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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.

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