Tag Archives: worm composting

Worm Composting Feeding Tips (video)

Worm Composting Feeding Tips

I just found this web channel called Big Tex Worms, and she has some great videos to check out on the topic of vermicomposting.  You’ll see that my website gets really worm-centric in the colder months as the outdoor methods slow down to a crawl here in the northeast.

This video shows some pretty standard methods for preparing worm feed, but when it gets to Step 4, I was definitely surprised.  I’ve never seen anyone make worm food into balls first, and I wonder what the point is.  I guess they’re handy and represent a fixed amount of material for your worms to digest.

If they don’t start eating it within a few days, that means they might not like it and it’s acidic…so I guess it’s a good way to evaluate if your food source is appropriate for them.

What do you think of the tips?  It’s pretty simple- if you grind your materials up first and don’t overfeed the worms, you’ll be in good shape.

Guide to Composting in the Winter (article)

Have you ever checked out the website earth911.com?  I’ve checked it out plenty when it comes to finding recycling avenues for anything imaginable…but I never thought to see if they had any material on composting.  It turns out that they do, and I’ve been asked a lot about starting a compost pile in the winter.  While composting isn’t easy in the wintertime, it is doable.  Let’s see what earth911 has to say about it in the article below…

Just as you started to get into a solid groove with your compost pile this past summer and fall, churning over plentiful amounts of that beautiful garden gold, BAM! Winter hits.

But don’t throw in the shovel just because a white blanket of snow or a hardened sheet of ice now sits atop your compost pile. To help you get through the winter and ready to go once spring returns, learn some of the ins-and-outs of winter composting.

Listen to the experts

According to the University of Illinois Extension, “Composting [is] a biological process that decomposes organic material under aerobic ([meaning] oxygen [is] required) conditions. […] Composting speeds up the natural process of decomposition, providing optimum conditions so that organic matter can break down more quickly.”

In other words, a compost pile is an intentional strategy to speed up the decomposition process that nature, left alone, would take years to accomplish. To decompose at the rapid pace described above, the U of I Extension asserts that a main goal when composting is to promote the existence and propagation of aerobic bacteria.

Luckily for you, these compost dwellers are not picky eaters. And when they eat, they can turn up the heat – literally. According to the U of I Extension, aerobic bacteria heat up a compost pile when they eat, through the chemical process called oxidation. They especially love the carbon-rich (often called brown) materials, which give them energy. Another essential ingredient for your pile, nitrogen-rich (often called green) materials, help the bacteria grow big and strong and reproduce.

But why all the talk about the nutrient needs and chemical processes of bacteria? These factors can help us better understand why in the winter, at least if you live in a cold spot, composting is a different beast than it was in those warmer months.

The winter slow down

It happens to humans, so why can’t it happen to bacteria? The gray dreariness that often makes us want to go into hibernation mode (if only work, life, etc. would let us) also affects aerobic bacteria, in a manner of speaking.

The University of Illinois Extension says “warmer outside temperatures in late spring, summer and early fall stimulate bacteria and speed up decomposition. Low winter temperatures will slow or temporarily stop the composting process.” But fear not: “As air temperatures warm up in the spring, microbial activity will resume.”

Because ambient air temperature affects the speed of decomposition, when the temps cool down, so too does the aforementioned oxidation process. Instead of the voracious eaters they were in the summer and early fall, aerobic bacteria revert to a calmer state.

Yet even when the temperature drops, microbes responsible for the breakdown of organic matter can remain active in the compost pile, according the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. The center of the pile can be warm and actively composting because of heat generated by bacteria, but the outer layers of your pile are at the mercy of the daily highs and lows.

Furthermore, a compost pile needs the right amount of air and water (in addition to carbon and nitrogen) to be successful. So, when that winter snow and spring rain keeps on coming, your pile can get drenched. While water in the summer may be a necessary amendment, too much winter water will force air out of pore spaces in your compost pile, suffocating our dear aerobic bacteria friends.

Strategies for success, despite the cold

Here, a cinder block structure surrounds a compost heap. A block structure is one way to maintain internal pile heat longer into the winter. Photo: University of Illinois Extension

There are measures you can take to protect your pile from the elements and keep it viable further into the winter months. Here are some suggestions:

1. Build a roof. You have one over your head, why can’t your pile? Control external environmental factors by protecting your compost pile from unwanted precipitation.

2. Block it in. You may have noticed that the car in the garage or in the carport tends to be less frost-ridden in the morning than the car parked in the street. Without the protection of the house or other built structure, the car in the street is exposed to a bigger swing in nighttime temperatures.

