grass clippings & red wigglers

iowafarmersdaughter(4)May 24, 2010

Believe it or not I have had a bin of red wigglers in my basement for the better part of a decade, and I know very little about them. They have survived me this long because I've followed the care instructions of the person who gave them to me. Now I have found that I am running out of dry leaves that I was instructed to put in the bin. Is it alright for me to put clean dry grass clippings in instead until the leaves fall again in the fall. We don't use chemicals and there are few to no weeds in the clippings. Most of the clippings are brome grass.

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The clippings should be composted for a while before being fed to the worms. Grass clippings alone will make a gooey mess that the worms won't like. Grass clippings mixed with bedding will heat up. Grass clippings composted for 2 to 4 weeks will be great food for the worms.

How long to compost them depends on how much effort you put into the composting process. If you have a compost tumbler, 2 weeks should work. If you just pile them up in a corner of your yard, they will need to sit for several months. If you have been piling them up already, dig into the middle of the pile where they are brown and crumbly, and feed them that.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 4:04PM
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sbryce: just to make sure I understand you correctly. Are you talking about fresh (green) grass or does it also apply to dried grass (=hay?).

I don't have a lawn but planning to get my neighbour's grass clippings, air dry it and hoping it wouldn't make a gooey mess.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 4:53PM
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I'm talking about fresh. If you have dried grass clippings, give them a try. I would start out slowly just in case.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 5:30PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

Other bedding options are:
Shredded newspaper, corrugated cardboard torn into pieces, paper bags torn into pieces, and some people even shred up things like junk mail and cereal boxes and make them a portion of the bedding too. Pressed paper-type egg cartons work great too.

Worms can live a long while on corrugated cardboard alone, I hear.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 10:55PM
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I just noticed the original post talks about DRY grass clippings. I don't know how they would do. Far better than green grass clippings, no doubt, but I don't know if they are low enough in nitrogen to be used as bedding.

After doing some digging around on the net, it appears that grass clippings, even after drying out, have too much nitrogen to be used as bedding. The consensus seems to be that grass clippings do not lose a significant amount of nitrogen as they dry out,

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 12:04AM
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Curiosity. Less trees this year? The leaves from 10 years ago are just finishing up? I'm imagining all kinds of somber, romantic or scientific scenarios in my mind. Obviously contacting the original caretaker of the worms is not possible. I can give you my best take on what they would say if they could. Have you harvested in the 10 years? I'm not one to argue with 10 years of success. I wonder if "the care instructions of the person who gave them to me" would change at all if said had access to the dynamic information on this and other sites across the web. You could gather green leaves and dry them to last you until this fall. Then get a good big supply. Leaves have framework in them that lasts an especially long time. The closest to them is maybe brown paper grocery bag shreded. Not an item I ever hear people saying they use. Maybe they all reply "plastic"? Does your town have a leaf dump? Ours both accepts and shares. My neightbor might me pitchforking out of his truck and I might be pitchforking into mine. Either way 5 months and you should be in the money... er leaves again. Until then maybe hold back on really wet stuff like watermellon. Obviously the whole grass idea is out. Even dry it is not a leave equivalent.

What I really wanted to say: Grab a few paper egg carton and coffee trays. If you watch tv, spend the commercials tearing the cartons into inch by inch pieces. It is fun. Use this as you would leaves. And a few wee bits of corrigated cardboard.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 1:41AM
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I'm not sure about the grassy part of the bromegrass, but I started out my first bin with straw bedding, since that's what it came with. I personally won't use it again...after 7ish months most of the straw has yet to break down. In comparison, the cardboard I put in a few months later is unrecognizable.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 2:50AM
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every now and then I'll get a hand full of old grass clippings and toss them in it's gone in no time.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 11:30AM
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Hi. I saw your post regarding the red wriggler worms. You can use strips of newspaper that are dampened with water (in place of leaves). You have to just make sure that they aren't too soggy or too dry and do not use cartoons or glossy ads - just b/w newsprint! Also if you have access to someone who has horses you can get some aged manure from them for the worms. Hope that helps. Also - I was wondering if you would be willing to trade me a dozen of the worms for some plants or seeds? I have a great deal of perennial flowers and a lot of different seeds. I would like a dozen of the worms so that I can start my own vermicomposting. I can purchase them online but I don't have the $25.00 and I don't need as many as they are selling! Thanks in advance!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 12:27PM
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One dozen worms isn't going to do much, you really need around 1,000 to make this work.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 1:16PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

stillwaters, you can go to and look to see on the map if someone near you is giving away worms. Or post in your local freecycle or on craigslist. Both are good places to go for woms locally. Also, I know my local county extension office sometimes offers composting classes and has worms to give away if you take the free class. You could check your county's website to see if they have a similar program.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 2:46PM
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Patience is the key.... that or neglect to avoid frustration.

