Thursday, December 24, 2009
The fact is: earthworms can harm some environments. In nature nothing is as simple as all good or all bad. The earthworm's ability to tunnel through the soil and make passageways for air and water, to decompose organic material and release its nutrients, and essentially "till" the soil is good news for farmers and gardeners. They are actively growing crops that are continually replanted, and where the soil is continually amended with other nutrients (compost or mulch). Earthworms essentially prepare the soil for us. Here the presence of a lot of worms is good.
On the other hand, in forest ecosystems an overabundance of earthworms rapidly decompose the spongy layer of leaves and plant matter that makes up the forest floor and it is consumed faster than it is replaced by falling leaves and other decay. This 'duff' layer is essential to understory development (tree seedlings, wildflowers, ferns, etc.). Without the duff layer, invasive plants have an opportunity to gain a foothold. Here an overabundance of worms can result in harm.
The underlying (no pun intended) problem is that earthworms are not native to most northern parts of the country, including New England. Earthworms in this area were killed during the ice age. The earthworms in your garden are species from Europe that may have arrived with the Colonists (in soil used as ship ballast or with plants) or gardeners spreading compost or mulch from away.
I am not concerned about my red wigglers. Although I recognize they are non-native, they are not hardy in northern climes and probably won't survive our long Maine winter without a source of heat (hot compost pile). Here in Scarborough, my worms would have to cross Route 1 and the Maine Turnpike to reach an old growth forest (http://www.primalnature.org/ogeast/me.pdf).
Nevertheless, we should use good worm management to limit the potential for a problem. If you live in an area that abuts old growth forest, you should locate your outdoor compost pile and garden away from the woods. The University of Minnesota, which has been a leader in researching and spreading awareness of the problem, has some recommendations (and lots of helpful info) in their Great Lakes Worm Watch.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Your worms have arrived. Hooray! Now what? I get this question a lot, so here are the step-by-step instructions to get your bin started. I am doing this outside to be sure we have enough light for the photos. I typically start new bins indoors.
Step 1. Gather your materials. You will need your bin, your worms, some food, and newspaper. You should have about half as much food as you have worms. I’m starting with a pound of worms and a half pound of food (such as old salad greens, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, and banana peels).Step 2. Put your food in first. Food always goes in the bottom of your worm bin. Your worms will be able to find the food more easily, it will break down faster, and it won’t attract fruit flies. Start feeding in one corner and your worms will completely cover the food.
Step 3. Add your worms. Put them directly on top of the food. Your worms will eat this food as it breaks down and you want them tin contact with it. The next time I feed them, I will put the food in the adjacent corner (the empty corner on the right side of the photo).
Step 4 Add newspaper. Now you fill your bin with shredded newspaper (or other bedding). That is all you need to start your bin. No soil is necessary!
Step 5. Fill your bin to within about 3-4 inches of the top (push down gently to be sure the newspaper is in contact with the worms). You’re finished! Mark your bin with a sticky note where the worms are.
Feed in the adjacent (in the case of my photo) counter-clockwise corner next. In the case of this bin, I will again add ½ pound of food next week ( the same in the 3rd and 4th corners the following weeks). When I get back to my original corner, I will feed ¾ pound of food in the corners for the following 4 weeks. When I complete this cycle, I will add 1 pound of food per week. At this point your worms should be close to double the number you originally received and able to keep up.
Remember, don’t overfeed and always put the food on the bottom under the worms. Then cover with newspaper. If you smell rotting food or see mold or fungus in your bin) add less food until the worms catch up.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I am not alone in this idea। I had someone come by my booth at Common Ground who told me that a worm bin and pound of worms the hot item at Yankee swap. Also, several people purchased worms and a bin from me this year as gifts for mom.
Worm bins need not be expensive or complicated. I think a simple bin is really a lot easier to use (and certainly easier to build!).
In my mind, the perfect gift would be a book on vermicomposting (like Mary Appelhof's book Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System), a pound of worms and a new bin.
If you are already vermicomposting, you can provide the worms and make the bin. If you're an experienced vermicomposter, you can provide a vermi-consultation and skip the book. The more people we have vermicomposting the better.
If you are looking for other gift ideas, I recently created Amazon lists of my recommended vermicomposting supplies, as well as favorite garden tools and books.
You can view at:
WormMainea vermicomposting tools and supplies.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Sometimes new users write me with concerns when they notice some populations that bloom in number. Often they fear these organisms will flee the bin and harm houseplants or become a pest in their home. No to worry. These organisms are happy in your bin where they have food and darkness. They are decomposers, so they do not harm houseplants.
