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vermicomposting - worm food?

 
Logan Therrion
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Location: Jacksonville Beach, FL Zone 8b/9a
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Hi everyone!

I'm researching vermicomposting.  In most of my reading and video watching there's still something I'm not sure about - worm food.  I get the basic - what to feed and what not to feed worms.  That's ubiquitous with little variation.  But I'm interested in digging a bit deeper on this topic.

I know that the compost the reds turn out will only be as good as what I feed my reds.  And since soil is largely depleted, the water contaminated, the air polluted (et al), I'm wondering about amending the food scraps I am going to feed my worms.  Also, I live on the North Florida coast and everything is pretty much sand here and there's very little by way of balanced trace minerals in this soil.

I saw a video by a guy in Florida that fed his worms (in additional to food scraps).  I have not yet contacted him on this and what ratios he uses but I hope to soon:   
-- Purina worm chow
-- Very fine masa
-- Wheat flour
-- Azomite
-- Volcanic sand
-- Mineral blocks

The above was added for variety and to add additional trace minerals.  In theory, this makes a lot of sense - amending the food for the reds but in reality I don't know if it's worth it or not.  If the result is a far superior product then it may be worth looking into.  Most of this stuff is cheap and I'd use it as an amendment so it'll go a long way. 

On the other hand, I know absolutely nothing about what to feed the reds besides organic waste and what every website and book touts (organic waste).  I've seen little on amending worm food.

Does anyone have any experience or knowledge in this area?  I know I'll get goodness from just food scraps.  But it does seem logical to actually replenish some of what's been lost by the addition of the amendments.

I eagerly await your replies.  :)

Thanks fellow permies!
LT





 
Bryant RedHawk
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The first thing you need to be familiar with when getting into worm farming is worm physiology, how they process foods particularly.
I've seen many people do things that they think will be of benefit to the castings that are actually not able to be processed by the worms.
In cases like that, they are really spinning their wheels but going no where.

Worms, for the most part don't actually break down things like minerals, in general worms food is bacteria and fungi, which do the nutrient breaking down prior to being ingested.
Red Composting worms (red wigglers in the fishing world) are different because they can actually eat whole foods such as kitchen scraps. This makes them rather unique in the worm world.
The problem is, they still can't break down things like sand, minerals,  the azomite, volcanic sand and mineral blocks mentioned in your post are items that red compost worms can only pass through their bodies as is.

The ideal worm system should have bacteria and fungi present so that all the components put into the bin can be processed by the worms and so show up in the castings.

Sandy areas, such as most of Florida, require plant roots and plant matter that can decompose into soil components as they rot in place.
Adding mass quantities of compost, peat and other amendments takes time to build up in sand, many people try to build sand into soil without planting deep rooting plants and while it will work short term, it usually fails in the long term.
What happens is that the omnipresent bacteria process all the carbonaceous materials and they then leach through the sand, literally disappearing before the eyes of the gardener.
By adding fungi to the mix, those amendment materials have a chance of binding to the root systems with the help of the fungi and this allows those carbonaceous materials to hang around longer.
Continual additions of fungi and carbonaceous materials can then begin to turn the sand into sandy soil for long term benefits to the gardener.

You are on a good path to getting there. 
I would think more about how to get a balance of bacteria and fungi (mycelium) into your worm bins, that way when you use the castings to amend the ground, you will be adding more of the things required to create soil.

Worm composting is really pretty easy to do once you get the proportions of moisture, food, bedding worked into equilibrium.
As far as the azomite, volcanic sand, mineral blocks, etc. just add those to the ground along with your castings, they will serve you better that way.

Redhawk
 
wayne fajkus
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If you are close to the coast,  I would expect that you have a very good amount of trace minerals. Its all present in the salt water

If it is leaching thru the sand, then building soil should keep it up top.
 
Kyle Neath
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If you're interested in far too much detail on the subject, I can definitely recommend Vermiculture Technology https://www.amazon.com/Vermiculture-Technology-Earthworms-Environmental-Management/dp/1439809879/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481734434&sr=8-1&keywords=Vermiculture+Technology ; There are many studies in there about the different types of worm food and their resulting effects on plant growth.