I was too cheap to buy worms also. Last year about this time, I went to Walmart and bought a tub of their 'panfish' worms. Physical count was 32. They were EH's. I looked up the supplier online. Then I went to a bait shop and bought a tub of EF's (55 worms). I started a bin for each using kitty litter buckets.

I pulled each bin apart a few times early on to count the worms and look for coccoons. I could not find a single coccoon and was convinced my worm venture was a failure. I was disgusted and lost interest.

Late last fall I decided to throw the contents of the bins into my regular compost. (I did not want to waste the contents.) I was very surprised to find both bins teeming with worms.

Moral of the story: worms are prolific little buggers but they seem to start on their own schedule. You gotta compensate by being VERY patient.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 6:39PM
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pjames "kitty litter buckets" before you refered to these as "kitty litter bins". I thought you were using the maybe 16X16X4 inch deep kitty litter "pans" as are used for cats. These would seem to be perfect for the needs of worms and the needs of farmers who don't want to "lift the whole farm" :-) every day. These "kitty litter buckets" are they maybe 12X9 and 12 deep? I have my eye on one at my mum in laws house.

"cheap"? Anyone can throw money at a problem. Real satisfaction is only gained with no to minimal money. Happiness too maybe.

"I pulled each bin apart a few times" Ahhhh. A fellow tear a bin apart-er-er.

Have you ever thought flow thru?

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 12:19AM
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Yes my bins were made from the buckets litter comes in. They are tough. I use them for around the garden as well.

Tidy cats has 2 sizes- one is like 14 inches with an effective height of about a foot. The bottom is 8X10 flaring slightly at the top.

I am designing a flow thru now where I can stack 2 of these buckets. I will use screws and nuts to hold the top bucket in place. I should get about 22 inches bedding height after I nest them together and cut a place for a bottom tray.

The 8 X10 proved a difficult dimension for a plastic tray. I found one slightly smaller that I think I can adapt with some baffles. Cost at the hardware store-$6.50. For the glad plastic trays (3 pk)- another $5.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 9:14AM
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"nest them together" Don't nest them together. Stack without nesting. Use the advantage of a square over a circle. Being able to seperate has several major advantages.

"screws and nuts to hold the top bucket in place" Don't screw and nut. The top bucket stays in place due to your friend and mine, gravity.

"cut a place for a bottom tray" Don't cut a place for a bottom tray. Like the stuff is ever going to fall with out encouragement, or if it does fall, do it neatly 2 inches at a time. Ever have a junk drawer overfill? Think free flowing like a waterfall.

"flaring slightly at the top" Is another advantage of the buckets to take advantage of.

"8 X10" Is this the second size kitty litter bucket? Or the glad plastic trays? What is the second size kitty litter buckets?

"adapt with some baffles" The baffles have me... baffled?


    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 9:49AM
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Guess I was a little confusing in my description. Kitty litter buckets (Tidy cat anyway) is slightly bigger at the top than at the bottom but square. Top is like 11 1/2 X 9 1/2 while the bottom is 8 X10. Left on their own and empty one bucket will nest almost entirely into the other. My goal is to basically make one tower so to make the top bucket stay in place it will have to be seated an inch or so into the bottom one. Now I could just fill the bottom bucket with castings and then let the top bucket sit on top but I am afraid the thing will be too unstable. Hence using some screws to hold the top bucket in place.

I will still have some space between the two buckets where they join. I plan to pack it with something that is easily removable. That is in case I want some ventilation 1/2 way down the down. If worms or mites start coming out of the space, I will definitely pack it.

The reason for the bottom tray is to collect leachate and castings. I do have a plan similar to sbryce's of making a series of rods with screws that will turn and actually pull the bottom layer of compost down.

There is not much difference if I cut the 10 inch side or the 8 inch as far as strength. Either way I do not think I can add a third bucket to the system. I think that is too much for the small base.

What I meant by baffles is a way to direct falling compost into my collection tray. The trays I found are 8 X 8 so I will have couple inch gap. I figure plastic pieces flaring up and out to the sides like wings might prevent castings from falling outside the tray.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 10:22AM
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You probably have more than just the two buckets to play with. When you build your second flow thru I predict it will contain no metal parts.

Plastic is not a strong material. Plastic buckets are designed to hold liquid while 100% intact. They are built to this minimum standard. They are not over engineered. Remove any bit of them and their structual integrity is impared. Metal is not well supported upon a foundation of plastic. Especially metal that has work to do.

"If worms or mites start coming out of the space" They don't. They like it inside better.

"The reason for the bottom tray is to collect leachate and castings." There should be no leachate. Is the idea for the tray to sit on the floor of the bottom bucket and slide in and out? Very complicated. The baffles are now giving me conniptions. Or a heart attack. I'm not sure which. The worms will congrigate under, around and between the baffles. And in and under the collection tray. But not having experience of a similar system I could be totally wrong.

"direct falling compost" Only extreme duress makes that stuff fall.

