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rookie vermicomposting mistake:worms + decomposing leaves = far too wet, now how do i fix it?  RSS feed

 
Shaz Jameson
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Hi everybody,

I started my worm bin last year. I put in a lot of leaves that I had collected from the garage driveway. A year later, the leaves are still not properly decomposing, the worm bin is faaaar too wet, and there are a LOT of casting mixed up in there but they're not 'dropping down' to the level below. In fact, the bottom layer is just to collect fallen castings, and in a year I've collected a hell of a lot less than I was expecting.

The worms are happily going about building tunnels in this mess. 

The new layer above this mess I have been more careful, with cardboard clippings, coconut coir and lots of greens from kitchen scraps (no citrus bananas or potatoes, but we're on a plantbased diet so there's a LOT). The worms are slowly coming up to this layer and that's great.

My question is how do I deal with the mess that is the second-from-the-bottom layer?

This is what it looks like, if that helps at all. (Sorry, I couldn't get the photo to embed)

The layer is quite thick, a good 15cm (7 inch?)

I tried putting it out in the sun with a catch-layer beneath it to encourage the worms to separate from it and then just use this messy layer as a compost. Didn't work. Maybe I need to spread it out mre so there's more light to it?

Thank you permie - worm - masters!
 
Burra Maluca
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Here's the image.  Hopefully someone can answer you soon.

700
 
Shaz Jameson
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Thank you Burra!
 
Hester Winterbourne
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Shaz Jameson wrote:Hi everybody,


The worms are happily going about building tunnels in this mess. 



That's the important thing - the worms are happy.  You can either leave them to carry on their slow job of composting the leaves.  Or you can haul out the leaves and spread them thinly on a plastic sheet on a sunny day, with a flat sheet of something in the middle, like a dustbin lid.  The worms should migrate into the centre to get under the cool shady place.  You can then take away the leaves from round the edge and keep pulling them out so the worms end up all in a concentrated pile in the middle, and you can pop them back in to the wormery. The mixture of partly decomposed leaves I would add as a mulch around larger plants. or throw in a potato trench in a week or two, if you trench your spuds.

I don't try and compost fallen leaves at all.  I heap them on the veg beds good and thick over winter and all the soil life works on them from underneath.
 
Alan Kirk
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My feedback is that you need to turn your problem from being too many leaves, into a problem of not having enough leaves.  My worms love wet leaves and I am adding to my bins 60 gallons of leaves every other week, along with 30 gallons of kitchen scraps. 

I see four possible solutions:  1)  restart the pile but smaller, more in line with your population size, 2)  keep the pile the way it is but be patient and they will eventually catch up but it may take many months, 3)  buy or gather more worms and add them to existing pile or, 4)  you can dry then screen your entire pile to capture the castings that have been created so far (ooh, that's a lot of work).

I hope this is helpful   
 
Keith Odell
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To add on to Alan's post.   I would take the leaves and worms out of your current bin and put them in a bucket or raised bed
Continue with your current way of composting in your bin.
If you put them in a bucket, check on them occasionally and maybe pull some to add to your bin.
 
Shaz Jameson
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Alan,
My worms love wet leaves and I am adding to my bins 60 gallons of leaves every other week, along with 30 gallons of kitchen scraps.  


I find that fascinating! Do you think it's also influenced by the fact that you're in Nevada, where (I think) there's a dry climate? I'm in the cold and wet Netherlands...

Thank you for your suggestions!
 
Shaz Jameson
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Keith Odell wrote:To add on to Alan's post.   I would take the leaves and worms out of your current bin and put them in a bucket or raised bed. 
Continue with your current way of composting in your bin.
If you put them in a bucket, check on them occasionally and maybe pull some to add to your bin.


Keith, what would putting them in a bucket do? Would it just be to allow it to compost fully? I presure I would have to screen it out at some point to get the worms out, no?

Thank you!
 
Shaz Jameson
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Hester,

That's the important thing - the worms are happy.  


Thanks for this reminder, I really appreciate it.

