April 11, 2012

Compost Worm Countdown, ......... 2 ..........

"Remember ...Bedding is your friend!!"
Tom Stewart, Worms-a-crawling Farm

I've gradually been working on the next step in my compost worm preparations, bedding. I say gradually, because we have a pretty good size worm bed frame. I'm thinking big, though I now understand why a lot of folks start with smaller plastic totes. :)

Composting worms do not burrow into the ground like earthworms, they like it closer to the surface, where there is plenty of decomposing organic matter. That means they need a dark, moist, protective environment to live in. Bedding provides that and here's what I've learned about it so far....

Shredded cardboard & newspaper for worm bedding

Shredded cardboard always seems to be the most highly recommended, as well as paper. These must be the non-glossy type and the colored inks must be soy based (thankfully common nowadays). Egg cartons (which I don't have) and leftover rolls from toilet paper (which I do have) or paper towels (have on occasion) are good too. Initially I found shredding the cardboard to be time consuming. I tried scissors and a box cutter, but eventually figured out that if I wet down the cardboard first, it was much easier to tear. This is good, because being able to use cardboard, junk mail, and scrap paper for the worms, is one of the reasons I wanted them. There's never a shortage of these items, so this is the perfect "no waste" way to dispose of them.

Barn muckings from last year, slow to completely decompose over winter.

Partially rotted manure or plant matter is good too, as long as it's not fresh. Manure, straw, and hay from cleaning out the goat shed and chicken coop are the basis for my compost piles, which I turn as I remember, and sift as needed. I use the finished sifted compost for the garden, and can add the larger partially decomposed matter can be added to the worm bed as needed.

The problem with fresh manure or green plants, is that they generate heat as they begin to decompose, which is how we know our compost piles are working. Worms prefer temperatures more like we do. Plus, the worms need the microbes found in decomposing matter. This is what they actually eat, not the matter itself.

Last autumn's leaf rakings. 

Autumn leaves are good too, though their down side is that they don't absorb and hold moisture by themselves; better to mix with cardboard. Most of my leaves end up as winter mulch for garden beds, but I did have one pile that is decomposing, which is good.

The bedding needs to be wetted down to keep it damp, not soggy, just damp. Non-chlorinated water only.

Lastly, some food....

Kitchen compost bucket

Most of our kitchen and garden scraps get fed to either the chickens or the goats. Exceptions are anything that's rotting or moldy. Other than that, about the only thing we have left is coffee grounds, tea brewings (bagged or loose), the occasional forgotten item in the refrigerator, and onion and garlic skins.  Those last items (onion and garlic waste) are a no-no for worms however, because of the volatile oils they contain. The other thing that cannot be used, is non-manure waste from animals (bones, fat, dairy products, etc.)

The bedding needs to be prepared at least several days to a week before adding the worms. This gives the bed a chance to begin to establish the microorganisms that the worms eat.

Bedding mixed & damp.

Since my bed frame is large, it finally occurred to me to put a divider in it to start. This will give me time to fill the other side with more bedding by the time the worms need it. Actually, this is similar to Tom's method of harvesting casts.

Now it just has to sit and age a bit. I'll keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't dry out. Still on my to-do list, is a cover for the bed. Even just mixing this up attracted a curious robin. After that I'll be ready for my worms!

Want more info? Try these:


Related Posts:
Compost Worm Countdown, 3...............
Compost Worm Countdown, ................1


Renee Nefe said...

wondering if a sheet of cardboard weighted down would work for a temporary lid for your bed?

I feel blessed that we always have a lot of earthworms in our soil. Even though I'll be using containers for my garden, I want to dig up some worms to add to the containers...course knowing my luck they'll all crawl out. LOL

Sherri B. said...

With all of that wonderful prep work your worms will love to come live at your place. We have millions of little red worms that crawl across the drive from the fields after a good rain, I wonder if they are the same worms as you will use.

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Please remind me of why you're raising so many worms?

Lynda said...