What is really interesting is that these species have slightly different environmental preferences and food requirements। This means that depending on the conditions in your bin and what you are feeding, you may have some population blooms of these other species. For example, if you place a lot of sugary fruit in your bin, you will see mites bloom followed by an increase in the number of springtails. When their food supply weans they will die off.Bacteria
Bacteria are by far the most numerous organisms in the vermicompost system. They break down organic matter to make it available to earthworms and other organisms in the bin. Remember, your worms don’t eat the food you put in, but the rot that is on the food. Bacteria are essential to your worm bin, just as they are in outdoor soil.
Mold & Fungi
In addition to the bacteria, mold and fungi are busy decomposing the organic matter in your worm bin. They are also an additional food source to other organisms in the system, including earthworms. Because they can grow big enough to be seen, these can be a sign that you have more food than the system can quickly manage and the feeding rate should be decreased. Mold and fungi pose no threat to the garden or the animals living in the worm bin, but overgrowth of these can cause irritation to humans with mold allergies. To keep them under control, feed in small amounts and when you see an overgrowth of these hold back on feeding.
Mites (reddish brown specks about as large as a typed period) are commonly found on the surface of the bin (if your bin is light colored, you can often see them on the sides near the soil)। Mite populations will bloom when you have wet, sugary foods (fruit) in your bin।
Springtail are an insect (white or tan) that can be seen fairly easily on the surface of the soil। They are beneficial in the system and have no interest in living plant tissue. Some texts claim that more than 80% of the organic matter on earth passes through the gut of a springtail or sow bug on its journey to becoming topsoil. They are most noticeable after a bloom in the mite population or in nearly finished compost.
Sometimes mistaken for young red worms, these are very small white worms. They too are beneficial organisms that feed on decaying organic matter. Potworms are more common when your worm bin is on the acidic side, but they do not necessarily mean that you have a problem. You will see them after adding a lot of citrus.
Tips for keeping your bin running smoothly
Remember: the food waste you add to you worm bin today isn’t eaten by the worms until the other actors in your bin have done their job. Bury your food (adding the amount appropriate to the number of worms in your bin) to bring these organisms in contact with your food to get the process started and next time you have a moment, take a close look at your ecosystem. You may be surprised at the complexity of the system you are maintaining.
As always, your senses should be your guide to vermicomposting. What do you see, smell and feel in your bin?
Friday, November 6, 2009
You can buy manufactured bins online or in progressive stores, but I suggest you save your money and make one yourself!
When I respond to this question, I offer the following suggestions and considerations:
Red wigglers don’t typically dig more than 8” deep into a worm bin, so a really deep bin does not work as well as a shallower bin. You want to have the worms all the way to the bottom of the bin to keep conditions aerobic.
Really large bins (30 or 50 gallon size) can be used for worm bins, but they are VERY heavy when full of worms and vermicompost. If you’re planning to move your bin (e.g., take it outside to harvest using the sun), consider a series of smaller bins. If you're not going to move it, these large bins can certainly work.
Small bins can also work. Some people have shoebox size bins they keep under the kitchen sink. This can work, however, you must closely monitor conditions in your bin and be careful what you feed them. In a small bin the worms have nowhere to escape if the conditions become unhealthy. A friend had a wonderful bin until a bunch of limes were added in a layer to the bin after a Cinco de Mayo party. Soil pH dropped and all the worms died. This is also why I recommend you feed in the corners when you are starting.
I find the standard 18 gallon plastic storage totes work well for me. They are reasonably sized to allow the worms to flee from any bad things you may add, they are not too when full, they don’t take up too much space in the room, and they can be stacked. See http://www.wormmainea.com/Worm_Bin_Instructions.pdf for free instructions for building a WormMainea style worm bin).
The size and style of your worm bin is not important. If it works for you then it is best. The most important thing is that you get started with a worm bin.
Friday, October 30, 2009
I do not take my worm bins outside except to harvest, but here are some tips and tricks reported by others and my own observations about keeping red wigglers outside in cold weather.
First, the facts. You cannot vermicompost in freezing conditions. Red wigglers will die if the soil they are in freezes. I know they can become dormant and cocoons can survive, but in general most will die and your vermicomposting will cease when the pile freezes. In reality, when your soil temp drops down to 40F and below, your composting is so slow as to be stopped. Just like your fridge, things below 40F decompose very slowly.
