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Norm and his Can-O-Worms

Norm Hirscheld

Twenty-seven years ago Norm Hirscheld of Greenfield visited a permaculture farm where he met his first red wigglers (Eisenia foetida). “I was awestruck by how you could get rich black compost from vegetable scraps right in your house,” he said.

He decided right then to become a worm farmer himself and built a wooden box, providing holes for ventilation, and put in a sufficient amount of wet shredded newspaper for bedding. He sent away for his pound of worms, but said that first shipment didn’t do very well. He ordered and added more worms: after that they were fine.

Hirscheld faced two probems. First there were fruit flies that found the fruit peels that he put into the bin. He also found that he needed to keep stirring or fluffing up the bedding otherwise there would not be enough oxygen and the bin would begin to smell.

“Marsha was very patient with me and the worms,” Hirscheld said of his wife Marsha Stone. “At times there were so many fruit flies I would have to get out the vacuum and suck them up.”

Eventually he bought the Can-O-Worms system which has worked well for him, though he still has some trouble with fruit flies. To solve this problem he takes a little lemon grass oil and mixes it with water which he periodically sprays over the top of the worms and their bedding.

Can-O-Worms

With the Can-O-Worms system, the worms in the fresh food scraps (no meat or dairy) that are being eaten by the worms are separated from the worm manure, or vermicompost, which is the point of worm farming. Vermicompost is an excellent fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Worm castings (manure) also contain humic acids which condition the soil, has perfect pH balance and encourages plant growth the same way seaweed does.

The Can-O-Worms also collects the manure tea that is produced by the worms, the liquid residue. Hirscheld uses this liquid to fertilize his houseplants.

There are systems other than the Can-O-Worms, but they work on essentially the same principles. They are all made of food quality plastic which should be kept indoors, out of the sun. Hirscheld keeps his worm bin in his basement where summer temperatures are 65 degrees, and winter temperatures do not go below 55 degrees. Red wiggler worms need temperatures that do not go below 50 degrees.

He harvests the compost about once a year and uses it when he does his planting in the spring.

Recently Hirscheld has been making compost tea. He takes three or four gallons of chlorinated Greenfield water in a bucket and, using an aquarium aerator and an ‘air stone’ which disperses the pumped air, he aerates it for a full day at least to get rid of all the chlorine. Then he puts a cup or two of the vermicompost in an old nylon stocking and soaks it in the water for about 24 hours. He also adds about a quarter cup of molasses and some kelp concentrate or fish emulsion. Precision in measuring ingredients is not necessary. These extra ingredients help good bacteria grow over the next 24 hours. The mixture will need continual aeration.

After 24 hours the mixture needs to be used right away. Hirscheld strains the compost tea through another old stocking into a hand sprayer. Then he can spray his vegetable plants, or even the lawn. As a foliar spray, the nutrients are taken into the plant through their leaves. Hirscheld told me of experiments that showed that a foliar feeding of vermicompost tea encouraged grass roots, and presumably other plant roots, to grow two or three inches deeper into the soil which cuts down on the need for watering and makes the plant less troubled by dry spells.

Hirscheld uses this foliar feeding two or three times a season on his garden.

Hirscheld and I compared notes on our personal worm farms. At one point I was complaining to a friend about having fruit flies and she suggested I stop giving them fruit. That was an answer that worked well, but I did like giving the worms overripe bananas, one of their favorites, so it was not a total answer. I took to laying several wet sheets of newspaper over the worms and bedding. I think this has helped by covering the surface where fruit flies could lay their eggs.

Of course this raises the question of where the very first fruit flies come from, but I cannot answer that question. I’d love some one to explain that mystery to me.

Another mystery is the little white worms that appeared in my bin. I thought they were baby worms, but one of my Franklin Land Trust tour visitors, and Hirscheld, explained that these are entrachyadids. I have the same question – where did they come from?

Entachyadids will not harm the red wigglers, but they do indicate acid conditions. I’ll have to sprinkle and mix a little lime into my bin.

With the current trend towards using local agricultural produce and products, Hirscheld and I are taking this another step, and let the worms produce rich compost all year long. During the short summer season my bin lives outside in the shade: in the winter it sits in my kitchen. Fertilizer can’t get any more local than that.

