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Worm Lecture

Posted by alyss Z 10 CA Coast (My Page) on
Thu, May 25, 06 at 17:39

Hello All,

I am an avid vermi-composter and also an active Master gardener through University Of California's Cooperative Extension. UCCE has very little information on worm cosposting, so I am putting together a lecture for Master Gardeners in training, teachers, and nature centers in our area. I am hoping that a few of you might take the time to read it, to see if there is anything important I've missed, or that may be inacurate. I would really appreciate ANY feedback you are willing to provide! Thanks!

OUTLINE TO FOLLOW:
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WORM COMPOSTING 101

Vermicomposting, the process of worm composting, produces odorless, humus-rich granules called worm castings, one of the most nutritious compost byproducts available for your plants and soil. Worm castings are totally organic, non-toxic, and can be used indoors or out to keep your plants healthy and resistant to disease without the risks of synthetic fertilizers

DID YOU KNOW

One pound of worms can eat more than their body weight in food daily thats over pound of food per day!

The average person in the U.S. throws away almost pound of recyclable food waste daily.

In Orange County alone, Worm composting could eliminate millions of tons of food waste from our landfills per year.

Worms are extremely efficient, and can compost food waste faster than any other composting method. Worms do the work for you, eliminating most of the labor associated with traditional composting.

Worm composting is ideal for people with little or no yard space. Worm composting can even be done indoors.

Worm composting in a properly built bin is virtually odorless, and will not attract flies, rodents or other pests

A worm composting bin is easy and inexpensive to build. All of the materials you need (except for the worms) can be found around your house or in your local stores hardware department.

Kids LOVE things that squirm! Worm composting is a fun and informative hands-on way to teach kids about recycling, as well as science, nature and math.

SO WHY NOT BUILD ONE TODAY?

(Next page is a Materials list and Instructions on building a bin, including worm species selection. It is an Excel spreadsheet handout which will correspond to a live bin-building demonstration, and could not be inserted here. Care instructions ot follow....)

WORM CARE AND FEEDING:

ENVIRONMENT:
Red Worms (Eisenia foetida) and Red Wigglers (Lumbricus rubellus) need an environment that is moderate in temperature, impenetrable to outside pests, situated away from sources of vibration. Inside their bin, they require darkness, moist, "fluffy" bedding, adequate air circulation and appropriate quality and quantities of food. Worms breathe through their skin, and will literally drown if their bedding is allowed to become too wet. Therefore, adequate drainage and "air-space" in their bedding is imperative for a healthy worm bin.

Keep your worm bin inside, in an insulated garage or in a consistently shaded area. Do NOT ever expose the bin to sun It will heat up quickly and kill the worms. Optimum worm bin temperature is between 68 - 77F. Worms become stressed over 85 F and will not survive extended hot temperatures. Keep in mind that the decomposition process can also raise the temperature in your worm bin, so monitor your bin when outside temperatures get over 80 F.

In the winter, your worms will be less active and will eat less. Feed them only after they have eaten much of their previous meal. Some of your worms will live through temperatures as low as 40 F, but none will survive freezing temperatures.

FEEDING:
Red worms can be fed a wide range of organic household and yard waste. If your worm bin environment is satisfactory, you can expect the worms to eat up to half their body weight in food each day. Since they do not have teeth, their food must be soft in order for them to eat it. Harder foods must break down before they can be eaten, therefore they will take longer to compost. Microwaving raw vegetable and fruit food scraps will not only kill any insect larvae that may exist, but will also help with breaking down the food so the worms can consume it more quickly.

All food scraps must be kept completely covered with bedding in the bin so there will be no odor, fruit flies, or molds. Each time you feed, check the moisture level in your bin. If the bedding is too moist and is "matting down", mix in enough dry bedding to soak up the excess moisture and allow air circulation.
The worms can be feed up to 4 times per week depending upon how quickly they are eating. The speed with which they eat will depend upon how close to optimum conditions their bin is kept. Optimum conditions include a pH of 7, temperature of 68 - 77F, a moist environment and adequate food. The worm bin should be checked regularly to determine whether the food last put in the bin is being eaten. If it is, add more. (You can save your accumulating kitchen scraps in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator until you are ready to feed your worms.)

