Separating the worms

agrowingpassion(7B)June 18, 2011

I have quite a large collection (3 years) of castings and have only scooped off the top from time to time. Any one have a good method for separating the castings from the worms? I have my bin in my laundry room in a two tier tote (like you use for storage). I cover it with sredded newspaper and it is getting really full. I appreicate any trials and tribulations any one may have to offer. Also, at what point can I divide the worms and start a new bin?

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marauder01

Hi there,

I normally use the Bently turbo light harvesting method (google him, and you'll love his site and advice) on my small 10 gal totes. Basically,
1- pile a good amount of castings up one end
2- leave open under a strong light, the worms will burrow down away from the light
3- scrape off the top layer until you hit worms,
4- wait a few minutes (or longer) and repeat.

In about hour, you could easily sort a whole bin. I know it's a bit labour intensive, but for a once in a while harvest of a small setup, this is the easiest by far.

Another popular method is to stop feeding for a few weeks, then place a piece of hession or the like on top of the top layer, and feed on top with something really juicy, like an old mellon. In a few days, you'll have a large proportion of your worms above the hession. Simply lift the hession off and straight into the next / new bin. Do this several times and I think you'll like the results.

As for when to divide, I like to let my 10 gal totes go about 9 months. This allows the population to really ramp up (like 1 lb into 3lbs+ per tote). I then season and prepare a new tote with all the usual suspects, then simply scoop out half the contents of the old tote and dump into new one. I then backfill the gap left behind some of the seasoned bedding from the new tote. Voila! one becomes 2. So in 15-18 months, 1 lbs becomes more like 6-8 lbs by allowing them room to breed up into the new environment. Seems to work OK for me, and the bonus is I can then give away a fully operational tote about once per month (I have 10 in total).

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 6:09PM
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agrowingpassion(7B)

Marauder01 Thank you. Your answer leads to another question. I did your method and find that I don't have many more worms than I started with 3 years ago. Is this because I wait too long to harvest? What helps increase the number of worms? My top bin tote)is about 6-8 inches deep and I only feed them every 4-6 days. Is that not enough, does that effect the reproduction? Just learning. I seem to have a good moisture level. Moist but not drippy. Not much run off but not dry. It was my understanding that was the right moisture level. Maybe one thing has nothing to do with the other. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 1:22AM
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equinoxequinox

My concern is for the two tier storage tote that is getting really full. They are not engineered to hold much weight before they sag and topple. Harvesting at least one drawer using the method of your choice and refill with light bedding of your choice, newspaper shredded, egg carton shredded, cardboard, coconut fiber. Since you do not report extra food hanging around in the bin, the worms you have are probably just ther right amount you need for the kitchen scraps produced. Harvest is a great time to get fellow gardeners or ecologically minded people interested in vermicomposting by offering some worms to get them started.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 1:17PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

"My top bin tote)is about 6-8 inches deep and I only feed them every 4-6 days. Is that not enough, does that effect the reproduction?"

The frequency is fine, but what probably affects reproduction is the amount of food relative to the mass of worms. If you're feeding a pound of worms 1/2 lb. of scraps every few days, that's probably not enough. It also helps to have a few inches of bedding on top of your 6-8" of material.

3 yrs. without a full harvest is pretty long. The material at the bottom must be compacted and probably pure castings. You might want to consider clearing half of the bin all the way to the bottom and replacing that half with damp bedding with some food mixed in. Put the harvested castings on a sheet of cardboard inside the bin to let it dry out a bit. The worms will wander off the cardboard and into the main part of the bin if you leave the bin exposed to light.

There will be cocoons in this material, so transfer it into a smaller tote to incubate for a while. Leave a couple of melon rinds face down in this VC and check every few days for babies. Gently wash those of into the main bin with a spray bottle & put the rind back in to catch more baby worms.

Cheers,
Andrew

    Bookmark   June 19, 2011 at 2:20PM
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equinoxequinox

plumiebear you are pure genius.

"Put the harvested castings on a sheet of cardboard inside the bin to let it dry out a bit. The worms will wander off the cardboard" Unique idea. Maybe even put a hole in the middle of the cardboard and the worms will congragate in the center of the bottom of the pile and herd themselves into the bin. Or at least in my mind they will. Real life may differ.

"Gently wash those (babies) off into the main bin with a spray bottle" Great idea since touching them does not work out too well for the baby worm.

Readers might wonder why vermicomposters care so much about each worm. It is because to us we see that worm and all that worms babies.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 2:05PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Thanks, equinoxequinox, but I'm just passing on tips I picked up along the vermicomposting path. I'm just thankful I can still remember some of them. Good idea to punch some holes in the bottom. The VC won't fall through, but the worms will probably find them.

Andrew

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 1:21AM
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