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Any thoughts on my vermicomposting system?  RSS feed

 
Jorge Mar
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Hi, in order to closing the loop in my new garden, I'm setting up a vermicomposting system which will hopefully allow me to build good soil in record time. I've set up a structure with 12 pallets: a 2 x 2 pallets square and then on the inside 4 pallets making a cross, so I have 4 compartments of 1 sq pallet. My idea is to have those 4 compartments always plenty, and as soon as one of them is ready, take the vermicompost out and refill with new organic matter.

This will be the main ingredients I'll feed the worms:

-compost crops I've planted or will plant (alfalfa, faba bean, maiz, sunflower and oats stalks)
-"weeds":the most used liquid fertilizers here in france are nettles, comfrey, fern and horsetail liquid fertilizers. There's plenty of the four where I live, so I'm planning on feeding those 4 "weeds" to the worms.
-cow manure (also plenty where I live)

I think that with this system and the abundant free resources I have available to feed the worms I'll be able to create a lot of vermicompost in order to build good soil quite fast (my soil now is clay, not too heavy, but heavy...).

So my questions are:

Is there any of the ingredients I'll be feeding the worms that I shouldn't or be precautious with?
Should I also make "plain" compost, or vermicompost is enough to create good soil?
I'm not sure if the pallets I've got are treated or not, would it be dangerous for the worms and microorganisms if the pallets are treated?

Thanks
 
S Bengi
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Composting worms really only live in the top 6inches of soil, 12 inches max.
So try and limit the dept to that
 
Jorge Mar
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S Bengi wrote:Composting worms really only live in the top 6inches of soil, 12 inches max.
So try and limit the dept to that


Thanks, that's something I hadn't thought about. Does anyone use vermicompost bins or piles higher than 12 inches with success?
 
Miles Flansburg
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S Bengi, Just wondering.
If you slowly heighten the pile will the worms move upward so that the good compost is left at the bottom ?
So a taller pile results?
 
Leila Rich
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Sounds like a flash setup Jorge!
Vermicast I've used is quite uniform and 'sticky'. It's amazing stuff, but it makes me wonder about it being the best majority addition to clay?
I'd probably go for more coarse compost, less vermicast to loosten up the soil.
I generally cold compost anyway, so I have a handy/lazy combined compost/vermicast system
 
Michael Vormwald
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Redworms typically only live in upper soil levels (in the wild) because that's where the decaying organic matter is. When we make indoor or outdoor bins, heaps or windrows, the rules change. I have been vermicomposting for 25+ years indoors and out. I have created huge windrows in the fall, seeded with worms and harvested truckloads of vermicompost in the spring. My favorite is a simple 4x8x10" bin that I dug out 12-18" deep and lined with hardware cloth to keep critters out. I heap organic waste (mostly leaves and grass clippings) and let the worms work. I use vermicompost to top dress plants in the garden.
HOWEVER, vermicompost is great, but you'll likely never make enough to improve the tilth of even a small to medium garden. To enrich your clay soil, I'd take a more direct approach. Plant and till in green manures (I suggest buckwheat) and/or use lots of organic mulch (leaves, grass clippings, hay, straw). Add in manure if you can source clean waste (non GMO/medicated stock...). Adjust your soil pH to encourage native earthworms (they don't like acidic soil). Make/spray compost/vermicompost teas. Spray a molasses tonic to encourage increased biology in your soil.

Good luck.

Jorge Mar wrote:
S Bengi wrote:Composting worms really only live in the top 6inches of soil, 12 inches max.
So try and limit the dept to that


Thanks, that's something I hadn't thought about. Does anyone use vermicompost bins or piles higher than 12 inches with success?
 
Zach Muller
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There are a lot of multi bin designs that involve the worms migrating upwards toward fresh food, so I bet with an increasing pile height they would eventually all end up in the top layer where fresh food was being added. Although the convenient part of a multi bin system is after they migrate up to the fresher bin, you just remove the older bottom bin that is full of castings. with a pile you would have to find some way to get the old castings from below without totally disturbing and mixing the older stuff back into the newer stuff.

Jorge, when one section is done and you remove the vermicompost are you planning on manually sorting out the living worms in order to return them to a fresh bin?




Is there any of the ingredients I'll be feeding the worms that I shouldn't or be precautious with?
Should I also make "plain" compost, or vermicompost is enough to create good soil?
I'm not sure if the pallets I've got are treated or not, would it be dangerous for the worms and microorganisms if the pallets are treated?

Thanks


A lot of people avoid using meat scraps, cooked food, oily things because they will take longer to break down and in the mean time will attract flies and other undesirables.
Also citrus peels would take longer and change the ph and moisture content of the bin if used in bulk.

