"More when there is more"

pskvorc(3)April 7, 2014

Or so I said in my original thread (http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg0322443013790.html?29) here at The Vermicompsoting Forum. Well, I attended a local seminar on vermicomposting, so there's 'more'.

I don't think I learned anything new from what I have heard and read here. Nonetheless, it is always good in my opinion to communicate with people face-to-face when possible. (Second 'goodest' is by phone, and worst is in writing.) Also, most of the time there's no substitute for "getting your hands in it". The person giving the seminar - Ellen Vandervisse http://ellenvandevisse.com/ - has been doing it for quite a while and more importantly, SUCCESSFULLY, here in Alaska. Her primary uses are:1) vermicompost for the VERY large vegetable garden that she has, and 2) "potting" mix for her seedlings. She does use "tea" now and then, but really only when she "gets around to it". She keeps her bin's moisture content at a level that produces almost no leachate.

One thing she did say when I asked about using leaves, was that she absolutely did NOT. The reason was that it was "impossible" to keep slugs out of her vermicompost (VC hereafter). Slug eggs then ended up in her VC which ended up in her seedling's soil which resulted in her seedlings being eaten by the slugs. She said she didn't think there was anything 'wrong' with having slugs and worms together, other than the creation of slugs. Given my "want" to use all of my leaves, I don't think I will worry about slugs until I see some.

One of the reasons I attended the seminar was that she was selling "quarts" of worms, and I need worms. These "quarts" turned out to be quart plastic yogurt tubs into which she simply threw two handsful of her VC. I talked to her on the phone before attending the seminar because what I wanted more than anything was the worms. She assured me I would be "pleased" with what I got. I most certainly was not.

After the 2.5h seminar was over, those that wanted worms lined up for their tubs. At $15 per "quart", I got two, having some expectation - based on our conversation - to be getting between 1 and 2 pounds of worms per "quart". When I got home and dumped the container - that I did not inspect at her house - into my bin, I couldn't see ANY worms. So, I dug around a bit. There were a few. I dumped the other tub. Same thing. I picked up ALL of the VC form the tubs and put it back in ONE tub. Then I poured that back out on a sheet of plastic and spread it out so that no adult worm could "hide". There were 31 adult worms. So I paid essentially $1 per worm. I don't care how bad "internet" sales of worms is, I have never heard of it THAT bad!

While she did acknowledge that it was reasonable to make one's own bins, she used commercial bins (Can o' Worms). Personally, I LIKE those. However, the only local supplier want's $140 for one Can o' Worms. I don't like them THAT much.

So... I have ONE bin going. (I'm going to order some of the "expensive" - $25/pound - worms off of the internet.) Here is a sequence of images that show what I am starting with.

I didn't get a picture of the first "layer" - bedding. I started with some shredded newsprint, and added water until it was saturated. It turned into something that didn't look like "bedding" to me, so I added some DRY, shredded, corrugated cardboard and mixed it together until the cardboard was fully wet and the paper was little pockets of wet paper pulp. I then added about a half an inch of last year's birch (Betula papyrifera) leaves.
I pulled back the leaves so you can see the paper/cardboard mixture:

Then came about a cup of coffee grounds spread over the leaves:

Then a couple of tablespoons of a mixture of tea leaves and crushed egg shells.

Then ALL of the worms, the whole 31 of them!

And finally, a layer of soaked Ash (Fraxina americana) shavings:

Later that day, I added about two cups of a mixture of swiss chard stems and sweet potato skins that had been run through a food processor and enough water to make a thin "paste".

When I get more worms, I will augment this bin and start some more.


This post was edited by pskvorc on Mon, Apr 7, 14 at 19:33

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Hey Paul you should call that worm vendor and express displeasure. $1 per worm.....Shezzzz. Let her know you are posting here and I bet she makes it right. Also, I hope you added that VC in with your worms. Lots of good stuff there to get the bin inoculated, plus maybe some "bonus" cocoons.
It is best to prep a new bin at least a week in advance. Two weeks is better.
There is plenty of food and bedding to sustain your new mini-herd for quite some time. Let them settle in.

Good start. Those 30 may produce countless thousands more worms for you in the future.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:57PM
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Also, canoworms is simply a stackable bin system?? Easy enough to make and lots of designs available for free on the net. Plastic tote style like hummersteve's, or buckets, or plastic planting pots.
How many pots can you buy for $140??? Save money and enjoy the satisfaction of creating your own personally designed wormy habitat.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 9:18PM
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I probably would not believe anything the woman says. She is either too dumb to know any better or too deceitful to care.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 9:59PM
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In essence you were paying for the 2 1/2 hour talk. The Alaska specific information is probably not easy to come by. Think of it as $30 for the talk and a sample of 30 free worms.