 

Between the Rows   July 23, 2011

Norm Hirscheld and His Worms

Norm Hirscheld

Twenty-seven years ago Norm Hirscheld of Greenfield visited a permaculture farm where he met his first red wigglers (Eisenia foetida). “I was awestruck by how you could get rich black compost from vegetable scraps right in your house,” he said.

He decided right then to become a worm farmer himself and built a wooden box, providing holes for ventilation, and put in a sufficient amount of wet shredded newspaper for bedding. He sent away for his pound of worms, but said that first shipment didn’t do very well. He ordered and added more worms: after that they were fine.

Hirscheld faced two probems. First there were fruit flies that found the fruit peels that he put into the bin. He also found that he needed to keep stirring or fluffing up the bedding otherwise there would not be enough oxygen and the bin would begin to smell.

“Marsha was very patient with me and the worms,” Hirscheld said of his wife Marsha Stone. “At times there were so many fruit flies I would have to get out the vacuum and suck them up.”

Eventually he bought the Can-O-Worms system which has worked well for him, though he still has some trouble with fruit flies. To solve this problem he takes a little lemon grass oil and mixes it with water which he periodically sprays over the top of the worms and their bedding.

Can-O-Worms

With the Can-O-Worms system, the worms in the fresh food scraps (no meat or dairy of course) that are being eaten by the worms are separated from the worm manure, or vermicompost, which is the point of worm farming. Vermicompost is an excellent fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Worm castings (manure) also contain humic acids which condition the soil, has perfect pH balance and encourages plant growth the same way seaweed does.

The Can-O-Worms also collects the manure tea that is produced by the worms, the liquid residue. Hirscheld uses this liquid to fertilize his houseplants.

There are systems other than the Can-O-Worms, but they work on essentially the same principles. They are all made of food quality plastic which should be kept indoors, out of the sun. Hirscheld keeps his worm bin in his basement where summer temperatures are 65 degrees, and winter temperatures do not go below 55 degrees. Red wiggler worms need temperatures that do not go below 50 degrees.

He harvests the compost about once a year and uses it when he does his planting in the spring.

Recently Hirscheld has been making compost tea. He takes three or four gallons of chlorinated Greenfield water in a bucket and, using an aquarium aerator and an ‘air stone’ which disperses the pumped air, he aerates it for a full day at least to get rid of all the chlorine. Then he puts a cup or two of the vermicompost in an old nylon stocking and soaks it in the water for about 24 hours. He also adds about a quarter cup of molasses and some kelp concentrate or fish emulsion. Precision in measuring ingredients is not necessary. These extra ingredients help good bacteria grow over the next 24 hours. The mixture will need continual aeration.

After 24 hours the mixture needs to be used right away. Hirscheld strains the compost tea through another old stocking into a hand sprayer. Then he can spray his vegetable plants, or even the lawn. As a foliar spray, the nutrients are taken into the plant through their leaves. Hirscheld told me of experiments that showed that a foliar feeding of vermicompost tea encouraged grass roots, and presumably other plant roots, to grow two or three inches deeper into the soil which cuts down on the need for watering and makes the plant less troubled by dry spells.

Hirscheld uses this foliar feeding two or three times a season on his garden.

Hirscheld and I compared notes on our personal worm farms. At one point I was complaining to a friend about having fruit flies and she suggested I stop giving them fruit. That was an answer that worked well, but I did like giving the worms overripe bananas, one of their favorites, so it was not a total answer. I took to laying several wet sheets of newspaper over the worms and bedding. I think this has helped by covering the surface where fruit flies could lay their eggs.

Of course this raises the question of where the very first fruit flies come from, but I cannot answer that question. I’d love some one to explain that mystery to me.

Another mystery is the little white worms that appeared in my bin. I thought they were baby worms, but one of my Franklin Land Trust tour visitors, and Hirscheld, explained that these are entrachyadids. I have the same question – where did they come from?

Entachyadids will not harm the red wigglers, but they do indicate acid conditions. I’ll have to sprinkle and mix a little lime into my bin.

With the current trend towards using local agricultural produce and products, Hirscheld and I are taking this another step, and let the worms produce rich compost all year long. During the short summer season my bin lives outside in the shade: in the winter it sits in my kitchen. Fertilizer can’t get any more local than that.

Between the Rows   July 23, 2011

First Monday Report for Spring 2011

Temperatures soared above 60 degrees and this was the first weekend we could actually work outside, so let me give you a brief tour to set the scene.

Boule de Neige rhodie

The snow is still melting and revealing that the winter has been kind to the rhodies. No breakage. Lots of buds.

