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Romance in the Worm Bin

The subject matter of this post was originally going to be about what worms like to eat in the world of vermicomposting. However, when I was doing my research, I stumbled across some hanky-panky in my worm bin, so we’re going to take a slight detour.

A few weeks ago, I reluctantly started putting avocado shells and pits into my bin, knowing full well that they would be of little interest to my slimy friends. I couldn’t imagine those delicate little creatures chomping into either one of them. We humans won’t even eat them after all, and we’ve got teeth!

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

Last week when I added kitchen scraps to my bin, I poked around a bit in the bedding. As I expected, my instincts were correct. I found the in-tact shells and pits still floating around. Some of the pits had started to grow roots, and they were still hard and untouched by the worms as far as a meal goes. So out to the “real” compost bin they went.

Feeling a little defeated, I decided to remove the shells as well, but when I went to dump the dirt out of one of the shells, I found a big ball of worm “spaghetti” inside of it. I’ve never seen so many worms compacted into such a small space. By the time I got my camera, many of them had made a run for it, but here’s some of the slower moving ones still in a tangle.

Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

I completely underestimated my worms. The shells were clearly a delicacy, so I decided to leave them in the bin.

Today at feeding time, I decided I’d try to get a better picture of the massive game of “Worm Twister” for all of you, but I was met with another surprise. When I dumped out the avocado shells this time, they were full of little baby worms! Again, the little camera-shy creatures started slithering away before I could snap a group photo.

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

Clearly the original worms weren’t playing “Twister” at all. They were playing something else, if you know what I mean. Uh-hum.

Worms are neither male nor female–they all have both sperm cells and egg cells, but they still need a mate to reproduce. And let me tell you from the looks of that tangled mess, there was a lot of cellular exchanging going on. Apparently the avocado is an aphrodisiac in the worm world.

Either before, during or after their romantic episodes, the worms clearly were eating the shells because they were very thin, and crumbled in my hand.

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

 Romance in the Worm Bin / My Urban Garden Oasis

So getting back to the original point of this post about what to feed worms in vermicomposting, avocado pits are a no. Avocado love-shack shells are a yes.

As far as other foods, I had always read no citrus, but my worms eat my lemon rinds with no problem. I don’t have a lot of them, but I do throw a few in. I also throw in onion scraps on occasion against the advice of other vermicomposters, and they disappear too.

I’ve noticed my worms won’t eat leaves of Brussels sprouts, and they won’t touch peperoncini peppers. I’ve had a whole one in the bin for a few weeks that I dropped on the floor when I was making pizza, and it’s faded in color but is still whole. (Clearly, they don’t honor the 10-second rule.) They love grapes, but the stems from the grapes just seem to hang around.

I’ve thrown shredded newspaper into my bin a few times, but if the worms have plenty of kitchen scraps, they aren’t too interested in the paper–although they did gobble up a toilet paper tube once. Paper towels (non-greasy) and coffee filters seem to get eaten pretty quickly too.

Of course any fruit or vegetable scraps are a go, but no meat or dairy.

And there you have it folks. A post about the eating preferences of worms with a side order of how to put your worms in the mood with an avocado shell. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get the Nobel Prize for this one (or at least a nomination).

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

White Dots in My Worm Bin?!

After about a month of vermicomposting, my friend Cinny came over to see my beautiful worm bin. I pointed out to her the little white dots that had just started showing up in my bin. I’m talking, many white dots. Eggs, maybe, I thought. She picked one up on her index finger, and I grabbed my magnifying glass. Since her eyes are much better than mine, I let her analyze the situation.

She said it was a bug. It had legs, and it was moving. Great. At that point, I grabbed her finger and smashed that nasty white dot. One down, 2,000 to go. I was thinking my vermicomposting adventure was certainly short-lived, and was wondering what was I going to do with a bin full of worms, bedding, poop and bugs in the middle of the winter. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having worms in my house in the first place, let alone bugs! Here they are on a piece of decaying cantaloupe.

White Dots in My Worm Bin?! / MyUrbanGardenOasis

What we learned was that the bugs were actually soil-dwelling mites. These eight-legged decomposers are supposed to be a welcome addition to a worm bin. I learned they love wet, acidic soil, and since I always added coffee grounds to my bedding, they were loving the environment. I, however, was not loving them.

Mites that are white in color will not attack or kill worms. They will, however, feed on dead or dying worms, and that’s a plus. Mites that are red, however, will eat your worms so you don’t want those!