I sold worms once at a fish auction. It was winter and I had the only live food there. I labeled it 100 worms but put in by actual hand count 200 adult worms. Picking up the plastic deli container and looking at the bottom during preauction viewing was what drove up the bidding and sold them. The worms all went to the bottom and were a solid mass. I think it (I only packed one.) sold for $14 half of which went to the fish club. They were happy. I was happy. The seller if they counted was happy. The fish were happy. Not so much the worms. I hope you all still let me post here.

Nice egg shells and tea.

I forgot or did not realize you have no worms yet.

An interesting contrast in the amount of research you have done on the topic with other posters. I too read a lot here first.

It is an art not a science as all you posters know too well. Everybody kills their first worms. Due to the smell 31 is better than more. A banana peel today, an apple core tomorrow, 5 gallons of apple sauce next week and ... then the bad thing happens. Or you could skip the apple sauce and search images of "string of pearls" and "protein poisoning" and tell us your thoughts. Vermicomposters really earn their stripes not when things are going good but when they go bad. Fixing the bad is what teaches us ... ... ... I'm not quite sure what yet. Maybe to add more bedding. Digging through the bin and disturbing the worms tells us a lot. Your views on those two topics would be more valuable and interesting to read if/when you actually experienced them. Adding that bit of food too much for the bedding has maybe been the point of great learning for many of us. You may want two bins. Got apples?

Not quite sure what you have against swiss chard stems and sweet potato skins. Saving the best for the worms? With enough butter they are the best parts. The swiss chard stems and sweet potato skins, not the worms. :-) You gotta try sauerkraut or vegetable fermentation. The probiotics are just like the wee beasties we are trying to grow with vermicomposting. If you liked kombucha you will like biochar. It is like a coral reef for your vermicompost.

I think in the near future the tide will turn on using printed on paper in bins. BPA or Bisphenol-A is turning up in more than just thermal paper. I am wondering if phone book paper, not binding, I am presently adding 15 years worth of is still safe even. I'm thinking today yes tomorrow no.

Lots of topics. Feel free to begin new threads to keep the topics separate.

This post was edited by equinoxequinox on Mon, Apr 7, 14 at 22:20

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 10:15PM
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If you give them the right environment, they;ll multiply quickly, but with only 30 to start, you'll be lucky to have a significant amount of worm castings by christmas. You may want to buy more to speed things along.

Leafs are fine, but they take a long time to break down and get eaten by worms.

Also, not sure if this is how you are adding the worm food, or just the initial bedding, but I don't think the lasagna style is going to work out well. When you add more food, it will frequently get very hot while it jumpstarts the breakdown process. If this happens in one corner of your bin, no big deal because the worms can move away from the heat if it gets too hot, but if you apply an entire layer, the entire bin could get too hot and you might risk cooking your worms.

I'm not an expert, but have had a bin going strong for just over a year and these are just some thoughts for you to consider.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 11:09AM
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The thought of "aging" or "conditioning" the bin(s) prior to worm introduction crossed my mind, but since I hadn't read it or, if I had read it, it didn't 'get in', I didn't do it. We'll see how this goes.

I actually don't think Ellen was being particularly deceitful. Rather, I think she was just too lazy to make sure her representations were at least close.

The view that I paid $30 for the seminar and got 30 worms for free is sadly without all the information. The seminar itself was $18. I'm not yet going to rake her over the internet coals. She had not heard of the Nova Scotia paper, and wanted me to send her the link/PDF. I will instead bring the PDF to her and have a face-to-face about the worms. There are several old Chinese 'proverbs' that I find useful in my life. One is: "Give your enemy a golden bridge of retreat." The other great one most of us are familiar with is: "Do unto others..." I'll give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

I have a very strong belief in the "good" qualities of fermented food and make my own sauerkraut and yogurt. And beer and wine, too. ;) In fact, I am preparing to collect birch sap for my occasional (when I feel like putting in the effort), batch of birch syrup beer. It's REALLY good tasting, but it's a LOT of work.

The chard spears were relegated to the worms because I read that they are VERY bitter due to oxalic acid content. In fact, that information gave me pause with regard to giving them to the worms. I went ahead and did it because all I had to lose was a relatively small amount of worms. I also 'buffered' that acid with some powdered egg shell. I like potato skins as much as the next, but it was more important to me to "feed the worms" than it was to enjoy the leavings of one sweet potato meal.

I have 'bailed out' with regard to kombucha. (Which is why I have some SCOBYs 'laying' around.) I read a lot about it, and made a few batches, and came to the conclusion that it is "better", but not TOO much better than plain ol' sweet tea. What was most important to me, was learning HOW to make it. Now I can make it whenever there might arise a need or the desire.

You can rest assured that ALL of the VC purchased went into the bin! The possibility of both tiny juveniles and cocoons was not lost on me.

