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Humble request for harvesting guidance

Posted by ajk23 (My Page) on
Sat, Nov 2, 13 at 13:54

Hi there,

I have seen many postings about harvesting, and yet I am still a newbie lacking confidence as to whether this is the right time. Pictures are attached for reference.

I have a Rubbermaid bin that was started 4-months back with only 1/4 pound of worms. I figured that while many recommend harvesting around 3 months, the small initial number of worms would slow that down a bit. In any event, I built the bin with mostly cardboard bedding, and the worms have done a fine job of eating the food scraps and laying a good number of cocoons. While I've had outbreaks of pot worms and springtails, they have been kept mostly in check.

What confuses me is that while it is recommended to add bedding when adding food, then wouldn't there be quite a bit of un-decomposed bedding when I harvest? As it stands, there seems to be a nice amount of castings, but also a tremendous amount of cardboard still in tact. Is it right to add bedding to offset moisture when adding new food? Is it best to harvest and just separate out all the old bedding, with the plan of adding that to the new bin?

I want to make sure I avoid waiting too long to harvest, but also didn't know if I should wait longer for the bedding to break down. Thank you for any knowledge and advice you can share.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

My suggestion would be to start a second bin with some of the stuff from the existing bin, move some worms over to get things started there, and when it's well established, move the bigger bits of uncomposted bedding and stuff over too - but you don't need to get perfection. Then leave the first bin alone for a while and most of the remaining will get broken down given enough time. Then harvest whenever you feel like it, and it should be much easier.
Personally I also think you don't have to worry too much about moving _all_ the worms when harvesting, it's normal for some to end up in the garden or whatever.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

You can put off harvesting for a while. In the mean time, continue to add bedding when you feed. Stop adding bedding or food about two weeks before you harvest to give the worms a chance to consume everything.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

There are a few ways to do this but basically you want to stop feeding part of the bin for a period before harvesting. IIRC the book Worms Eat My Garbage: How to setup and maintain a vermicomposting system (link) suggests pushing the material to one side of bin, adding more bedding and then only feeding the new bedding. That allows the older vermicompost to be 'finished off' and allows the worms to migrate into the new bedding.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Thank you for the terrific advice and reassurances. I appreciate you taking the time. As per the amalgamated advice, I'm going to hold off harvesting for a bit (thanks sbryce), and then I will start a second Rubbermaid bin with some new bedding to which I will add new food (leaving the old bin unfed). I'll stack the new bin on top of the old so that the worms can migrate, and this will act like the segregated bedding recommended by boreal_wormer. Once migrated, I'll harvest and move any remaining old bedding to the new bin as suggested by armored.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

If you are not in any hurry to harvest, you can leave the new bin on top for a couple of months, and you won't have any bedding left in the lower bin. Also note that not all worms will migrate up. You will always find stragglers in the lower bin.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

I know that it is sometimes difficult to know when exactly to harvest knowing you have a lot of castings yet still a lot of bedding or food to be used. I for one have a homemade bin inside and I have two bins stacked , the lower bin Im thinking is mostly finished but there is still debris in it. I have stacked the second bin and removed a lot of the unused bedding into the second bin and have quit feeding completely in the bottom bin all nitrogen food plus most bedding is in the upper bin and they are slowly moving up. In about another week I will harvest the lower bin even though Im sure there will still be worms in the lower bin. I have holes drilled in these bins bottoms to look the same as factory towers and make it easy for the worms to move.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Designs for worm migration seem to rely on moving up which seems to me a fairly complex system (except the Worm Inn ).
How about inventing a level migration scheme ?

Pipes and screens don't appeal to me.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Posted by barbararose21101 "Designs for worm migration seem to rely on moving up which seems to me a fairly complex system (except the Worm Inn ).
How about inventing a level migration scheme ?"

The "lateral migration" method of harvesting has been around for a while. There are commercial bins that use it and I had a RubberMaid tote divided in half with a wire baking rack mounted vertically in the middle of the bin. It worked OK but there are always some stragglers even after a few months.

Here is a link that might be useful: Divided Storage Tote Bin


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

The Worm-a-Roo is a commercially made (thus, expensive) worm bin that relies on lateral movement of the worms from one half to the other.

