so, living at the top of a hill in central California, I need a lot of good compost.
What I do now is 4 or 5 3x3x3ft compost piles with layers of leaves and grasses combined with scrounged aged goat and chicken manure, and I add my own 'new' (1-3) chicken coop cleanings. I wet it down in summer with grey water as needed. I probably only flip - do a real stir - once a month at best. Then I sift with a chicken wire home built sieve.
I'm interested in getting into worms to improve the compost even more, especially with this 'worm tea' I hear so much about. Also, the older I get, the more I want to work on having worms do the work rather than my back and pitchfork.
So, looking for experienced advice on these simple questions:
type of food/fill:
we don't create much kitchen waste, and that still goes to the chickens anyway. I hear so much about people using paper and cardboard, and that does flow in, but can I:
- use a majority of leaves and grass?
- have them work through my sifted compost, with it's broken down state, including all the goat and chicken manure?
I've got plenty of space, so I don't need some small, cute, stacking thing if I can go bigger... but I don't want to start big and realize there's problems.
- instead of a stacking sort of design, I'm thinking about maybe a stock tank divided in half by worm-passable screen. Then fill one side with food and worms, wait, then when it looks mostly done, add food to the other side, let them migrate, then gather the castings from the done side.
- or maybe the same idea, but only a 50gal barrel cut in half the long way?
the thing about worms is that they dont like being hot.....if you add grass that is bound to heat up fast.....leaves are fine, if you shred them the worms will eat them quicker...paper works as does cardboard. Worms love food scraps like watermelon rinds and banana peels....I typically put these items in a plastic bag as I get them then stick them in the freezer...when the bag is full I thaw it out and put it in a blender....the worms will go through it a lot faster this way....Otherwise it takes weeks for them to finish off a whole banana peel...the stock tank idea would work I have seen others use it.
I have not seen a design work that involves the worms migrating. They just don't listen. A big pile with your semi-finished compost they will tear up. A stock tank with manure/food/cardboard they will tear up. The downside is you will need to separate the worms from the finished (?) compost. Homemade sifters are fairly easy to make. If you don't want to separate, then lock at a flow-thru system (google flow-thru worm bins). I make 11-gallon and 23-gallon trash cans (shippable) and 55-gallon drums (not) but am definitely not the only game in town. They are also easy to make, the compost self-harvests (for the most part) and the organics break down fairly quickly. I would start with 1-2 pounds of worms in a flow-thru. Then take some of your worms (hand full) and add to 5-gallon buckets for back-up and breeding area. Then add some other worms to larger bins, boxes, piles or windrows that you make. I wouldn't spend a lot until you know what you are doing. When you know what you're doing, you won't need to spend a lot I have tea going almost all summer and my yard/garden/plants love it and you only need 1 or 2 quarts of compost to get started. Holler if you have questions.
Castaway Compost - Yer Trash be Treasure! castawaycompost.com
Worms are great, I had eight 3*3*3 ft flow through reactors that I built myself up until this month, now I've moved outside with them in a windrow. I will be burying them for winter quite soon in a narrow long pit lined with cement blocks. The flow through worked very well, I fed them horse manure food scraps and paper.
I think leaves are the perfect worm food, even better than paper. Food scraps and leaves will make for happy worms. Coffee grounds are some of our wrom's favorites. The spent grain from brewing is better given to chickens, but the worms seemed to work on it a little bit. Chicken manure may need to be aged before being thrown in with worms, unless you're like me and have all kinds of hay and bedding material with the chicken manure. Worms will love your other compost, and improve it. As for passable screen? I'm not sure why you would bother, you can attract most of the worms in a bin to a food source if you take your time with them and have sufficient density of worms so they are hungry for more input every day. Throw in a food ball in one corner to attract your most active worms, and dig up the rest a fe days after, screen it, and voila worm poop. In a flow through you needn't worry about digging up your best worms, just harvest from the bottom.
The worms will migrate if the conditions are right. That being said, you have to make them want to move. Once the first side of the box is full quit feeding it, quit moistening that side, put some new bedding on the fresh side and then feed that side. By the time the second side is full, the first side will be 95-99% pure black gold worm castings. Great stuff.
The other advice about making the food small and using partially composted material is spot on as well. I mix 50% composted material 40/60 with coconut coir for my bedding. Then when I feed my worms I put in the food at a 40/60 ratio with cross shredded paper (or brown leaves). Always feed carbon at 60% and the nitrogen/food source at 40%.
I'll post another time to add the other three pics I have. OBTW, I finished this with non-toxic, sealer.
Tys, I used the 55 gallon drum cut long ways, so I had two large areas. I put all sorts of stuff in mine from paper to horse manure. I had all sorts of worms and great castings.
That screen is a good idea. I might have to try that next time.