"Let them settle in." That's the idea. I have not put them in my shop (60 degree temperature), and have them instead in my basement (70 degree temperature), in hopes of providing the best possible environment for "settling in" that I can. Ellen's basement had no "off" smell and she had four Can o' Worms going and a couple of bins of VC waiting for "Spring". So, as long as I don't kill these worms, keeping them in my basement is a possibility as long as they don't generate an offensive odor. ("Offensive odor" has quite a different definition for my wife than it does for me.)

I think the leaves, even though over 6 months old and quite weathered, will be left alone by the worms unless there is nothing else to eat. I think I am going to 'encourage' molding in the leaves before I add any more to any worm bin.

Goat "litter" (manure, urine, and straw) and just "pure" manure will be coming today. I don't intend to add it to the existing bin, but I do intend to prepare a couple more bins. One will get - as food - goat litter and the other will get straight manure. Each will get a "pound" of "internet" worms.

I "like" the Can o' Worms because they have clearly been "thought out" with regard to 1) production, and 2) ease of use. They come with legs so that the bottom tray is raised so one doesn't have to bend over much even to feed the first worm tray. They have aeration vents with tiny holes but several vents in the top. I like that. As demonstrated by Ellen, they clearly 'work' well. The only 'con' I have is that the price is absurd. It's formed plastic for goodness sake!

Obviously - I think - one can recreate all of the above "pros" with home-made bins. One trades one's time and "made for a specific purpose" for money and "make-do". I like to "roll my own", but I am not so focused on that that I fail to appreciate a good design that saves me time and effort IN USE. My perspective is one of "learn HOW to do it yourself so that you KNOW how to do it if the time ever comes when the manufactured product(s) are unavailable." OR when the manufactured products are greedily priced. (A common case in Alaska.)

I'm not too excited about using shredded newsprint. What makes it readily degradable makes in undesirable to me. Specifically, it turns to "paper mache" with almost no effort. While on one had that is "good", when the worms have more desirable food available, why would they eat (process) the paper? I read fairly commonly that people that use shredded newsprint for worm bedding find a "gooey mess", OR something approaching 'concrete' in the bottom of their bins. I understand that PROPER use probably mitigates or eliminates both of those outcomes, but then I come back to "good" food and the worm's choices. I am going to see what I think of shredded goat litter as "bedding". With all of the straw, I have some hope of it being a better choice than shredded newsprint.

Thanks for your replies, AND HELP! I think you can probably believe that "you" will be the second to know what's going on in my bin(s).


PS - I would "apologize" for my long-winded posts, but I don't particularly see a need to as no one is holding a gun to anyone's head to read them. Furthermore, I try to be succinct - if not 'brief' - in what I write and say. I take the time to read other people's writing because I WANT information. If I don't think there is information to be had, I don't take the time to read it. It seems to me that anyone seeing the lengths of my posts could make the same choice.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 12:04PM
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Apparently we were composing at the same time lawanddisorder.

Your point regarding leaves is well taken as you can see from my above post.

"Lasagna" was the exact term Ellen used to describe her process of feeding. Her bins are, and have been, doing well in a basement environment, so I'll probably keep that up until I kill some worms.

I have an infra-red thermometer with which I can "remotely" measure the temperature of the bin. The bin is currently setting on the concrete floor which is a "radiant panel" for infloor heating. The temperature of the floor where the bin sets is 72.5 F; the temperature of the bin over the past 36h has not risen above 70.2 F. Since the bin is currently in my house and I have the keen interest associated with a new project, I am checking the temperature - without disturbing the bin - every few hours. So far, so good. The remote-reading thermometer should allow me to know quickly if something is getting hot.

Your comment about worm density and Christmas is not lost on me. Hence my statement that I WILL be getting more worms. In a relative sense, A LOT more worms.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 12:21PM
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So today I 'disturbed' the bin to see if I had killed anything. "Disturbing" took the form of brushing back a couple of small areas of the layer of ash shavings. What I saw were "lots" of little white worms about a centimeter-ish long. These were NOT around when I dumped the VC that I got from Ellen.

Are newly hatched red wigglers, (Eisenia fetida), white when they first hatch?

I didn't bring a camera to the "unveiling" (that won't happen again), but I don't have a problem disturbing them a bit more to get a picture IF "you" think these might be something harmful to E. fetida and you need a look to make sure.

Temperature in the bin this AM was 71.2 F.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 4:31PM
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It kinda sounds like potworms. They do not hurt anything. I had them a few times when I first started. Your bin may be a little damp? Things should be OK.

To add some microbes to the new bin, consider adding moose crumbles to a corner. That was good looking stuff in the photos! I think you could also use some like bedding to dry things out. A handful of damp crumbles in the corner would be an interesting test and starting point.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 6:20PM
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The "moose crumbles in the corner" sounds like a good idea. I'm not sure I yet have enough worms to draw a good conclusion. Unless of course all the worms ended up on the moose poop corner. The concept of "adding microbes" didn't enter my mind. Thanks for inserting it there.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 12:30PM
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Pictures of "little white worms":

After "looking around", I am quite convinced that they are Enchytraeids. I suppose the "good news" is that I can - and will - feed them to my fish.


