We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Compost - Via My Worm Bins

I am new to composting kitchen scraps with worm bins. And I'm a convert! What a magic trick to behold. Worms take newspaper and cardboard (their nesting material) and food scraps and turn all of that into a lovely black loam that will benefit my soil.

I had learned how to compost when we lived in Boulder. Not only were our food scraps dumped into that pile but so were the piles of cottonwood leaves. And then I'd collect the mash left over from beer brewing and add that too. What a healthy compost I had. And what tasty vegetables I grew in it. That was a bummer to leave behind when we moved to a much more rural area.

I didn't compost for years after moving to a mesa outside Ridgway, Colorado, because I didn't want to attract wildlife. I'm not talking squirrels or rats, I'm talking bear, coyote, jackrabbits, prairie dogs and ermine. I don't know if wildlife eat vegetable food scraps but I didn't want to take a chance with attracting animals in any case. I don't even have bird feeders or birth baths around as a way of discouraging wildlife from hanging around!

We've seen bobcats, coyotes, and neighbors have seen bear and mountain lion, but by keeping food away from our house, we've not had troubles. So far, so good.

Last spring I was reminded of worm composting so researched it. Randy's assistant, Becky, and I decided to get into worm bin composting. We tracked down worm suppliers, directions for making bins (I'll share the process I've used in a later article), and started collecting the materials we'd need. No more food scraps into the trash for us! The worms get all vegetable matter, well almost all.

My worms live in the garage since that's safe from weather and wildlife. Evidently they don't like being cold, 40 degrees being at the bottom of their range. The boiler to heat the house is in the garage, so it always stays at least 40 degrees in there, so I figured that would be a fine place for them. This winter was pretty cold, with temperatures hovering around 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for weeks on end, that for a few weeks I brought the worms into the pantry. It was a bit inconvenient, but we dealt with it. But as soon as the temperatures warmed they went back to the garage; I like that better.

I don't always put avocado skins, flowers, or egg shells in the bins. The directions for feeding my worms is to throw the food scraps into a blender and then pour the slurry in with the worms. Sorry, that's more effort than I want to put into this. I think.

This morning may have changed my mind on that. I'm migrating my worms from the first bin to the second one since I'm ready to use the first batch of compost. The way this works is you make two bins but only use one at a time. The first bin nestles in the second. When the first bin's compost looks ready you prep the second bin with nesting material, add food, and put the full first bin back in it -- the worms start migrating down.

Stacked Worm Bins Loam from Worm Castings

It's a slow process. I think I may have "slow" worms -- it's taking forever! My niece says that if I leave the lid off the top bin they'll migrate to the bottom to get away from the light, and then keep on moving to the next bin where I want them. First, I'm trying to get them to move by only putting food in the bin where I want them to go. But it's taking so long I'm starting to get worried about them starving!

Today was worm feeding day. Randy helped me with the heavy lifting. He pulled the top bin off the stack so I could scrape the worms off the bottom before setting it down. I heard him exclaim when he looked into the second bin but figured he was enjoying the look of lots of worms, as I'd seen last week. When I gathered a handful of worms I went to put them in the second bin and I was amazed and the oozing, squirming mass of worms -- more than I saw last week!

As an aside, my sister, the Environmental Knuckle Dragger, gets almost queezy when I talk about picking up the worms. I'll tell you what I tell her, "Don't worry, they don't bite.", or even threaten to. They just gum their way through the food scraps I give them, leaving me wonderful "worm casts" of loam for me to grow plants in.

I decided that compost in the second bin was too wet so the worms were getting out of the muck. So I ripped up more newspaper and layered it in the wet compost. That also served to mix air, food and worms in so more of that amazing composting magic could happen. Then more newspaper strips went on top of the mixed batch. Now I'm letting the compost dry out by leaving the first bin off. Consequently I have a whole newspaper lying at an angle across the top to protect the worms.

Loam from Worm Castings Worms From Compost Bins


Guess it's time to start sharing my worms with others. It's too early to put them into my yard, aka flower bed. I don't yet have a vegetable garden, though that's on the drawing board. So, share my treasures with others is the solution. It never occurred to me I'd ever have too many worms.


[this video was added after Jeremy commented about feeding his worms beer mash:

Explanation Caption: There is a fruit tree in the desert and all the animals love this fruit and just cannot wait for it to ripen and drop from the tree. Some animals help it along in dropping its fruit. As the fruit lays in the hot sun it begins to ferment, which basically means: sugar to alcohol (using yeast under anaerobic conditions)

Comments

Hi,

Your site and 'insights' on going green(er) are interesting and very informative. Unfortunately I don't 'walk the talk' as much as I'd like.