The tl;dr of worm food is that the type of food you feed your worms has a significant impact on the effectiveness of the resulting compost. In general, (aged!) manures are always the best food (horse & pig being most beneficial). Worms LOVE manure. That's the red wiggler's native habitat. It has less to do with the minerals you put in and more to do with the ability of the worm's to process the material. Flow-through with aged pig manure will produce the best vermicompost possible, but if you're aiming for that, you're probably looking at a commercial operation.

For the average gardener/small-scale farmer, I'd suggest using whatever materials you have on hand. Food scraps generally produce the "worst" vermicompost, but even the worst vermicompost is awesome and will be loved by your plants. You might also look at http://redwormcomposting.com/ — his formula is pretty simple, and results in a high quality food that can be easily processed by the worms.

  • A living material (fallen leaves, rotten hay, thermal compost, manure, etc). The goal here is to include beneficial microorganisms (many people believe that the worms feed on these organisms, not the food itself)
  • "Prepared" food scraps. Blended/chopped/frozen/etc. The idea is to break down the physical structure of the food.
  • Minerals you want in your compost (Azomite/etc). These have no effect on the worms whatsoever, but whatever you put in will be throughly mixed into your finished compost.


  • IMO spending a lot of time on the right worm feed is not a very worthwhile activity. If you're looking to make a lot of great vermicompost, I'd focus on the worm bin itself. Flow-through setups will outperform bin setups every day of the week (increasing the amount of time the compost is aerobic), and the temperature of your worm bin has tremendous effect on the composting process (ideally around 80˚F). Way down the line when I've got a large-scale flow-through bin running in my basement with temperature control processing mostly manure, I'll start to worry about trace elements.
     
    chip sanft
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    I have my worms in bins. It works well, though it's slow. It has the advantage of requiring very little attention from me if I get busy for a while. I feed them food scraps and paper, mostly, and use the resulting worms to seed or just boost the population of worms in our gardens, in the outside composter, and the manure pile. Of course the manure and the outside composter's results (based off leaves, viney things that like to sprout, and woody stuff) go onto the garden, worms and all, so it's kind of a "Many paths, one goal" situation.

    I don't think too hard about what I feed the worms. As long as the moisture levels look right and they're working through things, I don't worry. I think you'll get great results however you pursue it. The important thing is to start. Now. With what you have available to you. Even a little bit of vermicompost is useful and the experience you get from experimentation will help your future development as a worm wrangler.
     
    Ronnie Ugulano
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    First of all, you need to identify what you are trying to do. Raise lots of fat worms for sale? Just raise lots of worms to be proud of their population? Cycle organic material through them to reduce your garbage output? Create 5 star compost? A little of all 3?

    I mostly keep my worms to reduce my garbage output, so most days, the worms get what I feed them, which is trimmed off veggie ends, veggie juice leavings, crushed egg shells, dead stuff from the fridge or freezer, and leaves and some yard waste, etc. They multiply very well on that, but if I want to fatten them up, I throw a handful of corn meal or masa in.

    I mostly just let it putter along, because the worms prefer benevolent neglect. You can adjust their environment to breed faster or get fatter or whatever, but for me, my worms are my employees. I treat them as well as I can, but their job is to break down organic material. In time, I have compost to feed my plants, or some worms to sell so I get some of the other 2 out of them, but my focus is on the garbage angle.

    Once you find your angle, you can focus on that, and find what strategies work best to do that.
     
    Megan Palmer
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    I have a three bin worm tower, bottom bin for leachate and two on top which are used for food scraps. If I don't have enough to food scraps, I supplement with coffee grounds and horse manure both of which the worms thrive on. I have been collecting bagged grounds from a local cafe for over 4 years and often find the bags that have been sitting around for a few months will have been colonised by tiger worms. 
     
