Soil and Compost forum: What should I expect?

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Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 3, 2015 9:44 AM CST
I, too, like many on this forum have gotten into vermiculture, worm bins ....

I started my worm bins back around the beginning of the year, I can't remember exactly when ... Feb or early Mar. I had 2 bins half full of newspaper, cardboard, a little soil and sand, leaves, etc.

It took until about the beginning of July before I could finally harvest all that worm castings from both bins. In the process, I moved all the worms to 1 bin. Maybe that was a mistake, but I did it because of limited space. I have to have my worm bin on the screened in porch to keep rats, raccoons, etc. out of them. Those critters eat worms, along with the birds.

I started a new bin at that time with the usual fillers. Here it is a month later and the worms have already completely broken down everything. I feed them corn meal and blended food (I use my bullet to break the food down and freeze it). But now the worms are eating faster than I can feed them (it seems). I find I use the corn meal more often than veggies, fruit, etc.

What do I do now? Any suggestions? @Dave or anyone with experience, I'd love to hear from you as to where I go from here. I love, love, love the worm castings and so do my plants! It's the best stuff, of course! But removing thousands of worms to harvest more castings is a real chore! I need advice on how to better do this whole process now that I have quite a large colony of worms that do a very efficient job of composting. I don't cover the bins with a lid, instead I put down burlap to cover the top of the compost to provide air flow and darkness. (But they are eating the burlap, too, now!) The worms do not try to escape, they are obviously very happy in the bin eating and reproducing! Help! I've achieved success, so what should I do next to make it easier to maintain this growing population. I started with 2000 worms and probably have 4-6 thousands or more now!

Bin:

Thumb of 2015-08-03/beckygardener/287c07

Closer look at the worms and corn meal:

Thumb of 2015-08-03/beckygardener/e2b5f7
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
[Last edited by beckygardener - Aug 3, 2015 9:45 AM (+)]
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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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dave
Aug 3, 2015 10:20 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

Yes, this is the dilemma that eventually is faced by every successful vermicomposter! Hilarious!

Well, what we do is we keep "splitting the hive" all the time, and our collection of bins grows and grows. We started taking 5 gallon buckets, drilling holes in the bottom, and making mini worm bins in those. Then we sell them at local plant sales and things like that. It's a great way to get others introduced to the worm composting thing because they can take the bucket home and they are already in the worm business right away.

We harvest the worms by exposing the vermicompost to the sun. Then we scrape away an inch or so of compost until we find worms, then we stop. Then a while later we scrape again and then stop. Basically we're chasing the worms to the bottom. When you get most of the compost scraped off, you're left with just worms and a thin layer of compost in the bottom.

Some bins we make and fill, then just let the worms work it until the entire bin is solid compost, then we just wait for the population to just kind of die out and then use the whole lot as compost.

I'm of the opinion that you can never have enough vermicompost. You're really just limited to the space and containers you have and the amount of cardboard you can obtain. Smiling
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 3, 2015 11:12 AM CST
You might be able to feed your worms with garden trimmings. Have never done it but as long as you have stuff without herbicides or pesticides, I can't see how green or brown leaves would hurt. My dad used to harvest nightcrawlers from his yard waste compost pile. As for harvesting compost, I expose the compost to light like Dave but I do it on a big plastic bag on the garage floor. There's enough light in there that a spotlight wasn't needed. I dump all 4 of my worm tower bins in a pile in the middle of the plastic. Wait 10 or 15 minutes for the worms to migrate further down into the pile and scoop off the top few inches. Repeat this as often as you need to. I used to sift through the worms to get to compost but this new (to me) method yielded almost all of the compost in the bins. Do save a little of it to put back into the bins with fresh bedding and food.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 3, 2015 9:56 PM CST
Dave and Cindy - Thank you for your suggestions! I guess I DO need to divide my colony up into more colonies as I do realize that the current single bin is just not big enough to house my large colony.

Cindy - I do feed them all kinds of leaf litter but I have noticed that they really prefer the food scraps. When I don't have enough food scraps, I just sprinkle corn meal on the top of the soil/compost.

On a YouTube video, I saw where someone made a screen to shake out the castings to separate the worms. But to me, it looked like the castings were dry at that point. Not moist. By drying out the castings/compost, does that kill the beneficial bacteria and enzymes (which defeats the whole purpose of using worm compost)?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4In947luiY
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
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Aug 4, 2015 6:42 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

