Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I've Got Worms!

Here they are, fresh out of their shipping package and on their way to their new home!

One of the first things I did upon moving in to my new apartment was to save one of my smaller moving boxes to start a little worm bin.  I choose a box that a regular plastic grocery bag will easily line.  I filled the bag/box about 1/3 full of organic potting soil, and then I collected a handful of clay and loam rich soil to add to the potting soil.  (That was a gift from a gopher who makes his home along the local river.)

Worms need some fine mineral soil--they ingest it and it helps their digestion.  The clay particles they ingest also supper-charge the worm castings.  It seems that the clay-humus combination excreted by worms provides many plants with exactly what they need as far as nutrition is concerned, and also as far as the delivery method.  Clay also contains cation exchange sites--which hold on to the nutrients until the microorganisms involved with the soil nutrient cycle present them with something in exchange.

There are microorganisms in the soil whose sole business is to trade nutrients they obtain from cation exchange sites with plant root hairs.  What they get in the bargain are the carbohydrates that fuel their lives.  The only source of carbohydrates, of course, are plants.  They make them from sunlight and water using nutrients they exchange with microorganism in their root hairs.

In most natural environments here in North America, this all proceeds without the help of earthworms.  There are very few earthworms indigenous to North America and they inhabit very small environmental niches.  All most all the worms we encounter here were originally from Europe. And in fact, worms are not always a welcome part of natural environments. They can disrupt indigenous soil nutrient cycles and in some areas this is threatening native plant species and the organisms that depend on them.  Just something to think about before you toss out worms leftover from fishing or before you introduce worms to your garden if you live adjacent to natural areas that do not already harbor earthworms. 

Soil nutrient cycles can do what they need to do without earthworms, but where appropriate, worms supper-charge the process!  They do their best work right in the soil of your garden, rather than in a worm bin or box.  If you haven't already, check out my article on gardening with worms here: 
Let Worms do Your Work!   You might also want to check out my related photo album on facebook: 
The Compost Hole Method.

Alas,  having recently moved into an apartment, I am no longer in a position to bury my compostables on a regular basis. Not to worry though, I do have a community garden plot in the next town, I will still be gardening and tending soil!  The only worms available locally  are night crawlers, which I really enjoy in the garden, but I have never raised them in a box before, and I wanted to stick with something familiar.  So I ordered 1/2 pound of red compost worms on-line. 

Before they arrived I made sure that their organic potting-soil-bedding was evenly moist, but not soggy.  Using a soil thermometer, I found a good spot for them in the apartment.  Sixty degrees Fahrenheit up to the high seventies is ideal.  Colder and they become sluggish, hotter and they suffer.  I found the perfect spot in my water heater closet!  Next I buried about a pint of kitchen waste in the potting soil and waited for my worms to arrive.  

Most people use shredded paper for worm bedding, and I do add some paper to my worm boxes if they start getting too damp.  However, I have found that my worms are happier, healthier, and more vigorous if their bedding is mostly chemical free natural materials, like organic potting soil and fallen leaves.  All paper has been through chemical processes and retains traces of these chemicals.  I have seen with my own eyes the difference between raising worms on paper bedding and on natural bedding.  I will stick with using a preponderance of natural material.

My current worms take about a week and a half to processes about a half a weeks worth of my kitchen waste.  I figure that eventually I will want about four times as many worms.  Living in a small apartment, this will take some creativity on my part . . .  but I am sure it can be done!

A word about smells.  A properly managed, maintained, and cared for worm box or bin has hardly any smell at all.  If I put my nose right down in the box, it has a very slight forest earth kind of scent.  If your worm box smells unpleasant, it may be too moist, too hot or cold, you may need a higher ratio of bedding to kitchen scraps, or you may need more worms or less scraps.  It is a learning process.  However there are lots of books and blogs and articles devoted to indoor "vermiposting."   Vermiposting is what composting with worms is called! Almost anyone can use this technique to recycle kitchen waste into supper-charged soil!

If you would like to leave tips, ask questions, or share useful web sites or books, please feel free to leave a comment.  I don't think Blogger will let you put a URL in comments, but you can give the names of useful websites and we can search them out!


Harvest said...

Here's my progress--the worms have now multiplied to the point they are eating 95% of my kitchen scraps! I am leaving the onion and garlic and citrus out--but I don't have tons of those kinds of scraps, and other than that, they eat it all. I put all my other scraps in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. I probably make about a quart of scraps a week. I just add to the bag as the week goes on, then on Sundays, I check the worm bedding, and if they are ready for it, I first defrost the scraps, then I carefully and gently scouch all the bedding to one end, throw the scraps in, and cover with the bedding. Next week I check the other side . . . Now if it gets so both sides get completely devoured in a week, I will take half the worms to the garden and add them to one of my raised beds, or share them with someone that needs a starter batch . . . .

Harvest said...

During the week I just check the soil temp and make sure it isn't drying out. That's it. Easy beans!