    Janet Reid
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    Location: South Australia
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    Hi
    I have a cement cattle drinking trough with two sides.
    I have lined it with shade cloth to keep the worms and soil in and the water to flow through
    We feed them vegetable food scraps not too many citrus peels.
    We use the coffee grinder to grind up egg shells we have baked in the oven under 180C.
    (higher than that is not ideal apparently)
    The eggshells could well have some of the minerals that you want to get happening?
    We do have a sort of rough wood lid over the top to keep mice and such out.
    They are a nice quiet trouble free gang of helpers =)

    I thought it was interesting that some people use paper.
    Do you use a shredder?
     
    Karl Treen
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    I've been working with red wigglers for a couple of years and still have a lot to learn.  That said, I have a system that works which I will describe below.  It probably won't answer all of your questions, but I am not really convinced that the questions you are asking are appropriate for the amount of castings your worms are likely to create - at least not unless you intend to create a really large-scale worm farm.  Initially, I would focus on process and, once you have perfected that, refine your quality.

    Goals: my own goal was to improve the speed of my composting without back-breaking work.  I don't have enough kitchen waste to effectively hot-compost more than once a year - when I have lots of fall leaves to add to the bin.  Worm composting is a great alternative for part of my kitchen waste.  It would be difficult, however, for me to imagine managing a home-based worm composting system that could provide an entire garden with sufficient compost to significantly build up the soil.  If you are trying to amend a large amount of space, worm composting is probably not the solution.  Otherwise, I second the other folks who say that knowing your goals, and whether or not they are achievable with your worm bins, is very important.

    Quality: at first, don't worry too much about the quality (apart from the acidity) of materials going in or coming out until you have perfected the mechanics of your own system.  The quality of my own castings is not laboratory tested but works great for me.  You can always amend your soil with additional nutrients after the worms have done their thing.  If you are particularly concerned about the resulting quality, have it tested by a soil lab and tweak it.  But you'll have enough of a project in your first year just getting the system balanced and perfected.

    Quantity: if you want to create a lot of worm castings you are going to need LOTS of breathable, horizontal bin space, and lots of input.  For every 5 gallons of vegetable scraps, you may get one gallon of worm castings.  And it's going to take some time and attention.  My own system requires 5 bins going simultaneously in order to simply consume all of the veggie scraps from our 3-person household.  Out of that, I might get a gallon of castings per month.  Much could be done to improve the design and footprint of my system, but I have not reached the point where I am needing to optimize for space.

    Design: for my worm bins, I use a stacked, three 5-gallon bucket system.  The top two buckets have holes  every inch or so in the top and bottom, as well as a double line of holes (again 1 inch apart) just under the lip of each bucket. The holes in the bottom of the top two buckets are large enough to let the worms pass up and down between buckets - about 1/8" if I remember correctly.  The holes in the top, and around the rim, are a bit smaller.  As discussed, this takes up more space than it should, since the resulting "towers" are as tall as three stacked, food-grade, 5-gallon pails.  But the layer of worm castings can really be no deeper than a couple of inches -- otherwise it starts to go anaerobic.  In other words, each bin system could probably be reduced to 10" in height if I had the motivation to do so.

    Moisture: one thing that took awhile to perfect was the proper moisture level.  Too much dampness leads to stinky bins.  Everyone loves to talk about "worm tea" (ie: the leachate that collects in the bottom bin of the system) but I have found that a noticeable accumulation of worm tea is usually a sign that my bins are too damp.  Perhaps, if the bins are operating at optimal temperatures, and if you are removing the leachate through a well designed drainage tube, you might be able to accumulate this while keeping your system healthy.  I have not been able to manage that balance, so I don't let the bins get so moist that they collect much tea.

    To manage moisture, I shred junk mail and scrap cardboard, avoiding colored inks and glossy paper.  I keep a bag of this near the bins and toss in a handful with every quart of food scrap.  Because I do this indoors, using shredded leaves is not convenient.  The paper, however, works just great to take up extra moisture and help with aeration.  It also breaks down well during the process.

