Three Big Mistakes

morgan_3December 23, 2011

Although I have been vermiculturing for a number of years and have been considered something of an expert (you know the drip under pressure) by some folks, I have made LOTS of mistakes, and from those I have learned a great deal. The main reason I joined this form is to learn from people like you who enjoy sharing their experiences. I truly believe you can learn as much in these types of forums as you can from reading books on the subject, which in my opinion, have not changed much on this subject over the years. So let's get on with it.

Mistake #1: When I first got started with raising red wigglers acquired from a neighbor's leaf compost pile I read a few books on the subject and visited some commercial worm growers in the area. I chose peat moss as my medium and made a couple of wooden worm boxes with corrugated metal bottoms which had lots of quarter inch holes in the bottom. After few months in to the project I had a sneak visit from my land lady who went upstairs where I had been keeping my two worm boxes, and when I got back from classes I found a nasty note attached to my front door. Unbeknown to me I had ruined a hard wood floor and yes I ended up replacing a good portion of that floor. I immediately switched to a fiberglass tub (plastic tubs were not available in those days) and to this day, I DO NOT drill holes in my indoor worm bins...ever!

Mistake #2: Several winters ago I left town to visit family in Colorado and forgot to turn off the heat pad under the four indoor worm bins. I came back to a large baked brick in each bin with temperatures exceeding 100 F. Figuring I had killed my 40 plus year old collection of worms I decided to start over using the same baked media which I completely saturated with water. I let these bins sit to soak for several days before going back and attempt to break up the large chunk of baked peat moss in each bin. I wasn't in any hurry to restart the process realizing it would be a couple of months before I could collect a new start of worms from my frozen over outdoor compost bins. After a month or so I went back to one of the bins to loosen up the media some more and noticed the bin was loaded with tiny worms. Same true for the other three bins. Apparently a large number of the egg capsules had survived baking experiment, and after further inspection I found larger worms as well. I have no idea how or where the larger worms had survived, but they did.

Mistake #3: After purchasing five pounds of European night crawlers I decided to eliminate two of my indoor red wiggler bins in favor of two Euro bins. One red wiggler bin was dumped into the outdoor bin under my deck and the second bin was intended to be used in an experiment which never took place. I got side tracked and forgot about the second bin which I had left under my deck next to the outdoor bin. It was several weeks later when I discovered my mistake. It had rained previously and the second bin of red wigglers was not covered. The bin was completely covered in two inches of water and had been sitting there for nearly two weeks with most of the worms still inside. I'm sure a number of the worms jumped ship, because I found evidence of worm activity all over the area, but the majority of the worms were still happily swimming about in their completely drenched media.

I think the lesson to be passed along to any 'newbie' is that making mistakes in raising red wigglers has some draw backs, but these little critters are pretty forgiving, so don't fret over making a few mistakes along the way, because we all do.

Now I need to confess to a new mistake to add to my list of mistakes. For a long time I have had my head in a dark place on this subject for which I should have known better. Just the other day a self proclaimed newbie pointed out something to me which was so illuminating I felt like banging my head against the wall. For years I have been an opponent of the belief that worms did not actually gain any nutritional benefit from coffee grounds. Well if that was true then, I concluded they probably gained nothing from spent tea either. When I made that statement here I was challenged that tea leaves are nothing more than ground leaves! Hello, light in tunnel...worms are not people! There digestive systems are completely different. Then I recalled a movie, The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I won't ruin the movie for any who have not seen it, but Jack plays a rich guy who drinks a very expensive, special blend of coffee which is processed in a unique way. And now I see the light. Thank you friend newbie.

I too am a newbie as well, at least to this site, and I have come on a bit strong here in the last couple of days. I don't mean to establish myself as some kind of know it all, because I am not. Apologies to any I have offended or may offend in the future. I will be browsing lots of old threads and possibly commenting on some old issues. I hope you will understand that I am here to learn and maybe even pass along a little wisdom from my past mistakes, and believe me when I tell you...I have made many.


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morgan_3, I like your style.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 5:29PM
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So morgan I was lurking and reading a bunch of your old threads on the forum you used to haunt. You get some nasty winters right - like at warmest you're zone 4 right?

If so, how do your outdoor bins hold up? Do they bonce back from cocoons alone or are adult worms able to overwinter a frost line 4 feet deep.

I ask as I am in zone 4b, winter lows between 20 and 25 below each year, and am thinking about an outdoor bin. I have a one cubic yard traditional compost bin but seem to fail at getting that to work as well as I think it should.