You can either leave them to carry on their slow job of composting the leaves.  Or you can haul out the leaves and spread them thinly on a plastic sheet on a sunny day, with a flat sheet of something in the middle, like a dustbin lid.  The worms should migrate into the centre to get under the cool shady place.  You can then take away the leaves from round the edge and keep pulling them out so the worms end up all in a concentrated pile in the middle, and you can pop them back in to the wormery. The mixture of partly decomposed leaves I would add as a mulch around larger plants. or throw in a potato trench in a week or two, if you trench your spuds.

I don't try and compost fallen leaves at all.  I heap them on the veg beds good and thick over winter and all the soil life works on them from underneath.


That's what I'll probably end up doing, but will have to wait a month or so to make sure there's a sunny day without rain.

Thanks!
 
Keith Odell
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Sorry, I wasn't clear.  Don't take all the worms out just the ones in the leaves.  Some of my best compost has come from buckets that have been left alone to do their thing.
If you have the space for an extra bucket then I would let those worms work on the leaves while their buddies work in your bin.

Yes they would need to be separated but that is fairly easy to do either with light, screen or treats (cantaloupe works well for me).
My worms love it wet so I would have to give them a good reason to leave a wet, stinky pile.
Like all composting, particle size matters.  The smaller the particle, the quicker the breakdown. 

You have to decide how quick you want results and how much of their work are you going to do.

Also, I add a LOT of banana and potato peels and citrus after it rots for a few days.
 
Alan Kirk
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Shaz Jameson wrote:Alan,
My worms love wet leaves and I am adding to my bins 60 gallons of leaves every other week, along with 30 gallons of kitchen scraps.  


I find that fascinating! Do you think it's also influenced by the fact that you're in Nevada, where (I think) there's a dry climate? I'm in the cold and wet Netherlands...

Thank you for your suggestions!


Shaz,  I imagine northern Nevada is drier than the Netherlands but right now there is a foot of snow on the ground and temps in the 20s (F) at night.

I am able to keep the worms active by having enough bin mass (about a 1.25 meter cubed) and by mixing greens in with the browns so the bin stays warm.

I guess you could say that I am creating an artificial habitat within the bin that meets the needs of the worms, but is different from the environment outside the bin.
 
Shaz Jameson
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Keith Odell wrote:Don't take all the worms out just the ones in the leaves.  Some of my best compost has come from buckets that have been left alone to do their thing.
If you have the space for an extra bucket then I would let those worms work on the leaves while their buddies work in your bin.


Thanks Keith!  I think I will do that. Do you protect the bucket from the rain, or have some kind of cover on it?
 
Shaz Jameson
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Alan Kirk wrote:

Shaz,  I imagine northern Nevada is drier than the Netherlands but right now there is a foot of snow on the ground and temps in the 20s (F) at night.

I am able to keep the worms active by having enough bin mass (about a 1.25 meter cubed) and by mixing greens in with the browns so the bin stays warm.

I guess you could say that I am creating an artificial habitat within the bin that meets the needs of the worms, but is different from the environment outside the bin.


Alan, that makes a lot of sense! I guess then my searching for an excuse didn't quite work  Once again it feels like it's about creating the optimal environment where things work in balance. Thanks a lot for thinking this through with me!
 
Alan Kirk
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Let me know how you ultimately resolve this issue...us members of the Brotherhood of the Worm have to look out for one another 
 
Elijah Kim
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I practiced vermiculture composting for a couple of years, so I am far from a pro.  Here are my thoughts though.

Don't change a thing.  If the worms aren't all conducting a mass exodus there is no issue.  If you are wanting to use the casting/compost now and that is the issue you can take out what you need bit by bit and use it where you want.  You'll be removing some worms when you do this, so the terrible result is that wherever you use the compost you'll be adding worms as well (OH NO!! ).

I used a 5 bin system (holes drilled in 4), with the bottom as my worm tea collector.  I am assuming you are using a similar system.  What I observed is that as long as the worms are still in an area they are still using it.  I would leave each layer alone until there were very few worms left in that layer.  My worms seemed to like to lay their eggs(little white orbs) in the lower levels so by leaving them as long as possible your worm population will increase exponentially.  If you are adding that much material and they haven't finished eating the first layer I would say you don't have enough worms yet, so removing any unhatched eggs could actually hamper your overall progress with the colony.  Once I had a lot of worms in every layer, (by that point my bottom bin was pure black muck) I started adding it to my potting mix, this would add worm eggs/worms (you'll never get them all out, but once your colony size reaches a certain point it will have no effect on it) to my seed starter mix, which would be grown indoors and eventually be transplanted out in the garden.  By doing that it accomplishes many different beneficial things for very little input.  Another thing I did was add some of my finished compost to each layer to let all the microbiology do its thing (I have no facts to back this one up, it just makes sense to me...)

