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Vermicomposting proof of concept  RSS feed

 
Andrew Roesner
Posts: 21
Location: Denver, CO
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Hey All!

i've been reading a lot about vermicomposting and vermiculture. Now that the summer veg is planted and thriving I'm just days away from starting up a worm bin. I'd like to tell you about my plans and receive critiques.

I'm not having much success with searches on this site, and I haven't yet read any descriptions of my ideas, so if this is something you've heard before please offer a link!

I plan to build a large, indoor, year-round worm bin system. it will be built from wood (scrap pallets mostly) and screen. it will be built to fit inside an existing storage closet in the laundry room. it will consist of a series of wide (2' x 2') and shallow nesting box frames with 1/4" screen on the bottom. the closet can probably hold around eight 6" deep frames. My idea is to start with one frame, stacked on top of the base frame that's designed to capture the leachate. i'll start the worms as usual with bedding and veg scraps. once the worms have processed scraps and the first bin is full i'll add a second bin with more scraps. i'll continue to add bins as needed, making sure to keep the worms well fed and never wanting for more feed. once the stack is full and i'm out of room to add more bins i'll remove the top bin with all the worms in it and harvest the worms. at this point i'll have a 2'x 2' x 4' column of worm casting (16 cuft) that will go to the garden or to compost tea or whatever. the mass of worms i've grown, minus a percentage to restart the bin, will go to the chickens.

The thing I'm trying to accomplish that I haven't yet seen described in other posts or literature is the fast and substantial growth of an excess worm population for chicken feed. i think that if i feed the initial population of worms as much as they can take (it will require regular observation) as often as they can take it then i can grow a 2x, or 5x or 10x worm population. once i run out of room, i'll reserve a beginning worm population, harvest all the castings and worms, and start again.

please please please, tell me what you think. The innovation I'm pursuing is feeding the worms in a manner to prevent them from slowing down and to maximize the volume of their growth. I understand that a large population of underfed worms will begin to die off and cannibalize back to the soil. my goal is to create the largest worm mass possible at the end, given the physical constraints of the bins.

and by no means do i think i'm the first person to think of such a thing, i just haven't yet succeeded in finding the descriptions from those who came before me!!!
 
chip sanft
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Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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Andrew Roesner wrote:
please please please, tell me what you think. The innovation I'm pursuing is feeding the worms in a manner to prevent them from slowing down and to maximize the volume of their growth. I understand that a large population of underfed worms will begin to die off and cannibalize back to the soil. my goal is to create the largest worm mass possible at the end, given the physical constraints of the bins.


You ask for thoughts so I'll give you some. While I think this is workable, with effort and planning, I'm not sure I'd build this exactly as it's described here.

The bin structure you're describing seems to me a stacked version of a common approach, which is straightforward and time-tested.

That said, I think there is potential for smell and excess liquid in a relatively large scale version. The lack of smell of indoor vermiculture usually has comes from a good balance of high energy stuff with carbon rich stuff. That mix breaks down slowly. Even then, a lot of liquid can come out. If you have many of those, you have many to monitor and keep balanced, and lots of potentially fragrant liquid accumulating at the bottom. You'd also need to keep an eye on the food levels in each, to prevent the worms from simply migrating from one bin to another and forming a normal-density roving herd of worms. Those are of course things you can take care of, if you want to, but it might seem like a hassle.

As you mention, feeding is the key to getting a high worm population. I've been doing vermiculture for a few years now and the highest density worm population for me has followed giving them large quantities of mulberries. That led to some craziness, though, as the berries broke down quickly and produced a strong smell and some wild, foamy fermentation. The worms may have been drunk and engaging in intoxicated promiscuity, or maybe it was lots of bacteria etc supported by the fruit. Who knows. But there were a lot of them afterwards.

I suspect anything that's going to be high energy enough to drive a good population could be similar: vermiculture is basically souped up composting and intense feedstock can lead to difficulties in keeping things balanced. Disruption of balance doesn't kill the system necessarily, and can even result in desirable results (as in my mulberry extravaganza). But it can also come with downsides. I don't know if I'd want those downsides happening in my living space, even in a utility room.

My suggestion would be to think about which aspect is most important, worm production or indoor placement, and design around that.

If it being indoors is most important, I'd think about a lower level of intensity. Fewer bins, fewer worms, more frequent rotation out of worms and castings, and lower speed. That'd be easy to keep running the way you want.

If it's worms and casting production at a relatively high rate that is important, I'd think about doing it outside, or in a shed or something, if you need to protect it from winter. Then smell won't be an issue and dealing with fulsome but valuable liquid will be easy.
 
Andrew Roesner
Posts: 21
Location: Denver, CO
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Thanks Chip, exactly the kind of info I'm looking for! I can read as much as possible but there are things I simply can't know without getting my hands dirty!

First of all, intoxicated promiscuity is my favorite kind of promiscuity!

My inclination to put it indoors comes from a place of convenience, but it's high scale production that's driving me. I could put it in the garage, but it's unheated out there and I'm afraid our coldest days here in Denver would just be too cold. I've also considered a year round worm bin inside that would be managed so that it doesn't stink up the place, and then a second, outdoor worm bin for the spring/summer/fall that could be put into large scale production. I think that solution would fit my needs best.

Anyone else have something to add? Let's hear it!
 
Ronnie Ugulano
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Location: Zone 9, CA
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I've been raising worms for more than 25 years.

I do think that you can build your worm farm to the point where you can have enough to keep things balanced while using the worms as feedstock for your chickens.

I think your idea of having a smaller batch indoors over the winter, then expanding it for the warmer weather outside isn't a bad idea, but it's all about scale. How big do you think your operation will be? How many chickens are we talking about? How much (in weight - figure 1000 worms = 1lb) of worms do you think they will need every day? Where will you get your worm feed? What do you think you will feed them?

Building a large population of worms takes a while, perhaps a year, maybe two, possibly even three, considering how big a population you will need to sustain before you can regularly siphon off your breeding population to the chickens. Overfeeding in order to try to build up your population faster can backfire, creating hostile conditions for the worms. But once you get the numbers, everything can proceed apace.
 
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