Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wood Chips and the Hidden Benefit of Thrift

I was reading the latest issue of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener and enjoyed the article on ramial wood chips. Celine Caron discussed the differences between traditional bagged wood chips used by many people as landscape mulch and ramial wood chips (derived from the branches of deciduous hardwood trees). While ramial wood chips are considered “wood chips”, these might be called “ramial wood prunings”, since they are commonly the byproduct of landscape or forest maintenance.

Celine’s article references her other writings on the benefits of using ramial wood, and briefly mentions their many advantages over traditional wood chips. These benefits include a better C:N ratio, higher nutrient levels, and preferential breakdown by Basidiomycetes. Basidiomycetes support soil organisms that lead to humic and fulvic acids (you need these in your soil fauna for healthy plants).

If you have concerns about these products robbing nitrogen during breakdown from your soil & therefore your plants, you can add nitrogen periodically (some advocate for dilute urine) to balance this or put down a nice thick layer of compost under your wood chips.
The other unmentioned benefit of using ramial wood for you is that this product can be obtained for free. So rather than paying a few hundred dollars (or more if you are buying bagged) for 4 cubic yards of chips, you can get these for free. The only downsides are timing and the potential for invasive or noxious weeds.

I will address weeds first. Like your farmer and compost providers, you should get to know your local arborist. This is more than networking with service providers who are important to your life and lifestyle. Arborists often pay to dump (or pay to haul) waste wood prunings. If they are working in your area they may be happy to give you what they have with a phone call. However, you should speak to the arborist to discuss what you’re doing and why. Part of this conversation should include a discussion that you do not want chips if they are from a yard with invasive species (bittersweet) and noxious weeds (poison ivy). A conversation is all that is needed.

That brings me to the issue of timing. Your arborist may not be in your area when you need or want wood chips. I tell my arborist that I will take whatever he has and set extra wood chips aside in a pile near the compost pile to be used as needed in the future. Also, even if he is in your area, he won’t know until he is onsite whether there are invasive or noxious weeds. For this reason, you may have to wait a few weeks (or months) before chips are available.

I don’t mind waiting a few weeks or months for a great product that is free. In fact, like most good things, I think it is worth the wait.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Many Worms are in a Pound of Bed Run Worms?

That seems like a really simple question, but it isn't.

My standard response is a couple of hundred which covers the range of ages that I expect in a delivery..

However, I cannot tell you exactly how many you will receive because the number of worms in a pound will vary widely depending on size of the worms in the bed run area where I harvest them.

Consider if you will how many humans there are in ten thousand pounds:     30 NFL linebackers
     50 of me

    100 teenagers

   300 toddlers
   1000 infants
So there may be 30-1000 humans in ten thousand pounds of humans. While that seems a bit snarky, I think it illustrates my point.
What you have in a bed run delivery is a mix of worms of all ages (including cocoons).
Also, it is not the number of worms, but their mass that is important for vermicomposting. It is their mass after all that determines how much food waste they can process into vermicompost.
If you wist to count worms, have at it.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

It’s Planting Season: Considerations for Selecting Perennial Plants

The following summarizes the advice I’ve received concerning determining what perennial plants to use in your garden. I limit this to perennial plants because annuals don’t typically represent a big investment (they are temporary, so it doesn’t require as much thought).

Once you’ve decided to add a perennial to your garden, consideration should be given to the following since these will influence the success or failure:

Plant factors
  • Choose plants that naturally grow in your area. Native plants are a great choice. They are already adapted to the amount of sun, rainfall, & temperature swings (as well as other climatological factors) in your area. Also, native plants are not likely to create problems for other plants or wildlife by crowding out native plants.
  • Select hardy plants that can thrive with intermittent or little care. Choose plants that can withstand variations in watering and fertilization schedules.
  • Select plants that are interesting or colorful and/or produce fruit for you or for wildlife. These plants will bring you enjoyment throughout the year. Also, consider plants that create habitat for butterflies, birds, and other native or migratory species.

Other factors
  • Be aware of microclimate conditions of your planting site. For example, is it heavily shaded or does it get a lot of morning or afternoon sun? Does it stay wet or drain readily. While the sunlight issues may require relocation, you can amend the soil to address water issues.
  • Consider mulching or other weed suppression techniques to prevent your addition from becoming another source of work for you. Mulching has the added benefit of retaining moisture so you have to water less frequently.
     Plan to dig a planting hold that is sized appropriately for your plant (three times the width of the root ball/pot and no deeper than the root ball or pot).
  • Amend your soil to suit your plant and soil type. I have sandy soil, so unless plants like that soil type, I always add lots of compost and vermicompost to my planting holes. Some people recommend mycorrhiza additions to aide in root formation and growth.

Naturally, when you water your new addition, consider using vermicompost tea if it is not too late in the year (you don't want a burst of new growth before first frost).

I hope you find this discussion useful.



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Show me your worm bin

This is an opportunity to show the many varieties of worm bins htat people make.

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to vermicompost. I think of it like gardening-- whatever works for you is the "right way".

I plan to update this blog as I receive additional photos.

I received these photos from Alain. He explains his system as follows:

I reuse styrofoam salmon shipping boxes and amke a three-tiered bin:
• bottom level collects drainage (worm bin leachate)
• middle level has small drain holes
• top level has no bottom.