But a bin with a huge mite population isn’t a good thing because they will compete with worms for food. The truth is, I’m really not interested in having the little buggers in my bin, regardless of color or number of residents. That’s just gross. (Like worms aren’t gross?! I knew you were thinking that.)

So here’s what I did. Since they obviously loved the cantaloupe, I put some rinds, flesh-side down on top of the bedding.

White Dots in My Worm Bin?! / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I left them for a couple of days, and unbeknownst to the mites that swarmed the fruit, they were chowing down on what was about to be their final meal. The mite-infested rinds were promptly thrown outside into a snow bank in my backyard vegetable garden area. Hope they brought their mittens.

White Dots in My Worm Bin?! / MyUrbanGardenOasis

White Dots in My Worm Bin?! / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Since my bedding was a little on the wet side, I left the bin sitting out under a light in my kitchen for a while with the lid off, and fluffed up the bedding every now and then to help it dry out a bit. This definitely cut down on my mite population, and mites were no longer a problem after that. Even before the mite issue, I would leave the bin out with the lid off to help it dry out a little from time to time. I don’t have drainage holes in the bottom of my bin, so I try to keep a close eye on the moisture content.

Since we’re on the subject of cantaloupe—unless you’re trying to grow a cantaloupe forest, I would advise against putting the seeds in your bin. Imagine my surprise when I pulled my bin out of the closet I keep it in, and I see this! (This was my original bin.)

White Dots in My Worm Bin?! / MyUrbanGardenOasis

The “trees” grew about three to four inches tall in as many days. They were actually pressing against the lid. Had it been planting time, I would have transplanted some of the starts outside and had one heck of a cantaloupe patch! So note to self–no more cantaloupe seeds in the worm bin. By the way, I just pulled up the little guys, and left them in the bin to decompose.

White Dots in My Worm Bin?! / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I hope this post doesn’t discourage anyone from giving vermicomposting a try, because mites really are not a big deal, and are easy to get rid of if they bother you. It’s full speed ahead for me! Even Nicole Ritchie (Lionel’s daughter) has a couple of worm bins. I saw her on The Ellen Show the other day, and she mentioned that she has two at her house.

In closing, I wish I would have had this worm bin when my children were little. I think it’s such an interesting process, and it demonstrates how our environment takes care of itself naturally. It’s amazing how these little poop machines work to clean up, aerate and fertilize our soil. Any teachers out there? Building a worm bin would be a great classroom project. It doesn’t take much time, and the kids “mite” just learn something. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

To see how to build a simple worm bin out of a recycled container, click here.

To see an easy way to harvest worm castings for fertilizer, click here.

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at https://homestagingbloomingtonil.wordpress.com/. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at http://www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way

Ever heard the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder?” I’m all about that, especially when it comes to something as icky as collecting worm poop.

For those of you who haven’t had the nerve to try vermicomposting because of the harvesting process, let me say I’ve found a way to harvest the castings without a lot of time, mess and effort. Let’s get down to it.

If you missed my original post on Vermicomposting and how to set up a bin, feel free to check that out here because I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on that in this post.

I decided now, during the harvesting process, was a great time to move my lovelies to a brand new “resort”. When I ventured into vermicomposting a couple of months ago, I started with a recycled cake container because I must admit I wasn’t sure if this was something I was going to do long-term. The idea of cutting up a brand, new Rubbermaid container made me crazy(er). So my worms are going to go from a shanty to a high dollar condo during this first harvest. Here’s the condo I found at Wal-Mart. This container was a good choice because it’s opaque, and keeps the light out.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

It’s only been about eight weeks or so since I started this process, and I’ve read to harvest the castings every three months. But my container was starting to get pretty heavy, and I’m not too keen on the idea of that flimsy container splitting in two, and having worms and poop all over my kitchen. I also read it’s not good for the worms to be in bedding where the casting concentration is too high, so I decided to just do it now.

I saw some amazingly messy and time-consuming videos on the internet on how to harvest using a tarp and making little piles, and I dare say I’m just not up for that. So here’s what I did.

