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This is the difficult part Ashleigh. I have several methods depending on how much compost i have.
The one i use the most is called the light method. I tip the compost onto a table i have outside and pile it into a cone shape. (just a pile really) Then i leave it for 1/2 hour in the bright light so the worms move to the bottom of the pile in the middle. They hate sunlight and try to get as far away as possible, into the dark. Then you just scoop of the top and leave for a while and keep doing this until you are left with a ball of wriggling worms to put back into the new bed. You can do this in a garage with a bright spot light.
I will get some pics for the barrel method that i use when there is a larger amount of compost to be sieved.
DIY worm harvester. There are several different system but this one is the best and the one i use.
The plans are here. courtesy of Washington State University website.(freely) available
I really want to have a go at this, if you keep your container outside how much longer does it take compared to indoors?
The temperature indoors is constant so they are happy all year. Once the temperature outside gets to about 12 degrees everything speeds up dramatically. It all depends on the amount of worms and if they are happy with the conditions they are in. If they think there is enough food then they will reproduce at a astounding rate. Each worm can produce its own body weight in compost each day, in the right conditions.
I artificially raise the temperature of my outside bins by adding lots more coffee grounds as they heat up.
Thank you, Edd. Lots of info there.
Let me know how you get on after you have mixed in the new bedding materials, please.
Separating worms from casts. Continued.
Most composting worms will not move away from the finished compost immediately unless you entice them to (although Eisenia Fetida are more likely to roam around). Slowly through time, the worms will move out to look for more food, but this can take many months.
It is really hard to create a 100% worm free worm cast product because there will always be some baby worms you will have missed out, or cocoons where new worms will hatch out from in the future. However there are effective ways to remove most of the worms from the compost to give you a good quality final product (and you will want as many worms back to start your next batch of vermicomposting).
Having a small number of worms in your final worm compost is not a problem at all!
In fact if you spread some of the worms with the worm cast in your garden it will be a bonus for your garden soil. Composting worms will not survive for very long if there is not a lot of dead organic matter around the surface, but for the time it is there it can help aerate the surface of the soil and continuingly add fresh worm cast in to the surround garden soil.
You can use food to entice the worms to move, and this can be done in two ways.
The first way is horizontal separation. This will be the best way to separate worms if your worm system is a simple tub or box. Imagine splitting your worm box in half down the centre. Feed on one half of the worm box only and leave the other half to rest. Very soon the worms will all migrate to the half with food leaving the other half without food to mature and harvest. Now once the other half is ready for harvest, swap the halves and repeat the process.
The other way is vertical separation, and is used for vertical stacking wormery systems.
These are boxes with perforated bottom trays which stacks on top of each other. As one tray is finished with the composting process, you will need to add another tray on top filled with food and new bedding. The worms naturally migrate upwards looking for food, and will crawl up through the perforated base into the new tray, leaving in the old tray harvestable cast free from worms.
Another method to separate worms from cast is to use the light method as I have mentioned in my previous. This is also a great method to use to further separate any worms which may still be in the cast after vertical or horizontal separation.
Worms are sensitive to light and will try its best to get away from it.
Grabbing a handful of the cast, create a pile on a covered surface and use a lamp to shine on to the cast pile or just use bright sunlight. Any worms will start burrowing down to the lower surface. You can now remove the top surface of the cast pile revealing the worms. With the detection of light, the worms will again burrow further down the pile allowing you to remove another surface of pure cast.
Repeat this process until you end up with a ball of worms.
You have successfully separated your worms from your cast!
Just to clarify, worm bin reservoirs catch what’s known as ‘leachate’ – basically liquid (mostly water) that has drained down through the worm bed. Some mistakenly refer to this liquid as ‘worm tea’, and while it CAN be used in this manner (best if diluted though), it is definitely not as high quality as genuine worm tea. The best way to make worm tea is to soak high quality worm castings in aerated water. I will go into greater depth on producing worm tea later .