    Input: to determine my input, I try to think like a worm.  If it seems like it would be unpleasant to crawl through, I don't add it.  I don't add citrus peels, onions, ginger bits, egg shells, etc.  Instead, these get mixed with the leaf compost, the egg shells helping to balance the acidity of the citrus.  If I had animal waste, I would definitely add it to my worm bins, but I do not.  I am not sure how well that would work in an indoor system like my own.

    Time: I spend a little time with the worms every day or two.  I find that it helps to turn the castings a couple of times per week for aeration and to make sure everything is going right.  Since two of the buckets in ever tower often have scraps and worms, it is good to assess where they are in the process and whether it is time to stop adding scraps to the top so that the worms make their way into the bottom bin.  As the castings get closer to done, I'll manually relocate worms to the bin below for a week or two before removing the resulting castings.

    Finally, I don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet but you don't want to let your castings dry out entirely, or sit in the sun, before using them.  The worms create a living soil that require moisture to maintain its vitality.  If you dry it too much, or expose it to UV rays, you are probably killing valuable microbes. 

    Again, I still have a lot to learn about the actual science of the process.  What I do know is that this system seems to encourage a healthy population of worms, zero problems with fruit flies or other pests, and about as much worm castings as can be expected from any system.  It reduces my household waste stream considerably, and fits in the space that I have.  My naive working theory is that, if the worms appear happy and healthy, it's good enough for my purposes.

    Set reasonable goals for yourself, and realize the likely output of your system.  If you focus too much on the minute details in the beginning, you will probably get overwhelmed.  Let the worms do their job and, once you are comfortable with your system, consider scaling up to meet your hopes and dreams.



    Cheers,
    Karl
     
    chip sanft
    Posts: 362
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    Janet Reid wrote:I thought it was interesting that some people use paper.
    Do you use a shredder?


    I use paper all the time in my worm bins. I don't have a shredder, though I sometimes tear up the paper. But an established worm bin works quickly enough that I'm usually interested in slowing things down rather than speeding them up, and speeding up is what shredding would do. I'm also interested in making the system as uncomplicated as possible and still achieve my results. Shredding would be another step.

    Using paper does have an effect on the result, which I'm putting that to use. More on how in a future post...
     
    Steve Stanek
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    I used to spend lots of time trying to come up with perfect bin and filter system. What I learned is that worms enjoy the food and the work. So I let them do it all. We feed our worms the food scraps and anything from garden we do not eat. In addition, we have rabbits. I setup worm bins (essentially raised beds under them). The urine from rabbits and especially their poop makes the worms so happy. In addition, any wasted hay or alfalfa pellets fall down and get mixed in. You can also add cardboard and paper as someone mentioned. So you are getting rich humus, nitrogen from rabbit poop, and micronutrients from alfalfa and hay. They till it up and work it over, then once in awhile shovel it out to spread in garden. No mess and less work.

    The book that is recommended earlier is a very in depth book with a rather large price tag. I have it. You can find much more user-friendly reads than that one. But if you are super geeked out about this vermicomposting then you may find it worth the money.
    Anyhow, I hope that helps!
    -steven
     
    Steve Stanek
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    Location: Apex, North Carolina
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    Here is a free resource you can use... it is document put out by Canadian Government. It is posted on the resource page...to upper left.... called the On farm guide to vermicomposting and vermiculture. Easy to read and covers basics and some larger scale setups too.
    http://ncwormfarm.com/resources.htm
     
    Bryant RedHawk
    gardener
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    vermicomposting  This is pretty good as a manual
     