The other thing you could do is just split your bottom bin between all of your other bins and add more dry material.  Really though if there isn't mold and stuff growing all over and your worms aren't leaving I'd say there is nothing wrong.  After about a year with my worms I got an old blender from a garage sale and started making "worm smoothies" every time I fed them.  It allowed the material to be eaten a lot faster, but it'll also allow it to compost faster as well.  I overfed them and that is exactly what happened to me, You'll know something is wrong when you see a few thousand worms climbing out of the bin lol.  To fix it I just scooped out all the leftover "food" and a bunch of the dirt and just mixed in fresh dry bits.  After that was sorted I continued using the smoothies and made sure they were keeping up to what I was feeding them.

I had my bins indoors in a 40% humidity environment in my grow room which has a dehumidifier set at 40%.  I am not sure how much the humidity level will effect the bins.
Oh yea, I didn't buy the worms either.  At 20 bucks plus shipping for 1 pound of worms I said screw it, walked out to the garden, flipped over some leaves, grabbed the worms that were in there and used those to start my colony.

Hopefully that helps.
 
John Duffy
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what species of worm are you using? Those leave don't look too wet for red wigglers. You might try adding some dry bedding. (cardboard &/0r shredded newspaper)...also, give the bin a "sniff test." If it is healthy, it will smell like freshly plowed earth. If it is anaerobic it will have a stink and you'll need to turn the leaves to get more oxygen into the mix
 
Keith Odell
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Shaz -- sorry busy season - Yay!

I normally keep my under roof.  If not definitely covered otherwise you'll have worm soup and not the good kind.  They will need air as well so not just a tight lid.

Hopefully, it works well for you.
 
Marco Banks
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From what you've written, you've got happy worms.  I wouldn't do a thing.  If you are impatient for worm castings, you'll just have to wait till the population grows in ratio to the size of your bin and the volume of leaves you've given them.  As long as it's covered and not getting rained-on, it'll dry out eventually. 

Pace.  Space.  Grace.

Pace --- just give it time.  Your worms are happy and doing their job.  Be patient.  Good things happen in their own time.

Space --- perhaps cut the volume of new biomass that you are feeding them and let them catch up.  Too much of a good thing starts to pile up.

Grace --- enjoy the goodness of a worm doing what a worm is meant to do.  Life is all around you (even as small as things like worms or the bacteria that is moving through their little digestive tracks).  Its a miracle, really.  Embrace it all.  In my tradition, its evidence of a good God whose common grace is found in even the smallest things in life.
 
Ronnie Ugulano
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It sounds like you just need some time to build up your worm herd. If the bin seems too wet, add some shredded paper/cardboard or coconut coir to help dry it out a little, but as already pointed out, if the worms are happy, just let them be.

A year is not a very long time in the life of a bunch of worms. You can throw in a handful or two of corn meal to encourage reproduction. Give them some time, let them set the pace. When they're ready, they'll go full bore and you'll know it.
 
Shaz Jameson
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Wow, what an outpouring of support, thank you everybody!

The overall gist I got from you guys was to be patient and add more dry material.

This I have done! I added a lot more dry bedding - mostly strips of cardboard from toilet rolls (cause that's what I have lying around) and a layer of coconut coir on the bottom and a layer of coconut coir on the top. I've upped my game in terms of feeding them omre regularly, and I checked yesterday and there's been an explosion of baby worms! So, indeed, they are going well. Thank you so much everybody!

@Marco, I realyl like your idea of Pace Space and Grace - something that can be applied in all areas of life really.

@John, I do have red wigglers, and so they seem to be ok
 
Henri Lentonen
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Maybe you could mix there some sugar to increase the microbe activity, it would heat up the pile and maybe help also with the too much wet.
 
Shaz Jameson
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Henri, that's an interesting idea and it makes sense, thanks! I will probably put in some of hte organic jaggery I still have lying around, less processed.
 
Henri Lentonen
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Great, please post results if it started to work!
 
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