The liquid that drains from a vermicomposting system can be called whatever you want. I call it leachate as it has drained down through decomposing organic matter. It’s definitely NOT the same thing as vermicompost/castings tea.
When a system (whether stacking, single-compartment flow-through, or regular plastic tub with drain holes) DOESN’T produce leachate this shouldn't be viewed as a bad thing. IMHO this is actually what we should be aiming for! I’d much rather conserve my nutrients and produce a top notch vermicompost than be constantly collecting run-off from my systems.
Vermicompost/castings tea is created when you submerge high quality vermicompost in water (preferably not straight from the tap) and either let it sit and steep or vigorously aerate it.
Leachate CAN be used as a liquid “fertilizer” of sorts, but the quality will be highly variable – depending to a large extent on how old the system is and how well maintained it is. Liquid coming from mature vermicomposting system that has been well maintained will likely going to be much better quality than a brand new worm bin operated by someone who is not all that familiar with the fundamentals of vermicomposting.
Because the material the liquid is draining from will be at varying levels of decompostion (and aerobicity), there can be all manner of different compounds (some of them potentially phytotoxic or worm-toxic) being added to the “tea”.
I recommend diluting any liquid that comes from the bottom of a worm bin – and potentially even aerating it for a period of time before use. I would also recommend only using it in your garden (vs small potted plants) just to be on the safe side.
Nevertheless i have achieved good results with worm leachate and can clearly see the positive impact it had on the plants i used it on but
when i started to brew “proper worm tea” using pure undiluted worm castings and molasses in the process i was blown away by the results.
In my humble opinion there can be no doubt that a freshly brewed worm tea is clearly much more beneficial for plants and soil than any run off liquid from even the best of worm farms.
Making worm tea does NOT need to be complicated!
Here’s how simple my tea was: fill a 5 gallon bucket with rain water and toss in 15 oz of castings(3 oz of vermicompost per gallon.) Keep it near the front of the house where I will walk by it a few times during the day. Leave a stick in the bucket and whenever I walk by, give it a good swirl to add oxygen. Viola!!! Wormcompost tea in a couple of days. I have also placed the compost in a cloth bag, and even a nylon stockings. Then dunk the bag repeatedly into the water.The vigorous dunking not only helped to get lots of ‘good stuff’ out of the vermicompost and into the water, but it also helped to aerate the mix.
Now for a my tried and tested approach.I do consider myself a bit of a worm tea guru.
Here is a basic supply list:
I plug in my air pump ( powered by a stack of waggon batteries and charged with a very little wind turbine that i have knocked up at the top of my garage.) to start aerating the tea. I will likely leave it going for 24 hours or so. Then use it on the garden either through a watering can or a spray leaf feed.
The results will blow you away.Better, Greener, and Cheaper than any bought feeds. Magic stuff. Regards Edd.
Hi, Edd. Thank you for doing this thread. I can't wait to get started! Will start my bin tomorrow and leave it to 'season', as you suggest. Off to find my worms, now. Night and thank you.
Can you use sawdust in your worm bins?