I've been toying with the idea of composting with worms for years and your article has helped motivate me to get 'off my duff'. My question is - what type of worms do you use that you migrate them to the garden? Regular ol' earthworms?

Many of the sources I checked out in the past about worm composting have all claimed that a particular red worm was the one to use. If I have to order red worms, will they survive in the 'wild' and do they 'belong'?

Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights.

Jo

Jo Brown at April 24, 2010 10:35 AM

My City (Carlsbad, CA) had a deal where they subsidized a worm bin for citizens. We got one, and a lesson from the center that was giving them out. The person there told us that the worms would not live long in the wild. I am not sure why not, that is just what we were told by someone for whom vermiculture is clearly a big deal.

In stead of migrating down, we add a new bin layer (we have 3) when one gets full and start adding scraps to the new one. The worms move up to the new food source.

Our bottom layer is water tight and has a spigot on it for collecting the worm "tea" which I find we need to dilute about 50/50 before pouring on anything.

By the time we start filling the third layer, the bottom layer is generally completely done, and ready to get worked into a garden bed.

Jeremy Jerome at April 27, 2010 5:16 PM

Jeremy, that's brilliant! It's a much easier approach than I've been using. Those bins of loam get heavy (or is it the fat worms that are heavy?) and a hassle to deal with. Ohhhh, thanks for that tip.

I hadn't heard that red worms don't survive in the wild, so I'll try to keep mine in their bins safe and sound.

-Kit

Kit Cassingham at April 28, 2010 8:56 AM

We end up putting many worms in the ground every time we use a bin anyway. It's actually quite a fun event. I will turn over the bin where it is to be folded in, and both kids (5 and 6 the last time we did this) go to work "rescuing" as many worms as they can get. After a bit we give up and return what we have saved to the active bins.

I read some of the guides and they make it sound so complicated. We just keep throwing stuff in and they keep on eating and multiplying. I did almost kill them all by putting to much beer mash on at once. It started a VERY active compost. I now limit myself to about a 1/2 gallon and put the rest in yard recycling.

Jeremy Jerome at April 29, 2010 1:58 PM

Jeremy,

You do live in a milder climate than I do, so maybe your red worms can survive the wild a bit better than mine can. But having kids act as worm wranglers sounds like fun -- and educational too.

I used to collect beer mash in my compost pile, but I wasn't feeding worms. The image you conjured in my mind with your story reminded me of the 2:50 minute video from the French documentary about the African Alcohol Tree.

[I added the link to the bottom of the article since the Comment Field doesn't allow for that much HTML]

Kit Cassingham at April 29, 2010 2:12 PM

I've often thought about buying red worms. I use black trash cans to compost near the house and compost piles away from the house (black bears are the only kind we have and they are pretty much afraid of people).

Before I empty a can, I water newspapers out in the garden and let them sit for a week. I keep them pretty wet. Then when I empty a can, I put a thick layer of vegetable matter from another can, add some shredded newspapers, and pick up the bottom layer of wet paper from the garden and voila! Jillions of earthworms to go in the trash can. This year I've had more compost than I know what to do with, so I started a new bed.

The worms will break down anything. I live on the East Coast, and compost crab shells with the vegetable matter. Crab shells take longer than the vegetable matter, but those worms have no trouble ultimately breaking them down.

Lee at July 31, 2010 6:09 AM

Lee,

What a great way to compost. Thanks for sharing that technique!

Red worms won't work as well in that arrangement as earthworms. If you want to compost with red worms you'll probably need to approach that differently.

As an aside, black bear generally avoid people, but once they've been socialized they are as dangerous as any other bear. They are dangerous anyway, and part of their socialization is eating garbage from people's trash. That's why we don't do regular compost.


-Kit

Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 3:29 PM

We compost with a "regular" plastic composter outside behind the house. We live in a black bear area and have never had a problem with bears in the compost - even when we have had bears in the shed, and one take the patio screen door off. However we are very careful not to put meat scraps in the compost.

I had a worm composter in the office when I worked in the city.

Jim

Jim at August 1, 2010 5:53 AM

Jim,

I don't know for sure if bears go for compost, so I hope your experience is "normal". Do worms fair fine during your winters inside that composter? I have to figure there's enough heat generated by the composting action to help keep them warm.

How did you like the results and process of worm composting compared to composter composting?


-Kit

Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 1:41 PM
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