Soil and Compost forum: Vermicomposting - timing of 1st feeding

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Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
May 20, 2015 4:59 PM CST
i loaded a tray with a mix of coco coir and wet newspaper strips per instructions. am i to wait a week prior to adding any food? do they just survive on newspaper in the meantime? do they eat the coco too?

thx
Name: wayne
memphis (Zone 7b)
Keeper of Poultry Region: Tennessee
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wayne
Jun 1, 2015 4:19 PM CST
I read somewhere to wait a month before feeding and I think last year I waited two weeks to feed them...but this year I actually put my food in a week or two early and then dropped the worms in when they arrived in the mail. it's been about seven weeks and my worms are performing much better than last year.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 1, 2015 5:17 PM CST
Wow - waiting a month before feeding? I can't imagine waiting longer than a week or two before feeding.
Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
Jun 8, 2015 10:35 PM CST
well i ended up feeding them only a day or two after getting them in there. they finished the food in about 7-8 days i guess. it's been about a month now and i've probably fed them 4 times now. what i don't get is how this 1st tray i'm working on is going to end up being mostly castings(?) i look in there and it still appears to be a full of coco coir (and newspaper). just can't see it yet. but i guess it should be 3 mons before i'm suppose to add in a 2nd tray, so i'm told.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 9, 2015 7:58 AM CST
max - so you have a tower system? How many worms did you start with? I don't think we'll see worm compost similar in form to what we buy commercially with all of the tumblers and screens that are used. I can't see how home vermicomposters will turn out a product like that. IMO, we'll get half worm castings and half composted bedding which is okay in my book. If you're in a hurry to harvest some compost, try to keep all of the food on one side of the bin. When the food scraps are no longer recognizable, start putting the food scraps on the other side of the bin and most of the worms will move over that way to get to the food. Then you can harvest compost from the first side. I added trays as my worm population grew - you'll be able to tell when they need more room. Are you going to have more than one tray working at any one time? I do find that I usually have more food scraps for the worms in the summer due to eating lots more fresh produce. If I have more than I need to feed, I stick it in the freezer and hold it there until needed. Defrost it totally before feeding it to the worms.
Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
Jun 9, 2015 11:10 AM CST
hey Shadey, i am using a stacking system (http://www.vermitek.com/vermihut.html). i am not in a hurry to take out any castings - - I just want to understand what the appearance should be before adding the next tray. Then it dawned on me (after i posted my msg) that it will eventually be a simple matter of space. The tray will have too much in it and will cause the bottom to compact too tightly as I understand it. So rather than looking for a consistency prior to adding the next tray, apparently I should simply look at how full the tray is. If I'm not mistaken I've read people suggesting 3/4 full is about when they move on to a new tray.

This all leads me to another question though. Is the standard practice to sift/screen the tray contents or to simply use it as is? My guess would be that the bedding material would contain plenty useful microbes by that point anyway . . . so why waste it, right?

thanks!
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 9, 2015 11:53 AM CST
That's the thing about tower systems - they do compact just from the stacking. You might be able to go another week or two with your first tray. Add food but not bedding. That should reduce the amount of bedding. When you do start a new tray (hopefully when your worms have multiplied), add some of that mostly-composted bedding to that new tray along with the fresh bedding. That should help get things going in the second tray. I learned a new technique for compost harvesting a couple of weeks ago. I spread out one of those big black plastic trash bags on the garage floor (keeps the floor clean and the worms from coming into contact with cement) and dumped all of the bins in the middle into one pile. Wait 20 minutes while the worms dig themselves down into the pile and then collect the compost off the top of the pile. When you start running into worms again in the pile, wait another 20 minutes and then collect some more compost off the top. I would pull out any large-ish strips of newspaper as I went and added it back to the trays. Repeat these steps as often as necessary until you're left with mostly worms on the plastic bag. While you're doing the waiting thing, you can be getting the trays ready with new bedding and food scraps. I was able to collect most of the compost this way and it sure beat sitting hunched over the trays trying to sift. When done, you can fold up the bag to use for next time or use it for trash so no waste. The compost will be coarse - not like the fine commercial stuff we buy in bags. That's ok by me as it's going to get worked into soil or covered by mulch.
Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
Jun 9, 2015 2:31 PM CST
i was under the impression that (at least for stacking systems) you simply place the new tray on top of the old and the worms migrate to the upper tray (food) because you've no longer cont'd to put food in the old tray. i hope that works because it sounds like the simplest way to get that done.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 9, 2015 4:02 PM CST
I didn't get a lot of migration that way but I'm interested to see if it works for you. Perhaps I didn't do it correctly.
Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
Jun 10, 2015 9:39 PM CST
geez, i hope that works. picking through a pile of compost was not the sort of thing i was hoping for ;) i did add some more food today and was pretty shocked at how many baby worms were in there today. i guess that's gotta be a good sign, at least for now.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 11, 2015 8:30 AM CST
One thing I have noticed is that my worms migrate downward. Doesn't matter what season. I keep mine in the garage year-round. It's heated to around 60 in the winter and stays cool in the summer. Even when I kept them outdoors in the summer (where they would get warmer), they still moved downward. Don't know why.
Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
Jun 11, 2015 11:12 PM CST
if that's what they tend to do anyway, what's to stop me from loading a new tray with some bedding/food and placing the 1st one on top of it (removing the sheet that is on the bottom of the 1st tray beforehand of course)?