PS - If anything, my bin is on the 'dry' side. I think the "bloom" was triggered by an elevation in temperature over what they had been in.


This post was edited by pskvorc on Fri, Apr 11, 14 at 20:18

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 6:28PM
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I found this:


while "looking around". The image below is an excerpt from it.

I suspect that these came in with the leaves I put in my bin, and when I warmed 'things' up, they took off. An interesting new possible feed for my fish!


This post was edited by pskvorc on Fri, Apr 11, 14 at 20:24

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 8:22PM
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For those interested, here's a short one:



    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 8:37PM
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I'm going to start another bin with nothing but birch leaves in it. We'll see what "develops' in a few days.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 8:55PM
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Paul: In regards to using shredded newsprint, I do not have the clumping or becoming concrete problems.
I have found that if I did not use enough newsprint and/or cardboard/corr. cardb. my VC tend to be pasty like as supposed to be crumbly.
I do not mixed paper product into the worm food as this will make it clumpy but I do add them onto the food DRY. Then sprinkle some water on top of that. On the next feeding day or even before that when I check on things, I would sort of fluff the shredded paper product. If it feels damp then I would leave it. If it feels dry, I would do another pass with the water.
I do not use spray bottles for this anymore. Too slow and too much strain on my finger, hehe.
I use a juice bottle, preferably with a handle. Fill it with water, put my hand to cover the opening, up-ended it over the bin,, ease my fingers toward the opening and slowly ease the fingers to control the water flow while moving the bottle around over the top. Hope this makes sense describing how/what I did.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 12:21PM
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Thank you, otis11. I believe I understand your descriptions clearly.

I understand what you are saying about the shredded paper. Your assertions:
1) that the VC will be "pasty" without the 'fiber' of the shredded paper, and
2) The shredded paper should be added DRY, then lightly moistened or allowed to hydrate over night and moistened if necessary the next day,
are right on with respect to the nature of my bins. Surely, other's systems function differently.

It's starting to warm up here, (we're having over-night lows that are just below freezing), and as such, 'things' are getting busy. When I get a chance, I am going to make a 'hopper' for my snow-blower and see how it works as a mixer/mascerator of leaves/sawdust/goat manure/moose manure/goat litter.

Do you think leaves - in this case paper birch (Betula papyrifera) - would contribute sufficient "fiber" to prevent the 'pastiness' you see in VC that doesn't use shredded paper? I doubt the leaves will have the absorbency of shredded paper.

Thanks again,

PS - I can find NO "white worms" in my bin, but of course I am not digging around vigorously either. From what I read on the web from fish owners that grow them for fish food, they do not tolerate ambient temperatures above about 60 F. Maybe they all 'popped out' from the leaves I added, and were killed by the elevated "house-hold" temperature of 70-ish F.


This post was edited by pskvorc on Wed, Apr 16, 14 at 13:17

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 1:12PM
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The only tree leaves I have from my property are from several Rhododendron shrubs and a Camellia tree. I do not use these for the worm bins, they go to the composter. I prefer “juicier” leaves for the worms, like Fig or Persimmon leaves. That’s as far as my experience using tree leaves go. I agree with you that leaves don’t have water absorbency but I have unlimited amount of shredded newsprint.
My neighbour cut down their Fig tree, so no more of those. I get a huge garbage bin full of Persimmon leaves every fall from my brother and I know there are minimum bugs in there (and no dog or cat poop). I also use the Lily and Iris leaves in Autumn. I collect corn husks in summer and put them through my “cheap” leaves chipper/shredder to compact the volume for storage. I use all those once they’re mushy, trying to minimize getting gases (especially ammonia) in the worm bins. I do find lots of worms only among the Persimmon leaves, red worms, no white worms (Pot worms). These leaves are in a closed plastic bag inside a lidded garbage bin and still the worms thrived. That is contrary to what we believe worms need: lots of oxygen. I see lots of pot worms with heavy feeding or when using bread. So when you need them for your fish ….

“”The shredded paper should be added DRY, then lightly moistened or allowed to hydrate over night and moistened if necessary the next day, are right on with respect to the nature of my bins.”” I remember it is often suggested to moisten paper in a bucket and then squeeze out the water to get the paper like a wrung out sponge. This is definitely the right way to get clumps that cannot be fluffed EVER!

“”a 'hopper' for my snow-blower and see how it works as a mixer/mascerator of leaves/sawdust/goat manure/moose manure/goat litter.”” That sounds like fun. I know they are pellets but wouldn’t they fly around? Make sure you get your safety goggles out or even get a Tavek suit??

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 3:46PM
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I know they are pellets but wouldn’t they fly around? Make sure you get your safety goggles out or even get a Tavek suit??

There's a video on Youtube of a fellow using a snow blower for cleaning up his leaves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CktICaG32Ps It's impressive! We'll see how this goes.

