Outdoor wormbin / active garden raised bed

mr_yanOctober 4, 2012

Two years ago I started a raised bed over a concrete pad using the strawbale garden idea. Along the way that first year I thought why not and tossed in two tubs of "red worms" as sold at the local feed store. Last fall year I added a significant amount of shredded leafs and other organic precomposted matter. Late this year I realized I had unintentionally created a large outdoor worm bin here which survives the winters along the IL/WI state line. I mean this thing is full of worms. It also happens to be my main garden bed.

This year I determined I needed to add more organic matter so three yard bags of shredded leafs and grass clippings got mixed in last night - three full yard bags in a 4'x7' area. 24 hours later and it is not yet heating up with how well mixed in it is.

I was planning on adding a bale of peat moss and a few wheel barrow loads of native soil still this year and mixing it all up. My goal was to plant garlic in it in about 10 to 15 days form now.

Anyone see a problem with this? Did I shoot myself in the foot for getting garlic in? Will I be screwing up my worm bin too much?

The worm bins I really pay attention to are flow thru systems in the basement. This outdoor bed just happened to work and has a LOT of what looks like VC in it.


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Do you have pics? Personally, I'd love to have an outdoor bin in NYC. My immediate plans are to start a VC tea business. Please post pics.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 9:49AM
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no. you can add garlic, citrus, onions too the worm bin this has been proven by MANY people doable. however they say the worms will not eat garlic and the onions unless it's rotting and sometimes they will not eat it unless you force it onto them but no one has said their worms died eating these foods.

i usually just put my scraps in a bin including citrus, onions. and let it rot for about 2 weeks until needed then i feed it to the worms. i haven't really gotten a chance myself to feed mine garlic or onions but some citrus yes they are still alive. i put in egg shells to try and help the acidity as well.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 4:16PM
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Maybe I wasn't too clear in the original post. My main intention for this is to be a garden bed and I will be growing garlic in it not composting the garlic.

I think I will just pull as many worms out of this bed as I can then cease to think of it as a composting area. I'll mix the whole contents up then add a layer of soil and peat over that. As the roots get deep enough they'll reach the composting matter.

This weekend I'll have to read up more on Bently Christy's outdoor winter worm windrows.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 5:56PM
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Bently's redwormcomposting.com site is a great resource. He also writes about building vermi-trenches in his garden bed. Basically a trench in the middle of his garden filled with worms which he feeds. The plant's roots grow into the trench and get nutrients. I would like to try this, maybe next spring.

Let us know how your garlic turns out. I have heard growing garlic will keep gophers and moles away. I will plant some soon.

Good luck, Pete

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 9:58PM
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The trench idea sounds interesting. I see no problem at all planting garlic. Of course that means the planted area can't be disturbed much for the next ten months or so. But it sounds like you're not using the thing to compost food scraps, so why not?

Garlic puts out shallow roots so I'd mix the compost up close to the top before planting, but I've had good success growing garlic using vermicompost. Gotta get mine in soon.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 10:17PM
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I'm also thinking this bed has a lack of nitrogen. I hope the infusion of the organic matter will help that.

Good call on the shallow root tendencies of garlic colin3.

I did sift about 15 gallons of grow media out of this bed - collected a lot of worms and what ever large stuff as well - and placed the media over another small bed. The large stuff and worms essentially give me a third bin in my basement now. The sifted media was really granular to almost the point of being pelleted, consistently sized and small, black, and smelled great albeit a little dry.

I'll experiment with pocket / trench feeding blended foods next year both in containers and my larger beds. I'm sure I'll seed the gardens with red wigglers at least from cocoons when I use the VC from my indoor bins next spring.

The only thing that still worries me is settling as the newly added mater breaks down and reduces in volume.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 11:16PM
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Mr yan,

Whoops, lack of nitrogen is probably due to the presence of all that lovely organic material decomposing, rather than the opposite!

As I'm sure you know, soil nitrogen comes from several sources, a main one is nitrifying bacteria in the soil.

When soil has a lot of non composted material, especially high carbon to nitrogen ratio stuff like dry leaves, the nitrifying bacterial population goes nuclear. The bacteria 'eat' up all the available nitrogen to make more bacteria, making the soil low in plant available N. (ammonia, nitrAte) This is technically called "nitrogen immobilization" and is very common and temporary.

So, I would not add any more leaves or straw to this bed, I'd just wait. The bed sounds fabulous and I'm jealous that you have enough warm days left in your season to plant garlic!

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 1:22AM
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You're right about lack of N due to my sources of matter. This year almost the whole bed was planted with beans so I don't think I used too much available N. And now that the bean plants are mixed back in they'll start to release some N back into the soil.

Two of the bags I added were a mowed blend of grass clippings and shredded leafs. These are the ones I'm worried about heating and killing off worms. At this point though the heating that occures may not kill the worm but allow them to live further into the winter. Tonight we're forecasted to get our first freeze of the season. I grow hard neck garlic planted in the fall to be harvested in about July. Typical winter around here we don't get much snow 2 m or less but we get COLD usually a low of -20 F.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 9:15AM
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