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New low-maintance Vermicomposting Technique!  RSS feed

 
Morgan Louis
Posts: 33
Location: USDA zone 8b
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I call my new technique the 'Deep-Litter Worm Bin'. I'd like to know what you guys think.

One night, I was on the computer reading different permaculture related articles as usual, then it hit me. Composting worms like red wigglers usually live in the top few inches of the soil and feed on organic matter in the leaf-litter right? Why don't I try to create an environment like a natural system in my worm bin?

I was too excited to wait for morning, so I threw on my headlamp and went outside. My worms lived in a satisfactory environment, emulating every other article I read about raising worms. Just moist bedding material like finely shredded newspaper, their own castings, some compost, food scraps, finally covered in a moist brown paper bag. With this average set-up, I had an average vermiculture.

I decked out their environment, and I am seeing the results. I started by taking out their bedding, leaving only worms, worm eggs, and their castings in the bottom of the bin. I then added a thick layer of aged compost from my hot compost pile on top of the worms/castings, about 3-4". Then I added a generous amount of leaves from a leaf pile I keep in my yard, moist, but not yet decomposing, about 8-10". The leaves make up the 'Deep-Litter' part of my system.

Why do I think this is an improvement to usual vermiculture? I think the leaves serve a few purposes...

First, they serve as a famine food for the worms on the off chance I forget about them for a month or two.

Second, the leaf layer varies in moisture content throughout the bin, moist down by the food scraps and compost then they slowly transition to very dry at the top of the bin, so they have a choice as to what kind of conditions they feel they need at the time. In other words, it takes out the guess work of "is my worm bin too moist? is my worm bin too dry?", the worms know the answer and now they have a chance to self-regulate.

Third, its great insulation, I haven't taken temperature readings, but every time I dig through the leaves to feed my worms, it seems to be about the same temperature no matter the time of day or night.

And finally, it gives them the opportunity to eat what they would in the wild. Even if there are plenty of scraps to eat, they'll eat the leaves just because they like them.

I've had great success with this method, it's been about 6 months, and I noticed a HUGE surge of worm babies in my bin. For christmas I was given 2 pounds of african nightcrawlers and i set them up the same way. What a wild success. The African nightcrawlers are much more voracious than the red wigglers, they started out with about 8" of leaves, and I didn't feed them for the first two weeks to let them get settled in. They ate about 6" of the leaves, so I filled the bin back up to about 8" when I gave them their first meal, a whole pumpkin chopped up into about 4 inch squares.

Let me know what you think about my new system. Have you seen/heard/read about this before? Are you going to try it? I want to hear about your vermiculture innovations. Please ask questions if you have them.

Thanks.
 
Isaac Bickford
Posts: 101
Location: Okanogan County, WA
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I like the idea, especially if the kitchen scraps are added to the top underneath the litter to keep flies off while the worms are working on it.

I think one of the biggest annoyances of worm composting is harvesting the finished castings without taking your whole colony of worms with it and without disturbing them too much. Can you think of a way to harvest the castings from the bottom, as your layers build up and the soil depth grows?
 
Morgan Louis
Posts: 33
Location: USDA zone 8b
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Hey Izzy, thanks for the reply.

I've read about ways to harvest casting, and i have harvested castings a few different ways without disturbing my colony.

One way that i found to be the easiest is to feed the worms on only one side of your bin for about a week or two. Once all of your worms migrate to the fed region of your bin, you harvest the other side of the bin, throwing all worm stragglers back in.

Another way is using a more complicated system that lets you scrape castings out from the bottom of the bin, without disturbing the worms living in the top of the bin. To me, I don't understand how you keep the worms from just wiggling down through the bottom the system.

One cool thing about my new system, is that you can build up the castings quite a bit and take a much bigger harvest less often. I am using a recycled storage bin that's 16" tall and my first venting holes on the sides start at about 10.5" from the bottom. Most other typical worm beds are shallow, so they tend to build up a higher concentration of casting and end up living in their own waste, forcing you to either add another tray with fresh bedding, or harvest and start again with fresh bedding.

With the deep-litter system, I could let castings build up since they are constantly living in fresh bedding, then automatically moving vertically through fresh leaves as they leave their castings.
 
anna swing
Posts: 5
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This sounds pretty similar to my worm compost set up, which I learned through classes taught by Jock Robie. I have an 18 gallon storage tote with a wooden platform at the bottom, 3-4 inches of newspaper, and the rest is full of moistened shredded newspaper. I add food to the corners.

Your layer of compost is a new twist to me. The worms I have eat their shredded newspaper bedding. That makes me wonder what made the difference: the leaves or the compost? I fed my worms some rotting apples last year and they really seemed to thrive on it, but I've been nervous about adding much from outside. Now that I think about it, I spread out the rotten apples much like you describe spreading out the compost. That's really interesting. Maybe not all worms can make it to the corner to feed? Or are we introducing some organisms from outdoors that help decompose the food scraps so they taste better to the worms?
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1451
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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How about a large version of this : http://www.ecoyardfarming.com/ezwormcomposter/

The rolling of this isn't the big deal, however you flip it, the top lid can be moved down to just above the top of the bedding, secured with rods, allowing the layers to stay in place when the bin is flipped over .
The bottom is then opened on a hinge,the castings then harvested,then the whole thing flipped back over.


This could be good with your method.
 
Morgan Louis
Posts: 33
Location: USDA zone 8b
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anna swing wrote:The worms I have eat their shredded newspaper bedding. That makes me wonder what made the difference: the leaves or the compost?

Or are we introducing some organisms from outdoors that help decompose the food scraps so they taste better to the worms?


Thanks for the reply Anna.

One key piece missing from the strictly newspaper bedding is a lack of diversity. Once you have finished worm compost, it's just nutrients from newspaper. I know worms aren't too delicate, but I would liken that diet to feeding chickens only corn, or soy. The worms will live and thrive, yes, but i'm after a high quality end product that is rich with a diversity of nutrients from many different sources, much like a normal compost pile.

And I've read that the worms not only eat the food scraps, but they eat the bacteria also eating the scraps. So if you have some compost from a pile that is not quite finished, you have just introduced Segans of bacteria and fungi to your vermiculture, further mimicking a natural environment.

I think the thing that really made the difference is the boarder between the compost and leaf matter. In permaculture, we value edges, be it a fence-line, boarder of a pond, or convergence of two media like compost and leaves.

I hope i was able to clarify some things, and possibly help your vermiculture. One thing that I seem to apply to my garden, is that adding compost is usually never a bad thing.
 
Morgan Louis
Posts: 33
Location: USDA zone 8b
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[quote=William Bronson]
The rolling of this isn't the big deal, however you flip it, the top lid can be moved down to just above the top of the bedding, secured with rods, allowing the layers to stay in place when the bin is flipped over .
The bottom is then opened on a hinge,the castings then harvested,then the whole thing flipped back over. [/quote]

I like that idea William, it seems that it might reduce any disturbance to the worms. You would just have to work quickly, because they would probably move up after being flipped over to oppose gravity. It would be interesting to see how it works out.
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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Hi Morgan,
Thanks for your post.
I've been trying to figure out a way to get my worms out of their small relatively high-maintenance indoor bins.
A few questions about your system:
1. Is it an enclosed bin, or open at the bottom? 
2. You've got 4 inches of aged compost, then 10 inches of leaves.  Do you add food scraps as well, and if so, where?  Do you keep adding compost, leaves & scraps?  I'd love to be able to just keep layering stuff & let the worms mix it for me.
 
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