leaves instead of paper -- then set one 10-gallon bin on each tub and piled leaves on top, tucked in on both sides.
I then draped a sheet over the top of the leaves.
I've also been trying to load up the little bins on food, to increase the heat. It's rather frustrating. It was so easy to accidentally touch off extra heat in the bins during the summer, and in the indoor bin at Real Change. In the outdoor bins this winter, though, even an inch thick layer of soybean meal doesn't get noticeably warm! All efforts added together, at least I can say that the inside of the bins no longer chills my fingers.
And worms have begun spreading into the second 40-gallon bin, also. :D
Last edited: Mon Nov 26, 2007 5:11 pm
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The NEW office worm bin
Category: Worms | Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 12:25 am
The level of wormcastings in the Real Change bin built up quite a bit, just since August. I've been trying to find a bin that would fit on top of it, as a "second story" of new food and bedding that the worms could migrate into. That has always sounded like the ideal way to harvest castings!
I didn't find one, though, so I finally decided on the second alternative: transferring the uneaten bedding and as many worms as I could easily find into a new bin.
My first bin was the 14-gallon "Worm Friendly Habitat," shown here.
That's slightly bigger than the previous Real Change bin, shown here back at home. (In back of it is the bin I am using to "process" the castings.)
I transferred all unchewed bedding and as many worms as I could readily pick out into the new bin, and topped off the bin with some coconut-coir bedding, new food, and new paper bedding.
I was left with over half a bin full of mostly-wormcastings. That's in three months! I was thrilled.
There are still worms and worm eggs in among the castings. (Worms are supposed to find their own castings slightly toxic, but so many of them don't seem to get the memo.) So at home I put the harvested castings in a bin with new food and bedding at one end. Over time, I am hoping that all the worms, including the ones that hatch out of the current eggs, will migrate into the fresher bedding. I'm keeping this bin inside for now, to help the eggs to hatch.
I started thie Real Change bin in August with two pounds of worms, a mixed group of redworms and European nightcrawlers ("giant redworms"). There were at least two pounds of worms in the bedding I transferred to the new bin. There looks to be as much as one pound of worms in the castings I took home.
The Big Green Bin new at Real Change has three groups of very tiny airholes, so it should be much harder for fruit-flies to get in. (I didn't have a problem with them in that bin over summer.) After harvesting that bin for the first time, I drilled some extra holes in the bottom, and along the bottom edge of the sides, because the only think I'd been troubled by in its operation was the drainage.
The previous Real Change bin had only one row of holes around the sides, at the bottom edge, and the holes in the lid. The air exchange was fine, but when I scooped it out, I found it was pretty mucky at the very bottom. And in the first few days in the new bin, a lot of liquid has been draining out the bottom. Liquid's been draining out of the "casting processing" bin at home, too, which also has lots of holes in the bottom.
No worms have crawled out the holes in the bottom of the bin at home. Some have crawled out at Real Change, but have stayed under the bin, not venturing any further. Only one drowned in the accumulated liquid; the rest nested in the paper towels I put under there. I keep transferring them back into the bin. I find less worms, and less liquid, under the bin each day.
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Update on the office worm bin
Category: Worms | Posted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 12:13 am
I did get the worm bin set up at Real Change before I got sick, and it has thrived.
It was dicey the first few days. Between the shaking-up of travel, the differences between office environment and outdoors, and a badly timed experiment trying to boost the microbe population with just a little Compost Activator, worms were escaping the first few nights. People who find a couple of dozen little dried-up worms all over the floor when they go to make morning coffee quickly grow cynical about the assurance, "You'll hardly know the worms are here."
After those first few days, however, the bin settled down. I've found that an indoors bin dries out quickly, and forget the mist-sprayer, I have to pour water on every few days to keep the environment spongy-moist. And it took awhile to get everyone to put all food under the newspaper, not on top. In October, we had a bloom of fruit flies, and last week a massive office cleanup was called. During the cleanup, I was told I'd probably have to take the worms home, too. But after the cleanup, the fruit flies vanished and the worms were still there.
I still have to stay on guard for fruit flies. I'm going to scout Goodwill for a little hand-vacuum, which I'm told works a treat to suck flies right out of a bin. As long as nothing flies out when the bin is opened, the worms can stay at Real Change.