"Limelight" hydrangea

The “Limelight” hydrangea was not so lucky.  The snow plow dumped a lot of our enormous snowfall at the edge of the lawn and broke more than half this hydrangea. The two tiny plants, an oakleaf and “PinkyWinky” were undamaged.  These three shrubs are about 10 feet in from the road and I thought they were safe, but the amount of snow we got this year was most unusual.

Van Sion daffs

The heirloom Van Sion daffs are the earliest in my garden and these aren’t daunted by growing between a rose bush and a stone wall where I have not yet been able to dig them up.

Last spring I dug a few snowdrops ‘in the green’ and planted them near the house where I could really admire them. Still, there are plenty of snowdrops left in what we laughingly call The Orchard.

Snow in the Sunken Garden

The snow drops are pretty and we will be sorry to see them go. No so the snow. The snow drifts so deeply in the Sunken Garden that it takes extra weeks before it is totally gone. Note the stream that begins at this end of the Sunken Garden and then runs across the lawn and into the south field. It will stay wet for at least another month. There is a theory that there is a spring not far below the surface in the corner of the foundation.

But as I say, we worked this weekend.  Henry spent a good part of Saturday burning brush. This pile was at the end of our road, just west of the house, so it was really the first thing people saw when they arrived.  We will not replace this brush pile.

I made a first run through the Herb Bed, cutting stems back, raking, weeding and topdressing part of the garden with compost. The Herb Bed dries out first and I am always amazed at how early growth starts here. These early signs don’t make for very good photographs but already bee balm, mint, lemon balm, garlic chives, autumn crocus, regular chives, oregano, golden marjoram are sending up shoots. The sage plants have through better than usual thanks to all that snow cover.

On Friday I wanted to plant some seeds in flats and thought it was time to take a partial vermicompost harvest.  I dumped a few handfuls of worms and bedding onto a plastic sheet in front of a sunny window.  Naturally the worms dive deep to get away from the light. I separated out the top layer of bedding which I hope is rich with worm castings. I mixed this with some regular potting soil for my seeds.

I got a good look at my worms – and there are many at all stages of development – all looking pretty good. It has not been a problem to have the worm bin in our heated living space, but I will be glad when I can put it outside for the summer.

Seedlings planted inside include Tango Lettuce from High Mowing seeds; Italian Gigante Parsley, Green Envy, and Bling Bling zinnias from Renee’s Gardens; China Asters and Amadeus broccoli from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Outdoors I planted High Mowing Corvair hybrid spinach.  I really feel spring has sprung now.

Worm Farm Review

In July of 2008 my grandsons and I put 1000 red wigglers into a bin we had prepared. We were worm farmers. I wanted worm castings, considered very fine compost, to use in my garden.  The process of making that compost has been a slower process than I expected.

Red wigglers are not earthworms. They need to be kept warm – at least warmer than 50 degrees to thrive.  I did not want to keep the worm bin in my kitchen so when fall came I moved it to our basement where the temperature is a constant 50 degrees.  A few worms survived to be put outdoors when spring became warm enough in 2009.  In September 2009 I took a very modest harvest of vermicompost and set the worms up with new bedding.  The worm population increased during the summer, but another winter in the basement did it no good.

There was no vermicompost harvest in 2010.  We did dump out the bin and check through in July when the grandsons were again visiting, but we saw very few adult worms and little tiny white things that we thought (hoped) must be baby  worms. We put them all back in the bin, along with damp peat moss, which a vermicomposting neighbor said he used, in addition to wet shredded newspaper. In the fall I gritted my teeth and kept the bin in our kitchen.  The fruitflies I dreaded did not appear. There was no smell, but I did not expect that.  Clearly the population has increased because they are going through much more kitchen waste than they ever have before.  This is especially appreciated since I haven’t been able to use the outdoor compost bin for about a month now.

Yesterday I dug into the bin to take a rough population account.  The verdict is A Lot!  That means there will be a good harvest, just in time for spring planting.

While the worms are luxuriating in the warmth of our woodstove heated living/dining/cooking space –
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4D_kqb_9mY&feature=player_profilepage
this is the kind of weather we have been enjoying outdoors at the End of the Road.

Vermicompost Harvest – Not!