I'm mostly interested in "mixing". Macerating and "aerating" would be "good", but that's of secondary importance.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 4:56PM
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I received my first "mail order" worms today. Could not be happier with them. AT LEAST as many as advertised, and most likely more. They were well-packed and reasonably lively when I dropped them in the bin. I'll check them in about 6 hours and see what they're up to. So far, much, MUCH better than "local".

This is the EBay advertisement: http://www.ebay.com/itm/221413515135?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649

$35 including shipping, but I'm quite certain there was a full pound of worms in the box. Assuming 1000 worms per pound, that's 3.5 cents per worm. I paid $30 for 31 worms "locally".


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 6:07PM
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We are all pretty happy for you. Actually having worms, or more than 31, should make your posts even more interesting. We look forward to you finding your first cocoon.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 9:09PM
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Thanks, equinoxequinox. I'm looking forward to seeing them 'hungry'.

So far, I'm liking the current bin. Humidity seems under control at both ends. No odor unless my nose is actually IN the bin. The worms don't SEEM stressed in any way. I would like to actually SEE the difference in a 24h interval. I really liked the video of a "working" bin, and may try to replicate that. I think it's not only interesting, but informative.

Through the beneficence of a member here, I am receiving another shipment of worms. Those will start another bin. When the weather can be trusted not to freeze overnight, I will put the contents of that bin (or the first one), out into one of mendopete's circular hardware cloth outdoor bins. I am "aging" the contents of that bin as we speak.

At some point in the not distant future, I'll stop adding to this thread. I am continuing with it now because I'm still in the "filling the bins" mode. When I move to having some "production" to report, I'll start a new thread.

The assistance from this site has been VERY helpful!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 9:55PM
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You might want to create two mini bins that you are conservative with to keep a starter sample of each of your "cultures". It is very difficult to know exactly what specific type of worms one has. Maybe most swarms of worms are composed of worms of a few different types. Not interbreeding. Luckily the worms somehow know which is which. I am wondering if the 31 worms are just the right worms for outdoors at your location. Your anticipated worms are probably flying to you. Interesting when one considers how worms maybe moved around to new continents in the olden days. Maybe in muck stuck in a horse hoof. Perhaps the cocoons are designed specifically to adhere there. Certainly is handy since horse hoofs are so close to horse manure manufacturing.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 10:53PM
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That's the pits that you only ended up with 30 worms after paying for what you thought was a lb or more.

If it were me, I would have started them out in a much smaller bin, to make sure they can find each other. There's a lot of empty space in the large bin for 30 worms.

I had gotten a dozen or so off Freecycle, and put them in a small clear container that baby spinach comes in. Punched lots of holes and monitored it carefully. They multiplied in no time, and they graduated to a big-boy bin.

Good luck! You're certainly taking care of them.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 8:52AM
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The reason I put the 30 worms in the relatively large bin is that I had no plans to stop at 30. Nice people here at the VC forum are sending me worms, and I purchased - with very pleasing outcome - "1000" from EBay. I will likely move some of those "thousand" out to another "indoor" bin.

I am currently - this weekend - constructing outdoor worm "cages" per mendopete's design. As soon as we can get overnight lows that do not drop below freezing, I'll be starting these outdoor cages.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 3:03PM
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Is there any reason why you wouldn't just keep your bins indoors anyway? Just out of curiousity, just how long is your summer?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 3:24PM
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Is there any reason why you wouldn't just keep your bins indoors anyway? Just out of curiousity, just how long is your summer?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 3:26PM
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Depends on what you call "summer". For this discussion, let's call it the days that the overnight low does not go below freezing.

ON AVERAGE, over the past 100 years or so, that would be from ABOUT May 15 to ABOUT September 15. So that would be four months.

"Outside" allows MUCH larger "bins". Larger bins mean more production. I'm interested - in order of importance - generating worms to feed my fish, and "making" soil. I feel I need 'large-scale' production. That is generally not an indoor system.

That said, there will be NO outdoor production over-winter. Therefore, whatever worms I produce over the 4-month summer will need to be 'housed' over-winter to start with the following summer. That's "the plan" anyway.

I have reconciled myself to using another method to "make soil". I am going to mix the "organic matter" that I was going to run through worm guts, and simply make my own soil without the benefit of worm digestion. I will be mixing goat bedding (manure, urine, and straw), birch leaves, hardwood shaving and sawdust, and sand. That will suffice for "soil" for my purposes. I will add VC and "tea" to the beds created from the "non-wormed" mixture when VC is available.Plans evolve as information/knowledge is acquired.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 4:10PM
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When I checked the bin this morning, most - but definitely not ALL - of the worms were 'huddled' around the perimeter out of the food/VC. Many were on the walls. Some had 'levitated' the "air gap" and magically achieved the "ceiling". Or they had hired an airplane or employed a ladder to take them there. What POSSIBLE other means of transport could explain traversing such an impassable "air gap". (There were three escapees too. I'll come back to that.)

