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Neophyte needs help

Posted by langeranger Dallas, TX (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 21, 13 at 23:03

For a couple of years I've been tending a three-tray "Worm Farm" setup. I get a kick out of all my little red wiggly pals though they never seem to behave as I expect them too. My chief puzzlement and disappointment is that over the two or so years I've been feedin' em, I've harvested, what I consider, only a paltry amount of castings, probably no more than ten pounds.
My "operation" has some significant limitations which may fully explain why I remain a small-timer. If so, some of you experienced guys and gals can tell me so. Hopefully though, you may have a hint or two for me that will allow me to boost my pals output.
From this forum I learned that corrugated box material makes excellent bedding 'cause the worms like the glue. So that's what I'm now using exclusively. Also, I read a comment here to the effect that "you can't have too much bedding." So I've been adding relatively copious amounts of corrugated. Aside from the small size of my "Worm Farm" set-up, I think the most serious limitation is that I have no temperature-controlled space in which to keep the "farm." Consequently, it is subject to significant swings in temperature as the seasons pass. Though I do protect it from sub-freezing winter cold, during the summer the carport closet it's in approaches 100 degrees at times. I process most of the food to near-puree size pieces and very recently I've begun giving them coffee grounds.
My understanding is that if I do this right, I can expect the worms to very gradually migrate from a lower to a higher tray by withdrawing food from the lower tray. I've never really been able to achieve this. My few "harvests" have been done by the tedious process of manually transferring the population of one tray to another, worm-by-worm, leaving typically, a rather soggy product which I then air dry for a day or two before using.
Finally, I have to add, that when I dig this stuff in around a flower in the garden the results are indeed impressive. I think the plants like it as well as the worms like coffee. Thanks in advance for any help.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Neophyte needs help

>>only a paltry amount of castings, probably no more than ten pounds<<

How many worms do you think you have? How many did you start out with? I've found that it takes at least a year to get a steady amount of compost, possibly even longer than that to get what seems to be "enough" to the eyes.

Actually, though, ten pounds is a fair amount, when you speak in terms of worm compost. They've taken pounds and pounds of material and digested it down to "only" ten pounds. That means that that worm compost is pretty powerful stuff. I generally sprinkle this like a crumb topping around plants.

>> My few "harvests" have been done by the tedious process of manually transferring the population of one tray to another, worm-by-worm<<

Yeah, that's tedious. I don't have vertical bins, I harvest my compost side to side, but it does take time for the worms to migrate. I generally only harvest compost about once a year, and usually in the spring.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

What is the size of your trays?


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RE: Neophyte needs help

Otis, the trays are 14 " square at the top, about 4" deep with a slight slope on the sides so that at the bottom they're a bit smaller. And Priswell, Seems like when I received the worms (a Father's Day gift from my son and his wife) the bag weighed about a pound or so. I'd guess I now have 200 - 300, maybe more. I could be way off in my guesstimate. From your comment, and the size of the operations of some of the posters on this site, I'm beginning to think that I've been expecting far more that this miniscule-sized set-up is capable of yielding. Also, I'm getting the impression from other posts I've read here, that the notion that the worms will ever totally vacate an area, leaving a harvest of fluffy, bedding-free, worm-free material is an illusion and not really achievable.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

I have read posts from a F E W people who were successful with this type of bins. I was not so lucky. The size I had was 16x16x6(?) and is known as the Worm Factory; started with 1.5 lb. and like many newbies, one day I found that I had quite a bit less worms than I started. It slowly recovered but found that this bin, even after I had 4 trays going, was very slow for my household of 2, couldn't keep up with my kitchen scraps. Some migrated to the upper trays. However, the ones left behind became skinny due to not being fed. If you are patient enough you will get wonderful VC out of this system. After a period of time, all thrown into the bin will become compost.
I finally built my own tiered (4 + 1) bin out of Rubber Maid totes (9gal.?). Once established, I managed to get about 6 gal./month. This system doesn't look as nice as the WF, that's a given.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

Otis, I called mine Worm Farm, but I misspoke. I just checked and it's the same as your earlier one, Worm Factory, and the overall size is also same as yours. 6 gal./month is terrific. I take it you drilled holes in the R.M. totes. What do you suppose caused them to work so much better than the Worm Factory set-up?


