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do worm bins, or just buy worms and put them in the raised beds?

 
Tys Sniffen
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Location: Northern California
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couldn't decide where to post this, in gardening or composting, but I like composting, so ha.

I do pretty active composting, mostly with cleaned-out-goat-barn (not mine), cleaned-out-chicken-coop (mine), leaves and the kitchen stuff that the chicken doesn't get. I'm expanding my raised beds, so I have 5 piles going right now (oh, and humanure, but that's another subject) and I think I know what I'm doing with composting.

However, it is quite a bit of work to flip 5 meter-cubed piles with any regularity, and while I'm not feeble yet, I probably will be at some point, so I'm starting to think about worm composting.

but then I was thinking, instead of doing worm bins, why not simply 'cut out the middle man' and just put the worms right in my raised beds newly filled with finished compost?

that seems so simple that I must be missing something. might the worms negatively affect the plants? not have enough new organic material to eat?

I'm thinking I might even get one worm bin going with store-bought worms, and use it as a breeding ground and keep pulling them out and putting them in the raised beds.

what am I missing?
Tys
 
Leila Rich
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I have warm-to-cool compost which takes months, and I only turn a couple of times.
It's always full of compost worms, so I've kinda 'cut out the middle man'-my compost bins are worm farms

In my experience, compost worms need decaying matter to eat;
once compost is finished, so has dinner and they move on.
I've covered a garden with very 'unfinished' compost topped with spent beer grains and heavily mulched.
There was some serious compost worm action until everything was composted, then they left.

Basically composting in place. Squash would be overjoyed in a bed like that,
but I think it would be a bit much for most plants.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I'm not an expert on this topic but I think we're talking about two different kinds of worms here:

--red wigglers actively compost in the leafy detritus layer that is ON TOP OF soils (including manures)
--earthworms are found IN the earth

It is my understanding that each of these worms is a specialist in their own "layer", if you will. So red wigglers would not necessarily thrive in raised beds nor would earthworms survive in a worm compost bin.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong here.
 
Keith Odell
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Location: Indiana
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Do both. Hot composting helps kill seeds (I know) and pathogens (I've read). Worms will help with the pathogens (I've read) and make the seeds grow like mad (I know).
Composting worms will thrive in your high organic material raised beds and help your plants do well. Earth worms will drop by for a meal and take the organics down to root level (good).
Something to be concerned about would be putting seedy worm compost in your flower bed and turning it into a pepper/tomato/cantaloupe bed with pretty flowers (I know).
You can let the compost season and the seeds will germinate. Then you have plants to plant, micro-greens or compost material.

If you do start worming, you won't need a lot. They breed to their space and food constraints. It doesn't sound like you have either
Have fun and good luck.
 
Zach Muller
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:I'm not an expert on this topic but I think we're talking about two different kinds of worms here:

--red wigglers actively compost in the leafy detritus layer that is ON TOP OF soils (including manures)
--earthworms are found IN the earth

It is my understanding that each of these worms is a specialist in their own "layer", if you will. So red wigglers would not necessarily thrive in raised beds nor would earthworms survive in a worm compost bin.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong here.


This is my understanding as well. Earth worms eat soil and tunnel around underground. They get their nutrition from soil organisms and when it rains they float out of their tunnel and will be on the surface for a little bit. They are good at aerating the garden with their subterranean living quarters.
Red worms eat decaying organic matter, and hang out close to the surface where that type of material is most prevalent. They won't be as deep as the earth worms, so they really aren't great at aerating the soil.
 
Tys Sniffen
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hey, thanks for all this good information.

some other facts from my garden:

I don't ever seem to have worms in my compost. that's probably because here in North central California, I don't use much water to keep my compost pile wet enough to make them a good environment for worms. yes, they get wet now and again, and I do get heat, but it's not like they're perfect worm homes.

I use raised beds because the soil here at the top of these young mountains is so crappy. There's hardly any earthworms in the topsoil, again because of the dryness. Our environment is a sliver between redwoods and chaparral - very acidic duff and sandstone desert-like crap.

my raised beds are protected from below by weed blocker and/or some sort of plastic sheets so as to keep the redwood roots from coming up and stealing the good soil nutrients, and to keep as much water in the beds as possible. That's why I'm thinking about this drop-the-worms-in idea; my beds are kind of self-contained as it is.

I'm attaching a photo of some of my finished compost from my 'regular' pile. I also sift them, and then sometimes that sifted material sits around for a while doing some more finishing. That's what happened to the stuff in the photo. looks pretty good to me. I wonder, could that be improved by worms? (and I know you can't really tell that with a photo)

what I'm gleaning from the conversation here is that unless I'm adding unfinished compost regularly to the tops of my raised beds (and what would regularly be?), red wigglers will finish up their food and not survive. is that accurate?

I'm back to trying to figure out how to do soil creation/amendment long term, that won't involve lots of constant pitchfork work.

worm bins and harvest castings? store bought fancy-turning-barrel compost bin(s)? hmm.