In my novice's ignorance, I would assume this meant "I don't like it here". I wondered of course what that dislike could be attributed to. First thought was "over-population" as that had been suggested by equinoxequinox above. Seems reasonable at this point. Second thought was "food gone". This one is tough for a inexperienced wormer to tell. "Hydration" was not an issue.

After addressing the immediate crisis - meaning I got all the errant worms back in their "cell" - I 'dug around' in the bin looking for "food". I wasn't particularly worried about 'disturbing' them. First, I'm now not sure what "finished" VC looks like. However, I DO know what leaves, wood shavings and shredded paper look like, and there were still plenty of leaves, wood shavings and shredded paper in the bin. Therefore, I am thinking it wasn't "lack of food" that was causing them to want to escape.

On the "paper" note: I'm 'done' with shredded paper. It is not yet a "gooey mess", but it's clearly headed there. I cannot imagine that worms will eat paper until there is nothing else to eat. As someone suggested, the goat bedding (manure/urine/straw) will suffice completely in the future for worm food and 'bedding'.

Yesterday, I put a whole, but split in half, Roma tomato in the bin as food for the new inmates. It had overstayed its time in the refrigerator but wasn't moldy. This morning when I opened the bin, it was well 'fungused', but there wasn't a single worm in or near either half.

Back to the escapees. First I lined them all up against the wall (actually they were already there), and gave them a stern talking to about the futility of escape. I then told them that to teach them a lesson, I was going to feed some of them to 'the fishes'. (Think New Jersey, but literally.) I told them I would let them choose who would be sacrificed. They all took a quick squirm back leaving 8 little scrawny ones 'out front'. I told them, "Let that be a lesson to you!" I think it worked because after I put about an inch-thick layer of new crushed-up moose marbles on them, not a one showed their slimy little heads.

Back to reality - - -

Looks like I'll be 'making some changes'.

1) The single bin gets spit into two this afternoon.
2) New bin gets NO "paper products".
3) New bin gets NO leaves.
4) New bin gets NO wood shavings.
4) New bin gets goat bedding as worm bedding.
5) Both bins get "pure" goat manure as food, not goat bedding/litter.

I don't know if these worms "like" over-wintered moose manure. It may not be to their 'taste'.

I'm thinking seriously about soaking the moose marbles in sufficient water to make a thick paste and use that as food in addition to goat manure.

No heat problems in bin. Temperature was 71* F.

I am open to speculations on what caused the "I don't like it here".


    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 7:17PM
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Somewhere in the world is a guy who is running a worm bin and has never even been online. Isn't it amazing how the worms seem to do this to everybody?

71° F. Your worms in Alaska are way warmer than mine down here in the 48.

"I'm thinking seriously about soaking the moose marbles in sufficient water to make a thick paste" No, no, no, we are not allowed to play with manure. But then again what is vermicomposting?

Most systems work so much better before filling them up or even purchasing them than they do after.

"I am open to speculations on what caused the "I don't like it here"." A bit hard to do without seeing the system but that is exactly what our specialty is here. The purpose of goat bedding is to absorb urine. Urine turns into ammonia. Worms no likee ammonia. If you decide to rebed them, despite the no paper products, may I suggest egg carton or coffee trays until you find something you like better. Also keep the light on.

"I'm now not sure what "finished" VC looks like. " Like cigarette tobacco stuck to the sides of the bin.

Or I could have read it wrong. Are you using new goat bedding that has not seen a goat?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 10:09PM
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No goat bedding used with worms so far.

"Fresh" goat bedding is straw. Primary purpose is to provide insulation from ground. Combination of straw and urine and manure is SUPPOSED to "generate heat" to keep them warm in the winter. I raised goats up here for more than 10 years, and I NEVER could detect a single degree of increased "heat" due to 'fermenting' bedding.

In prep for creating the 'new digs' (mendopete's cages), I went around my yard examining with a pitch fork, all of the piles of grass clippings I have been making for THIRTEEN YEARS. The BOTTOM of the piles WERE STILL GRASS.

I know folks Outside have a difficult time believing me when I say that "things" don't "heat up" up here, so tomorrow I am going to take a video camera with me as I turn those grass piles over and SHOW that there is NO "compost" at the bottoms of them even after 13 years. It takes A LONG TIME for 'things' to decompose AND grow up here.

I appreciate the "no ammonia" caution. The goat bedding I will be using will be AT LEAST a year old, and some of it 10 years or more. I THINK, the ammonia will have leached out between rain and snow-melt. Human noses are reasonably well able to detect ammonia, so I should be able to smell the presence in the litter I load. I intend to "soak" this stuff once it is in the 'cage' as part of the "aging" process. I can - and probably will - scrounge some horse manure to top the goat litter bedding with just to provide a place for the worms to go if they really hate the goat litter.