When burying the food waste in your bin, divide your bin into imaginary sections (any number of sections between 4 and 16, depending on the size of your bin) clockwise around the bin. Every time food waste is buried, place it in the section adjacent to the section in which the last food was buried, and cover it with bedding. Try to keep each pocket of food less than two inches thick so that the pocket does not become too dense for the worms to eat quickly. By the time food has been buried in all of your sections, go back to the first section in which food was originally buried, and start the cycle again. This will give each section adequate time to break down and be eaten by your worms. (With a multi-layered bin, you can feed more frequently. Just add another layer to your stacking system and start again, above the previous level.)

FEEDING DO'S AND DON'TS:
Do's:

FRUIT & VEGETABLE SCRAPS: Worms love almost all cooked and uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps. Just rinse off seasoning, sauces, dressing and any oily or acidic residue, and use the following guidelines:
Avoid fertile seeds. Tomato, cantaloupe and similar seeds can germinate in bin or in your garden, robbing nutrients from your worm castings.
Avoid hard seeds, pits and very tough parts. Use the "GARBAGE DISPOSAL TEST"If you can't put it down your garbage disposal easily, your worms probably can't eat it. Hard seeds and pits, corn cobs, avocado skins, artichoke leaves. Tough fibers are almost impossible for worms to digest within a reasonable amount of time.
Avoid acidic citrus or hot, spicy, oily, salty or pickled foods. Use the "EYE TEST"If putting it in your eye would sting, your worms probably won't like it either. Limit citrus peels as they are both acidic and oily.
Avoid introducing pests. Microwave or freeze any food suspected of contamination by flies, fruit flies or other pests to kill any pests, larvae or eggs and avoid contaminating your bin.

CEREALS, GRAINS, BREAD, BEANS, RICE AND PASTA - Rinse off any sauce or greasy residue. Cook raw whole grains and legumes so they soften and cannot sprout.

COFFEE & FILTERS, TEA BAGS - Coffee and tea grinds are usually acidic and should not be added in large quantities, unless first neutralized by adding crushed eggshells. Remember to remove staples from tea-bags.

EGG SHELLS - Always wash or microwave uncooked eggshells to avoid salmonella contamination. Crushing or grinding greatly speeds up decomposition.

YARD WASTE: Green or soft plant parts such as leaves and flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Do not use diseased or insect-infested plants, grass-clippings, or parts with viable seeds. Avoid sticks and twigs.

Dont's:

No foods that contain oil, fats, vinegar, excessive salt/sodium, or spices. (No chips, fries, pizza, nachos, salsa, hot sauce, jalapenos, salad dressing, etc.) These can be harmful to your worms.
No dairy, fish or meat products. Worms will eat it but these items can smell bad and attract pests.
No waste from meat-eating animals, which can harbor insect larvae and harmful pathogens.

TROUBLESHOOTING:

If your worm bin is maintained correctly you should not have any problems, however occasionally things can go wrong. Below are some possible problems and suggestions on how to remedy them.

Worms try to leave the bin: Check the moisture and the pH of the bedding. Also check that the bin is not situated near a source of vibration. Be sure your worms are not being subjected to extremes of temperature.

Bedding is very wet: Check that drainage holes are not blocked. Mix in some dry bedding until the excess moisture has been soaked up. Limit high water-content foods, or cook and drain before adding to bin.

Bedding is too dry: Mist with water until bedding is moist but not wet.

Bad smells coming from bin: Either the bedding is too wet or you may have over-fed your worms. Check the moisture-level, especially at the bottom of the bin. (See: 'Bedding is Very Wet', above) If they have been over-fed, stop feeding until they catch up, and cover the food with more fresh bedding.

Ants: If ants are a problem in your area, take the following precaution when setting up your bin: Use a deep bin tray, such as an aluminum turkey-sized oven tray or cement mixing tray. Elevate your bin on bricks, making sure that neither the bricks nor the bin is touching the sides of the tray. Then fill the tray with 1" to 2" of water (making sure that the bin's feet elevate it at least " above the water level). You are essentially creating a moat of water between your bin and the ants. Ants will not swim to get food. If ants have already gotten into your bin, hose off the outside of your bin and physically remove as many ants as possible, and continue with the instructions above. Use boric acid-based ant baits on the outside of bin, ONLY if the baits are securely away from of children and pets. Do not put ant baits inside of bin. Never spray pesticides near your bin, as it can kill your worms!