again this brings up something i don't feel i understand fully. though the instructions called for loading the 1st tray with a full brick of coco coir (and newspaper), the instructions for the 2nd and onward only mention adding some compost from the 1st tray, some food and some bedding. it seems that they recommend adding quite a bit less in the way of bulk after the 1st tray. is that your understanding as well?
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 12, 2015 7:37 AM CST
I was kind of wondering the same thing but thought maybe I was approaching this all wrong. I think the first tray would have to be so packed with vermicompost to present a more natural escape route to the new tray placed on top. Not sure if that's the way to make healthy compost. Because my worm population has grown, I'm currently working four trays and the top one is always the driest while the bottom tray is always the wettest. So I rotate the tray positions every week when I add scraps.
I guess if you think of the worm compost bin like you would an outdoor compost pile, it would make sense about the initial load of raw compost material - the initial breakdown of that material to get it to the preferred state. After the first year of religiously using coir (hard to find locally), I've used just newspaper unless I happen to have the rarely-used coir on hand. And I add finely ground eggshells for a little grit. Some folks use some garden soil but I would think it would have to be pesticide/herbicide-free.
Name: Linda
Bellevue, WA (Zone 8a)
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In2art
Aug 2, 2015 6:00 PM CST
How the stacked trays systems (I'm rocking a Worm Factory 360) are supposed to work: is you only put food into the top tray. When it is full enough (1/2 to 3/4), you put another tray on top. Some of the worms will continue working that tray and some will migrate upwards to the new feeding tray. You should stir the trays to aerate every so often. I take the lid off and set it upside down. I then stack all the trays on it in reverse order. When I get to the bottom tray, I stir it. If it looks like it's ready (finished vermicompost, no recognizable food or bedding) I set it aside and the tray that was on top of it becomes the bottom tray. I stir it, then add the next one and repeat. When this is done, they have all been stirred and are in their original order, except for the bottom one. I now put it on top and stir it. The worms don't like the light and will migrate down to the feeding tray in time. You can hasten this by shining a light on it (I have a small gooseneck LED task light that I set up) and stir a few times per day for a day or two. Then remove the finished tray and put the lid back on. You can take the tray of vermicompost straight out to the garden, or you can put it into a plastic bin for storage. Be mindful of not letting it dry out too much, and be sure that your light stays on around the clock.

I'm harvesting a tray right now...this is what the finished product looks like. The second photo is after stirring. There are still quite a lot of worms and I make sure that the center is not too thick, or it will be dark enough for them to be comfortable where they are. It is not critical to get every worm and cocoon out, those are good for the garden too (although the adults won't necessarily survive in winter)
Thumb of 2015-08-02/In2art/c14116


Thumb of 2015-08-02/In2art/d61fc0

Oh, and coconut coir is not needed. I use mostly shredded newspaper...occasionally coir and or pumice.

Hope this helps
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 3, 2015 8:07 AM CST
Linda - your compost looks great! I'm at the level of worm population that I put scraps in all 4 trays. I have tried putting scraps in only the top tray, trying to encourage upward movement that I'm "supposed" to see but to no avail. I gave up worrying about it since the worms appear fine and I get compost. I drain the more liquid stuff in the bottom every week and dilute with rain water to use on the "needy" areas of the garden. I have been meaning to empty out the worm bin for the past month to get a good harvest of compost to put out before the leaves start falling. I might get two full harvests before fall.
Name: Linda
Bellevue, WA (Zone 8a)
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In2art
Aug 5, 2015 12:33 PM CST
Cindy,

I have so many worms in mine that I have worms in ALL of the levels. I have given some away in the past to friends who have started a bin...I need to do that again. Either that or give some to my brother to feed his chickens - which would be really hard for me, as they are almost like my pets.

:-)

Linda
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 5, 2015 1:05 PM CST
Putting your worms on the chicken menu would be hard to do. I did give enough to DD a year ago to start her own bin which is doing great but no one else here is into doing the worm compost thing. I've contemplated starting a second bin - maybe a tote-type bin.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
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beckygardener
Aug 5, 2015 4:54 PM CST
Linda - Hilarious! Hilarious! Hilarious! Whew! I am glad I am not the only one who fusses over the worms! I think my love for them is my respect at how hard they work and what good compost they make. What good would they do in a chicken's stomach for my garden? .... well ... I guess chicken poo might be consider decent compost, but certainly not as good as worm casting! Yeah, my worms are my babies! Hilarious! Hilarious! Hilarious! Hilarious!
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.
Garden Rooms and Becky's Budget Garden
Orange County, CA (Zone 10a)
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maxcaviar
Aug 6, 2015 1:20 PM CST
wow, lots of information there, THANK YOU!
Name: Cheryl
NE Cedar Rapids
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HylaBrook
Aug 29, 2016 10:40 AM CST
maxcaviar said:geez, i hope that works. picking through a pile of compost was not the sort of thing i was hoping for ;) i did add some more food today and was pretty shocked at how many baby worms were in there today. i guess that's gotta be a good sign, at least for now.


I have not seen a lot of migration in my bins either, but still, when I add a tray of bedding at the top, it gets plenty of worms in it, so some are moving up! I have 5 trays populated, and there are a lot of worms in the bottom tray, and even in the base. I figure if you let those worms in the lowest tray go with the castings (to a garden or container) then you are doing natural selection against non-migratory worms, and in favor of migratory worms, so over time, you might find fewer and fewer worms in the lowest tray. I shall see!

I never harvest trays with paper still in them. I don't think of that as finished compost. The worms eat paper and coir.
Cheryl

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