Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Worm Composting Update

Don purchased a Worm Factory worm composting system with five trays for me a few  years ago. Over time, the system has become more Don's hobby than mine. He says it's because I am tender-hearted, and if I think of them as his worms, not mine, then I will be more comfortable feeding the occasional excess to our hens.

I suspect it's more because the worms like dark and decay, and they are wriggly and messy. Don is such a boy at heart that he finds true joy in messing with them. I enjoy watching him work with them and talk about them. But I must say that I am much happier now that we've found a spot for them on our porch and not in our kitchen or bathroom where they have resided previously.

He might also be the one in charge of them because he is a scientist at heart and likes to experiment more. Like him, I carefully read the valuable instructions that came with our Worm Factory. Unlike him, I feel compelled to stick pretty closely to the written instructions.

But I can't complain, since the worms have thrived--and then some!--under Don's care.

The worms are obviously thriving in the second bin down. This is before feeding time.

One of the things Don does differently is he puts mostly carbonaceous matter in the top bin. When that has been in the composter a while, he moves the tray down to the second one down. He then puts a new carbonaceous tray on top. He feels that this top tray discourages vinegar flies that sometimes compete with the worms for food, and he no longer has to dig through the carbon to put the food in underneath the carbon on the top tray, which the manufacturer suggests. He also thinks his system gives the worms more options regarding moisture, temperature, etc., as they move around the bins to keep themselves comfortable.

Don just dumps their food in the second tray down and then replaces the top tray with the carbon. He thinks the worms like the added moisture, and he finds the whole process less work than using the manufacturer's instructions. He leaves the bottom trays underneath these two  for quite a while for the worms to pass through and re-digest. The bottom trays are former top and second trays that are waiting for us to need some compost around the yard and gardens.

Here is a view of the top, carbon-laden, tray, where fewer worms visit.

The instructions say to either grind up the worms' food scraps or freeze them before feeding them to the worms. This hastens the decomposition process and makes it easier for the worms to feed. Freezing kills any fruit-fly larvae (really vinegar flies) that might be already in the scraps. But Don grinds the food in a specially-dedicated food processor--

--Yes! The worms in our house have their own food processor!--

And then he puts in the a mason jar in the freezer for at least a few days. Finally, he thaws it out and feeds it to the worms.

Here are Don's worms with some new food dumped in the second tray.

Don is adding a second helping of food from a mason jar. The worms digest it quickly!

Needless to say, we have very little food waste in our household. I belong to a wonderful CSA through Farm Chicks Produce, so I cook a lot from scratch, and we have certain vegetable peels and tops that our hens won't eat. We also pick up scraps from a local restaurant, and whatever our hens won't or shouldn't eat usually goes to the worms.

Both the worm tea from the composting system and the compost itself is fantastic for our own vegetables and herbs. Any extra worms are great protein for feeding the hens, and the hens love to spread the compost around our lawn and garden beds when they get the chance. While they scratch through the compost, they like to hunt through it for tasty treats.

Overall, the worm bin is a huge success despite the fact (or because?) Don does not manage the system according to the manufacturer's directions.

By the way, vermicomposting does not require a fancy store-bought system to work. Here is general advice from Cornell. Perhaps you will start your own worm composting system? If so, let us know what works for you!

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