Fruit flies: Make sure the bin lid closes tightly, and that all of the air/drainage holes are protected with fine screening, nylon mesh or landscape fabric. Cover fruit and vegetative matter with enough bedding material to thoroughly cover it or wet several sheets of newspaper and lay flat on top of the bedding.

Resources:

Happy D Ranch:
A great on-line source for worms and supplies, pictures and information on worms' life cycles and worm-bin creatures.
http://www.happydranch.com/

GardenWeb's Vermicomposting Forum:
A great learning and troubleshooting resource!
http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/

Worms Eat My Garbage:
Written by worm expert Mary Appelhof, Worms Eat My Garbage
guides you through setting up and maintaining a system for using
red wigglers to process organic waste. A staple, and a consistent
favorite of teachers and worm composters. 176 pages.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Worm Lecture

  • Posted by wfike 8, Atlanta, Ga. (My Page) on
    Thu, May 25, 06 at 20:24

a few things to add would be what to make the bedding out of, like strips of newspaper, cardboard, peat moss, etc. also that worms will try to leave when you first put them in the bed, place it under a light for a few days with the lid off till they make themselves at home. Dont bury the food to deep to keep it from souring the bed but cover it. also a warning that most people first get a bin, they feed it to much.


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RE: Worm Lecture

  • Posted by sqh1 z7 NC (My Page) on
    Thu, May 25, 06 at 21:58

alyss wrote:
FEEDING DO'S AND DON'TS:
Do's:

FRUIT & VEGETABLE SCRAPS: Worms love almost all cooked and uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps. Just rinse off seasoning, sauces, dressing and any oily or acidic residue, and use the following guidelines:
Avoid fertile seeds. Tomato, cantaloupe and similar seeds can germinate in bin or in your garden, robbing nutrients from your worm castings.
Avoid hard seeds, pits and very tough parts. Use the "GARBAGE DISPOSAL TEST"If you can't put it down your garbage disposal easily, your worms probably can't eat it. Hard seeds and pits, corn cobs, avocado skins, artichoke leaves. Tough fibers are almost impossible for worms to digest within a reasonable amount of time.
Avoid acidic citrus or hot, spicy, oily, salty or pickled foods. Use the "EYE TEST"If putting it in your eye would sting, your worms probably won't like it either. Limit citrus peels as they are both acidic and oily.
Avoid introducing pests. Microwave or freeze any food suspected of contamination by flies, fruit flies or other pests to kill any pests, larvae or eggs and avoid contaminating your bin.

CEREALS, GRAINS, BREAD, BEANS, RICE AND PASTA - Rinse off any sauce or greasy residue. Cook raw whole grains and legumes so they soften and cannot sprout.

COFFEE & FILTERS, TEA BAGS - Coffee and tea grinds are usually acidic and should not be added in large quantities, unless first neutralized by adding crushed eggshells. Remember to remove staples from tea-bags.

EGG SHELLS - Always wash or microwave uncooked eggshells to avoid salmonella contamination. Crushing or grinding greatly speeds up decomposition.

YARD WASTE: Green or soft plant parts such as leaves and flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Do not use diseased or insect-infested plants, grass-clippings, or parts with viable seeds. Avoid sticks and twigs.

Dont's:

No foods that contain oil, fats, vinegar, excessive salt/sodium, or spices. (No chips, fries, pizza, nachos, salsa, hot sauce, jalapenos, salad dressing, etc.) These can be harmful to your worms.

**********************************
I have some differences of opinion about the above lists of "do's" and "don'ts".


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RE: Worm Lecture

  • Posted by alyss Z 10 CA Coast (My Page) on
    Fri, May 26, 06 at 11:09

Thanks Wfike. The missing page does have info on bedding and I bring samples to the lecture too. I pass around the samples and examples of "fluffy and moist" vs "too wet or dry".

Good point about overfeeding and burrying too deep, as well as leaving under a light until they settle in.