Same principle applies to your compost pile. If you compost with heaps, build a protective barrier around your pile. If you already compost in some type of holding unit, you (and your compost pile) are covered.

3. Lay down a tarp. Putting a tarp over your compost pile not only whisks away unwanted precipitation, but it also helps contain the internal heat from the pile where you want it – in the pile.

4. Make a bigger heap. Extend the longevity of your pile by prepping early. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “During [the] fall months, making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season.”

Holding units are an alternative to heap piles, and can help protect the compost from winter elements that tend to slow the decomposition process. Photo: University of Illinois Extension.

Because volume is a factor in retaining compost pile heat, the U of I Extension suggests that for those in the Midwest, piles should be at least one cubic yard. The Midwest gets pretty cold, so it’s likely safe to say that this measurement suggestion can apply elsewhere in the U.S.

5. Shred it. According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, “Shredding the material in the pile to particles less than two inches in size will allow [the pile] to heat more uniformly and will insulate it from outside temperature extremes.”

6. Dig a hole and bury it. Another tip from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggests digging a trench in the garden or flowerbed and adding organic wastes like kitchen scraps (hold the meat, grease or animal fat, please!) little by little, making sure to bury the waste after each addition.

Similarly, “compost-holing,” or digging a one-foot deep hole anywhere in the yard and covering with a board or bricks until full of organic wastes, is another strategy to beat the winter cold and keep on composting.

Right method for the right place

In the end, it is always important to consider what type of system works best for you. The area available for composting, seasonal climate, along with the time commitment you are willing to give to your pile, all impact the type of composting system that would work best. Always do your research when looking to start, continue, or try a new type of composting system.

Worm Inn Season is Approaching!

I can’t believe it… over the last few months I’ve practically ignored my Worm Inn system entirely.  It even got to the point where I was afraid to open it up and find that my worms had disappeared (died).  Looks like dumping water on it once or twice a week was enough, and that they indeed ate all the bedding I put in there although I’m sure that was their last priority.

I opened up the Inn, and under the top layer of paper waste was nothing but beautiful castings and tons of tiny worms…so awesome.  Now it’s time to see what they’re made of as I get ready to start giving them heaps of stuff instead of throwing it in the tumbler outside.

Worms surviving and thriving, leaves falling for me to shred and harvest, lower temperatures for cozy sleeping…this is by far my favorite time of the year! 🙂

Why Compost Is Essential to Container Gardens (article)

Recently I was trying to learn more about how to turn my balcony into a healthy, useful garden…and that’s when I found balconycontainergardening.com .  Since I’m a complete newbie when it comes to gardening, I ended up spending hours reading articles on the site, which prompted me to write a letter of kudos to the owner, Cassandra Radcliff.  I also asked her if she’d like to host some articles for my readers. 🙂

I was extremely pleased when she wrote back with a yes, and now she will be periodically contributing guest articles.  I often receive questions from readers pertaining to gardening, so now I hope to address some of those questions while at the same time learning from her in the process.  Below is her first contribution to the site entitled, “Why Compost Is Essential to Container Gardens”.  I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Why Compost Is Essential to Container Gardens
by Cassandra Radcliff

The best thing that ever happened to my container garden was my worm bin. The red worms that reside on my balcony help me cut down on my kitchen waste (they absolutely love spinach and coffee grounds just like me!). Every week I toss in a bit of food, some water and torn up newspaper, and the red worms reward me with black gold, which contains the castings that they create after breaking down the kitchen waste.

Worm bins aren’t the most attractive things to keep in small-space, but they can help make your container plants healthier and look better. Potting soil is very rich when it comes straight out of the bag, but plants deplete the nutrients quickly in small containers. If you keep finicky plants like roses or certain rare species, you may want to buy special fertilizers, but most plants just need a good dose of worm castings, and they will flourish. With worm castings, plant foliage will be more lush, and flower blooms will be more abundant and showy.

Worms don’t just help plants get more nutrients, they also can help aid in soil health. Consider adding a couple of your red worms to your plant containers. Actually, if you’ve ever added worm castings to your container plants, you probably already have some worms in your plant pots. When you separate the worms from the castings and give their black gold to your container plants, there were probably some eggs in the castings. This is actually a good thing. The worms will burrow in the soil, helping combat soil compaction, aid in aeration (great for plant root health) and they will make the soil slightly more acidic, which is beneficial for most plants.

