Tuesday, February 22, 2011

w/mo2h #4: composting with worms, part three

part three: better living with worms

So, we've gotten a worm composter. We've already dealt with some issues. What now?

Bedding. Worms are not princesses; this doesn't have to be a too hard, too soft, gotta get it just right sort of thing. When you start a new tray, they just need something that has good circulation of air and won't break down too quickly. The list of options can get pretty extensive, but shredded paper product, dry shredded leaves, peat moss, and yard clippings all work. Most people recommend a "mixed bed" using a couple of different materials, and adding water to get it to the right moisture level. Some recommend making sure they have something gritty in there (sand, soil) to help the worms digest everything, but I've also read that food scraps have enough gritty bits for the worms.

Pasty Peat! (sounds like a bad pirate name...)
I use a half bucket of peat moss mixed with a couple handfuls of lime (Journey to Forever-recommended, but other sites have said that lime is not necessary. Maybe I'll try it without one time to see how it goes.). Then I start adding water and stir it up with a 3-prong cultivator or fork until it gets more on the pasty side and less on the crumbly side. It's not an exact science unless you really want it to be! After that I mix a couple large handfuls of shredded paper and spread that out in the new top tray. Remember that these trays have holes in the bottom; a pizza box lid works perfectly to help transport trays with the least amount dropping.

One new tray, ready to go!
Food (Concerns). They can eat pretty much any organic material (we're talking the general natural-not-man-made sort of "organic", not the over-priced inconsistently-regulated sort.) like paper products, fruits, grains, vegetables, garden trimmings (disease-free, please!). 

I have read various advice about what not to feed your worms. Citrus, onion, garlic, meat, dairy, fats/oils, fish, bones, etc. Again, Journey to Forever's advice was the best: go for it, but try them each in small quantities first. If you aren't sure, look up the type of food to find out if there are any concerns. Citrus may be too strong for worms, so you'll find that it's use is recommended sparingly; too many grains may cause overheating of the compost; meat/dairy/oils may cause bad smells. Paper and veg products are generally safe, so start there and add other stuff in small amounts. You might get smell, the worms might not be able to decompose it, but in smaller quantities you'll have a much better change of thwarting another Thanksgiving Day massacre-type event.
Our happy worm home :)

Feeding and Layers. So, we keep a "Happy Worm Food" jar in the kitchen. We put in diced food scraps and take it down to them every few days. Right now I would like to get at least one tray through the process, without incident and without putting in any "iffy" food stuffs. I put each bunch of scraps in a new pile under the bedding (using a fork, trowel, or cultivator!) in a grid system - think Tic-Tac-Toe board. Your "working" tray - the topmost tray that is receiving food scraps - should have the bedding on top and the food underneath.

Harvesting and Rotating Beds. Once all your food pile spots are full, it's ready to sit to allow the worms to process the scraps, and you're ready to start a new bed for new scraps. The worms can travel among the beds by using the holes in the bottom of each tray. So make a fresh "working" tray and put it on top of the older tray. The worms will migrate up as they are ready, and you can start putting food scraps in to attract them. The trick is that the bottom-most tray should always have sheets of paper in the bottom to prevent them from going through the holes into the drip tray; so the very first tray you make will have paper in the bottom.
It's compost!

Once the bottom tray looks dark and rich and you can't really see much left of your scraps, then it's compost! We keep a large bucket to put the finished compost in; haven't yet decided when we'll use it but it's certainly going to go in the garden. I use a gloved hand to pull out some of the worms that are still in there, but you don't have to as long as most of your worms have already migrated up to the other newer trays.

Once you take out that bottom tray, you should make sure that the new bottom tray has the paper in the bottom of the tray so the worms don't drop. This has been a bit tricky for me to figure out. If upper trays have had no bottom lining so the worms can migrate up, but the food scraps have to stay underneath of the bedding, how can I put paper under all of this or transfer it all into a papered tray? My solution: dump the material for the bottom-most processing tray into a new paper-lined tray, and then cover with a light layer of the new bedding for the new working tray. 

Worm life and reproduction. Without getting into too much detail, they will reproduce themselves to sustain life in your composter. If you give them plenty of food and bedding, they'll keep reproducing; if you stop feeding them as much, they won't reproduce as much. Or something like that. Suffice to say it's population control and it's based on what you give them. I told you I didn't want to go into detail! I'm sure my worms have been cranking out the babies because I still have good population in there these 4-5 months after purchase; I just haven't sought out their little hatchling capsules.
Worm Tea: not for drinking!

Worm Tea. Excess water drips through the trays into the trip tray, and can be disposed of using the spigot. But don't toss this down the drain!  Save it as an excellent plant fertilizer! Liquid gold, I tell ya!

Other Considerations. There are other things you need to watch out for; generally, checking in once a week is a good idea. Environmental temperature of 60-80F - colder or hotter and you'll have to do some extra work. Compost temperature - if it's getting quite hot, it's the result of environmental temp or types of food and there are solutions. Moisture - too damp, add dry shredded paper; too dry, add water or wet food. Bugs and Smells - types of food and moisture levels.

Perks. Year-round compost production. Indoor or outdoor operation. Only requires work every 4-6 weeks. No pet sitter - can be left as is for several weeks at a time. 

So, would you consider composting with worms?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl


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