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RE: Neophyte needs help

>> From your comment, and the size of the operations of some of the posters on this site, I'm beginning to think that I've been expecting far more that this miniscule-sized set-up is capable of yielding. <<

The more worms you have, the faster you can make compost. If you only start out with a pound, it takes about a year to start hitting your stride with the worm population.

Also, when you buy worms, it's not unusual for at least some to die off in the beginning. They're used to eating what they were fed before, and some literally die because they won't eat. Or they miss their old bedding, and yours is different. The ones that continue to live, and their children will populate the bins and become used to what you feed them, and then your herd will grow.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

"miniscule-sized set-up" To get the vermicompost volume one needs a lot of kitchen scraps or other food.

If your system is handling all of your families kitchen scraps and a bit of cardboard waste then it is meeting the designed for need.

For lots more output a system would need more input. If you do not have the interest in dragging home outside food then your system is properly sized for your kitchen scrap composting needs and is a good success. To grow your set up decide what food waste and bedding waste material is free in your area.

Did you know that additional trays can be purchased for most tray systems? You can double the size of your system with the purchase of a few trays. (From those $$$ that do not give adequate vermicomposting instructions and information to their purchasers.) One tray can contain only shredded dry bedding. This can be your bottom tray. A second tray can be second to the top. This can be the previous very bottom tray with the bedding now a bit damp from life in the system. The top tray can be the tray you are actively harvesting next. It will be uncovered and open. The worms will dive down into the second tray for you. The vermicompost wil be drying out nicely but not too much. Peek through and see how things are going. Harvest the tray when nicely damp yet devoid of worms. If the worms will not vacate then show them the instructions that came with the bin. The ones that instruct the worms to migrate upward. Ask if not up or down than what?


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RE: Neophyte needs help

langeranger: 6 gal./month is the contents of 1 RM bin, 4 mths. after the last harvest. It took me almost 2 years to get to this stage. I didn't buy additional worms. Started with 1 RM and split the population.
Yes, I drilled the bottoms and lids. I drilled the bottom and lid at the same time so they lined up. Used 1/2" drill bit and once de-burred they're ca. 5/8" holes. The worms did travel between bins but they mostly travelled downwards instead of up, the way they were supposed to.
IMHO, the Worm Factory doesn't allow for enough air. I didn't nestle the trays but sat the bottom angled on the rim of the tray below it. The RM totes I used have roughly 2 sq.ft. of surface and plenty of room for air between bins. One thing to remember, once it's half-way filled with VC it's heavy, and getting heavier. And since the worms refused to travel UP, my bins operated as individual bins, stacked/tiered to save room and using just 1 extra bin for leachete.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

Wow! Lot's of good info here. Much of it written with a nice turn of a phrase, even a bit of zany humor. To wit, " If the worms will not vacate then show them the instructions that came with the bin." Stuff I can apply immediately to this little hobby. Thanks much. Don


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RE: Neophyte needs help

C'mon Ranger.......everyone knows worms can't read. I'm sure they're too busy eating and doing more important worm chores. Draw them some pictures........ better yet, read the instructions to them at least once a week.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

An unexpected bonus since starting this thread, essentially my first participation, is the sheer entertainment value. You folks (guys, and gals too?) are a hoot. Just added my third tray, and am no longer gonna concern myself if the worms migrate up or down. I think worryin' about that has been the only thing that's been separating me from true happiness. Happy Days are here again.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

That's really cool langeranger.


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RE: Neophyte needs help

Worm farming should be a relaxing stress reliever. EZ and fun! I just love telling people of my hobby and watching their facial expression when I offer a peak at the squirm!

Worms go where worms go.... do not try and outthink these little survivalists. They know what to do and when to do it. Maybe they should give us directions :P


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RE: Neophyte needs help

I think people are now a days more aware (but not enough people) about the role of worms to keep the earth green. We have to keep doing what we do, educate people around us.


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