Sunday, November 19, 2006

Worms before dinner

It dawned on me this afternoon that I haven't checked on the worms in the basement for a while. I add food to the bin once a week, but lately that's it. I've not been a very good landlord, it seems.

If you need reminding, I keep a worm bin in the basement to compost kitchen scraps. It's a small tray-type bin and the worms are red wigglers. It's not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. I collect leftover vegetables and greens, coffee grounds, and eggshells in a small copper composting bucket I keep in the kitchen and once a week empty it into the bin for the worms. I cover the food with a layer of shredded junk mail so there is no smell to attract other insects. Every few months the worms have made enough compost for me have a few cups worth of natural fertilizer for my houseplants. Mostly I save the compost up and use it in the spring when I repot.

If things are working as they should there is no smell or trouble with it at all. I usually add food to the bottom tray until it looks nearly *done* and then add food to the next tray up, with the idea that the worms will move upward to find the food, leaving the compost in the tray below free of worms.. My worms didn't want to migrate upward like they were supposed to, so this year I've been adding food to the bottom tray, hoping that they'll be willing instead to migrate downward. So far it seems to be working, except for the few worms in the opening photo who look like they're trying to migrate up and out of the bin! Excess moisture has always been a problem for me and even that top tray of nearly finished compost is wetter than it should be.

I suspect that adding food to the lowest tray, so near to the bottom of the set-up, is what's causing the backup of excess moisture in the system. There's a spigot on the bottom to drain away the liquid, so I've left it open with my copper bucket beneath it to hopefully dry things out. They say that you should be able to use the liquid that drains out as *compost tea*, but I find it to be so foul-smelling that I would never want it on the houseplants anywhere near where I was sitting! Usually I'll just dump it outside on the vegetable garden far away from the house.

I decided to try adding some dry leaves as bedding, in addition to the shredded paper and junk mail, for added minerals for the worms. The instructions that came with my bin suggest adding all sorts of oddball things. Every so often I try something new and hope for the best. The worms don't really eat the garbage; instead they feed on the microorganisms that decay the food - so I won't add anything that is likely to rot and fester in there for too long - no meat or oil in any form. Once in a while I'll treat them with some moldy bread or baking yeast sprinkled on top of the working tray, but that's it. They seem to be happy with old bunny greens. In fact, I see lots of little red worms if anybody wants to give vermicomposting a try!


Mary said...

Catchy Title! Worms before dinner :) Interesting what you are doing for fertilizer. Another use for the worms...koi love'em! I pick them up after a storm and treat the fish.

Lynne said...

I clicked on your first picture to enlarge it because I couldn't really make out what it was.


It looks like an ad for "Slither"!!
I'm all for composting but I can't get past those red worms trying to escape, and crawl up the stairs...

LauraHinNJ said...

Yes Lynne, that first pic is pretty gross enlarged. Very wet and slithery looking!

I think mostly they're just trying to get some air, not escaping. Plus, they're just little things and they don't bite. ;-)

Mary: I've thought of that with the *extras* but don't have the heart. Probably will add anther tray to the bin instead if I have too many.

Ruth said...

My daughters did vermicomposting for a science fair project one year. We had the worms in a large plastic bin and never had any drainage or smell problems. We seldom saw any worms. We chopped up the compost material in small pieces (I chop for my outdoor composter too)and things went down pretty quickly. The worms multiply quickly!

vicki said...

I saw one of these at the earth day fair last year and thought it looked like a great plan. Usually, I have just wanted more worms in the garden. Here in the town house we don't have room for such an arrangment- the only possibility is on the third floor with the laundry and the cat box and that just sounds like too much utility for such a small space. And McCloud is dopey enough to think it a new litter box...but I love this post description. I get a clear idea of how it works from this.

I like your little downy fellow- I have one now, too. A perky change from these sparrows...

Patrick Belardo said...

So then is the compost really just worm poop?

lené said...

I never thought about composting in the basement. Hmmm. I'll have to consider that. Thanks for giving us the scoop. :)

-llm. said...

I love vermicomposting. I did it for a couple of years here. The worm box can be outdoors here in a sheltered spot as we so rarely freeze. I finally had to give it up when my old labrador girl, Rosie, got into the box and spread it and the worms all over my deck on a hot day. Sad for the worms. I haven't gotten back into it but I will. My worm bins made a LOT of compost and I used it to top dress my flower beds. They loved it. Then I'd put some mulch over it. In a perfect world, I'd have an active wormbox and a chipper/shredder to take care of all the redwood debris that comes down.