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Zach Muller
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Tys wrote:

I'm attaching a photo of some of my finished compost from my 'regular' pile. I also sift them, and then sometimes that sifted material sits around for a while doing some more finishing. That's what happened to the stuff in the photo. looks pretty good to me. I wonder, could that be improved by worms? (and I know you can't really tell that with a photo)

what I'm gleaning from the conversation here is that unless I'm adding unfinished compost regularly to the tops of my raised beds (and what would regularly be?), red wigglers will finish up their food and not survive. is that accurate?




Tys, from the looks of your compost there it may be attractive to earthworms, but not un digested enough to impress the red worms. To me it looks like it is perfect and ready to go into the bed as is.

Your statement about adding unfinished compost for the red worms is accurate. The worms will need a steady supply of food, and they can eat a good amount. One issue of doing this out in the open is that the worms eat at a steady pace, but not super fast, so there will be raw scraps laying on the garden and it could attract unwanted critters who steal the food from the worms.
Another possible issue is sunlight, the plants you are growing need the sun, but the worms will need to be covered up away from the sun. In my climate they need to be in a shadier and cooler environment than the garden or they will certainly bake.
Another possible issue which will affect you a lot being high and dry, is moisture. Red worms will be most prolific in a high moisture area, wet but not too wet kind of a place.
I can imagine there is a way to work it with the worms maybe having their own corner of a raised bed and maybe a small tent structure to keep them shaded, moist and safe. But that would be up to you, your climate highs and lows etc.

Creating long term soil fertility without using a lot of energy is an interesting challenge for every permie. We all have organic scraps and materials, that sometimes are occurring at an inconvenient place in our system and therefore require a lot of moving, turning, hauling, and those things all take time and energy. Just keep your design eyes open and try your ideas out.

 
Miles Flansburg
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Remember that in composting you will have two different levels of temperatures that the process goes through. Might be a little to hot for worms, so you won't see them in there.
Vermicomposting is usually done in a "shallow pile"and there are lots of other "bugs" working with the wigglers.
So ya do both.
If you put them in the raised beds you would have to continually add food on top for them, or tuck it in just under the surface.
 
William Bronson
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John Polk
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As was mentioned above, earthworms and composting worms are two very different things.
Earthworms should do well in any garden bed that will support plant life.
Not so for composting worms. They will meet untimely deaths in your climate.

I have been away from raising compost worms for awhile, and don't recall their temperature range off hand, but a generalized idea is: Are you comfortable? If you feel the need to bundle up, or turn the heater on, it is too cold for the composting worms. If you feel as if you need an air-conditioner on (or an ice cold beer), then it is too warm for the composting worms.

Except in the southeast US, composting worms will probably not survive for more than a season or two in the outdoors.


Indoor worm bins are relatively pretty low maintenance. What little maintenance they require can easily be done at any time of the day or night. They eat about one half their body weight every day, and multiply quickly under proper conditions. So, two pounds of worms will consume about a pound of kitchen waste per day, and turn it into one of the greatest soil amendments you can get.

Worm castings and rabbit pellets are the only two manures that can be put directly on plants/seedlings without fear of 'burning' the plants.
Worm tea is also an excellent amendment for growing plants.
You can safely use worm castings in starter trays, or directly on the garden.

Unless you get up to commercial scale, there isn't much advantage on large acreage food forests, but for the kitchen garden, a worm bin is worth its weight in gold.
 
james Apodaca
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No, use a shallow worm bin.

I thought the same when i dumped my worm bin (aprox 8-10k worms) out into my heavily Mulched garden. From time to time i find a red wiggler in the leaf matter but not in the numbers i would have expected given their exponential growth in the worm bin.

Putting them in an active compost pile is a bad idea due to the heat. And finished compost wouldn't do them any favors either.

I had the best results in the bin outside/inside doesn't matter as long as the sun isn't beating on it.
 
Ronnie Ugulano
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Redworms won't really thrive in a raised bed with already-gone-over compost. If you put them in the garden, they'll just wander off and/or die. They do better in their own worm bin or pile with (reasonably) fresh inputs.
 
Andrew Greaves
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What about worm towers? That solves the problem does it not? You can have composting worms in your garden by buying 3 ft long abs pipe and 3" or 4"round. drill holes in pipe large enough for earthworm to crawl through and then dig a hole put pipe in hole and then put veggie scraps in pipe abt once a week for redwrigglers better yet just YouTube search worm tower
 
Ronnie Ugulano
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You can have composting worms in your garden by buying 3 ft long abs pipe and 3" or 4"round.


A worm tower situation would be good for an apartment dweller that wants to grow a few things while keeping worms, too. It's compact and can be attractive. It's similar to a Keyhole garden, really. They have their place, and if that appeals to you on some level, I'd say Go For It. But I prefer a separate bin to compost my organic material. I have room to break down way more than a tower has room for, plus a corresponding number of redworms.

 
Andrew Greaves
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http://youtu.be/Hb_6zddrVAY
Worm towers are
Definitely a great way to compost for more than apt dwellers! Check this video out.
 
Burra Maluca
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Thanks for sharing that video Andrew.

I've embedded it below.

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