Worms go in the middle level and food/newspaper is added. The one photo is labeled.

Thanks for sharing Alain!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

More on lawn seed-- adding mini clover

It is about that time of year when lawn patching should be done. 

I want to share my experience with a recent addition to my lawn seed mix: mini clover. Mini clover has all the benefits of white clover without some of the problems. I added mini clover to may lawn seed mix last year and I am very happy with the performance.

Mixed with my usual blend of grasses (see below), mini clover grows among the grass plants (forming small leaves when cut), feeding the lawn nitrogen, and aerating with deep roots. The nitrogen is released into the soil throughout the growing season (until the first frost). Thus, nitrogen is available when and where it is needed, and so there is no risk of runoff or burning. Because nitrogen is continually and slowly available during the growing season there is a reduced presence of disease like powdery mildew, rusts, and smut that can appear due to an overabundance of nitrogen (see

Traffic tolerance of turf containing mini clover will be superior to traditional turf or traditional white clover. Like other clover, mini clover fertilizes and improves wear tolerance in general. Also, because it is shorter, it does not suffer from being chopped to the stolon during mowing (which can make traditional clover can be difficult to retain when it exceeds mowing height).

Additionally, mini clover is semi-aggressive species (not as aggressive as White Dutch Clover), filling in bare spots where traditional grass may not repair for months. Mini clover competes well with weeds, thus reducing the need for herbicides. Note that broad-leaf herbicides will also kill mini clover so be careful with your weed control.

You can rad more and purchase mini clover at Outside Pride.

My grass seed mix*:
40% Fescue
30% Perennial rye
20% Kentucky Bluegrass
10% Mini clover
*Note that the first  four in the list are found in Allen Sterling and Lothrop's Bayscaper Mix.

--I received no compensation for this review.--



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Celebrating 5 Years!

I am amazed that my WormMainea blog is 5 years old.  I've written almost 100 blogs in that time on topics ranging from vermicomposting to organic gardening to energy efficiency (with some nature and adventure blogs inserted here and there).

When I look back at my posts and I see the number of views and comments, I see that you, my readers, have wide ranging interests as I do—vermicomposting and organic/natural approaches to energy efficiency and posts about nature. I will continue to post on these topics and others.
I hope you, my readers, find my blog interesting and informative, but mostly I hope you enjoy reading it (at least as much as I enjoy writing). 

Coming up: I am planning future blogs on the following topics:
  •  other people's worm bin pics. If you have a bin that you’d like to show, please send me a photo and brief description. There are many varieties of worm bins and I’d like to show that breadth on my blog for others to consider.
  • homemade Christmas gifts
  • outdoor composting
  • vermicompost separation (or sorting) with accompanying video
  • shingles
Let me know if you have any questions or would like me to blog about any other vermicomposting topics. 

Also, if you have not already, please LIKE WormMainea on Facebook.

Cheers and thank you for reading.


Friday, August 2, 2013

How long do I have to wait before I can harvest compost from my worm bin?

This is a question that I receive very frequently. The answer is... it depends (everyone loves that!). 

In this case, it really depends on a number of factors:  1) what you feed your worms (that is, the type of food) 2) whether you put the food in whole or chop it up and 3.) how warm the soil is.  Note that these are all factors that you can control. I will describe the factors in greater detail below and tell you how to speed up the process (assuming that is what you want to do).

1. Type of food that you feed your worms
This may or may not be obvious, but the types of food you regularly feed make a big difference on how quickly your vermicompost will be ready to harvest. Consider strawberries and potatoes left out on the kitchen counter. In 3-5 days the strawberries will turn to mush and be covered in a grey, fuzzy mold. In that time the potatoes have only gotten in the way and even after a few months all that will happen is that they may turn a bit green and sprout from a few of the eyes. The same thing in your worm bin-- some foods (like tree fruit) decompose really quickly. Whereas other foods (ground contact veggies and fibrous food) breakdown very slowly. Every family will have a different mix of food that breaks down at different rates, so only you can estimate how quickly the foods that you typically add will decompose. If you want to make things go very quickly, add more foods that break down quickly.

2. Surface area of the food
If you chop/grate/mash/slice or otherwise make your food smaller (more easily accessible for decomposition), it will breakdown more quickly. For some foods, this includes freezing or heating the food to break the cell walls prior to placing it in the worm bin. For example, squash breaks down more quickly when cooked and leafy greens turn to mush after freezing. In general, if you juice your food (everything going into your bin is pulp), your worm bin can be ready to harvest in as little as 60 days. If you want to make things go very quickly, increase the surface area or break the cell walls using a food processor/blender and/or heat/freeze before adding to your worm bin.

3. Soil temperature
Soil temperature dictates the activity of the worms as well as the other organisms that assist in the decomposition of the food. In general, warmer temps make the process go more quickly. I recommend your soil temp remain between 65-75F to prevent problems. Temps above 75F can rapidly move into the 90+F range which will most likely kill your worms. I recommend a soil thermometer and a gentle warming method (like a root heater for seedlings). If you want to make things go very quickly, warm your worm bin soil up to 70-75F.

So if you want to speed things up, now you know what to do.