    Lydia Feltman
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    I agree with previous posts that it is not necessary to amend the food you give your worms. It is important what material you use for bedding. Originally I used mostly shredded paper and leaves, but found that it often packed down and became stinky, so I started using peat-moss or coir as well, and still sometimes add that if there are problems such as too much moisture. I've been worm composting for 20 years or so, and have been learning as I go. Now that I have billions of worms and plenty of space in my bins, I am using almost all leaves or rotted hay for bedding. Leaves have lots of minerals from deep in the earth as well.
    The worms eat all my garbage, including bones from bone broth making. Previously I tried to bury bones under trees, but critters always managed to dig them up. The worms don't actually eat the bones, but all the fleshy matter on them, and transform them to earthy smelling chunks that can be slipped under mulch and never attract animals. Actually the worms may eat some of the crumbly calcium from the very well cooked bones. I have also fed them meat scraps, whole fish (which completely disappeared), a dead racoon, a dead raven. I was hoping to get a whole skeleton for an interesting exhibit, but most of the small bones could not be found. You can see that I am disobeying the rule, for beginning worm wranglers, not to feed meat to them. It all depends on the amount of worms and having enough bedding to completely cover the food. Worms eat rot. We only have to be concerned about smells and protecting the box from critters and flies.
    My first project as a Master Gardener was to write an essay on worm composting, in which I said I  didn't  see them congregating in the coffee grounds like we do in cafes. I thought that their mouths are too small to eat a coffee ground. But of course I later learned that they are eating the microbes that are decomposing the grounds. I have heard that some worm businesses use only coffee grounds or also only newspaper. I usually keep the coffee grounds separate to add to my regular compost piles, because they are considered to be "green" as they are high in nitrogen.
    Yes, it is true that the quality of the resulting compost depends on what you put in the bin to begin with. The suggestion to use manure is excellent, but be sure that it is already composted enough that is not hot, and that it is organic and free of herbicides. One rule I do abide by is not to use dog or cat droppings.
    I now have several  worm boxes, 2 that are also benches made by my husband with recycled redwood fence boards. My system is side to side sectioning with dividers made of cut up nursery trays. I have tried many other homemade methods, including 5 gal buckets stacked, or nursery trays stacked within the boxes, using the idea that they would migrate to the top, leaving the finished compost behind.
    The worms do not completely abandon the previous sections, and I believe they return to their own castings to lay their cocoons. This requires me to take some time separating them by the conical pile method, if I want to keep more of them in the boxes. I prefer this bin system because I can leave it alone for weeks as long as the boxes are shaded from the hot sun and protected from rain.
    Thanks all, for this interesting thread.
    worm-box-bench.JPG
    [Thumbnail for worm-box-bench.JPG]
    Worm box bench made of recycled redwood fence boards
    sections.JPG
    [Thumbnail for sections.JPG]
    The active section for fresh food is covered with wet newspaper
    simple-wormbox.JPG
    [Thumbnail for simple-wormbox.JPG]
    My first box, a shiping crate, still being used
     
    Roberto pokachinni
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    Earthworms have a gizzard, which contains small mineral particles (which in nature get ingested with their food), and these particles aid the gizzards strong muscular contraction to grind down food.  If your worm bin is filled with only veg scraps, you might not have this necessary thing in them as they multiply.  Adding some fine mineral structure to your worm bin, would add something to this effect. 

    My own worm bins in the past have always contained some local soils, both mineral sub soils and soils with living organics.  I usually get a shovel and dig up a chunk of sod deep enough to have all of that in one go.  This provides a source of biological inoculation and mineral supplementation.   After that, a dusting of fine mineral material every 6 months or so, I think is more than adequate.  When I have garden waste and add it to the bin, often this has some soil attached to it.  This is probably enough to provide for the gizzards.  I fill the worm bin initially with a mix of fall leaves and grass clippings, and then add food waste.  There are plenty of trace minerals in the leaves and grass, and this might even be enough for their gizzards too.   The worms do not require much to live, but to thrive there are definitely optimum temperature and moisture levels, which others or those websites have listed.  The microbes multiply as the worms ingest them and move them around with the fine hairs on their bodies.  The microbes will be thriving in the castings, and in the oxygen rich tunnels, and will multiply rapidly on the decomposing food waste.

    You may find it beneficial to make an oxygenated worm casting tea to enable a wider distribution of your beneficial microbes with a small amount of vermi-compost, thus maximizing the use of a given volume.   
     
    Ronnie Ugulano
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    I believe they return to their own castings to lay their cocoons.


    Interesting observation.