I tried the snow-blower as a leaf shredder. Worked well for a mixer, not so well as a shredder because it has paddles, not blades. It will serve well to mix goat litter/wood shavings/grass clippings/leaves/goat manure/moose manure to make "soil". (I'll mix in sand by hand.) I will continue to look for a good shredder in local garage sales.

I split the one bin into two. In doing so, I found most of the worms in the leaf litter. That was a bit of a surprise. I suppose the "stern talking to" impressed them. :) I am baffled why in the morning they are "all over the sides" and in the afternoon, after being mixed back in in the morning, they were now in between the leaves.

"Most systems work so much better before filling them up or even purchasing them than they do after."
An apt statement about many human endeavors.

Thanks for your thoughts,

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 11:47PM
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Ahhh... The emotional opposite of YIKES!

I am fairly confident that I figured out the cause of the "I hate it here!" They hated it 'cause they couldn't BREATHE! Not enough air flow for the volume of worms. (Talk about feast or famine!)

After suspecting that breathable air was the issue, I opened the bins this morning to check on things. (I think I heard angels singing when the lids came off.) FINALLY my bins look like those I have seen pictures and videos of. MANY happy worms on the surface (diving for cover with the light), and the tomato halves were INFESTED ( :) ) with worms.

I still don't like shredded paper, but I am going to add mechanically shredded corrugated cardboard to the bottom of the worm cage. I don't care if they don't eat it. It may provide beneficial "aeration from below" and possibly a deterrent to escape into the ground. I intend to mix shredded leaves with the corrugated cardboard at a ratio of about 1:1 by volume, which MAY offset the escape deterrent.

I'm breathing easier now (pun intended) that I think I have determined the cause of the stress, AND that the 'inmates' are clearly MUCH happier than yesterday.

equinoxequinox's concern about density and mendopete's comments about his attention to "air flow" in his worm "cages" are what lead me to the conclusion that I was suffocating my new worms. Thanks!


    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 11:35AM
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Did you see my picture of the worms clinging to the airstone ?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 12:52PM
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I did not barbarasose. Got a link?


    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Starting a new bin, without the benefit of adding some of the worm's original bedding may be the most difficult task performed in vemicomposting.
Your worms are mad, lost, tired, thirsty, and hungry for Mom's home cooking. They don't like the way a new bin smells. Not happy campers!
BUT, they will learn to like it. They have no choice, other than leave. If they do so, look at it as nature's way of ridding you of worms with low IQ before they breed.
Once the worms settle into their new environment, they will be content and start to breed. The NEXT generation will not know any other home other than your bin. They will be "your" worms, healthy, happy Alaskan red wigglers!
In the future starting a new bin will be easy. Add some worms AND some of their "old" bed to the new bin.

I treat my worms like they are staying in a luxury hotel. They are guests free to come and go as they please. I try to create an "oasis in the desert". Lots of great food, climate control, and lots of VERY friendly company. Native worms travel many yards to join in on the party. Why would they leave, except in emergencies such as flood, drought, starvation, or overheating. If that is the case, please use the exit and leave a cocoon or two on your way out. Come back soon when things get better. They always do....

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 11:36PM
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My place is more like Hotel California - "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!"

Today was pretty hectic. I didn't get the cages built. Went to local hardware stores (Home Depot, Lowes, Alaska Industrial Hardware) and NO ONE had any 1/2" OR 1/4" hardware cloth except in 2' x 25' sizes, and 3' x 5' sizes. I got a roll of 3' x 25' plastic 'chicken wire' fencing. I think it will work well enough. I had to buy supports (stakes) for it though. Pictures will reveal better how it looks.

As I said before, "more when there is more"...


    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 2:35AM
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This will probably be my last post in this thread as my "initiation" into vermiculture is past the initial stages.

I have, at least until 'things' change, settled on a "plan". (Change is inevitable, and OCCASIONALLY even 'good'.) Being the ending post let me remind those that are still watching of my initial ideas and goals. (Please don't let this being MY last post in this thread - other than to respond to other's posts - deter others from commenting, etc.)

The following quote is from my initial post on this forum:http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg0322443013790.html


"While my interest in vermiculture has many roots, the PRODUCTS I am interested in are worms and soil.

I have available at the moment:
1) an unlimited supply of goat manure (mixed with straw to a ratio of about 5:1 manure to straw by weight);
2) an almost unlimited (20 cubic yards per year) supply of birch leaves,
3) a large supply (2 to 3 cubic yards per year), of hardwood saw "dust"),
4) about 5 cubic yards per year of grass clippings,
5) currently about 2 cubic yards of shredded paper/cardboard with a weekly production of a pound or two,
6) about a half a pound per week of coffee grounds,
7) and about 10 chicken egg shells per week (which I grind using a mortar and pestle) into pieces smaller than 0.5mm.