There was also a large scale system that was made up of a complex system of slow moving conveyors. The idea was that by the time food traveled from one end of the conveyor to the other (about two weeks) it would have been consumed by the worms and the worms would move on to the newer food nearer the beginning of the conveyor. Finished vermicompost would fall off the end of the conveyor, onto another conveyor that would move the vermicompost to a collection area.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

I have my own system for harvesting which involves the worms' natural tendency to move Downwards (when exposed to Sunlight). Rather than re-describe it here, it can be found using the Search function.
That being said, I also once tried the system (with a smaller quantity of castings) of moving everything to one side and placing new food and bedding on the other. Within a few weeks, most of the worms had successfully migrated into the new material and I was able to harvest the castings. Obviously, with a fuller bin, that wouldn't work.

Shaul


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Worm-a-Roo that sounds really cool. I imagine the downfall would be the amount of real-estate it takes up in prime time.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

My favourite method of harvesting is to have a second bin ready for the worms.

Lay burlap, or an onion mesh on the top of the new bin. Spread some compost and worms from the finished bin out on the burlap. Make sure the light is on in the room and go have a coffee, start a sudoku puzzle etc.

Come back in a while and remove the compost, checking for worms, eggs, babies; put it in your container that you're storing it in. Put some more worms and compost on the burlap again, and check back later. This is far better IMO that physically sorting through handful by handful.

I've never understood why people want the worms to crawl upwards, when they naturally crawl down to get away from the light. It would be so much easier on the poor little things, I can't help but think.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

jasdip: only people in this forum will refer to worms as "poor little things", hehe.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

LOL Otis. So very true.
Hubby is a drummer, and calls his kit "the lads".....as in "the lads are never done" when I question why he needs another snare, cymbal, etc. :)

I knew that our herd was part of the family when years ago, he referred to them as "the lads" in a comment that he made about them. He always calls the veggie scraps as "lad food".


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Since all my worm bins are divided in the middle (no actual divider) with one side an almost-finished compost and the other side pretty freshly introduced aged horse manure, the majority of worm activity migrates to the horse manure side.

I then feed exclusively on the manure side resulting in MOST of the worms being over there. The lazy, sickly, mentally-deranged worms left to wallow in a mostly poop packed environment of their own making deserve what they get and cause my worm populations to be able to...ahem...."worm out" the less desirable...ahem...
"segments" of the herd.

Chuckiebtoo

BTW....such systems give the worms escape avenues in case of screw-ups like heat or too much water, and a place to get away from it all.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

AJK23;

All other worm harvester solutions I've seen usually involve two undesirable features:

1. They are inefficient and take several days to weeks to work.
2. They always leave some live worms behind in the castings to die.

My invention takes just a couple hours to work and it safely removes ALL the live worms from the castings so the castings can be harvested w/o guilt. Click link thread below:

Here is a link that might be useful: The Warm Worm Wrangler


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

ajk23 The one effort of work I allow myself on behalf of vermicomposting is shake, shake, shake sifting out as yet uncomposted bedding from the vermicopost or vermicastings. To accomplish this I let the bin dry out a bit and give it a bit extra time. Then I scoop it into a ¼ inch mesh container or anything at all similar. When it is a bit dry the vermicastings easily shake right into a container leaving only the uncomposted larger bits of egg carton or cardboard. This is easily dumped right back on top of the bin. The bin loves this. The new food additions are inoculated with great wee beasties to work for you.

Hummersteve “I have holes drilled in these bins bottoms to look the same as factory towers” We address the mail to these worms as .wormfactory and the worms seem not at all the wiser. Plus worm smart Hummersteve has lots more $$$ not invested in worm factories.

Sbryce The conveyors system sounds real cool.

Jasdip “naturally crawl down to get away from the light” yup, yup.

Chuckiebtoo "worm out" the less desirable...ahem... "segments" of the herd” You are 100% back now. “lazy, sickly, mentally-deranged worms left to wallow” 101%

Boukmn “w/o guilt” First time I have heard of that qualification. I think it is apt.

Your worm harvester solution may be revolutionary. I do not think I have heard of similar before. Putting your idea here will be a test drive for it. Posters here will have more concern for the well-being of the worms whereas others may just look at them as livestock. My thoughts, for free, mind you, are if anything is needed to make the worms leave then their job there was not really done yet. Or the worms would all be gone. Secondly the high value not in the castings but in the unhatched unable to escape the heat cocoons. Time for them to hatch, refine the castings, the adults prepared it perfectly for baby worms, and for the worms to follow the adults is needed. Time is free. Time is expensive. Is this valuable asset of baby worms being tossed away?