The short answer to that question is no. Worms do not possess the digestive capability to process (and derive nutrients from) materials such as wood chips and sawdust. As is the case with 'regular' composting, it is important to keep in the mind the "carbon to nitrogen ratio" that i talk about a lot.Pure sawdust has an extremely high C:N ratio (I've seen it listed at 600:1 or higher), not to mention the fact that it also has an extremely resistant structure - made up cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, the compounds responsible for the strength and structural integrity of woody plants (one look at a giant Redwood makes you realize just how strong the combination of these materials must be!).Woody wastes and debris tends to be broken down very slowly over time, primarily by fungi. This is not to say that you can't make sawdust and wood chips more worm-friendly and then use it as a food source. Some extra steps will however be necessary.If I wanted to use some sawdust in my worm systems I would first mix it with something rich in nitrogen - farm animal manure would be a great choice - then let it sit for at least a few months to encourage some rotting. If you really feel like getting serious, you might want to try making large hot composting piles, assuming you have some equipment to help you turn them over periodically.Another interesting possibility might be to use the sawdust to grow edible mushrooms, such as Shitake or Oyster mushrooms, which actually rely on woody materials for their nutrition. Then when your crop has finished fruiting you can mix the spent substrate (which will be full of fungal mycelium) with other worm foods, such as manure or food scraps, and start feeding it to your worms.Wood digesting fungi such as these have specialized enzymes which aid in breaking down the resistant structure of woody materials, rendering them more prone to attack by other micro organisms.Incidentally, some of the products derived from wood, such as cardboard, paper and newsprint are actually excellent materials for a worm bed, and can be broken down much more readily (even though they too have a very high C:N). Another strong argument for using these materials rather than sawdust is their high water holding capacity (in comparison).Wood chips and saw dust can't soak up moisture the way paper and cardboard can, so apart from offering little nutrition they can't even be used as an inert bedding material (unless well rotted and mixed with other materials).Something else to keep in mind if you are thinking about using sawdust or wood chips in your worm beds - even if you do mix them with manure etc and allow them to rot, you are almost certainly going to be left with some woody debris in your vermicompost.For the casual vermicomposter this certainly isn't a big deal, but for someone who is keen to sell their castings this might be an important consideration since your final product may not look as finished as you would like it to (even if it may still be an excellent compost).RegardsEdd.
Hi Edd! I've just been given an empty wormery that looks very similar to this (image liberated off the internet)
Where in the garden would be best to locate it? Would it benefit from being in the greenhouse at all or even just during the winter?
Would I just put composting material in the top level and let it rot down or put it in the bottom layer and go upwards as I fill it?
What do you suggest I add to it before the worms?
Thanks ever so!
Ordered my worms (from the company that made the wormery). Quite excited!!
Pathogen Reduction via VermicompostingSo why exactly is this an issue of significance?While the benefits of vermicomposting have been known for manyyears, this form of 'composting' has generally been considered bymany to be an inferior organic waste management practice totraditional thermophilic (hot) composting.Its main Achilles heel of course has been the fact that, unlikehot composting, it requires much lower temperatures (the'mesophilic' temperature range), thus greatly reducing thechances of destroying any pathogens that might be present in thestarting material. Or so it was thought.[Just a quick aside - I should mention that the low temps alsowon't kill off weed seeds, which may or may not be an issue,depending on what you are using the compost for]Likely the most significant development on thevermi-patho-reduction front was the publication of researchfindings - in the academic journal, Compost Science & Utilization- demonstrating that high densities of Red Worms were able tosignificantly reduce the abundance of four human pathogens inwastewater biosolids - and in a relatively short period of time,at that. (Eastman et al. 2001)The main of goal of this research was to determine whether or notthere was any potential for the use of vermicomposting as a meansof producing "Class A biosolids" (a designation given by theUSEPA, essentially meaning 'safe' for widespread use). Based onthe results of two??!!! different trials, and personal communicationswith a senior EPA scientist, the authors concluded thatvermicomposting could indeed be used for Class A biosolidsstabilization.While the results of the study were indeed promising, it's stillvery important not to make any grand, sweeping generalizationsabout the ability of earthworms to destroy pathogens. Asmentioned, the worms used for these trials were present in VERYhigh densities. Basically, for every 1.5 kg of biosolids therewas 1 kg of worms!One might also wonder about the 'real