Friday, November 21, 2008

Trial and error

I've posted new worm bin instructions.

I have posted new instructions for making a worm bin. Earlier this year, I had an accident when drilling in the side of bins, and I am now recommending you make holes in the top of your bins.

I was drilling holes in the side and the drill slipped off the plastic and hit me in the leg. Fortunately, I was wearing pants and I didn't hurt myself.

This scared me and made me think. Why drill holes in the sides?

The worms don't care where the holes are, and the sides are sloped and flex when you try to drill the holes (both of which make it harder than it needs to be).

Holes in the nice flat top would be so much easier. So I tried it and viola! Works just as well and it is much easier.

My revised worm bin instructions have been posted to my website:



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Vermicomposting is EASY!

Getting started is a simple process:

The key to getting started and keeping your worm bin trouble free is to follow four simple rules:

1. always bury the food under the worms and the bedding,

2. only feed in corners (alternating every week),

3. keep at least 3 inches of shredded newspaper on top (the newspaper should not be wet, moist like a wrung our sponge is OK. If it is dry, that is OK) and

4. don't over feed them.

Rule 1: burying food prevents fruit flies from finding the food in your bin.

Rule 2: feeding in corners prevents overfeeding because you can observe how much food is left from previous feedings. Corner feeding also allows worms to flee if something is wrong with the food (pH, temperature, etc.).

Rule 3: a nice think layer of bedding keeps your bin from getting too wet and also helps prevent fruit flies.

Rule 4: overfeeding is a source of problems (moisture, smell, fruit flies, etc.). Feeding too little is preferable to feeding too much. Start slowly and ramp up over time.

If you have not already started, I would encourage you to download instructions to build your own bin and get started now.

It is not too late to begin.



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bedding for worm bins and the zen of shredding newspaper

Shredding newspaper has become my second hobby (next to vermicomposting). To provide bedding for my herd, I shred a lot of newspaper.

I like newspaper because it is free and plentiful. The papers come to my home and yesterday's paper is always available.

Office paper works equally well (for an office bin, your shredded office paper would work great). You want long strips, so a standard shredder works (but not a cross-cut shredder). Long, thin strips are better because cross-cut paper tends to mat when wet and you want your bedding to be airy.

Most non-glossy printed material can also be used since most high-quality laser toner and ink-jet inks are non-toxic. If you are going to use a lot of lot of a single source in your worm bin, check with the manufacturer to be certain. The Portland Press Herald uses non-toxic ink.
There is a technique to shred newsprint. I prefer to hold it by the folded edge (1-2 sections at a time) and shred into 1/8-1/4 inch strips. It shreds really easily and it makes a nice swooshing sound. For a long time Bert thought I was sweeping every morning!

Another advantage of newspaper is that shredding it is relaxing. It sounds strange, but I shred A LOT of newspaper, and I have come to enjoy this quotidian task. It is a morning activity I appreciate after I feed my herd. I shred yesterday's paper in the cellar and listen to NPR while I sip my coffee. It is a few minutes of meditation before I start my day.

Happy shredding!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What can you do at home to help save the world?

In response to Natalie Jeremijenko's charge " do we translate the tremendous amount of anxiety and interest in addressing major environmental issues into something concrete that people can do whose effect is measurable and significant?"
I present the following list of things we can do to help the environment:

1. Reduce/reuse/recycle wherever you can: many garden centers will accept plastic pots returned after purchase.

2. Conserve ground water: build a rain garden to reduce runoff, collect rain from gutters for dry days, and water in the morning.

3. Put out native bee boxes: encourage local pollenators. See Kate's Bee Boxes link on my web site.

4. Share your wealth: grow food for neighbors, and encourage them to grow their own and buy locally.

5. Use Best Management Practices & Integrated Pest Management for pesticides and insecticides you may use in your yard. Yes, you'll have to do some research on what you're using, but it will make the application more effective.

6. Grow natives: native plants require less work and are more hardy since they're already adapted.

7. Go renewable: consider renewable resources for mulch, potting mix, etc. What is plentiful in your area and how can it be used?
8. Start a worm bin. If you already have a bin, start a bin for a friend. Worm binis make great gifts!