First I washed my container and cut holes in the lid and lined them with window screen. I added fresh sphagnum peat moss about three inches thick and added about 12 cups of the “snow water” I used in my original post. My peat moss was very dry, so it absorbed this amount of water quickly.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I added some nice decomposing kitchen scraps I’d been saving, some used paper towels and some coffee grounds (I get used grounds from Starbucks) so my slimy new tenants could have a nice housewarming dinner.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Next I filled some mesh bags I’d saved, with the old bedding–worms and all. I took everything from the original container and filled all the mesh bags I had, and set them on top of the new bedding.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

This photo shows how dark and rich the old casting material inside the bag is, as compared to the new peat moss.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I had just the right amount of bags to hold all of the bedding and worms from the original container.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I let them sit for a while under my kitchen light. Worms are like mini vampires in that they don’t like light, so they burrowed down into the bags. After giving them some time to burrow, I carefully removed the top few inches of old bedding from the mesh bags, putting it back into the original container. I checked to make sure no worms were in the bedding as I dumped it back into the original container. I did see several of what I assumed were worm eggs. When I saw these, I put them into the new condo with all the mommy/daddy worms.

 Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I didn’t try to rescue all the eggs because it would have taken forever. I figure they’ll hatch into the old bedding, and end up in my garden so it’s all good. I did notice many, many babies in my bedding that were about a half an inch long, which is good. My friend, Cinny wants to give this a go at some point, and I offered to share my “friendship” worms with her. I don’t give my worms to just anybody. (Smile, Cinny!)

I continued the process of letting the bags sit for several minutes, and scooping off the wormless bedding from the tops of the bags. If I didn’t want to mess with this, I could have let the bags sit all day, and all the worms would have eventually moved into the new condo on their own, but I couldn’t resist removing the bedding to encourage them to move along a little faster.

Here’s what happened when I would lift the bags. You can see they were finding their way out of the mesh and into the new peat moss.

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Harvest Worm Castings the Easy Way / MyUrbanGardenOasis

After they all made their way out of the bags, I dumped the remaining bedding/casting mix out of the bags, and back into the old container. I was quite happy with the amount of castings I had after such a short time. I’ll use the castings in a month or so when I’m ready to start planting. Since potting soil is so pricey, I’m hoping to use it mostly in my outdoor pots to avoid buying more soil. Here’s my ready-to-use fertilizer.

 photo IMG_4868.jpg

You may be wondering what percentage of the mix was castings, and how much was the original peat moss. The answer is…I’m not quite sure. It looked like it was all castings, but I realize it couldn’t have been or the worms would have died. It’s very dark, rich-looking and crumbly, and smells like normal dirt.

I know it’s difficult to believe, but I would like to stress that these bins have no odor other than the smell of dirt. I make sure to bury the food scraps, but buried or not, I have put some pretty nasty scraps into mine that I can’t believe don’t make the bin smell like a cesspool. When I add coffee grounds, however, sometimes it does smell like coffee. I always had a hard time believing these bins didn’t smell, but it’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.

I didn’t know if vermicomposting was something I was going to stick with originally, but now that I’ve been through one very painless harvest, I’m hooked. I find this whole process fascinating, and if this magical poop makes my plants happy, I’ll do it for a very long time. I’ll be posting at a later date to report how my fertilized pots fared. Stay tuned.

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in home organization, DIY home improvement projects or redesign, please feel free to visit her other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

Indoor Composting With Worms

If you’re a die-hard gardener or composter, you may have heard of vermicomposting. If you’re not a die-hard gardener or composter, this idea just might make your face scrunch up. Vermicomposting is the process of composting organic matter such as kitchen scraps using worms, and using the resulting worm castings as a fertilizer. Worm castings have the highest nutrient content of any fertilizer.

Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

And here comes the face-scrunching part–most vermicomposting is done indoors. Ewwwww! Yucky. For worms to survive, they must be in an environment where the temperature stays between about 40 and 85 degrees. Otherwise the worms will die. I realize how disgusting this sounds, but I’ve been wanting to try this for several years after reading about restaurants that practice vermicomposting.

Since the possibility exists that this great idea could turn into a bad idea, I’m going to make my first composting bin out of an inverted, recycled cake container that is 5 inches deep and measures 15 by 20 inches. If this experiment is successful, I’ll upgrade to Rubbermaid bins.

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

All I did to construct my bin was cut a large hole in the lid (which was actually the bottom of the original container) and tape a piece of screen over it to contain any prospective deserters. I actually saw a video of someone who made a worm bin and suggested not putting a lid on it, but I’m thinking this whole process is scary enough with a lid. A lid for me, thank you.

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If the environment in the bin is unsuitable, the worms will make an attempt at freedom. I saw another video of someone’s bin that had hundreds of worms up near the lid, trying to make a run for it because he didn’t drill air holes in it–another face-scruncher. Incidentally, I filled the bin with about an inch of water to test for leaks, as sometimes liquid can accumulate in the bottom.