In my 10 years of vermicomposting I have had worms survive outdoors only one year. It was in my outdoor composter (Earth Machine http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:MI_dfU_Gk4cwsM:http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51HGE6GMJQL._SL500_AA280_.jpg ). It was 3-4 years ago. We had a relatively warm winter with no long cold spells and little snow cover. I went outside in early March and I took the lid off and discovered 3 red wigglers hanging out in the warm condensation on the lid. First and last time ever. I can only guess they were dormant and found a spot they could survive (not a deep freeze year and sun warmed the container just enough?). Typically, the Earth Machine is a compost popsicle. I wait until early April for the soil temp in the outdoor composters hit 50F, then I bring a bunch of red wigglers out to get them going. I am really bad about mixing the outdoor compost piles, so I sacrifice some red wigglers to do the work for me.
So if your bins are outside, you have 3 options: 1) bring your bin indoors, 2) start over with new worms in an indoor bin, 3) insulate and heat your bin to keep it from freezing.
I cannot use option 1 because of Bert's rules ("No bad smells and not bugs in the house"). Outdoor bins typically have insects, so that rules that out for me. If you (and your family) are OK with that possibility, then option 1 may be for you. These two options are pretty simple.
The more difficult proposition is option 3: keeping the bin outdoors and keeping it from freezing (and ideally between 60-70F).
You could with a big enough pile continue to add a hot manure to keep the soil warm enough. The key would be hot but not too hot (a pile rather than an impermeable enclosure like a bin or tub). I know my brother's horse manure windrow in Northeast PA works year round. They add to it frequently and it can be found steaming with active red wigglers year round. Reportedly, chicken or pig manure will also work.
Others have reported heating/seed starting mats under plastic wading pools in the shed with a styrofoam cover work. This would keep the soil temp relatively constant.
Another person proposed digging a pit below the frost line and insulating the sides and top with closed cell foam insulation and a trap door lid. Then piling hay bales over the door. I don’t know whether this was successful, but my frost line here is fairly deep and it wouldn’t be practical. Also, this would not make sense to me because one of the reasons I started vermicomposting was to NOT go outside to compost in the cold weather.
If you have experience with any of these, please leave a comment.
As for me, I will continue to compost indoors in my basement.
Friday, October 23, 2009
There are few things I hate more than a leaf blower. They are loud, smelly, and potentially dangerous to your health.
In my mind, raking leaves in the fall is an enjoyable, peaceful event that marks the end of summer. The sound of the leaves and the rake moving over the ground, the crunch of the leaves when a child jumps into the pile, the smell of crispy fall air.
Using a leaf blower may be faster, but is it worth it?
All these are lost when you are holding a leaf blower. The electric ones pollute far less than the gasoline powered models (which can be 80 times more polluting than an automobile! http://www.epa.gov/ttn/chief/conference/ei15/session5/fitz.pdf).
Leaf blowers stir up settled dust, mold, and allergens settled on the soil, making these airborne can cause problems for people with asthma and allergies.
Also, leaf raking is great exercise for you.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
In my mind, worm compost tea is distinctly different from the liquid that drains from some bin designs (what I call worm bin drainage).
Worm compost tea is made by separating the vermicompost from the worms and steeping the worm compost in water to make a tea. My website has complete instructions for brewing up your own worm tea: 1# of vermicompost in a 5 gallon bucket of water.
I don't mean to say that the drainage from a worm bin would be bad for plants. From what I have read it is great fertilizer; however, I'd be concerned about putting it on edible veggies because you do not know what is in it. I have also found a variety of different reports on how to use it ranging from straight (undiluted) to diluted to the color of straw. If I were to use this on salad and other greens I probably diluting it to straw color and bubbling air through it for 12-24 hours using an aquarium bubbler.
If anyone has experience using worm bin drainage, I'd love to hear how you prepare it for use.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
When I started WormMainea, I assumed those who visiting my site and contacting me would be a narrow portion of the population, Essentially, people a lot like me: frugal, eco-minded people looking to experiment with a different way of composting that allows you to compost inside in the winter.
Well I got it completely wrong! I meet all sorts of interesting people ranging from back-to-earth retiring hippies who want to vermicompost again to apartment-dwelling professionals who want to reduce their waste, from former Everest climbers to college students, from monks to manufacturers of skate-chic clothes, and everything in between, including some frugal, eco-minded composters like me.
I am continually amazed by how many people are interested in vermicomposting and the cross section of the population that contacts me. I enjoy talking with them about how they found me and how they became interested in vermicomposting.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Another observation by teachers has also caught me by surprise: several teachers, especially younger grades, have reported back that after my vermicomposting demonstration and the arrival of the worm bin there has been a change in the snack diet of the classroom .