9. Educate your family, friends, and neighbors: tell them about your successes with the above. You'll be surprised how many will adapt your ideas.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fruit Flies

I have a FAQ on my web page about fruit flies (, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate.

This time of year, fruit flies can be a real problem in the worm bin (not that they're bad for composting), but they are annoying to have in your home. The good news is you can get rid of them pretty quickly by following these suggestions.

Let's start first with prevention
  1. Make sure your compost scraps are covered (especially in the summer). This is especially important if your scraps are kept near a window.
  2. Bury all food deep in your worm bin and keep the bedding layer at least 3” deep.
  3. If you have fruit flies in the kitchen or where you keep your compost scraps, assume they are laying eggs on the compost scraps. Either freeze the compost scraps or take them to your outside compost pile.
Dealing with an infestation **First know that fruit flies have a life cycle and there is an end to the problem.** The quickest way I’ve found to deal with fruit flies is as follows:
  1. Remove adult fruit flies from your worm bin and nearby area. You can do this by vacuuming them, using sticky traps, or vinegar traps. You’ll need to vacuum them at least twice a day for 2 weeks to be sure you get all the adults from the eggs of the generation you first removed. Sticky and vinegar traps should be monitored and replaced when needed.
  2. Make your worm bin less attractive to the flies. This means not adding more food to your bin until your infestation is under control. Your worms can go without food for a few weeks. Fruit flies cannot.
  3. Make your bin more dry. Slightly dry bins are less prone to develop flies (addresses a potential pH problem). You are not looking to make a BIG change here only a slight change in dampness. Adding freshly shredded newspaper to the BOTTOM layer of your bin will do the trick. Alternatively, you can upend the contents of your bin and add more bedding over the former bottom contents.
  4. Fruit flies need to fly to mate-- if you fill your bin with newspaper that will also help.
  5. OPTIONAL... I read a tip earlier this year from a fellow vermicomposter (in Australia!) who uses diatomaceous earth (I may have spelled that wrong) to control flies. Flies are VERY bad in Australia apparently. I have not tried it, but you can get DE from garden centers (or Ace Hardware). DE kills insects and it won't hurt worms, plants or you. I think it is worth a try in combination with the other steps. If you have used DE, let me know how it worked and how much you used.
If you follow these steps you will be free of fruit flies in a few weeks. The most important things you can do are bury your food and kill/remove the adult fruit flies.

Happy composting!


Saturday, August 30, 2008

The chipmunk

We netted the blueberry bushes this year as usual, but we had an unusual occurrence. We caught a chipmunk! We net the blueberry bushes every year to improve the number of berries we get. Yes, we leave a few for the birds!
A few weeks ago, I was out walking the yard and garden around 6:30AM. I heard a rustling and discovered a chipmunk badly tangled in the netting. I ran to get my scissors and heavy gloves. I could not cut him out without risking escape while leaving some tangled around his neck (not a good thing!).
So I got a storage bin (intended to become a worm bin) and placed the chipmunk and netting into the bin. Then we all drove to the 24 hour animal clinic in Westbrook. They were willing to remove the netting from the chipmunk for free. Partway through the procedure the desk person came out to tell us that it was going well, but the vet was taking the chipmunk's blood pressure!
They gave him back to us in our storage bin.
Either this same chipmunk was caught twice or two weeks later we caught different chipmunk! This time, we got to him/her before he/she was too badly tangled.

For those of you who are skeptics about neck snares (and I am a recent convert!), I can assure you they work.
I am not sure about whether I'll put bird netting on the blueberry bushes next year. If I do, let's hope the chipmunks are smarter!

Friday, June 13, 2008

There is enough sun for everyone!

That's Bert's quote for solar (she has a knack for tag lines!). It is her reply to the question: why consider solar hot air over other options (like changing to a pellet stove) that work at night and when it is cloudy.

We've been continuing our evaluation of solar hot air options. We even went to see one earlier today. It was sunny, but the panel was 15-20% obstructed by overhanging eave. Nonetheless, when turned on, it blew some very warm air into the room. Hot air, not blown very forcefully, but very quietly.

Frankly, I don't see how, if the vents are properly insulated, it would not help to heat a room on a sunny day. I understand that it won't do a thing at night or on a cloudy day, and at those times we will be forced to heat with our oil furnace. Fortunately, we do have lots of very cold, bright sunny days in the winter. Sure this won't do everything, but any help it offers will help me buy less fuel oil next winter and increase my payback.

