Relocating earthworms to your raised beds

I am a huge fan of worms. They have TONS of benefits and they are the easiest pet to keep! After each major rain storm I like to visit a couple of places on our property and relocate worms I find into my raised beds. Last fall when I sifted through my soil I didn’t see hardly any worms. Now when I sift through the top few inches there are always a couple hanging out. I’m not sure if the increased population is due to me relocating worms, installing worm towers or spreading vermicompost from my worm bin. Soil life is absolutely amazing, and I am very fortunate to have watched Geoff Lawton’s soil video early on. It makes me want to ask for a microscope for my birthday so I can observe my soil life first hand. That will totally make me a gardening geek!

Using worm towers to compost food scraps in your raised beds

I originally came across the idea of a worm tower while reading through the Permies forums. The concept is really interesting. You take a 4″ piece of PVC, drill lots of holes in it, bury it in your raised bed and fill it with kitchen waste. The scraps will draw worms in to eat and they will exit the tower spreading vermicompost throughout your garden. While I’m skeptical that anything will get spread, I do see this as a great way to boost your worm populations.

Since PVC is cheap (10′ for $12) I decided to add a worm tower to each of my raised beds:

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After drilling the holes and anchoring the tower I covered it with a hunk of Tulle. I threw a black seedling container on top of that, and hopefully this set up will keep the flies out and help mask the white PVC pipe protruding from each bed. I’m starting to think that I should have put the tower on the back side of the bed so it doesn’t shade small seedling behind it. Once the worms finish feasting on the initial batch of scraps I’ll will bust out the post hole digger and move it. Cool idea!

Vermicomposting in a cedar worm bin

It seems like just yesterday that I ordered my first worm bin and started vermicomposting. In reality that was actually a year and a half ago, and I’ve learned a TON in that period of time. In addition to my worm bin gotchas, I’ve also learned that you really can’t have enough worm castings for your garden. This past summer I decided to significantly expand my vermicompsting operation by building a large bin of of cedar wood. I had read that worms don’t like cedar, but as you can see from the following picture they don’t mind it at all (this is a handful of worms I grabbed that are dining on food scraps and rotted wood):

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I built my bin out of 2×6 cedar lumber, stainless steel hinges and galvanized screws. The lid was made from a piece of pressure treated lumber I had sitting around, and I attached 1/4″ hardware cloth to the bottom to provide drainage and to prevent moles from burrowing into the bin. The front entry door was also made from 2×6 cedar lumber, and allows me to throw my scraps in the top and harvest my castings out of the bottom. Here is a picture of the bin:

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I’m starting to think that I need to put a separator in the middle so I can have a working area on one side and a harvestable area on the other. I’ll probably add this feature this summer once I’ve harvested my first big batch of castings. It’s kinda cool having 1000s of little worm friends in the back 40. 🙂

Things I’ve learned from raising vermicomposting worms

I wrote previously about my experience raising worms as part of my composting process. Having been at this now for 4 months I’ve come to a few realizations on things NOT to do. The first big no no is adding water to your worm bin. The food scraps your worms are breaking down will generate enough water to keep your worms hydrated, so adding more just turns your bin into a big stinking mess that will eventually kill your worms (they don’t like too much moisture). Having made this mistake once, I won’t be doing that again.

The next thing I learned applies directly to the Worm Factory. As time goes on the bottom tray will collect water and drippings (worm tea!!!) from the others trays. I didn’t really pay attention to the bottom tray when I first started, and the lack of oversight caused some of the worms to escape by burrowing out the sides. The worms were burrowing out because the contents of the bottom tray were drenched. I threw in a bunch of shredded news paper to get the soil back to a habitable condition for the worms, and over the course of a few days things stabilized. Now when I feed my worms I typically throw some extra shredded news paper or cardboard on top of each tray to absord the moisture from the tray above. Not only does this stop the moisture issue, but it gives the worms some delicious food to nibble on. A win-win situation!