My worm composting bin 6-20

I have been waiting for dependably w arm weather to harvest my worm compost, vermicompost. Composting worms cannot survive when temperatures go below 50 degrees. The weather has been so unsettled this spring, first hot, then cold, and then hot again. Even when it has been very warm temperatures in Heath get cool, and the weatherman kept threatening 40 degree nighttime temperatures.  My basement, where the worms live for at least 8 months of the year is a steady 50 degrees. This is not optimum, but they survive.

We took the compost bin outside and dumped it onto a big piece of cardboard. There was none of the shredded newspaper that had been the original bedding of the bin, but some bits of rotted bread and fruit from the last feeding were visible.  We left it for an hour. The idea is that worms move away from the light and will migrate deep into the pile and you can skim off the vermicompost, then put the worms, which should have multiplied, back in the bin on fresh bedding.

Me and Henry and worms

We returned to the bin to actually begin the harvest. We found a few worms, but not many. We were perplexed. Then as we sifted through the compost, we  noticed  that it was full of tiny tiny worms. The babies were too tiny to get a good photo, but after passing around handfuls of compost to daughter Diane, grandson Ryan, and a friend who stopped by, we all agreed there were tiny wriggling worms in the compost. And very few big worms. However the big worms were in good enough shape to reproduce – lucky for us.

New bedding for worm bin

There was nothing to do except prepare the washed bin with fresh bedding made of newspaper strips soaked for three or four days.

Ryan and me

Ryan and I then put all the vermicompost, such as it was, and all the tiny tiny worms, and the few adults, back in the bin. The bin will remain outside on the north side of the house where it will not get too hot in the summer.  Worms can’t get too cold, but they can’t get too hot, over 90 degrees either.  My plan now is that I will do a harvest in the fall, before I have to bring the worms indoors. I will keep the vermicompost until next spring when I can use it on the earliest plantings.  We will see if these worms make it through another winter. I admit the only Heath person I know who had a thriving vermicompost bin kept it in the house – handy to the kitchen. I am not quite ready to do that.

My Award

Kreativ Blogger Award2

I’ve never gotten an award before so I was delighted to wake up to this award bestowed by Tinky of Our Grandmother’s Kitchens. Thank you Tinky! She did say there were seven things the award givers want to know about me, before I pass the award along to seven other favorite bloggers.

She also said if I was too shy I didn’t have to tell all – but I can certainly think of seven things to share. Some may have been self-evident to readers of my blog.

You all must know that I love roses and have a collection of over 60 roses. These are not fussy hybrid teas, but hardy roses that can take our Heathan winters and winds. Many are fragrant as well as beautiful. And the last Sunday in June we always have our version of Garden Open Today at The Annual Rose Viewing.  Lemonade and Cookies.

I’m a reader. I like many kinds of books, mysteries, novels, poetry, ‘lit-ra-chuh’, cookbooks and, of course, garden books. When I was a librarian I loved being a ‘reader’s advisor’ helping my patrons find a book to delight and inform. So I will pass on a couple of suggestions. I love the Mary Russell mystery novels by Laurie R. King beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and Penelope Lively whose latest is Family Album. I’ve also just finished Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith. A national park in 1898, botany, a feminist, a raven and much much more. I highly recommed it.

I’m a cook, and I love baking. I baked this apple tart for a ‘meeting’ of the Heath Gourmet Club. We have been meeting and eating once a month since September 1981. That’s 28 years of serving ourselves. I’m famous for choosing France as a theme, but we’ve had picnics, winter brunches, English tea parties, Russian Easters, Indian curries, and dim sum. Our President’s Meal is coming up in February. I haven’t chosen my dish yet.

I’m a Granny and we love having grandchildren visit. They pick berries in the raspberry patch, in the blueberry fields across town, feed the worms, catch newts in the Frog Pond, hike in the woods, play cards in the Cottage Ornee, visit Mass MoCA to see weird and wonderful art exhibits, and Read Aloud. I’m a great granny, now too. Isabella and Lola live in Florida. We are looking forward to Lola’s first visit.

I have a lot of trouble controlling paper. I might need that article, that scribbled note, that address on a napkin.  I’m not a collector, except books and plants, but paper is something else. However, this year, we are Reviewing and Renewing. there is a chance I will at least cut down in a radical way.

That’s five things about me.  I can also tell you I love Netflix. We live 25 miles from the nearest movie theater, and its the ride home that is always the killer. I’d rather watch on our new digital TV. We watch all kinds of movies, but we love old classic comedies. And musicals. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly! Last night we downloaded Greenfingers. Prisons plus gardens equal redemption!