On the other hand your post was verbally skilled enough to write advertising copy that would effectively make these valid points null and void and earn big bucks. Unlike the worm bin sellers could you please at least include well written instructions so those of us here do not have to spend a zillion hours fixing up things due to crap instructions?

“On a larger scale it is easy to see how using sub-litter heat in this way could make a commercial vermicomposting operation more profitable.” Profitable yes. But would it really be vermicastings or just compost a worm glanced at sideways? Some might say true vermicastings the worms gave their all and died in.

Niivek With that Texas tea, he will have grandma in her rocker tied to the top of the SUV in no time.

pz2vn9 Yes I either just dump my worms back on top of the bin along with some safe material or start a new bin.

Boukmn

“two undesirable features:”

“1. They are inefficient and take several days to weeks to work.” Well that depends upon who is doing the work. I do not want to spend one minute even setting up a harvesting apparatus or spend $ of electricity to do my work for me. I prefer to spend nontaxable time to let the worms self-harvest. They know when it is time. I’m not a worm. I do not know when it is time to move to greener pastures. It is a bit like kicking Mother Nature in the butt and saying Thanks, your job here is done now.


“2. They always leave some live worms behind in the castings to die.” Worms die. We die. But cocoons survive to live another day. In your method, not so much. The seed stock is fried. Not even eaten by another creature. Just left dead in the product. Eventually rot will do its job and the product will self-cleanse. That will take access to oxygen. That will take… … … time. It’s not nice to fool…

An advantage to the "sub-litter heat" is to encourage the cocoons to hatch and it also encourage any random composted seed to sprout in the bin which is good instead of in the garden or seed starting medium. So the idea is good. Maybe for different reasons.

On the other hand I do think you have the knack to sell stuff. Californy is the place you ought to be.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

armoured "Then harvest whenever you feel like it," That's the ticket! The reason people vermicompost is the bin meets their needs not they meet the bin's needs. The worms can wait until you feel like it. Or if you are energetic that day you can over feed a bit and add a bit more bedding. It will all be right there waiting for YOU when you are ready again.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

equinoxequinox wrote:

[[My thoughts, for free, mind you, are if anything is needed to make the worms leave then their job there was not really done yet. Or the worms would all be gone. Secondly the high value not in the castings but in the unhatched unable to escape the heat cocoons.]]

My belief is the Warm Worm Wrangler (Yes, it does sound like cheesy ad-copy! :-) idea would work better if your food has consistency. This will allow the wormer to learn over time how long the worms take to convert it all to castings. It means starting out with a set amount of bedding, feed and worms that you would allow to "go-at-it" for a period of time till you are certain the feed/bedding are fully converted to castings. When you want to harvest the castings in future, you would stop adding new food for THAT time period. Then, run the WWW (yup, you KNEW that was coming! :-D). This way, you know your castings are done. The time gap between last feeding and WWW harvesting is equal to the time you recorded prior that the worms take to create castings. In practice, this time period should lessen overtime as the numbers of worms increase.

The heat is set to make the worms uncomfortable, not cook them. With a little testing, it is worth finding a
'sweat-spot' temperature that will drive the worms and minimize cocoon damage. Remember, the WWW idea is just WEEKS old. There is still a lot of testing and work to do. I can't offer anyone definitive instructions till all the potential kinks are worked out. Therefore, consider the WWW an experimental "beta". Use at your own risk. Once I have more data, I'll share. Watch these posts.

equinoxequinox wrote:

[[“On a larger scale it is easy to see how using sub-litter heat in this way could make a commercial vermicomposting operation more profitable.” Profitable yes. But would it really be vermicastings or just compost a worm glanced at sideways?]]

Everything I have read suggests that you will always find live worms and cocoons in even the oldest bottom castings. If that were not so, a method of driving the hatched worms out would have little appeal. I will work a thermostat and timer into the design after I learn what is the max temperature the cocoons can stand and for how long. With luck, an optimal temp can be found to drive worms and save cocoons. In a worst case, no such temp exists and cocoons are sacrificed to save all the live worms.

equinoxequinox:

[[Some might say true vermicastings the worms gave their all and died in. ]]
I don't think I want to go that far to be certain all every iota of food is converted and from what I have read of your work (good stuff) neither would you.

This post was edited by Boukmn on Thu, Dec 26, 13 at 20:49


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Buukman, I think your idea is a good one. Way to think outside the box!
As long as your temps are not too high for too long, the worms and cocoons should live. I have overheated(100F+) my outdoor bins several times with fresh compost. The worms move away from the heat. When things cool back down, there is always a major "cocoon bloom", with baby reds everywhere! I believe this is a natural reaction to environmental stress.