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

If your bin doesn’t have enough air circulation, condensation will form inside the tub. And if your compost gets too wet, it will start to smell. I’m also assuming the worms would eventually suffocate. A clear bin like this one isn’t ideal since worms don’t like light, but I’ll be storing mine in a dark place. If this is a success, I’ll be using a dark-colored bin for subsequent batches.

Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I’m using sphagnum peat moss for bedding as was suggested by Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, where I purchased my red wigglers.

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

It’s wintertime, and it’s a blizzard here in Central Illinois right now. The worms I ordered were supposed to be shipped to the post office, and held for me to pick up so they wouldn’t die in the cold in my mailbox or get buried in a snow drift on my porch. However, the package wasn’t held at the post office and was delivered to my house. Thank goodness for those little worms I happened to be home when the box that looked like an elephant stepped on it, was delivered.

Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

The worm farm was having a winter sale on worms, and a thousand worms cost me $20.00 plus shipping. Most women buy shoes on clearance. Not me. I buy worms.

There’s a variety of bedding that worms will thrive in. I’m thinking they’re really not all that particular. Many people use shredded paper or cardboard scraps for bedding. I’ve read that most black newspaper ink (not colored) is safe for your worms and for your soil, but I can’t get past the fact that ink just seems “chemical-ish”, and I can’t bring myself to use it. The worms actually eat the bedding too.

I filled the bin with a couple of inches of peat moss, and added enough water (about 5 cups) so that the moss is moist, but not dripping wet. And to make the worms feel right at home, I used melted snow at room temperature instead of tap water. We’ve got plenty of that right now!

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Red wigglers are surface dwellers that travel horizontally in the top layers of soil or organic matter, which makes them perfect for composting in shallow bins. I’ve read not to use worms from your yard as those are tunnelers, and won’t survive in a compost situation like this.

Here are my 1000 little poop machines! I’m wondering who counts all those worms…Just kidding! Worms are weighed, not counted, and 1000 worms weigh roughly one pound.

 Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

They came in this nifty little fabric bag.

Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

I dumped them into their new home, and they were a tangled mess. I spread them out a little bit, and then read the instructions that said not to spread them out. So…don’t spread them out. After several minutes, most of them disappeared under the peat moss. It’s recommended that you leave them under a light after you release them, so they’ll acclimate faster to their new home. Since they don’t like light, they’ll burrow down to get away from it, and get settled in.

Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

Next, I added some chopped up food scraps I’d been collecting, and buried them to avoid a fruit fly party. It’s going to take some experimentation to know how much to feed them, but I’ve read about three to four pounds of scraps a week for 1000 worms. Am I gonna weigh and puree my scraps like some people do? Not a chance. We’re gonna wing it on the amount, and my worms are just going to have to chew their food like everybody else.

Indoor Composting With Worms / MyUrbanGardenOasis

This is an odor-free process if done correctly, but if this turns into a stinkfest that I can’t get under control, I’m probably gonna bail. And by bail, I mean release them into my garden when it’s warm enough for them to survive. Their castings will be great for my soil.

Worms will compost anything that you would throw into a normal compost pile with a couple of exceptions. Do not feed worms onion or citrus scraps. Leaves are good, but no sticks. And, as with a normal compost pile, you don’t want to add any meat, dairy or greasy foods. Coffee grounds and ground up egg shells are good for worms, because like chickens, worms have gizzards, and these gritty foods aid in their digestion. Feel free to throw in tea bags, paper towels, and coffee filters too.

Castings should be ready to harvest in about three months, which will be just in time for spring planting here in Illinois. I’m guessing 1000 worms aren’t going to produce enough castings to service my whole garden by any means, but they should produce enough that I can make worm tea. That is, adding castings to a bucket of water, letting them steep for a few days, and then using the nutrient-rich water to fertilize plants.

It’s February at the time of this writing. The holiday buzz is over, and I’m really missing my garden, so vermicomposting gives me some semblance of gardening–something new to try. It’s sort of like taking an aspirin when what you really need is surgery, and all I’ve got right now is aspirin. Sigh.

If my slimy little friends survive, I’ll publish a follow-up post on how to harvest their castings. If they die, I’ll have a funeral to which all of you will be invited.

One Month Later: My bin is doing well at the one month mark. Amazingly enough, I can confirm that despite the fact that I fill it with rotting food scraps, there is no smell other than the smell of dirt. So far, so good.

This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check her other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.

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