world' relevance of thesefindings.While these trials WERE at least conducted outside of alaboratory, the researchers only tested patho-reduction in smallwindrows - not in any actual professional systems. The biosolidswere also artificially spiked with pathogen organisms, and thuswere not necessarily comparable to biosolids containing naturalpopulations of these organisms. Not to take away from theimportance of these findings, of course (I've been bragging aboutthat paper ever since it was published - haha) - I'm just sayingthat more work was sorely needed in this field at the time (andstill is).Strangely enough, there didn't seem to be any furtherdevelopments over the next few years after the publication of theEastman et al. paper. On a positive note, there weren't anypublications (that I know of) refuting the findings either.The whole issue appeared to be on "pause".Thankfully, things were continuing to move along behind thescenes. Personal communications with Dr. Clive Edwards (during the pastfew years) informed me that this was something he was stilllooking into, and it was also Dr. Edwards who pointed me in thedirection of another very significant article that had recentlybeen published (Craig and Ankers, 2006). Not only did it provideadditional evidence to indicate that Red Worms COULD be used toproduce Class A bio-solids, but it outlined the successful (andapproved) use of vermicomposting at an actual waste watertreatment plant in the States! In early 2005, a treatment plant in Granville Town
Pennsylvania became the firs
Hope you are having fun with your worms! Its been over a month now with your can-o-worms and your new members, must have settled in, so i hope they are doing their job and are processing your meal very fast. ( add some ground egg shell and it will make them reproduce!!!() The bottom layer (pan should be empty and the tap open, i hope. What you do with the leachite from the tap is up to you. The pan above should look like this and be black and very wet. Here is a pic so you can see what it should look like. (big lumps in places and very wet) If not please tell me. It will always be sort of wet and lumpy. There are a few things you need. See second pic. I am having a few problems posting pics so i will just have to post what i have taken and talk you through them. Sorry.
You will need these to sieve the worm poo. Bags to hang the poo up and dry for 3 days. Then a sieve at 10cm and a one at about 4/5mm. look at the pics and see.
Onion bags work for drying, very well and so do cloth saks, but they rot!!!
The sieves are 17 inch wide and one is 10mm, mesh and the smallest one is 5mm! Sorry for the mix in conversion.
Your top bin should look like this?
Back to front sorry. Your top bins should look like this AND you results should look like the second pic, from top.
Here is a random selection of other bits that i had time to take pics of.
When sieved and clasped it should feel like a wrung out wet sponge.
And all from this and a couple of boxes in side!!!
Some pics missing so i will have to get back to you.
Your bottom pan should be near complete and ready for harvest, now.
Let me know how you are getting on with this please.
If you look back from the start of this thread, i think you will understand.
PS. The bags in the shed look like this and i pass them through the first 10mm sieve, before i hang for 3 days to dry. Hope you can see. All the leftovers go back in the pot!!!
Leave containers underneath to catch the dry bits as it saves you sweeping up!
After damping off, green fly/black fly, thrips, horse chestnut scale and the recent vine weevils i now have, Indoor worm collapse!!!
It happens to all of us, worm heads. this is my 2nd time in 20 years so i hope i can explane.
Last week i set up a new worm bin, in a council recycle (green) bin, indoors and left it for a week. ( i'm working away, again) there was a mass exodus of worms.
I came back to a floor full of dead worms. They had left the building!!!
The good point was there was thousands of casts. I have never seen so many in one place. Thousands of them, all clumped together where as i normally get the odd one or two, scattered about in the compost.
I started the indoor worm composting bin. At first, I added loads of aged, cardboard and food about half full, with ground egg shell (for new reproduction).I then was adding, every little scrap of fruit or vegetable peelings that I had left over for a week, but it started to grow mould, after 2 days.
Now mould is not a problem as it is what we are looking for (worm food). It then started to attract flies, so i turned it and filled the top layer with dry cardboard and left it while i was away. I came back to disaster, a whole bunch of them have crawled out of the bin and died on the floor.
My bin is somewhat moist (if not wet), in the dark and is open to the air, much like all the others bins.
So what went wrong???
This happened once before when i was first starting out, so i thought i would try and explane, now that i have a bit more experience.
I know there is a tendency to want to over-compensate when just starting out - we want our worm friends to thrive, so we overload them with lots of yummy food! Or perhaps we have heard that composting worms are able to process their weight in food scraps each day. Given the fact that i had 1 lbs of composting worms in the system i therefore assume i could heap in a full pounds of fresh food scraps each and every day and sit back while the worms churn out beautiful compost!