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Wormbin Prep & Foodbank Gleanings
Category: Worms | Posted: Sun Aug 19, 2007 8:57 am
I'm not sure yet what bin container I'm going to use for the Real Change wormbin, but I got started today on the bedding to fill it.
Real Change is a "street newspaper" -- a paper that covers poverty, homelessness, and other social justice issues and is sold on the street by homeless and low-income vendors for an immediate income with dignity. My husband and I both volunteer at the paper and are part of the Editorial Committee. In addition, he works the Vendor Desk on Saturdays, selling the paper to vendors (they pay 35 cents a copy and then sell it on the street for $1). I go in with him on Saturday and make myself available in the computer section for folks who want to work on writing or computer projects.
I did a little bit of that today, and spent most of the day soaking and shredding cardboard boxes and newspaper. The vendors doing chores for free papers kept wanting to take out my "garbage" for me. :)
We have one of those wastepaper-basket-sized shredders in the office, and it was already full of shredded office paper, so I soaked that too. I picked a few shreds of plastic and scotch tape out of it. I'm sure those will not compost.
About noon, I went two blocks down to the low-income apartment house "Josephinum" that also houses the offices of the homeless organizing groups SHARE and WHEEL that I volunteer with -- and has a foodbank. I picked up some olive cibatta bread for lunch, spelt tortillas and veggies for dinner, bananas for snacks -- and a big bag of fruit and veggies too-far-gone, or spilled on the floor. Back at the office, I filled a whole wastebasket with those scraps, chopped up, and some Starbucks used coffee grounds. That's going to be way more than a pound of worms can eat in two months. I plan to bring most of it back here for the compost bin; in the meantime, I covered it with a couple of inches of damp paper to keep it from becoming Fly Haven. They'll be nobody in the office tomorrow, and I'll have time to finish up and get everything tucked away.
Composting means never being disappointed! When I stated cutting up veggies for dinner tonight, I found that a lot of what I thought was still edible was spoiled, too. I was just happy that I had more compost! After I trimmed and discarded the spoiled parts, I had all that Wes and I can eat tonight, and a bucket of scraps that will be nice and ripe for the worms in a few days. (I've found that if I let scraps stew in the Kitchen Compost Bucket for awhile, the worms dive into them faster. They like their food rotten -- as long as it hasn't gone anaerobic-rotten.)
Tomorrow I do a writing workshop down at WHEEL's Women's Empowerment Center (that's tomorrow as in Sunday -- although it's technically Sunday already because it's after midnight). I might get more scraps from the lunch-makings there, too. I'm also going to pitch the idea of a wormbin at the shelter that hosts our Empowerment Center day program, at our partners the Church of Mary Magdalene, the WHEEL office... I can think of a LOT of places where a wormbin would fit. :D Certainly every foodbank should have one!
Last edited: Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:02 am
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Category: Worms | Posted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 4:04 am
I've come a long way from the first batch of worms I killed in May! The second batch, started June 7, is thriving. I even took a few handfuls out and started a second bin, made out of a 10 gallon styrofoam cooler. I met Emily of the Tenant's Union when I was shopping at Goodwill for more prospective wormbins, and she gave me a few worms from her own bin, which I added to the styrofoam-bin collection, and there's now enough in there to start producing "wormsign" -- wormcasting specks across the newspaper shreds. I have ordered one more pound of red wrigglers to really get that box cooking.
Now that rats are no longer digging in the garden every night (I haven't seen any rats at all for weeks) I got another two pounds of European Nightcrawlers from Trinity Worm Ranch. They came in the mail yesterday. I put half of them into the garden and the other half into their very own styrofoam-cooler-wormbin -- with a couple of handfuls added to the oldest wormbin. All seem to have settled in happily.
Today I pitched the idea of an office wormbin to Tim Harris (Administrator God of Real Change) and it was a surprisingly easy sell! Turns out Caroline (Tim's wife) has two wormbins, so he knows they are odorless and has no fear of them. Tim will bring some worms in from Caroline, once we find a bin for them. I'll start shredding paper tomorrow. :)
I also topped off the compost bin yesterday, and it's still cooking.
For further entertainment:
* My First Adventures in Vermicomposting -- everything I did wrong.
* The Further Adventures - applying the lessons. The batch that lived. :)
Last edited: Sat Aug 18, 2007 4:17 am
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My first compost pile is cooking!