My worms love the "rakings" from the spilled chicken feed. I also feed them any of my milling fines. The teachers at the school shred lots and lots of paper and I take it off their hands at the end of the week. I take several big boxes home every Friday, too. I wet them down and then cut them up and throw them on the worm bed. I use a few pieces of plywood as a lid for my cinder block "bin". I started out with a Rubbermaid tote bin...then added several more and finally dumped them all into the cinder block "farm" in the garden...I really enjoy the new setup. Last year I would guess I ended up with close to a 100 pounds of castings (they're wet). My compost tea setup is next to the bin...very easy to throw in a shovel full of castings and start brewing.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Great info Leigh. I do not compost actively. We have so many animals that are rorated throughout our farm there is always something well decomposed somewhere. BUT I'd like to get more organized and have a well done bed like yours CLOSE to my garden.

Nina said...

curious as to what happens to the worms in the winter? Do they go dormant or dig down for protection? With a colony that large, you should have a decent worm casting production.

kristi said...

I love that its another way to put waste to works. We are very passive com posters, but that takes up a lot of space. Can't wait to see how it progresses.

Leigh said...

Renee, that's not a bad idea. Right now I have it covered with black plastic, but right now I don't have worms. I'm hoping we can get something more permanent soon!

Sherri, good question. I'm not very knowledgeable about worms, but that Red Wigglers are one type of compost worm.

Janice. :) 1st - as a way to deal with waste we can't feed the goats or chickens. 2nd - chicken feed.

Lynda, thank you for all that! Wish I had a good resource, but I'm happy with what I've got. Love the cinder block idea. I like the idea of compost tea as well. I need a set up near my worm bed too.

Donna, I admit that I like low maintenance composting too, LOL. I'm already happy to have a way to deal with paper and cardboard waste!

Nina, good question. I asked Tom and he said his overwintered well. He's a little farther north than I am. The worms are sold by the pound, so I'm hoping for quite a bit of output!

Kristi, so true. I agree about the space it takes up. Hopefully this will offset what we take to the landfill (somewhat). We'll see how it goes!

Clint Baker said...

Leigh, thats great! I put my hands down in my raised bed soil yesterday to scoupe out some dirt and I bet I had 50 worms in my hand! They are great!

Tom Stewart said...

Your bed looks great! and I'm glad to see that the advice I sent was put to good use!
Cardboard is the best! It is a bedding material and a food source too, as the glue used to hold it together is animal based. I have placed a full sheet of Cardboard over the top of the bed under the lid to help hold in the moisture and the Worms will end up using it all. It's neat to open the bed and pull the remaining material and see the Worms all through it and lots of eggs too.
I need to get to work on my beds, Lots of weeds and grass around the beds (could this be a result of the Worm Tea leaching into the surounding area?
As far as fall leaves, I run bag after bag through a Yard Vac to break them up, wet them down and use them as bedding. The Worms really like this and will consume several bags in just a few weeks!
Again it looks like you are setting up the Worms new home in the right way. If you have any other questions, just ask!.

Ngo Family Farm said...

So wonderful! This is really encouraging, and has got me thinking I could do this, too! I'm slowly working on eliminating my "trash" and this is such a perfect way to deal with the inevitable unwanted junk mail - woohoo! I would also be worried about the worms with our winters here, but it certainly seems worth a shot :)

Leigh said...

Clint, what a moral boost! You know you've done good with your soil when you find worms like that.

Tom, the advice has been much appreciated. Thanks for the tip on a sheet of cardboard under the lid. Drying out is something I'm concerned about, especially during summer. Also about the leaves. That's something we have a lot of. :)

Jaime, I know, isn't that some good news for junk mail? I'm going to set up a separate waste paper basket just for worm fodder. If you have any question, pop over to Tom's blog and ask!

Anonymous said...

We had one type of worm bed and the moles ate through the bottom and ate all our worms. So we had an antique milk container with a lid and that is what we use for our worms.

Leigh said...

Oh my goodness! I hadn't thought about that but moles do love worms. So far we've not seen many moles. Shrews yes, moles no, though I'm sure they're around.