I have a modest leaf shredder

I intend to start relatively modestly with one commercially available "worm farm" with 4 or 5 stacked bins. This "farm" will be in my shop that is kept at a temperature of 60 degrees F. It is my intent to shred and mix (using the leaf shredder) the birch leaves and goat manure/straw mixture.

Here are my questions:

1) Given the "food" I have available, and especially the goat manure, what would "you" recommend that I use as food? (I would point out that native worms LOVE birch leaf piles in the autumn even without them being shredding first.)

2) How much of the eggshells should I add on what schedule - weekly, biweekly, monthly?

3) At this temperature, what do you THINK (I'm not trying to pin anyone down), would be the SOIL production per unit time?

4) At this temperature, what do you THINK the worm production - surplus to be harvested for use as fish food - would be per unit time?

5) Given the "system" I have described, do you see any potential areas of concern?

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my specific questions. I would add that I have looked through the first 100 threads in this site."


Quite a bit has transpired since that initial post, and my education has been greatly accelerated by the generous folks at this forum. The major departure from the above goals of "making soil" and "making worms" is that I no longer have ANY interest in using worms to "make soil". That's not to say I am not interested in vermicompost and worm castings, but using worms to "make soil" for my applications is not reasonable. Instead, I am going to mix items 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus 5 - 10% sand from the first list above (organic matter on hand), and call that "soil", and "use it like I knew what I was doing."

The other primary goal of raising worms to feed my fish, got an 'adjustment' yesterday. The wife of my fishing friend (Jim) fought off breast cancer a few years back. Her immune system was compromised while she was going through chemo-therapy, and Jim was advised by her doctors to get a Mosquito Magnet (hereafter "MM") (http://www.mosquitomagnet.com/resource/lps/mm/3-traps-octenol/trap-video-three-traps.html?gclid=CMi24NzEkL4CFY6RfgodF38A4w) to reduce the probability of an infection from a mosquito bite. They have been using it every summer since.

The MM collects ~5000 mosquitoes a week. (YES, I HAVE counted them. It's what I DO.) Mosquitoes represent a significant proportion of native fish's protein intake. I asked Jim to bring over a baggy of his first trappings, and we'd see if my fish were interested. It took a day for them to figure it out, but now they are eating them enthusiastically. I have at least one other friend with a MM that has agreed to save his trappings for me. Therefore, the burden to produce worms is LESSENED, not eliminated. The mosquitoes will likely be frozen and saved for winter feed when worm production will, at best, be minimized.


1) "Making soil" via worm guts is "out",
2) I'm "moving outside" with mendopete's worm cages, at least until the Fall.
3) The 'demand' for worms for fish food is diminished.

We'll see what the summer brings.

THANKS! to all for helping me 'move along smartly'.(Those that have been in the Navy will appreciate the double meaning.)


This post was edited by pskvorc on Sat, May 3, 14 at 16:12

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 4:10PM
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Just a note from when I was trying to mix up Mel's mix.

You mention cubic yards. When I went to purchase soil mix at garden shops none seem to know 1 cubic yard =
27 cubic feet.

"10 chicken egg shells per week (which I grind using a mortar and pestle) into pieces smaller than 0.5mm" was mildly amusing because most people just smash them into "tiny pieces". smile.

It was interesting because I think you are saying that many things you originally thought about vermicomposting, when you really looked at it, changed.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 6:08PM
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The biggest mosquito's I have ever seen were in Alaska. They were like little helicopters that would swarm you as soon as the sun disappears. I had on repellant, long sleeves, gloves, ski-mask and goggles... it did not matter. Fish food is a great use for them!
I hope you do not give up your quest to use worms to help build soil. You are filling your raised beds with raw compost ingredients. IF the beds do not grow as you desire, maybe add worms next May. And maybe by then you will be a "worm junky" and turn those raised beds into Alaska's biggest worm farm???

Good luck Paul

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 8:56PM
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"Many things about vermicomposting, when you really looked at it, changed."


I'm not giving up - yet - on using worms to build soil per se, but I need a lot of soil 'fast', and unless I were to purchase A LOT of worms, they aren't going to "make" me enough soil to use this summer, or next summer for that matter. Purchasing enough worms to make that amount of soil would be they type of money management our government practices.

I have always tried to adhere to the old adage: "Waste not, want not." As I age, that adage takes on ever increasing significance. It would be 'against my grain' not to use the vermicompost and castings to the benefit of my "garden" soil. I am simply not going to rely on that source for anything. Rather, I am looking at it as "gravy" or "icing on the cake".

My standards for plant growth are pretty pedestrian. Mostly, all I want annuals to do is not die over the summer, and for perennials, not die over winter. Those that produce fruit are only expected to produce "some", not enough to feed the neighborhood.

I have four large planters that I intend to fill with "dirt" and plants this Spring. Total cubic yards of soil needed will be on the order of 12 cubic yards. It would take quite a 'herd' of worms to produce that, even for use next year.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 11:19PM
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