Children want to participate in feeding the worms. However, only some food can be placed in the worm bin (e.g., remnants of fruits and vegetables and NOT processed sugary or salty foods), so children who want to feed the worms must bring in fruits and veggies.
Who would have thought vermicomposting would make children eat better?!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
A Save is average savings since the unit was installed.
This shows how many burner hours were used for the data.
I save is instant savings (last time the burner ran).
As part of our home inspection for solar upgrades, we had our heating system evaluated. The engineer suggested a $400 upgrade to make our boiler more efficient. The unit promises at least 10% improvement on efficiency of you get your money back. It is a bolt-on installation that can be retrofit to most boilers. Essentially it makes the boiler smarter. It bolts on the side of the bioler and there are some sensors that strap on your return water pipes. It is not a major installation.
The unit is from Intellicon (we have hot water so we installed the HW unit). Cost of the unit plus installation was $400. When we purchased it in Summer 2008, oil proce was $2.89/gallon. I calculated our payback at a little less than 2 years, given a 10% savings on our typical 750 gallons per year consumption.
The unit saves energy by adjusting the burner run pattern according to the temperature of the returning water. We tried it and have been very pleased.
When the weather is really cold (and the return water is much cooler because the home is being heated, the unit does not reduce run time very much), the the unit saves less than during the spring and fall.
The unit shows instant and average savings. Our average savings (as shown in the photo) is more then 20%. We felt no difference in our home temperature. You wouldn't even know you have it installed. Though I confess that I like to go down and see how much I'm saving!
For more information, see http://www.intellidynellc.com/02_pgHW.htm
This year (heating season June 1 to May 31) we used 77% of the oil we used last year, a savings of 155 gallons. At $2.10/gallon, we saved $325.50! I anticipate we will easily meet our goal of a 2 year payback time.
Another option is to install an outdoor reset control (where the sensor measures outdoor temperature), but we elected go with this option.
I encourage you to try one of these to make your heater smarter!!
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Aside from the gut wrenching fear of recovering an item that has fallen in there with your hand, garbage disposals are very wasteful.
A worm bin and outdoor compost pile make this common household appliance unnecessary. Everything that goes in the disposal can go in your worm bin or your outdoor compost pile.
Some people call their disposal the "pig". Likely, because the disposal takes the place of the family pet pig that would eat the food waste. Vermicomposting is much slower than feeding a pig, but worms are far more manageable for keeping indoors.
Did you know: disposals use about 500,000 gallons of water per day in the United States (both in your sink and during sewage treatment).
Food in the garbage disposal goes to water treatment facilities, and from there into the environment where it's at least three times more likely to disrupt ecosystems (via algal blooms) than it would if it went to a landfill. (Not that it's so great there either...)
Food scraps make up at least 10% of space in our landfills and off-gas methane, a greenhouse gas.
Through composting a typical household can keep 500 lb of biodegradable kitchen and garden waste out of landfills every year! That is per home!!
Do you feel empowered? I do. Feed your soil, not the sewer or landfill.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Methods: We started with 2 identical Amaryllis hippeastrum bulbs. One was watered with worm tea, the other was watered with tap water. Both were planted according to package instructions and were placed on a south-facing window side-by-side. We documented growth for 1.5 months. Start 2/14/09
Results: The Amaryllis receiving worm tea grew faster, bloomed faster and the bloom lasted longer than the one receiving just tap water. Yes, our plant with the worm tea had 2 blooms, but I think that was just chance.
The photos tell it all. Try making some worm tea for your indoor plants.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
What to do with it?
There is a solution, and I don't mean entombing the poo in a plastic shopping bag. Of course, the solution involves worms!
When it comes time to pick up after your pet, plastic shopping bags are bad options. If you choose plastic, you are wrapping something that degrades quickly in something that takes decades to break down.
Instead, use sturdy paper, or plant-based biodegradable bags. The corn-based BioBags, for example, are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute to break down in a matter of days (in industrial landfills; probably longer in a home compost pile).
If you chose to compost your pet waste,you should have a separate compost pile for pet waste, and you should not use the resulting soil on anything edible. As always, you want the compost pile to be HOT. The best practice is to ensure optimum temperatures is through layering and turning.
Or you can use worms...
The best solution (in my opinion) is to collect the poo in a bag (paper or biodegradable) or with a shovel and use it to fertilize your lawn (ensuring it is never used for food).
Essentially you are vermicomposting dog poo outside in the ground outside with a fancy cover.