Now on to the biggest issue I’ve had, food. When I first got started I used to toss handfuls of food scraps into the corner of the bin. The bin would periodically smell, and on a couple of occasions I noticed that the worms weren’t breaking down the food. After a bunch of experimenting and tons of research I realized three things about feeding worms:

1. Small scraps work the best! I now run most of my vegetable scraps through a juicer or food processor and store the resulting pulp in the fridge. This allows microbes to build up on the food and the small scraps are broken down much much quicker than larger scraps. It’s a bit more work but well worth it IMHO.

2. Adding shredded news paper and cardboard to your food scraps helps a lot with moisture control. Both types of fiber will absorb the excess moisture and you will see a reduction in the garbage you throw out.

3. Bury your scraps and make sure there are castings below AND above the scraps. These keeps the scraps in a dark environment (worms don’t care much for light), and I haven’t noticed any fowl smelling odors since I started doing this.

I’m planning to add a second worm factory sometime next year. Worms eat a ton of scraps, and I am pretty certain that two bins will provide all of the fertilizer I need for the year. It will also allow me to recycle 100% of the cardboard and food scraps we have, which is a major win for me.

Using vermicomposting and a worm factory to recycle your kitchen scraps

I recently went through my gardening journal to see where I was spending money. Since this was my first year gardening a largest chunk of my money went into buying pots, soil and accessories. I also purchased several bags of organic compost and organic fertilizer. A bag of organic compost is $5 – $6 at the big name stores, and you really don’t have any idea what went into it or how it was produced.

I took my numbers and starting pondering ways to save money. One item I came across while researching cost cutting measures was making your own fertilizer using composters and worm bins. I decided to take a composting class at my local community garden, and after the class I realized that I didn’t have enough space to put in a compost bin. This left vermicomposting as my main option, so I decided to start researching worm bins.

If you haven’t heard of vermicomposting it’s a process where you feed your vegetable scraps and fiberous material (paper, cardboard, etc.) to worms and they process this into nutrient rich worm castings. The castings can be used in place of store bought compost, and the tea (liquid worm poop) that is a byproduct of vermicomposting can be diluted and used in place of fertilizers.

Various solutions exist for vermicomposting. You can build your own worm bin, or you can buy a Worm Factory and call it a day. I chose to buy a Worm Factory for a couple of reasons:

– I was planning to leave this in our hallway so it needed to blend in.
– The Worm Factory has a drain spout for collecting your worm tea.
– The tray system should make collecting compost easier.
– I wanted to find something that others were using with success.

Setting up the Worm Factory was a piece of cake. The directions clearly show how to connect the various pieces, so I had the base built in a matter of minutes. Next I added several layers of news paper to the bottom of tray one, and filled the rest of the bin with a mixture of damp coconut coir, food scraps and shredded news paper. The bin was all set for my worms, which I ordered from Uncle Jim’s worm farm. My bin is now 3 months old and as you can see my worms couldn’t be happier!:

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Each week I get enough worm tea to feed the plants on my deck, and everything that gets a worm tea treat is thriving (my rosemary is going bonkers now that it gets liquid nutrients). The worms are also really cool pets, and if I could come up with 3000 names I would name each and every one of them. 🙂

This was a fun learning experience, and you would be amazed at the amount of food your worms can eat (this will cut down on the amount of trash you throw out since a lot of “garbage” can be fed to your worms). I feed them all of our table scrabs (no meat, dairy or citrus) as well as a healthy dose of junkmail, cardboard, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells. We barely notice that we have worms in our house, since the worm factory just sits in the corner doing its thing:

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I should note one thing. Shortly after I set up the worm factory I noticed a horrible smell eminating from it. The smell turned out to be the result of overfeeding, and was quickly fixed by burying the stinky food well below the top layer of worm castings. It took me a little while to figure out how much food I could safely feed them, and as a rule of thumb less is better (I started with more is better, and that’s the reason my worm factory had an odor for a day and a half).

I’m hoping to buy a second worm factory this winter, and I’m pretty sure two bins will allow us to convert all of our food scraps, cardboard and junkmail into compost for the vegetable garden. I’ll keep folks updated on my progress as I go along.