You definitely never want to let your worm castings dry out.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 4, 2015 6:47 AM CST
Yeah, that's what I thought. Thanks!!!
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
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 4, 2015 7:03 AM CST
I was using a soil sifter to sort out the worms but it was pretty ineffectual between the worms and damp compost. Hand-picking the worms took forever.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 4, 2015 7:11 AM CST
I had been placing the compost on a large bin lid and spreading the compost out, leaving a small pile in the center. As the worms would move into the center pile, I would scoop up the spread out compost and pick any worms out before adding to a 5 gallon bucket. But you are right, Cindy, it takes some time to do that! I wished there was a quicker way.
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
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 4, 2015 7:17 AM CST
When I tried the "pile" method for the first time, I didn't spread mine out so much since I was using a garbage bag on the floor. I tend to be a multi-tasker so while I was waiting for the worms to dive deeper into the pile, I'd be off doing other small chores and come back to scoop off the worm-free stuff. I don't think it took more than 60 or 90 minutes to complete the task, including prepping the bins with fresh bedding and food.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 4, 2015 7:22 AM CST
I used to be a multi-tasker, but now I seem to get distracted and forget! Whistling 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
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 4, 2015 8:42 AM CST
Hilarious! I think I multi-task because I'm impatient by nature. Because I have to pass through the garage to get to the backyard or the little greenhouse, it's easy enough to be reminded to finish the harvesting job. I chose the garage because a) it's cooler and out of the sun (I'm not a heat lover); b) that's where the worm bins are as well as my little galvanized garbage can where I store the compost or soil amendments and c) that's where the newspapers are stacked along with easy access to the kitchen where the food scraps are. Not a bad chore in the end.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 5, 2015 11:24 AM CST
All this talk about worm composting motivated me to empty the bin this morning. The compost is already spread and I made some compost tea from the liquid at the bottom of the bin. Trying to spur the vegetables on for the final two months of growing. Won't have veggie scraps to feed the worms until later tonight but did give them some daikon radish clippings after I harvest a few hopefully ripe seeds. Also cleaned out my coffee ground bin and spread it around with my hoarded crushed egg shells.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 5, 2015 11:31 AM CST
Yes, I need to do the same. I KNOW that my bin is already ready to go for collecting the worm castings. No cardboard left at all or anything else I originally filled it with. Amazing how quickly the worms broke it all down and ingested it. It took a good 6 months initially. Now it's only been a little over a month. Ha! Crazy! But I have lots of garden beds that it can be used in since my yard is mostly sand and hardpan dirt. I would need a LOT more worms and bins to improve my yard soil. So it certainly won't go to waste or not be used.

I have another question ....

Can other worm species be added into the red wiggler bin? I have found a few large earth worms when I dug up a raised bed. I added them to the worm bin, but am now wondering if that was a good idea or not?
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
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Aug 5, 2015 12:03 PM CST
I'm curious - why worry about removing worms from the castings that you spread int he garden?

They seem to multiply rapidly in your worm bins, and presumably load up the contents with worm eggs (or however they reproduce). Once they hit their stride, aren't there always about as many worms as the bin can hold?

Why not allow 50% to 70% of the worms to "escape" each time you harvest the castings?

Adding worms to soil seems like something that would always be desirable, even if many or most of them won't make it through the winter.

Would their eggs last through a winter? Is there something like "Hardiness Zone" information for worm species? Like "red wigglers are cold-hardy down to Zone 5". Or maybe "cold-hardy in regions where soil does not freeze deeper than 12 inches"?
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 5, 2015 1:02 PM CST
Cold hardiness for red wigglers - Hilarious! It would be good to know. I read where the wigglers tend to stay near the surface of the soil unlike natives. Maybe they'd last the season in spots where I have a good layer of leaf mulch. I wonder if the escapees would miss their bananas? I don't fret about a few escaping but I want enough to keep up with winter-time scraps when the worms are slowing down.
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
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beckygardener
Aug 5, 2015 1:44 PM CST
Rick - The worm eggs do wind up in the castings compost that get spread around in my garden. So there probably are red wigglers in my soil, but they don't live long outside the bin. I don't compost as much around my plants as I do in the bins because of rats and raccoons. So they would likely starve in my sandy and organic-less garden. Which is why I am adding castings to my soil, to amend it and hopefully improve it over time.

Cindy - I agree. They do slow down considerably (even here in FL) in the Winter. They are most active right now and have multiplied at quite an amazing rate during the warmer months. I have my worm bin on my screen porch (so critters can't get into the bins) and they are shaded from the sun and heat coming off the ground outside the porch. It works for me ... and my worms. I do have leaf mulch down around my garden beds and the worm eggs might hatch and eat that leaf litter to stay alive. If that is the case, they should last a while as I have quite the pile of leaves in every border bed in my yard. It cuts down on weeds in those beds. (I have 2 oak trees that produce a lot of leaf litter every Winter!) I am sure the escapees would miss the buffet meals in my bin. They get quite the variety from food waste! Thumbs up
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
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
Image
beckygardener
Aug 5, 2015 1:51 PM CST
I found this link with info:
http://unclejimswormfarm.com/index.php/FAQs/
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
Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
Image
beckygardener
Aug 5, 2015 1:56 PM CST
Here is a better article to explain why red wigglers don't do well in yards:

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/red-worms-well-garden-66200.htm...
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
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
Image
RickCorey
Aug 5, 2015 2:05 PM CST
Thanks very much!

If red wiggler "escapees" don't burrow underground, they don't sound very beneficial to the garden. Maybe they would compete with slugs and snails?

Name: Becky
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Hummingbirder Butterflies Seed Starter Container Gardener
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Birds Ponds
Image
beckygardener
Aug 5, 2015 2:12 PM CST
I don't think they eat live plants like slugs and snails do. I think they would likely just die (starve to death).
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

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