    Now that I have billions of worms and plenty of space in my bins


    Whenever I tell people that I have at least a million worms, they always give me a hard time, telling me that I couldn't possibly have a MILLION. One guy said that I had no idea at all about how worms multiplied, because: [he went on to tell me incorrect information], but once you get things rolling, it's really not that hard. So, billions it is. Congrats!
     
    Lydia Feltman
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    Ronnie Ugulano said:
    "So, billions it is. Congrats!"

    oh , now I'm embarrassed. I know it's millions easily. A billion may be an exaggeration. It's an unimaginable number to me, but  that's what it looks like in the bins. Well, the politicians spend billions, we are hearing everyday, and there are billions and billions of stars... Once I counted out one thousand adult worms to make sure the one gallon planter container I was selling to someone actually had that many at least. I usually fill the container with handfulls of globs of worms + vermicompost, to give away or sell for a donation, and that doesn't even make a dent in the population.

    As far as the casting observation... I once read that castings are toxic to worms. I thought: that can't be right, as I had seen baby worms crawling in the black castings sticking to the walls and bottom of the box. Then I accidentally proved that it's baby food for them. I had scraped some of the black stuff from the sides and put it in a clear plastic container to use as a demonstration at a talk I was to give.. I guess I didn't notice any cocoons, but a week later there were baby worms in the container. Imagine how small their mouths must be. It makes sense that they could eat the castings that are full of microbes. If there is anything poisonous it is an anaerobic condition that could be at the bottom of a badly drained bin, and the worms would avoid that. 
     
    Ronnie Ugulano
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    Once I counted out one thousand adult worms to make sure the one gallon planter container I was selling to someone actually had that many at least.


    I generally go by weight. I untangle small batches of worms from the compost (sometimes I get only 1 or 2), and pile them in a bowl on a scale. Usually I give whatever weight promised, plus a tenth or two extra for good measure, as yo say, to make sure you really give them what you say. I hear that there's about a thousand worms in a pound, but with smaller worms they actually get more than that.

    and that doesn't even make a dent in the population


    Then you just may have "billions", or "bazillions", as I say. I had a die off a couple of years ago, and I probably don't even have my one million again yet. Probably half a mil or 750 thousand or so. Next year, I'll probably be back up to my millions.
     
    Logan Therrion
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    Thanks everyone!!  What [b]GREAT [/b]posts!  And very helpful too.  I'm still in the learning and very beginning phase so all of this info is gold.

    I'd love to get the Vermiculture Technology book but...that's a steep price tag.  For now I'm just gonna keep it on my wish list.

    I was unaware that the amendments I noted in my first post wouldn't help the worms any.  I knew that the amendments would help the soil but I wondered if it had any effect on the compost via some interaction with the little reds.  But apparently, they won't notice it but as a soil amendment, it's fine.  But likely not worth the expense.

    For now I am going to a local juice bar every day and the guy there - AWESOME guy, is giving me all his pulp.  YAY.  For right now I'm putting most of it in my garden via a post hold digger, a small hole, the pulp, then with the dirt put back on top.  I know that in the wild, if you bury it they will come.  I figured this would be a fun thing to try in my soil building experiments.  I know that the reds and other critters can break down food pretty fast and I'm counting on this to help my garden.  I'm burying the pulp about every 10" in the ground until I run out of garden. 

    I have no access to manure that I can trust.  Most people I know do not use antibiotics or hormones or anything like that, but it's the feed I worry about most.  I have no idea if what they're feeding their animals are GMO or not.  I have no room for rabbits or anything so manure is just not an option for me.

    I have grown mushrooms indoors and currently grow them outdoors, and I know I have a lot of mycelium all over the place.  I lined all the beds of my garden with huge logs, and there's mushrooms all over the place.  I bury my mushroom stems in the worm bin too, thinking that since worms and mycelium are such good buddies, this could only help my worms.  I'm pretty sure that by doing this, mycelium is all throughout in my bin (hopefully).  Besides that, I purposefully have habitats all over the yard - mostly lining the fences, just for mushrooms and critters.  Mushrooms are the most amazing things on the planet...