"a series of rods with screws that will turn and actually pull the bottom layer of compost down." It sounds good. Great actually. Except the compost does not know it is supposed to cooperate and fall down to the level of the rods and screws so carefully prepared for them. Your best shot at this would be if you blend the food, shred the bedding and keep things not super wet. I don't do any which maybe why the falling compost thing did not happen for me.

Ofcourse you know to start with some pretty finished vermicastings/vermicompost. Many people put down a layer of newspaper. Try to do it with only a single layer so the mechinism won't have to work hard to break it down. And so you don't have to wait so long for it to breakdown. Waiting is hard. Or wedge a piece of cardboard there from the bottom and pull it out right away after filling. The material may just stay where it is. It pretty much did for me.

You are going to need a bigger collection tray.

Oh and if stuff does fall... It likes to wait until I remove the collection tray.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 11:44AM
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I constructed 2 flow thru's this afternoon. Or to be more accurate, the bottom chambers- I have to empty a bin into another container so I can get to the bucket they are in. I will cut the bottom out of one and make the second stage then do the other.

I know that when you alter the integrity of a plastic bucket you risk it's strength. I was especially careful after reading how a FT collapsed this week. I was very careful to cut a minimum amount. Then I tested it. I stood on the sides and did the "twist". If it will hold my 150 pounds wiggling around it should hold the worms and compost.

I had already planned to use a single sheet of newspaper across the grid at the bottom. The leachate is planned also. I will deliberately add enough water over a few days to saturate the bedding so it wets the newspaper sheet at the bottom. I figure that will soften it and aid it's breakdown.

I am also planning a system to fill the FT's initially. I am going to sift two bins through my 1/2 inch grid. All the small stuff will go on the bottom. The bigger stuff will go on top. I am also in the process of hot composting some material in my tumbler. The main reason for the hot pre-compost is to hopefully kill off any pathogens that may be present. I had put some questionable materials into that compost- mainly some dog poop and several squirrels that made the mistake of messing around my garden. I also had the bones from a few chickens I roasted. All this was taken from one of my regular bins then run through my wood chipper and then put into my tumbler with several pounds of UCG and alot of fresh grass clippings. It has been hot for over a week. The last time I mowed, I broke my starter cord on my push mower and have not fixed it yet. I mulch with my riding mower for the most part but pick up grass from the areas I cannot get to with that mower. It gives me a source of 'green' material.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 7:04PM
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I wasn't going to trust the integrity of a plastic bin with a section cut out of it. I built a framework for the rods to sit on that is independent of the bin. That way the bin itself does not have to support the weight of the VC.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 7:28PM
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Myths and legends:

"There should be no leachate."

Really, this depends on the bin design and material, eg a plastic bin will keep more moisture in than a wooden bin, so would be expected to have some leachate if the same food was being added to both bins.

How dry do you want the bins to be? Time and time again people find worms heading down and living happily in the wet catchment tray, or comment that their worms like it when the moisture content is up, so at some point raising the moisture content will cause some run-off - leachate.

It also depends on how the food is pre-processed.

Food that is finely shopped with a food processor will release it's water faster compared to whole foods which take longer to break down. It is similar to comparing a brief heavy rain to a longer gentle rain which will soak in more and make less run off.

Not all leachate is bad, and we can control it a little ourselves.

A bit over a week ago one of my COWs got a bit smelly - too much food not being eaten fast enough. Being concerned about the potential problems, I sprinkled some lime/dolomite powder on then watered it in with about 2 lots of 5 litres of water.

This caused an expected flood of leachate in the bucket I had placed under the tap, and being fresh it didn't have a bad smell at all, so I dumped it on a couple of hedge plants that haven't been doing so well. If it hurt them, that was better than hurting some good ones.
Showing that bin to a friend today that also has a COW, he was stunned to see huge clumps of worms writhing under my cover mat - it's almost like a horror movie - but in a good way. :)

Checking the hedge plants, suddenly there is a lot of new growth happening.

For me, it was a win-win situation.

I removed the smell which made my wife happy, the worms are really happy, the hedge is happy.

Life is good and in part due to the leachate. :)

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 9:01AM
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"There should be no leachate." Ok I relent. One drop of leachate a day is fine. It shows the worm medium is as wet as it can be without loosing any of that ouzzie goodness.

"sprinkled some lime/dolomite powder on" I'm on the other side of the coin.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 12:43PM
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pjames, "questionable materials into that compost- mainly some dog poop, several squirrels that made the mistake of messing around my garden, and two tresspassers nobody will miss much. I also had the bones I ground to make my bread from a few chickens I roasted. All this was taken from one of my regular bins then run through my wood chipper" pjames! What are you doing over there?!?

If there was only one worm left on the planet I would have to hide it before pjames cut it in half, randomz dumped lime on half and steamyb poured vinegar on the other half.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 1:02PM
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They taste better with vinegar!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 9:51PM
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