Category: Composting | Posted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:54 am
According to all theory, it shouldn't be big enough, but it's working. :-D
I bought two plastic trash bins, without lids, for $2 each at Goodwill. They measure 20" wide by 32" tall, which calculates out to about 5.7 cubic feet, or about 42 gallons. I filled one of them to 14" with collected food waste, garden waste, the contents of the one-gallon Kitchen Compost Bucket (already well-rotted), coffee grounds, shredded newspaper and cardboard collected for the worms; about 1 part "greens" to two parts "browns." I moistened it a bit, left it overnight (Sunday), and didn't feel any heat in it Monday. Then I added some commercial compost, bloodmeal, cottonseed meal, and vermicompost from the worm bin, just to make sure it had a "jump start." I moistened it to the point I try to keep the worm bin at, "like a wrung-out sponge." I mixed it all up *good* and sprinkled the top with a couple cups of garden soil.
Yesterday (Tuesday) it had heated up *good* -- I don't have a compost thermometer, but I could feel by hand that it was hot enough that if it had been a worm bin, they'd be dying or fleeing.
One thing I'd forgotten about was that I'd planned to feed the worms again today, and I've given all their well-rotted food to the compost bin! The bigger bin seems to be still working on their last feed, anyway, so I scooped a double handful off the top layer, not very hot and already developing some nice fungus, and gave that to the smaller worm bin, with a bit of bone meal.
I still want to fill the compost can, so today I put some more food waste, garden waste, coffee grounds, newspaper and cardboard in, with a bit of bloodmeal and some soil from the area near the wormbins that has caught a lot of spillage from the garbage bucket over the last two months. I mixed all that up with the top inch or so of the previous batch. Hopefully, this will not interfere with the cooking going on in the lower batch, and will start up heat in the upper batch, too. If this works, I'll top off the bin tomorrow.
At that point, I can begin tossing new waste into the second bin, but I won't fret so much about getting it "cooking" right away. Keeping it covered in several inches of damp, shredded paper should be enough to keep it from stinking and attracting flies.
It's been tough to keep myself from charging out every few hours to poke at the pile and see how it's heating up. I don't want to "kill" my first compost pile like I killed my first batch of worms. :)
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Welcome to My GardenStew Blog!
Category: Meals | Posted: Thu Aug 16, 2007 5:52 am
I have been more active in the garden than I have been in blogging about the garden; maybe joining the GardenStew forums will stimulate me to be more active in keeping a garden journal. :)
Tonight was the weekly Union Hotel community meal. Harvested from the Garden of Union:
* 2 zucchini: one 8-1/2" long, 3-1/2" at the widest end; one 9" long, 3" at the widest end. I was a bit worried about letting them get so big, but last week they were half the size! Anyway, both were as sweet and crisp as the 6" ones we've harvested.
* 5 lemon cucumbers. Two had more bright yellow striping than the others. All tasted equally ripe.
* 2 Oriental Express cucumbers: one about 12" long and 1" diameter, one 6" and distorted, with a 1/2" wide pinch in the middle and a 2" wide bulge at the end. They tasted equally delicious.
* At least 3 dozen cherry tomatoes, and three small Early Girls.
* Eight nasturtiums. I also picked a lot of borage blossoms, some petunias and pansies, a calendula, a yellow marigold, three Tangerine Gem french marigolds, a dozen clover heads, and our last large Cosmos bloom.
* A dozen young nastrutium leaves.
* Radish thinnings; about 2" high, very little root, leaves still tender. About six of those.
* Greens: a lot of Red Russian kale, a few leaves of Bright Lights Swiss Chard, a couple of Bull's Blood beet leaves, some Magenta Spreen lambsquarters, cornsalad, redleaf lettuce, a few other remaining mescluns, and the younger leaves of our volunteer dandelions.
* One onion that has begun shouldering out of its bed; about half-grown, very sweet, with all the greens still tender.
* A lot of basil, including the flowering stalks.
* One lone strawberry. I doubt if anyone noticed it. :-D
-- enough for a big bowl of very colorful salad, with the nasturtiums on top. There are lots of other salad recipes, but the simple tossed salad seems easiest, and is still popular.
One of our residents insists that clover leaves are edible, but I want to verify that before I throw them in a salad.
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