    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 9:43PM
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Thanks Otis, I have enjoyed reading various comments here as well and frankly I have a lot more browsing to do. I have noticed quite a few posting by yourself as well as Yan here. I'm sure we have a great deal of information to share. I'm looking forward to our discussions.

Yan, although Helena proper is listed a zone 4, I am in the center of the valley, whereas the city of Helena sits on the side of Mt. Helena on the south-west side of the valley. My weather patterns are a lot different even though I am only five minutes or five miles from town. Winds here can be three times higher than in town, and the moisture levels are considerably lower. Our frost lines do get down to about two feet but that is where my garden stops and the bed rock begins.

My six raised beds are dug down into the bed rock or approximately four feet. The deepest raised bed is dug down five feet and contains well aged cow manure/straw. This bed has a combination of red wigglers, Euros, and Canadian night crawlers added to it. The red wigglers have pretty much taken over the bin, however I do see evidence of the other two worms from time to time.

In the fall I dig a sizeable hole in the center of this raise bed and fill it with garden scraps. In the winter I cover the surface with black plastic and place three window panes over this bed and let it sit until spring. Worms will migrate to the lower levels, but by spring they will have pretty much devoured all of the garden scraps. I use the composted cow manure for potting mixes and filling large garden holes with a 50"50 mix of compost and top soil for tomatoes, squash, pumpkin and cucumbers. I also add a cottage cheese container teaming with red wigglers to these holes as well.

I have an unlimited supply of well aged cow manure. and horse manure in various stages of decomposition. I add horse manure with straw bedding to an above ground out door compost bin which sets under my deck. Like my raised beds it is 4'W x 8'L, and 3.5'D. By sitting under my deck and next to the concrete wall of the house, I get some protection from the cold. I cover this bin with a wooden 1" x 4" frame which has 14ml opaque plastic sheeting (painters drop cloth) stapled to the frame and a tarp thrown over that.

This compost bin under the deck also gets a healthy dose of garden and harvest scraps before winter. The only difference in the two outdoor bins is the under deck bin gets dosed with hot water periodically from an outdoor faucet I installed a year ago. Some of the horse manure in this bin is fairly fresh so adding hot water helps to boost the decomposition process in the winter months. By spring a few turnings is all that is required to complete the pulverizing process of the 'horse biscuits'.

This may seem like a lot of compost but I never have enough. The main garden 60' x 100', four 4' x 60' rows, six 4' x 8' raised bed, fruit trees, etc., use a lot of compost. I also bring in three pickup loads of the well aged cow manure to till in each spring.

I would like to figure out how to post pics here to help explain some of the things which I have been posting. Will do that as a follow up as soon as I can determine how its done.

As a side note Yan, I wore out a shovel and pic ax establishing my garden, bins and planting fruit trees, and I have a rock wall 200ft long, 10ft wide and 6ft deep extending my back yard into a 40ft barrow ditch along my back year. This wall has been a dumping site for corn stalks: potato, bean, pea, squash and cucumber vines; and layered with horse manure as well. I have added another riser to my 20 riser irrigation system to plant this area next spring. It already has dill growing in one corner, and I figured I would decorate this area with an assortment of colorful gourds and maybe some small pumpkins this spring.

Each year I now have people stopping who want some of my corn stalks for Halloween decorations. Figured they could help themselves to some gourds as well.


    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 6:03AM
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What I wouldn't give to have an unlimited supply of manure! I am so jealous

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:59PM
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shitzandwiggles...what a fantastic name.

Before moving to Montana I lived in a town of 80 square miles with about ten times the population of the eighty square mile valley here just out side of the city of Helena. Horses and cattle out numbered the population by a factor of about ten...maybe more. I live square in the middle of the valley, so you can see I am surrounded by lots of manure! Free for the taking!!! Horse manure is four doors away and cow about a five minute drive. The cow manure mound has manure from a number of years back which makes it composted to the point where crops can be grown directly in it. And the farmer loads my pickup truck for me. It's like a gold mine for a gardener. Add some crushed rock fines from the local gravel mines; some wood chips and wood chip fines from the mill down the road a bit; and a well with a twenty riser underground feed system for irrigation; and a 2/3's acre lot which is more than half garden space...and Utopia!

I don't mean to brag shitzandwiggles, it's hard work for someone my age, but it keeps me going. The biggest challenge is Mother N, who only allows me a sixty day window to accomplish what I must do. Sometimes I get a few extra days, but no guarantees.

This is still work in progress, but after ten years I feel like I have accomplished something which I can be proud of. I'm sure you didn't respond to this thread to hear my life story, but I have these uncontrollable urges to write about something.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 7:50AM
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Great thread. Thank you for sharing Morgan, and keep 'em coming.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:14PM
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