Tinky mentioned her crushes. Have I ever had a crush on a movie star? I suppose so, but so long ago. Still, there is Tommy Tune. So tall. A drawl. And those dancing feet. Sigh!

Now I’d like to pass along this award to 7 other of my favorite bloggers:

Sue at A Corner Garden

Rose at Prairie Rose’s Garden

Rose at Ramble on Rose

Dr. Mom at Back Quarter Acre

Daphne at Daphne’s Dandelions

JP at Artful Greens

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm

Sam at Red Worms – a fairly new blog

Sue is excited about her kitchen these days, and Nan is always excited about books, and Sam has a new blog about vermiculture which I am very excited about, but everyone else is busy thinking about their gardens while they wait for spring. It comes earlier to some than others. I hope you’ll stop by and visit and meet some interesting people with interesting projects and thoughts.

Worm Manure Harvest

A few of my worms

A few of my worms

It might be more genteel to say a harvest of worm castings, but no one ever knows what I’m talking about when I use that term. Castings or manure, I took advantage of the warm day to bring my worm farm out of the basement and begin the harvest

I dumped the whole bin full of worms, bedding and manure out onto a plastic sheet, and let that rest and give the worms time to dive deep into the bedding away from the bright sun while I rinsed out the bin and put in a layer of damp shredded newspaper.

Worms always move away from the sun which means it is pretty easy to remove the top layer of bedding and castings without getting too many worms. That layer goes immediately into the wheelbarrow. Then I go through the rest of the bedding to separate out the worms, throwing them back into the bin, and throwing the bedding and castings into the wheelbarrow.  Sometimes I’d come across a whole nest of worms in the matted wet newspaper so I’d throw all that into the worm bin. Throwing some of the old bedding and castings into the new bin is fine. It is even good for the new bin. 

I was very happy to see that I have a good population of worms including tiny baby worms. If they are reproducing I must have a good system going. I moved the bin into my basement at the end of August when night time temperatures routinely went below 50 degrees which is the lowest temperature these red wigglers can stand.  The basement temperatures remain a fairly constant 50 degrees through the winter. The worms did survive their first winter, but they do not thrive at those temperatures so manure production goes down, but with luck there will be another good harvest in the early spring.

Some of my blogging friends are collecting a harvest of award nominations and all of you, not only bloggers, can go to www.Blotanical.com and vote for your favorite blog in a whole array of categories. Some of my favorite blogs have been nominated for Best U.S. Blog – namely: Faire Garden, A Garden in Progress, My Secret Garden, Garden Rant, and Hoe and Shovel.

Other favorites have been nominated at Best Educational Garden Blog – namely: May Dreams Gardens, In the Garden, Little Green Fingers and Hayefield.

Nomination season at Blotanical is an especially good time to discover  some of the best and most beautiful blogs, blogs from other countries, and blogs that might fit your own special interests.  Be sure and check them out.

Pulling Together

Pulling Together was the theme of this year’s Annual Heath Fair organized by the Heath Agricultural Society and supported one way or another by just about every one of the town’s 800 residents so that thousands of area people can enjoy a day in the country and gain a sense of the abundance around us – even in these hard times.

It would not be pushing a metaphor too hard to say that it takes a lot of people  pulling together to raise our young people so that they turn out like our very adult granddaughter Tricia – a real prize winner. Now that I think about it, Tricia attended her first Heath Fair at the age of 1 month, when the official T-shirt had a big blue ribbon and said First Prize Winner.  We always have thought so.  BTW, that intricate lap robe she’s holding – it’s mine now.

The Heath Fair is wonderful for kids, and a reminder to us all, that there is a lot of fun to be had beyond the computer screen.  I believe this young woman was the winner of the Watermelon Eating Contest.  Somehow I missed the Blueberry Pie Eating Contest.

There are also Children’s Games which include competitive events like relay races to see which team can fill a bucket of water the fastest and such like, but it is amazing how long a big pile of sand, a car tire obstacle course and 2x4s set up as balance beams can entrance the young set.

Of course there are pretty girls like our friend Emma and her pals, with the Shenandoah Hoopla hoops that lured just about everyone at the Fair for a try.