I am sure some will chastise me for this, but I once was a worm-hooking freshwater fisherman. One day, my buddy was lazy and did not want to dig worms. He soaked an area in the yard with a garden sprinkler. He then took a pointy steel rod , somehow attached the rod to 110V electricity. and created a worm shocker. Shoved into damp earth, the charge brought hundreds of worms to the surface VERY QUICKLY!! The worms lived, wiggled, and went fishing....
There are many different ways to make worms move where you want them to, .I now use passive lateral migration as I am in no hurry.

Best of luck and keep us updated.... Pete


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

As a little more food for thought- I use the domed pile method of first separating the worms from castings. But at that point there is still more worms that didnt get separated and maybe the castings are not the consistancy [sp] you want. So I made this little helper out of 1/4" galvanized wire and 2x4s. This also can help separate more worms and debris and the castings will be a finer mix. You can either shake shake shake or just use your hand to filter the mix thru the grate. Any pieces not broken down are thrown back in the bin. I made mine about 3'x2' put another container in a wheel barrow and let it fall into that.

 photo IMG_1303533x800_zpsef602383.jpg

 photo IMG_1304533x800_zps820ebee1.jpg


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

mendopete wrote;

[[As long as your temps are not too high for too long, the worms and cocoons should live. I have overheated(100F+) my outdoor bins several times with fresh compost. The worms move away from the heat. When things cool back down, there is always a major "cocoon bloom", with baby reds everywhere! I believe this is a natural reaction to environmental stress]]

Funny you should mention 100F because that is the temp max I am experimenting with now.

mendopete wrote;

[[He soaked an area in the yard with a garden sprinkler. He then took a pointy steel rod , somehow attached the rod to 110V electricity. and created a worm shocker.]]

This is the reason people post their ideas to forums and make them open-source in effect. It makes the ideas stronger as they are enhanced by others. You just gave me another "thought experiment" idea: Why not try to hookup a 9V battery to electrodes and run a current through the castings at the base? If 110V run into the ground can drive worms to the surface, 9V to the castings should have a similar effect and drive them up into new bedding. There has GOT to be papers written about the effects of electricity on worms that we can use as the basis to build something.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Mendopete and all you wormers, this paper is interesting: http://www.scielo.br/pdf/rbeaa/v16n10/a15.pdf

This Brazilian scientist has already done the work with electricity and found the sweet spot for electrical current and worm displacement:

"The greatest separation efficiency were: 1 Hz, 2 x 10-3s and 200 V; and the maximum displacement index was 80% which occurred under these conditions. The survival index was 100% for the pulses which resulted in the greatest separation indices." At 200 V and 5 Hz, you start to lose worms.

From an evolutionary biology perspective, losing 20% of the worms may not be such a bad thing in the long run. If a wormer were to keep this up overtime, he would inevitably find his displacement percentages increasing to an eventual 100%. Why? Because he would be selecting his worm culture for worms with the genetic trait to flee when exposed to 1 Hz, 200 V.

As is, electricity may be a better tool for mass harvesting worms commercially on a larger scale. But if I want them ALL outta my castings, I will continue to work on gradually increasing heat.


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

Just a thought... What if you did three bursts of slow heat, separated by three weeks or so, to allow cocoons to hatch and the offspring an opportunity to escape but not to breed? You'd have to remove the top bin each time during the cooling period, and add it back on during forced migration.

I also wonder if a heating pad with temp control set under the full bin in an empty bin with air space might still do the trick... There are remote thermometers available for about ten bucks for under the bin, and cooking probes that could be sunk into the full bin that could help monitor temps. Just don't tell your dinner guests what other uses you put to your kitchen tools!


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RE: Humble request for harvesting guidance

I'm firmly entrenched in the "lateral migration" camp for a long time now after starting out in the "pyramid scheme" technique that was the holy grail in the Model T era of worming because, well, Mary Appelhof told us so.

The only thing I miss about that pyramid thing is the six pack of beer I had to have to do it.

The thing about lateral migration is that the worms decide when the bedding is not to their liking. Most of them wiggle over to the other side where I've put the pumpkin. After a few more days, I scoop out the deserted, mainly vermicastings and replace with my beloved horse manure.

At that time, the worms have decisions to make and I leave them alone for a long time. Later, the process is reversed.

The only thing I miss about this method is that beer I used to drink.

Chuckiebtoo


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