My website shows how you can make your own a poo-doo vermicomposter to put on your lawn (http://www.wormmainea.com/Projects.html). You dig a hole in your lawn and insert a roll-top garbage can with the bottom cut out. Fill the hole half way with bedrun worms and it is ready to go. Be sure to place it away from low-lying areas of the lawn.
When it is nearly full, dig another hole, remove the garbage can and start again. You can cover the old hole with the sod you dug for the new hole or new grass seed. Like the grass near the septic tank, it will be a lush spot in your lawn.
The response on this has been great from people using it. It makes so much more sense than sending it to the landfill.
If you have worms, you can do this in about an hour with a cash outlay of <$20 to buy a container with a cover (like the Rubbermaid bullet 2 gallon roll top can) that will last for years.
Try this in your yard and let me know how it goes.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
I am frugal by nature, so I had an idea: maybe someone would want some the windows and some of the siding. I thought this would avoid sending it to a landfill, and save both me and the recipient a few bucks.
So I listed these for free on Craigslist. It took me all of 15 minutes to post what I had. The response was INCREDIBLE.
The windows were snapped up within a day or two of removing them. And the siding is now gone, too.
Instead of going to a landfill, ALL of it is being reused or re-purposed . The people who came have been happy to get it for nothing and I am happy to have it gone (without sending it to the dump).
Before you throw something away, consider listing it for free on Craigslist. You may be surprised how many people want it.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Castings stored this way will keep for several months-- just in time for real spring! In the interim, use what you have to make tea for your houseplants or soil amendments for seed starters. Just remember that your vermicompost may be full of viable seeds!
Tip of the hat to Bruce Deuley for his valuable contributions to the procedure. You can get the brewed vermicompost tea directions FREE on my website.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
When you have as many worms as I do (18 bins with 4-15 pounds), my family of cannot produce enough to keep them all fed and multiplying. So, I utilize the waste from my local organic grocer (Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough). Mary and Chris (the chefs at Lois’ deli) kindly set aside coffee grounds and food scraps when I request it.
I am writing about this not to tell you how to feed a few hundred pounds of worms, but to encourage a grass roots movement. Think of this as an alternative recycling opportunity where everyone wins.
Everyone wins because:
My worms benefit from having nice organic veggies,
I benefit because I have a free supply of food and I can trust them to put only worm food in the bags,
Lois’ benefits from having less food waste in their dumpster, and
In the larger scheme of things, society benefits.
That’s right, society benefits. By having less waste go to the dump (or in this case the trash-to-steam incinerator), society benefits because less food waste equals less weight equals less fuel used to truck it around. Also, I learned from Chris of EcoMaine (the company who runs the incinerator) that organics such as food waste are a poor source of energy in the trash-to-steam process. They would rather not collect food waste.
I know I haven’t made a big difference but my little contribution fits the “think globally, act locally” concept.
In the course of a year, I probably keep a thousand pounds of food and yard waste out of the waste stream (both from my home and collections from Lois’). Scale that up a few-fold, and by outdoor composting in the summer and vermicomposting in the winter, we can all make a difference.
This makes me think: can we all reach out to grocers or restaurants in our community to see if they would be willing to set aside food waste for pickup during the spring, summer, and autumn for addition to our outdoor compost piles? Can we bring a 5-gallon bucket with us when we shop to pick up some waste veggies? Can we encourage our fellow gardeners, others in community gardens or garden clubs to do the same?
Sunday, January 25, 2009
We purchased a solar hot air system (Solarsheat) from Maine Green Building Supply back in August and got a 25% rebate from the state. I had been doing research on solar since May 2008 and had learned that solar hot air was the best option for my home (location, slope of roof, position of gable end, etc.). I blogged about this back in June.
We bought a Solarsheat 1500GS/G dual panel system back in August. We completed the installation shortly after January 1. We delayed the installation to change windows and siding at the same time.
We've been AMAZED at how well this system works.
It was sunny and cold yesterday, so I decided to document how well it works. Check out the attached photos. I can only post a few, but I can share a bunch more showing details of the expert installation (thank you to Vanier Construction!) and detailed performance.
You can see that yesterday (cold, but bright and sunny) the Solarsheat blew 150° F air into our home and heated the area to 75° F.
Maine is continuing to offer a 25% rebate on the solar hot air panels. I think every home in Maine should get one. When the sun is out, my boiler does not need to heat my house. I am saving oil every sunny day!
I would encourage everyone in Maine to investigate this.
Here are some links:
Maine Green Building Supply: www.mainegreenbuilding.com
Maine Solar Rebates from Efficiency Maine: www.efficiencymaine.com/renewable_programs_solar.htm
Expert installation by Vanier Construction: 885-9389