We're waiting for an evaluation appointment with the other solar installer. I am sure I will learn a lot from the visit, but I don't know whether what I learn will change my position that solar hot air makes sense. Even more so after learning that the State rebate fund is quickly disappearing. My application has been submitted, but I don't have a reservation number yet (so no guarantee that I'll get a rebate).

I suppose my next consideration will be to improve my home insulation/envelope. I have good attic and basement insulation. My problem, I believe, is my windows. They are 15 years old, double pane, but made of wood that it showing it's age. Seals have gone on all of them. I have been replacing the glass, but I am spending a lot of time putting lipstick on a pig-- the wood frames are shot. Unfortunately, new windows are pretty expensive.

After listening to an NPR broadcast about Martin Luther, Bert was inspired and observed that paying for carbon emissions to feel OK about flying around the world, living in a 4000 sq ft. home, or driving in a Hummer are payments for carbon indulgences, not carbon offsets.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Solar energy confusion

For the past several weeks we have been investigating solar options for our home.

We are primarily concerned about the dramatic rise in the cost of heating oil. Heating oil is approximately $2 more per gallon than it was last year at this time. That's nearly double!

We have reviewed and considered solar hot water for water, solar hot water for heating and solar hot air systems. While photovoltaic is interesting, the efficiency of these systems and cost (combined with lack of State rebate money) makes them less relevant to us.

After many hours of research and talking with suppliers and installers, I finally had someone out to evaluate my house. He said that my house is not well sited for solar hot water (roof faces E-W rather than N-S), but well sited for solar hot air. Lots of wall space on gable end that faces south.

(Interestingly, I had received a quote for solar hot water from another installer based on some photos of my home and a Mapquest flyover. I wonder what would have happened when the installer came out to do the installation...)

Early on, we decided to get our contractor friend (Randy Vanier from Vanier Construction, Inc.) involved. He gave me a lift home a few weeks ago (flat tire on my bike!) when we were in the discussion phase. I mentioned our latest project, and he expressed interest in solar technology and asked me to share information with him. (I don't think he expected my enthusiasm for research!). He knows far more than I ever will about anything related to construction, renovation, etc. After the success with our porch addition, Bert trusts him implicitly. Not surprisingly, he posed some good questions at the site visit yesterday and discussed other options for future consideration as well (such as ways to move air in the home, ground mounted hot water).

Anyway, we are full steam ahead on the solar hot air project (I think). We are touring a home tomorrow with a solar hot air system (does it really work? what does it sound like? how does it look? etc.). I'm still waiting for another quote. Then we wait for our State rebate reservation number and I need to follow up on a few remaining questions from Randy. The kind people at Main Green Building Supply have been very patient with my many questions.

I will blog more as the project develops.



Saturday, June 7, 2008

Seasonality of worm compost tea

I am fascinated by making worm compost tea. When we have a rainy stretch, I make it almost every day and sprinkle it all over my yard and garden. I tend to give a little extra to my tomatoes, peppers and blueberries this time of year, hoping for big returns.

I make my tea using the same simple recipe on my website, yet at different times of the year I get very different results. Not just color, but smell. I realize the many variables that could contribute to this-- compost, temperature, the content of my rain water. I often wonder whether different batches are more or less alive and how the nutrients differ among them. If any of you have noted the variability or done any testing, let me know. I am not so much concerned as I am curious.

Also, I'm using a new bubbler this year. I switched to a sandstone bubbler instead of the foam wire. While I don't think I'll ever get the sandstone white again, I am confident the vinegar kills whatever is on it. Unlike the foam bubbler (which I wrapped around my bag) I have to tie it to my compost bag with jute because it floats. In any case, it makes lots of bubbles. The main reasons I switched were the price and concerns over foam rubber and plastic.



Thursday, June 5, 2008

The leap

So I've finally decided to blog. The concept of blogging seemed so vain, yet I learn a lot reading people's blogs. I hope you will find my blog informative.

This blog will generally be about vermiculture (worm composting and related topics). I will try to cover some of the topics that are often asked by those interested in worm composting. I may also stray into other subjects, but I will most often write about worms.

I'm looking forward to getting this started.