Well, whatever the reasoning for over-feeding, this is a HUGELY important topic to cover for all those new to the hobby since it is undoubtedly one of the most common reasons for early worm bin 'meltdowns'. Sadly it is also likely one of the reasons many people give up, concluding that worm composting is disgusting/ smelly, and a total waste of time.This is such a shame really, since the fact remains that creating a healthy, balanced worm composting system is an incredibly rewarding endeavor!
Ok - so what do we do that prevent this from happening?Effective worm composting is ALL about balance. Composting worms are for the most part incredibly resilient creatures, but if you throw their 'world' completely off-kilter, they definitely won't be able to do what they do best (process 'waste' materials).There are two important factors that can really help them to weather poor conditions:1) Size of your system - obviously the larger the better. Even if your worm population is not large enough to handle all the waste, just having the space for them to move and escape intolerable conditions will help.2) Bedding - in my mind bedding is the ultimate 'cure-all' for your worm bin/bed. Just as a refresher 'bedding' is any carbon-rich, absorbent material used to create habitat and balance out the C:N ratio in the bin. My personal favourites are corrugated and egg carton cardboard, but shredded newspaper, peat moss, and coconut coir among numerous other materials will also do the trick.Bedding materials in general are great because they 1) Absorb excess moisture, 2) Provide more clean habitat/shelter, 3) Potentially even act as a protective biofilter for absorbing noxious gases, and 4) Help a great deal with aeration in the bin. Of course, as with many negative situations, an ounce of prevention is worth a heap of cure . Once your system is past 'the point of no return', all the bedding in the world isn't likely to save your worms. That being said, even a 'dead' system may have some potential, especially if it is an older bin. Keep in mind that worm eggs are much more resilient than the worms themselves. If you add a bunch of dry bedding (assuming you have a sloppy stinky mess on your hands) and let it sit for awhile you might be surprised to find a thriving worm bin again in a month or two.Here are some suggestions for avoiding these sorts of problems in the first place.1) Set up multiple bins. I personally have at least a couple small indoor bins along with my large outdoor system operating at the same time. Aside from providing you with more places to put your waste, it is also a great insurance policy for your worms. If something goes wrong in one, you've still got the other systems as back-ups2) Set-up an ageing/overflow system for your scraps. Rather than putting them ALL straight into the bin(s), put them in an old milk carton or bucket with ample shredded cardboard in the bottom. This not only provides additional storage space, but it also allows your waste to decompose a fair bit on it's own so it's 'ripe n ready' for your worms and less likely to stockpile in your bin.3) Be careful what you add to your bin, and make a habit of always adding more bedding whenever you add food waste. Try to minimize the amount of starchy stuff you add at any one time. Adding heaps of bread, rice, pasta, mashed potatoes etc can be a recipe for disaster. Aside from mould growth ( that you want) you may have some serious fermentation on your hands. If your worms look a little tipsy (haha!) and you start to see lots of little white worms your bin might be heading in this direction.A bin needs to be moist, yet well-aerated. Finding the "perfect" balance between these two islike finding the holy grail of worm composting. In reality, most of us mere mortals will have to deal with fluctuations -working to maintain the best 'balance' we can. Red Wigglers (most common composting worms) absolutely LOVE moisture, but when there is too much you get anaerobic, nasty conditions.Worms cannot handle excessive amounts of light - too much exposure and they will die, it's as simple as that. So you definitely want your bin to have dark, opaque walls (not clear) and it's better to keep it in a dark place in general.Don't be scared though - opening up your bin for feeding and looking around is definitely not going to harm your worms.What I would suggest, is split the worm bin contents into two separate bins, each having a large quantity of fresh bedding in them. Gently, but thoroughly mix everything up and let them sit for a day or two. Worm bins should definitely be moist - even 'wet' (if you have adequate drainage or moisture-holding materials). Things should work out fine and you will have a second if one goes wrong.Hope this helps!