And more pretty girls!  Everyone comes home to Heath from their far flung lives.  Emily (in the middle) was our neighbor for many years. This weekend she joined with her step-sisters Christina and Andrea to celebrate brother Greg’s announcement that he and Rebecca have set a wedding date. 

Ed the Wizard

Ed the Wizard

Heath Fair weekend is a magic time. This year there was real magic whereever Ed the Wizard walked. Instead of a stage show, he wandered and performed his wonders where he found people willing to watch and concentrate. There was LOTS of concentration!  I was just glad there was no blood when he insisted on pulling strings through his neck and fingers.

There is a lot to learn at the Fair.  The Heath Agricultural Society tent let children learn how to make butter. There was heirloom tomato testing, wood carving, and spinning. A group of spinners used the occasion of the fair to spin and talk. talk and spin beautiful wools into beautiful yarn.

The Fair gives children many opportunities to show their skills – as the Snow Leopard demonstration team shows here in their Wu Shu drill.  In the Exhibit Hall there are prizes for their crafts, arts, and gardening skills.

Adults need to learn too.  Dave Freeman and Doug Mason talked about the formation of, and their participation in the new Hilltown Biodiesel Fuel Project. Five local farmers have received a grant to  buy the equipment to press and process oil from sunflowers and canola to make biodiesel oil to power their farm equipment.  Locally  about 100 acres of sunflowers are waiting to be harvested.  They are pulling together – and they say there is room for a few others to join the Project.

Last year there was only one ‘lecturer’ in the newly reinstituted Speakers Tent but this year, there were three of us. Ted Watt gave a great talk about Backyard Berries; I’m definitley planting black raspberries next year.  He seduced us with a jar of black raspberry jam.  Then there were Freeman and Mason and then . . .

there was me!  I have a talk about Vermiculture, which is the high class word for Worm Farming.  It was well attended, as were the other talks and I found that the auditors have a great deal to add to our general knowledge.  Here we are out in the sun where we can get a good look at the worms. There was a lot of sniffing – but worm farms do not smell bad.  One passerby noticed us and proudly said he had been successfully worm farming in Heath for the past couple of years and had such prolifically reproducing red wigglers that he had to throw some in the garden occasionally – even though he knew they would die over the winter. Then his face took on a grim cast as he told us that just a couple of days earlier he had taken his worm bin out of the house where it usually lived, and put it outside . . .  where it was ravaged by a racoon who ate all the thousands of his worms. He was bereft.

There is so much to do: admiring the exhibits in the hall and in the livestock barns, twirling with the Hooplas, dancing to the great music, shopping for jewelry and maple cream fried dough, and shopping for a lot of books and CDs at the Friends of the Library Book Tent, buying raffle tickets to support myriad civic projects and organizations, that finally you just have to sit down and gossip – I mean share the latest – with friends.  Here I am with Cheryl and Mary Ellen and we are discussing the date next month for the ground-breaking for the Buckland Public Library addition.  We all put a lot of heart and energy into that project – talk about Pulling Together.

The Fair is over. My Monday Report is a day late, but the days after the Fair are always beautiful, no matter what rain or even snow(!) may fall during the Fair. Summer isn’t quite over yet.

Worm Update

The worm farm is celebrating its first anniversary. A year ago the grandsons helped set up the worm bin, drilling air and drainage holes, and putting in rotting leaves, compost and a little soil.  All of that was really unnecessary; red wigglers are not the earthworms that live in our gardens. Red wigglers are happy with damp shredded newspaper.

We started with one pound or about 1000 baby worms.  The worm bin lived outside into the fall on the north side of the house. When evening temperatures started to fall in September we moved the bin into the basement. During the winter temperatures there were stable at 50 degrees, the coldest that red wigglers can tolerate. In fact, a couple of times temperatures dipped just below 50.

This spring, when I was planting the vegetable garden, I dumped out the worm bin to harvest those valuable castings and check on the worms.  I doubt that there were 1000 worms any more, but some survived and I did have good worm compost to use when planting.

I cleaned the worm bin and this time I set up the bin with damp shredded newspaper and a little bit of finished compost. I put back the worms and hoped for warm weather, but this summer nighttime temperatures have dipped into the 50s almost every night. Great for sleeping, but the worms don’t appreciate it.

Before grandson Rory left last week we checked the worm farm. We learned that we need to keep a close eye on the bedding.  Shredded newspaper can dry out. We also decided to add some new bedding. This is a very large bin.  We do still have active worms and they are eating our kitchen waste. They love bananna peels and I give them the eggshells they need to reproduce every week. More worm compost in the making, but it is a slow business.