If you don't want to go to all the trouble of a worm box though, you can just toss worms in your compost pile. I know the vermicompost books say not to but I had great luck with it. They also say that red wigglers don't live except in compost but mine lived happily in beds that were top dressed with leaf mulch (compost) -- they'd go right down into the soil and live it up. We just dug up part of my rose garden to bury Flufsy and found about 10 beautiful healthy worms there. They are the same kind that had been in my compost bin as far as I can tell! :)

Anyway, cool vermicomposting!

MojoMan said...

I bought worms last year and tried to feed them all my veggie scraps, but the worms did not thrive. Even with holes drilled in the buckets, I guess it was just too wet. Maybe I shold have given them paper or other dry material, but I didn't want to turn this into another reguar chore to worry about. I wound up dumping the whole mess onto my compost pile. Maybe their offspring are still in there.

LauraHinNJ said...

Ruth: I started with a big rubbermaid bin and just a dixie cup full of worms and compost. They do multiply quickly! Neat project for kids so long as they're not too squeamish.

Vicki: No, probably not such a good idea in a common living space with cats! If there's a protected place outdoors a small bin would work, but probably wouldn't be appreciated by your neighbors.

Patrick: Yes - worm poop or castings. Bunny poop makes an excellent fertilizer also. Bunnies are very efficient recyclers of green matter! ;-)

Lene: The scoop on worm poop - ha!

-llm.: I would like to be able to have a traditional compost bin, but don't have a good space in the yard to hide it from the neighbors. Ever seen those cmposting barrels that are sold - they look neat and unobtrusive - but I don't know that I'd like to have to go out in the dead of winter to have to turn it. You do have to do that, right?

Mojoman: They do need some sort of paper or cardboard as *bedding* to lay their eggs on and to soak up the extra moisture.

There's also that carbon/nitrogen ratio to consider; I think it should be approx. 30 parts carbon or brown stuff (paper, sawdust, straw, leaves) to 1 part nitrogen (green stuff).

I don't let it be that complicated or I wouldn't want to mess with it either.

The Swami said...

If all of your friends and neighbors read your blog, I predict there will be a big decline in the number of people dropping by your house for "tea."

Mary said...

Laura - Reference: Swami's Comment

Pay him no mind. LOL!

My word verification was WYAKRIMZ!?

LauraHinNJ said...

Mary: Actually I'm kind of pleased - this is my first comment from the Swami. I wonder how I've remained under his radar for so long!

Swami: You have a good point. I'm not one for entertaining, so this *tea* angle is a good one. Thanks for the idea.


Randa said...

Re: your comment to -llm and compost bins: We have a 'traditional' compost bin in our backyard (we live in the country, so 'appearance' is not a concern, although quite honestly I'm sure we'd use it anyway if we lived in town). We still use it in the winter (which, in Ontario, Canada, can be dreadfully cold). The scraps still compost in the cold, believe it or not - just not as quickly as in warm weather. There is no need to turn it in the winter; we just let it pile up in the bin (it never overflows). Then come Spring, I take the bucket off the pile, mash it all up with some soil, and let it 'cook down' a bit...then distribute it over the veggie garden. Good stuff!

Rurality said...

I'm not sure where I got the idea that worms produced lots and lots of compost. (Well maybe they do I guess, if you've got lots and lots of worms!)

kwhary said...

You are just nuts ! I thought I was strange with my chickens and gopher chasin stories.

This whole worm escaping thing reminds me of fishing a couple of years back in Canada. We would usually pick up a "flat" or 500 fishing worms at a country store in the town near the lake where we fished. Typical old country store as you would remember one. Wooden screen door that slammed and all. Well to make a long story short (as my Dad would always say), we picked up the worms and arrived at the cabin. Well, one of the new guys decides that the little squirmys need to stay cool so he puts the tray of 500 worms on the bottom shelf of the fridge under the cases of beer and such and we all turn in for the night. Early the next morning, the first guy to go into the country kitchen had quite a surprise waiting under foot. The little squirmys decided they didn't like the air condtioning and vacated the flat and exited the refrigerator by any means possible, and I mean any ! There were worms in the crisper, worms in the door, worms in the beer and worms everywhere on the floor. It looked like something from a horror movie. The worms that got out of the frig headed for any place moist they could find. Under shoes, under discarded socks (this is a fishing hut you know), under tackle boxes. You name it. We were finding worms for days. I could just imagine if someone had managed to bring along their spouse of significant other. Oh boy. Now that I think about it, I wonder if my brother Brian did this. Hmmm. Sounds like it to me.

LauraHinNJ said...

Randa: Thanks for adding that. I would really like to have enoough compost for all the gardens and my little bin just doesn't make enough. I have an idea for just the place that may be out of sight enough.

Rurality: Right. I need more worms and a bigger bin.

Kev: That totally sounds like something Brian would do! How come I never heard this story before?

So were you scraping them up off the floor each morning before you set out in the boat? How gross!