So if you keep a container garden, cut down on your waste and aid your garden by setting up a worm bin (see “Steps to Vermicomposting” on BalconyContainerGardening.com for more information). It’s cheap, easy and rewarding. And if worms give you the willies, just remember that you’re doing your part to help the environment. And just imagine how much more beautiful your plants will be at their peak during the next growing season!

Is Composting Endorsed Where You Live?

Today I stumbled upon the Wormcycler Municipal Program, which ties your municipality into a worm composting program by subsidizing part of the costs to get started while promoting the benefits of vermicomposting.

I wonder how effective their program has been, and if anyone in my home city of Philadelphia has actually done this.  If you haven’t noticed, I happen to like composting and want everyone to do it.

While I keep asking and pushing for curbside compost pickup in Philadelphia (which I’m told won’t happen), people can do it themselves at home, which is probably the better option anyway.  Or start a community collection point for compost…Philadelphia just opened one in my neighborhood (video/article to come shortly!).

It frustrates me to no end that composting isn’t expanding more rapidly, especially here in Philadelphia.  Our Mayor is always talking about how Philly has the goal to be the greenest city, yet we don’t have composting available to residents or really outright endorse it.  Recycling can only make up so much of our waste stream, while composting handles all our organic waste as well as all the crappy paper waste that won’t get recycled in the paper stream (think paper towels, napkins and even coffee cups).

Composting is THE no brainer process that can get anyone that much closer to the goal of zero waste.  So if your town says they don’t have the money/interest to start up a program (quite likely), then they should be promoting composting and making it front and center for residents to get started easily.  End rant (for now).

The Advanced Vermicomposting Facility VERMIC3.2 HD

The advanced vermi composting facility VERMIC 3.2 HD

In Austria, it looks like vermicomposting is picking up momentum!  It’s strange to me though, because they use earthworms instead of red wigglers.

The thermophilic compost is created from alfalfa, manure and straw before being fed to the earthworms to turn into a super fine casting.

Alfred Grand appears to be a pretty stoic dude, doesn’t he?

EZ How to Make a FREE Worm Factory (video)

EZ How To Make a FREE Worm Factory

This dude has the right idea!  While I doubt this works as well as an actual Worm Factory (short, stacking trays), it’s still a great start to see what you think of vermicomposting.

This is more or less the same process as building your own worm bin from a Rubbermaid tub.  If you use 2 tubs (the bottom tub is for collecting leachate), it will basically function in the same manner as this.

In my experience, worms do better in a shallow environment, so a short Rubbermaid tub would most likely outperform a bucket… however, whichever you can get your hands on is the best for you.  Go to any grocery store and ask for some food grade plastic buckets (food grade means the plastic doesn’t leach into the contents…or so they say)…they toss these out all the time so you’ll be doing them a favor.  Further, get some extra ones just because!  Buckets are awesome.  And so is DIY vermicomposting!

Worm Cocoons in Vermicompost?

Worm castings are tricky, aren’t they?  They can be soggy and have lots of unprocessed material encased in castings, used in containers to grow stuff, dry out and show what they’re really like.  I’ve noticed that my worm castings that I recently removed from the Worm Inn system dried out in the sun quite fast and revealed a bunch of little purple eggs.

What are these things?  After doing a little reading and talking to the dude Bentley over at redwormcomposting.com, I learned that they were worm cocoons.  So is this a good thing or a bad thing?  I don’t really know.  Reproduction is obviously a good thing.  However, I’m learning that the cocoons may be worms laying more eggs in response to a dry or unhealthy worm system.  They also seem to lurk around the cardboard…but wouldn’t the best place for eggs be inside those corrugated tubes?

My castings seem to harden up in big chunks, and it has to be from the cardboard…I think I’m going to try chilling out on the cardboard for a bit to see if I can make a better end product…I think the worms must be getting bored of eating my cardboard scraps!

How do you Empty the Worm Inn? (video)

How Do You Empty the Worm Inn?

I’ve been getting a lot of email regarding how to empty the Worm Inn composting system: How do you get the castings out? How do you keep the worms from escaping? Do you have to screen through all the material you just put in? All questions with super simple answers.

Since worms eat the material from the bottom up, they leave behind their precious castings. As you can see in the video, you simply open the drawstrings and take them out. If you find a worm, you’ve reached the end of your castings and you simply put the worm back in the top of the Worm Inn.

There may be an odd piece of unprocessed material as you dig through the castings, but as with the worms, just put them back in the top and let the worms eat it later.

Simple! I love this thing. This really is the easiest worm system to work with out there.