Sqh1, what would you change on the "do's and dont's"?

Thank you both for your input!


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RE: Worm Lecture

I see a myth....coffee grinds are not acidic after being brewed, and are ok to add to wormbins.


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RE: Worm Lecture

Add some pictures to go along with the presentation to make it more interesting. Good luck.


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RE: Worm Lecture

  • Posted by alyss Z 10 CA Coast (My Page) on
    Sun, May 28, 06 at 14:42

Thanks for the info on coffee grounds not being too acidic....Very interesting! One of my neighbors runs a local juice / coffee shop, and brings me coffee grounds and vegetable pulp several times a week. I was always afraid to put the coffee grounds in, but now I'll try it.


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RE: Worm Lecture

You may not be aware that Lumbricus rubellus is invasive and is
threatening North American Forests.

Quoting from: Invasive EarthwormsA Threat to North American Forests
Plants & Gardens News : Volume 19, Number 1 : Spring 2004 by Niall Dunne
http://www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/essays/2004su_worms.html

"In 2002, Michael Gundale of Michigan Technological University published a
report detailing how the epigeic bait and compost worm Lumbricus rubellus
may be wiping out populations of the rare goblin fern, Botrychium mormo,
and possibly other rare native plants too, in the Chippewa National
Forest. Gundale credits the epigeic worm's destruction of mycorrhizal
fungi in the soil as a reason for the goblin fern's decline.

"John C. Maerz and colleagues from Cornell University have found strong
evidence linking salamander decline in the hardwood forests of central New
York and southeastern Pennsylvania to invasions by L. rubellus and Asian
Amynthas species, among others. ..."

"... With invasive earthworms wriggling amok in our forest soils,
gardeners who use worms to decompose kitchen scraps and plant waste may
want to take a closer look at what theyve got growing in their compost
piles. Some of the traits that make worms ideal for vermicompostingsuch
as high reproductive rate and adaptabilitymay also make them potentially
successful invaders.

"The worm predominantly sold for composting is the red wiggler or red
tiger worm, Eisenia fetida. It has a rusty brown color with alternating
yellow and maroon bands down the length of its body; a pigmentless
membrane separates each segment. It grows up to three inches long and is
highly prolific. Though the worm has established itself in the wild here,
so far it has not been identified as a problem species.

"Another popular compost species, the red worm, Lumbricus rubellus, is
causing trouble, however, and should be avoided. It also grows up to three
inches long and has a history of being confused with E. fetida. This worm
is dark red to maroon, has a light yellow underside, and lacks striping
between segments.

"In The Earth Moved (Algonquin Books, 2004), a wonderful new book on
earthworms by Amy Stewart, forest ecologist Cindy Hale advises worm
composters to freeze their castings in air-tight bags for a least a week
before adding them to garden soil, no matter what worms species they use.
"It won't hurt the soil microbes, but it will kill all the worms."

Here is a link that might be useful: Invasive EarthwormsA Threat to North American Forests


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RE: Worm Lecture

wow, and here I have been worrying about the occasional worm or egg getting into the soil and Dying!
I thought they couldn't survive in the outside.
but I do find them at times in my outdoor pots


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RE: Worm Lecture

No one writes much about the worms we use in Hawaii for Vermicomposting. Ours wouldn't survive outside of the bin, in a yard or garden habitat but they can survive in a manure-environment!!

If you check out the link - and we are told at any & all worm workshops - it is a $25,000 (yep, thousands) fine to import worms to Hawaii. Even inter-island can be hinky!

Papaya seeds don't breakdown and while the seeds are in the bin the worms will be sterile - but will be back to normal once the seeds are removed!

Good luck! I'm going to school too and it is so time-consuming but I love working out my brain!

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

Perionyx excavatus
Our composting worm in Hawaii is Perionyx excavatus, also called Indian blue, Malaysian blue, or blueworm. Although not native to Hawaii, they have been established here for a very long time and are commonly found wherever manure and water meet on pig farms, chicken farms and horse stables.

Perionyx excavatus is the worm of choice for tropical climates and is used extensively for vermicomposting in India, Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines.

Here is a link that might be useful: Waikiki Worm Company


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