Castings are like concentrated soil life, and will boost any growing medium, although a good soil composition is more than just micro organisms. If your current soil has a very small diversity of particle size(like pure clay does) than added castings may just wash away or a majority of micro organisms will die when they find no organic matter in the soil, or have no access to oxygen. A good soil has a very diverse range of particle size that includes clay particles, sand particles, other small stuff, and a good amount of decayed and decaying organic matter. When you amend this type of diverse soil with castings, the microbes will have fuel to continue their life cycles. You will have to investigate your soil composition and decide if having two types of compost is worth it.

I would investigate what might have been sprayed on your pallets because they could contain things that will absolutely effect microbes, and probably worms too. Here is a link about pallet id in the us I am not sure about a similar system of markings for France.

Good luck on your project.
 
Zach Muller
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Leila Rich wrote:Sounds like a flash setup Jorge!
Vermicast I've used is quite uniform and 'sticky'. It's amazing stuff, but it makes me wonder about it being the best majority addition to clay?
I'd probably go for more coarse compost, less vermicast to loosten up the soil.
I generally cold compost anyway, so I have a handy/lazy combined compost/vermicast system


Leila I have gone the way of a lazy permaculturalist as well and my composting approach is now either chop and drop or " throw it in the chicken pen". The chickens want to turn the pile so why cut into their fun and create more work for me!
 
Cj Sloane
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How about some pics Jorge? Also, location? (consider adding your location to your profile).
 
Michael Cox
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Worms do migrate upwards to where ever the fresh food is. You can use this to your advantage with stacked bins, but in the system you describe I'd work it slightly differently. As well as migrating upwards the worms will migrate sideways. I'd consider a 4ft by 16ft long row. Start your worm farm at one end and keep adding your scraps to the new side. Your worms will gradually migrate along the heap to the fresh food leaving their casts behind them, rather than under the fresh scraps.
 
Jorge Mar
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Thanks a lot everyone for your replies


Today 15:29:08 UTC+02:00 Subject: Any thoughts on my vermicomposting system?
Redworms typically only live in upper soil levels (in the wild) because that's where the decaying organic matter is. When we make indoor or outdoor bins, heaps or windrows, the rules change.


That's what I assumed when I planned on doing such deep bins. I've already been using a dustbin of about 60 cm deep for vermicomposting and the worms did great. I just want to go much bigger now.

HOWEVER, vermicompost is great, but you'll likely never make enough to improve the tilth of even a small to medium garden.


Why would it be so difficult? I have almost unlimited food for the worms (assuming that the weeds I mentioned: fern, nettles, comfrey and horsetail, are a good feed for worms, although I know I'll have to balance with a lot of carbon rich material). I mean, lets say I have a 1 cubic meter of good stuff to be composted or vermicomposted, with a good c/n ratio, good moisture, etc. Would the outcome be a smaller amount of vermicompost than of compost? (assuming I have an adequate worm population)

Vermicast I've used is quite uniform and 'sticky'. It's amazing stuff, but it makes me wonder about it being the best majority addition to clay?


I don't know, the vermicompost I've used is quite sticky when dump, but even then I can squeeze it in my hand, and as soon as I touch it it will crumble, I had the impression it's like the lightest good soil you can achieve.

Jorge, when one section is done and you remove the vermicompost are you planning on manually sorting out the living worms in order to return them to a fresh bin?


As well as migrating upwards the worms will migrate sideways. I'd consider a 4ft by 16ft long row. Start your worm farm at one end and keep adding your scraps to the new side. Your worms will gradually migrate along the heap to the fresh food leaving their casts behind them, rather than under the fresh scraps.


The reason why I'm doing the 4 compartments like this is because that way the cycle never ends, as soon as one pile is full I can start filling the next one, and as soon as one pile is fully vermicomposted, the worms (ideally) will move to the next one. I guess my explanation about the way I'm setting the pallets was a bit poor or confusing, I'll try to take some pictures tomorrow.

Thanks again for your advice
 
Michael Cox
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So the worms will be able to migrate from one of your bins to the next? That makes good sense.
 
Peter Ellis
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On the pallet safety front - Look at your pallets for any markings burned into the wood (in my USA experience it is very common for the pallets to be branded with certain information required by regulation) - the thing you want to find is "HT" which stands for Heat Treated. These pallets have not been chemically treated, but were heat sanitized instead. I have found them with country of origin indicators from various places, and believe that this is an internationally used and recognized standard.

If they were not heat treated, then they were chemically treated and you do not want those around so much.
 
Michael Vormwald
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Jorge Mar wrote:Thanks a lot everyone for your replies


Today 15:29:08 UTC+02:00 Subject: Any thoughts on my vermicomposting system?
Redworms typically only live in upper soil levels (in the wild) because that's where the decaying organic matter is. When we make indoor or outdoor bins, heaps or windrows, the rules change.


That's what I assumed when I planned on doing such deep bins. I've already been using a dustbin of about 60 cm deep for vermicomposting and the worms did great. I just want to go much bigger now.

HOWEVER, vermicompost is great, but you'll likely never make enough to improve the tilth of even a small to medium garden.