    When I am ready the guy who owns the juice bar said he'd be more than happy to separate out the citrus and things worms don't like.  So when my small worm bin starts getting more worms I'll be able to give them a variety of fresh pulp.  Right now it's just garden scraps.  I think I'm on the right track but you know, reading about this is all good and well.  Doing it and observing the inputs and outputs is another matter.

    Mostly, I want good compost to go in my garden.  That's my main goal.  I hadn't though about selling any of the worms.  Really, I just can't imagine me having that many since I'm just now starting out.  In time I may consider that if the reds multiple as much as others have written about.  Secondly, I am always on the look out for a second source of income so if I enjoy this enough and I can get good enough at it, perhaps doing it as a side (small) business is not out of the question.  But before I even think about that I have to get good with a single bin first.

    I have a 19 gallon rubber maid bin, drilled a bunch of holes all around - top/bottom, put a good layer of shredded newspaper on the bottom, some good soil on top, some grit, the reds, and I have been feeding them as needed.  I give them more food when the food I gave them last time is gone.  Here's what I've noticed so far.

    1)  The paper in the bottom compacted a lot more than I thought it would.  Sometimes when I scrape around in the bin to bury food, the paper comes up in hunks that are not super hard packed, but more dense than I thought.  This isn't a problem, right?

    2)  The bin seems to have good moisture content.  I'm getting almost no run off underneath it and it's moist but by no means damp.  I'm wondering if it's moist enough, actually.

    3)  When I put the reds in their new home, I noticed they were checking out out the inside of their new bin quite a bit.  But they kept doing this for maybe 4 weeks after i put them in there.  I made sure they had food, nothing was stinking or smelly, and the moisture seemed ok.   But it seemed like there were a lot of worms trying to get out.  I still do not know why.  It's much less so now but it's 2 months later, give or take.

    4)  Even when the temps dropped into the mid 40's, I opened the lid to check on the little dudes and I noticed a bit of condensation in the bin.  But the soil was moist - certainly not wet.  I wasn't expecting this.  I think I'll have to watch temperatures when it gets warmer.  Right now the bin is sitting on a wooden deck, covered from sun all day long, and protected from rain and wind. 

    5)  I'm grinding up everything I fed them because I read they can digest stuff better if it's small.  I bought, "How to Start a Worm Bin" by Owen Henry (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/150894704X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) and found this really helpful.

    Now all I'm waiting for is for the reds to go forth and multiply.

    Questions:

    Should I mix up the dirt in the bin?  To give it oxygen and keep the bin from becoming anerobic?
    Should I check the moisture level to make sure it's moist enough?  If so, how? 
    I know it's winter right now and we've had some cool evenings here, but the worms are not multiplying as much as I think they should have.  Any ideas why?

    Thanks everyone for your comments.  This has been remarkably helpful.  Thanks for sharing and for your generosity with your knowledge.

    :)










     
    Keith Odell
    Posts: 68
    Location: Indiana
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    Don't overthink this.  My thoughts on this are as follows:
    Don't purchase food for them.  They are made to turn waste into something useful.  Let them.
    They like it wetter than you think.
    They were probably massively disrupted in their move to your bin.  Their food, bedding and bin are probably different now.  Once they settle, they will reproduce.
    Cardboard, coffee filters and grounds, phone books, pizza boxes, TP and paper towel rolls, napkins, kleenex, in addition to fruit and veggie waste turns out pretty good compost.
    Smaller particles means quicker compost but I don't blend their food.  It rots in a bucket first.  They work for me not the other way around.
    Don't stir or mix in dirt.
    Don't overfed - can turn to ammonia and kill your worms quickly.
    Don't buy textbooks/science books about worm composting.  You may learn something but good luck teaching them!

    If they are eating what you gave them, you have moisture on the top and sides and they are generally staying home - congrats you are successful.
    Like it says on the shampoo bottle - rinse and repeat.

    Have fun.