Worm Farm Progress

Worms alive!
Worms alive!

 

      “I used to say that one ton of worms could eat one ton of garbage.  I was always thinking big like that.  Then I found out that Seattle had distributed four thousand worm bins.  I did some figuring and realized that worked out to ten tons of garbage going into worm bins.  That’s when I realized—it’s happening!  It just isn’t happening the way I originally thought it would.”

Mary Apelhof, author of Worms Eat My Garbage

 

            As a gardener I have always been in favor of worms. I’m delighted to find them when I dig in my garden. I’ve even collected worms that washed up and onto the sidewalk or road after a heavy rainstorm and put them lovingly in my garden.

            I have been aware that their burrows help keep my soil aerated, and that their castings (manure) are valuable fertilizer. I even thought that, someday, I might start a worm farm.

            Last June I met Amy Donovan of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District at the Riverfest in Shelburne Falls. She was there with the worm bin she used to spread the word about worm farming in area schools. That was a further prod, but it was not until the impending arrival of three grandsons that I decided the time had come. Building a worm farm would be a perfect project.

            Using Amy’s directions (which are available online at www.franklinwastedistrict.org/vermicomosting) and the labor of three young grandsons we set up a worm farm with an opaque plastic bin. The boys drilled air and drainage holes in the bin and we put in about four inches of newspaper ripped into strips, soaked in water and wrung out.

Because that wet newspaper did not look very hospitable I had my grandsons add some old leaves and compost.

            I bought a pound of worms for about $30; they were delivered through the mail. They attracted no attention from the USPS, unlike the arrival of chicks.

            Over the summer various visiting grandchildren kept the worms fed. Worms are vegans. To keep a worm farm healthy the worms should only be fed vegetable trimmings, fruit scraps (except for citrus and pineapple), moldy bread, rice, tea and coffee grounds, but never never any meat or dairy products.

            Many people keep their worm farms in the kitchen or an out of the way spot in the house where the necessary temperature range is easily maintained. Worms prefer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees, although between 65 and 80 is more desirable.  I kept the worms outside in the shade until I moved them into our newly repaired basement. The temperature is a stable 50 degrees, and when it dipped below that for a few days during a bad cold spell in December I thought my worms had died.

            When a grandson visited during the February vacation we inspected the bin and were amazed to find live worms. The feeding started again and it is clear that baby worms are being born.

            I also noticed that all the newspaper bedding had disappeared and was no longer recognizable. Worms eat newspaper, too.

One thousand worms can eat 3-5 pounds of food scraps a week. It is time for me to  harvest the valuable worm castings, known as vermicompost, for use in the garden.                 Vermicompost has been shown to be even more valuable than regular compost. It can be used in planting holes, as top dressing, and even as top dressing or in potting soil for indoor plants.

Vermicompost can be harvested every three or four months. The worms then go into a bin with new bedding.

Worms are not much trouble. They need bedding made of newspapers, moisture, and food. They do not need the large amount of soil and compost I added to the newspaper although a cupful of compost is helpful.

If the worms seem to be crawling out of the bedding and onto the sides and lid of the bin it means that something is wrong with the bedding, too wet, too dry, not enough food or too cold.

I did have some trouble with fruit flies, but cut down on the fruit I was feeding them and laid several sheets of wet newspaper over the top of the bedding. This seemed to make a difference.

The biggest challenge I face is keeping the temperature above 50 degrees

One potential worm farmer told me she was worried about the worms escaping and ruining local forests. She had read that non-native worms in the northern forests of our country and Canada are eating through the duff, the leaf litter on the forest floor that feeds the trees and other plants, stressing the trees and altering the eco-system for other animals and birds.

Composting worms, Eisenia fetida are not a threat.  If they get loose in the garden they will not survive our winter temperatures. Make sure any worms you buy are this variety, listed by scientific name.

It is Anecic worms like the common nightcrawler, Lumbricus terrestris, that are the threat.  They feed on surface litter which they bring down into their deep burrows, returning to the surface frequently.

For complete and detailed information about setting up a worm farm you can read Mary Apelhof’s book, Worms Eat My Garbage or go online to www.wormwoman.com or www.wormdigest.org or www.happydranch.com for information and worm bins that range in price from about $70 – $125.   

 

 March 28, 2009