Why would it be so difficult? I have almost unlimited food for the worms (assuming that the weeds I mentioned: fern, nettles, comfrey and horsetail, are a good feed for worms, although I know I'll have to balance with a lot of carbon rich material). I mean, lets say I have a 1 cubic meter of good stuff to be composted or vermicomposted, with a good c/n ratio, good moisture, etc. Would the outcome be a smaller amount of vermicompost than of compost? (assuming I have an adequate worm population)


Worms are great but unless you have an extremely large 'herd', they are slow to process all the material you would need to dramatically impact your garden soil (depending on the size of your garden). I have 1/4 acre vegetable garden while some grow in very small plots or even pots. You could need worm numbers that rival commercial worm farms. I've found over the years that I have just enough vermicompost to dress my plants and I use other compost, green manures and fall leaves directly to improve the tilth of my garden soil.
 
Max Kennedy
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The caution would be the addition of too much material, especially manure's, at once to achieve a "hot pile". Did a study many years ago using large scale papermaking waste, they wanted to tun it into a roadside seeding/ remediation mix. 4'x8' bins 4'deep and they heated up almost immediately. The worms survived at the very top then as the bins cooled they migrated down. Great material in the end but almost killed off the worms at the start.
 
Sam Boisseau
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I'll post my questions here since the topic seems active...


I'm getting into vermicomposting because I want to get moderate amounts of high quality vermicompost in order to make high quality compost tea.


All I found for now is a big blue tote, so that's what I'll use until I get a bathtub of some sorts.

Put some chicken manure, some wood chips, and almost finished compost (with worms) from my pile. Will be adding kitchen scraps as we go.

1) Is it ok to just use the worms from my compost pile and not order worms in the mail? How fast do they tend to reproduce?

2) Is it OK not to have a drain?



 
Cj Sloane
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Sam Boisseau wrote:
1) Is it ok to just use the worms from my compost pile and not order worms in the mail? How fast do they tend to reproduce?

Yes, OK to use worms from compost pile.

2) Is it OK not to have a drain?

I think you need a drain. If not things can get soupy and anaerobic and you'll need a standby carbon source to add.
 
chip sanft
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1) I agree with Cj about worms from a compost pile. My own colony has been going for a few years now. It was started with worms that a friend gathered from a compost pile in the NW and had (and still has) going in the NE. I've since moved four times to radically different climates (NE - Midwest - SW - SE) and brought the worms with me and they've done well everywhere. They're worms: within certain broad parameters they're very flexible indeed.

2) My indoor worm colony is in a large plastic tub without a drain and it works. The environment can indeed turn anaerobic if you let moisture accumulate. In my experience, though, that is easily dealt with by adding paper, especially rolled paper pushed down to where the moisture is. Then you can let the paper break down slowly or remove the rolls to compost or whatever, taking the water with them. When you remove the soil, you can also take it from the bottom, as it will tend to be wetter. Adding dry matter like coffee grounds and wood ash seems to help, too.

For me, the convenience of having a single closed container outweighs the work involved in watching the moisture level.
 
Sam Boisseau
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Thank you!


When using worms from my compost pile, I'm wondering how many worms I should aim to start with. It seems that when you order worms online you end up with half a pound or a pound of worms which seems to be a lot!


How fast would the worms from my compost multiply?
 
Meryt Helmer
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this has some good info on number of worms http://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-composting/how-many-worms-is-enough/

My understanding is that they can double their population every 90 days. I always start off with less worms than I actually need because I generally don't want to spend as much money on worms as would be needed to start off with the right number. I am careful to not over feed them just give them a little bit more food than they need per feeding and over time they reproduce until I have the right amount for my family.
 
chip sanft
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Sam Boisseau wrote:Thank you!


When using worms from my compost pile, I'm wondering how many worms I should aim to start with. It seems that when you order worms online you end up with half a pound or a pound of worms which seems to be a lot!


How fast would the worms from my compost multiply?


I started with a couple of handfuls of worm bin compost -- maybe a few dozen worms. They sort of slowly increased for a while then all the sudden there were a ton in there. It is easy to overfeed at the beginning, which can lead to stink (as I learned). So you might want to keep the carbon level higher in comparison to the nitrogen, at least at first.

It will take a few months to get going. Remember that you not only need worms but also the right kind of bacteria to break things down and that can take time to get where it needs to be. Don't wait to get started -- and don't waste your money on mail-order worms unless you really can't get them. In BC that shouldn't be an issue. Then be patient.
 
Meryt Helmer
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once I posted to a local listserve and asked for worms and got them. I suspect in BC you could do the same thing and get some nice worms from someone who already has a worm bin going. i usually offer to trade seeds or cuttings when asking for garden stuff but so far no one has wanted anything and gardeners tend to be the generous nice sort they just give me cuttings (i have 11 tree collard cuttings from a recent listserv post!)
 
Briony Beveridge
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Jorge, how did this go for you?

Leila, can you describe your "handy/lazy combined compost/vermicast system"??

Briony
 
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