     
    Daniel Schmidt
    Posts: 81
    Location: Jacksonville, FL
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    I was doing something similar with a slightly different purpose. I had two ~25 gallon containers that I kept in the shade to avoid heat, and a piece of corrugated steel roofing over it to keep the rain out. My goal at the time was just to finish composting and to add in some biochar so it would acclimate before using it in my garden. I had two small compost piles that I would occasionally sift through. I would pull out all of the biggest chunks and added the rest to one of the containers. From there I would mix in the biochar and then make a hole in the middle to transplant some worms and the soil they were living in.

    Because of how tall the containers were (~18" deep soil) the worms could migrate a bit going to the area of preferred moisture. To be fair I had a mix of a few garden worms and worms left over from fishing that were given to me. I didn't have any holes in the bottom and I did have to occasionally add water when the top got dry, but they seemed to be doing alright with this method. I would directly add some things like coffee grounds, banana peels, and leafy green scraps to keep a supply of nutrients going in for the worms. Maybe not ideal, but I winged it and it worked.

    It worked out pretty well for me, but I wasn't going for producing worms as much as I was going for producing compost with kitchen scraps, yard waste, and biochar. It wasn't the fastest method but it was a pretty lazy way of doing it. I started to move towards doing the post hole method of composting last year. I let my garden go because I will probably be moving and start growing stuff on my land down in Putnam county. I will probably start fishing a lot more then so I will have to try and get the worm action going again sometime soon.
     
    Ronnie Ugulano
    Posts: 51
    Location: Zone 9, CA
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    I'd love to get the Vermiculture Technology book but...that's a steep price tag.

    Worms don't need technology.   Honestly, you can find everything you could possibly want to know about keeping worms just by 1) reading stuff on the internet 2) asking questions in forums 3) personal experience. There are many websites and forums out there that discuss the subject, and most of us are very generous with sharing what we know. After a year or two of reading, asking, and working with your worms, you'll realize that worms prefer a quiet life of benign neglect. Yes, there are a few things that they need, but they are very few. Their wants are barely beyond that.
     
    John Duffy
    Posts: 32
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    Hi Logan, raising red worms really isn't tough at all. My biggest concern in Florida would be high temps in the worm bin and being able to keep them under 90 degrees.( a compost thermometer in the bin is a good idea) Any kind of manure such as cow, rabbit, goat, alpaca, horse or other herbivore is  prime worm food provided that it has had time to compost to the point that is no longer heats-up.  Purina Worm Chow is a nice supplement but, not really necessary. Other great foods my worms really love are watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and pumpkins.
    another good resource is www.redwormcomposing.com  best of luck to you
     
    Alan Kirk
    Posts: 10
    Location: Reno, NV
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    My goal was to reduce the volume of waste we send to the landfill, to reduce nutrient loss from our property, and to create my own soil amendment for gardening.

    The challenges in my area are keeping the bins moist enough (year round) and warm enough (in the winter= zone 5).  I have two bins that are each about a cubic yard in size.  I made them big so there would likely always be a warm, wet spot in the middle for them to migrate to if needed. The bins are made out of cedar fence wood with small (quarter-inch) gaps for air.  If I had to it all over again, I would have made the gaps smaller, as I am still losing too much moisture. 

    In the winter, I have 3 feet of dry leaves above the worms, inside the bin, to provide insulation.  I harvest the compost twice a year to minimize the disturbance to the worms, once in the spring and once in the fall.  I feed them about 25 gallons of food scraps per week, plus all the trimmings and leaves from the yard.  I would estimate about one-fifth of the food scraps are citrus.

    I ferment the food waste for one week before putting in, and this seems to help a lot with the smell.  I also cover each deposit with a thick layer of shredded leaves to cut back on fruit flies. Having a solid floor is a good idea, as roots from neighboring plants aggressively invade the bins.

    I use a DIY, mechanical, rotary, two-stage screener to sift the castings to retain the worms and eggs.  I spend about a half-hour a week adding material, and about 30 hours a year harvesting and sifting.  I end up with about 3 cubic yards of finished product per year.  Never quite sure how big my herd is, but I do know they are hard-workers.
     
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