Posts Tagged ‘vermiculture’

Rookie Mistakes: Worms

If you kill off your animals, even if you know how it happened, always start again with fresh bedding to be on the safe side.

If you kill off your animals, even if you know how it happened, always start again with fresh bedding to be on the safe side.

“The dog ate them” is about the only way I didn’t kill my last batch of red wigglers. Although, considering the dog I live with, who knows?

The first thing I did wrong was get them too wet. I was juicing veggies for myself, and I don’t have a very high-quality juicer so the pulp is pretty wet. They love it, it’s already bite-sized for them, so they go through it pretty quickly. I hadn’t been pulling out the worm casings (poop) very quickly, though, so it started to store the excess water instead of letting it evaporate. When the worms get too wet they drown and/or noxious gasses build up from the bacteria and they suffocate. It’s not too hard to fix, if you catch it. I sifted out a large portion of the casings and replaced it with dry, shredded newspapers to absorb the moisture that was left. I did lose worms to that, but they could have recovered from it.

Mistake two  was, again, feeding them incorrectly. Worms do not like citrus. I already knew that, but I hadn’t realized that the problem doesn’t seem to be citrus, per se, but foods high in vitamin C. I had picked some rosehips from a friend’s yard and I was working on pulling the seeds out, because the seeds are a bummer to eat. I knew that they were organically raised, so I had no qualms about chucking the seeds in with the worms. If they couldn’t eat the seeds directly, maybe they would sprout and sprouts are easily edible. I started seeing dried worms stuck to the outer box. It was confirmed later that worms actually run away from citrus (and rose hips). When their entire home is inundated with the food, the only place to run is out of the box- which kills them.

Once I eventually figured out why the worms were running away, I sifted through everything and pulled out the survivors. They consisted of about five adults and a couple of dozen babies. Rebuilding up to a decent number of worms would probably require just buying new ones, but the survivors would bolster the new batch. Unfortunately, five worms don’t eat enough to be fed on a regular basis, so they sort of got forgotten about and dried up.

R.I.P, Worms. You taught me valuable lessons.

With a freshly emptied, and cleaned, worm box, I took myself down to the Rocky Mountain Worm Company again for a new batch. They don’t keep red wigglers for sale over the winter. However, they do sell African nightcrawlers all year. For the same price, I thought it might be worth a try. Particularly since red wigglers eat half their bodyweight per day, and African nightcrawlers can eat up to one-and-a-half times their bodyweight per day. I’m doing my vermiculture inside, so being able to process more food through the same volume of worms is a perk. African nightcrawlers are significantly larger, you only get a few hundred per pound rather than around 1,000, and they don’t reproduce as quickly, but neither of those facts really bothered me.

The one other major difference is that the casings from the African nightcrawlers are quite a bit bigger than the ones for the red wigglers. I had been sifting the casings out of the bedding and food using a kitchen sieve. It was very slow, but it worked. It’s not going to work for these guys. The folks I bought the worms from let me know that 1/4-inch hardware cloth would pull most of the adult worms out, and that 1/8-inch would sift out pretty much anything but the casings. I am thinking about making two sifters if my worm operation gets bigger, but for now I’m going to be making one with 1/8-inch screening so I can keep them cleaned out. I will keep you updated on how the sifter(s) come along.

So far, the new batch of worms seem to be doing just fine. They’re a little strange to stick my hands in, since they’re quite a bit bigger than the other ones, but that’s not such a big deal. I had been thinking that they were eating slowly, due to finding leftovers, but I recently noticed that they seem to have eaten the bulk of the newspaper bedding. I think I need to feed them more often, and make sure that the bits are smaller, since the leftovers tended to be big for little worm mouths. I have been meaning to start juicing more often. I just have to watch the bin carefully.

Mmmmm. Worms.

Mmmmm. Worms.

I have worms! In a good way.

About 100 worms. Smaller than I expected.

Yep, I now have pets. I picked them up at a local store and deposited them in their newly-crafted home. When I got them I stuck my nose in their little carrying cases and it was so nice to smell honest-to-goodness dirt! I started with a little over 200. They were pricy, and I could have done better online, but I wanted to pick them up instead of having them shipped. My mail has a bad habit of languishing in my mailbox for a day or two before I pick it up, and I didn’t want to lose any to frostbite. I also decided that as quickly as they breed, it was probably best to start small rather than risk being overwhelmed in short order. Apparently your population can double in 90 days.

Importing plants and animals should be done with care. After all, dandelions were once imported on purpose because they were pretty. I hesitated over purchasing this fancy, European worm for that reason. However, they like temperatures above 55 degrees, moist conditions, and they like to stay in the upper portion of the soil. If they decided to escape on me, I don’t think they’d last long enough to be a genuine problem around here. That,

The latest in sustainable chic.

and they live for eating compost, unlike nightcrawlers that need more actual dirt in their life. As long as their environment doesn’t dry out, they shouldn’t have any reason to want to leave their comfy little box where they get their food hand-delivered.

I got my worms about a month ago. In that time I’ve learned a couple of things. The tray under the box is less to deal with water and more to hold onto the worm casings that fall out every time you move it. Like so many other things around here, they dry out quickly. Don’t underestimate your needed number as badly as I did. Particularly if you have some very sad vegetables in the refrigerator that are more suited to worm food than people food. They don’t, quite, keep up with my current scraps which means that they’re no help when it comes to cleaning out the fridge. I have also discovered that if you don’t overfeed them, their home smells nice and earthy. Chopping your veggie scraps into smaller pieces helps them eat it, and it’s not that hard to rinse out egg shells to dry and crush for their grit/calcium supplement. Apparently worms have crops like a bird that requires grit to grind up the food.

Given a choice, they're mostly camera-shy.

I have been tossing around the idea of supplementing my worm count so that I can stop sending vegetable scraps down the trash disposal, but at this point I think I’ll just be patient. They are doing a number on their bedding and the food that I do give them, and I don’t have a place to use the casings just yet. I am pretty excited to see how much they can produce for me, though, when I start eating out of my garden and I have more vegetables for me and scraps for them.

Crafty weekend

I ended up with an extra long weekend, so I had some time to indulge my crafty side.

Project 1

The first project was a snug home for the vermiculture I will be hosting. With the receipt of my first seeds, I’m itching to do something in the garden, but my apartment offers few options. Worms, however, require no light and aren’t terribly fussy as pets. If you just search for “vermiculture bins” you can find a lot of ready-made bins for sale and instructions to make your own. Seeing as how I like to make things and my budget would prefer if I kept my spending to a minimum, I went with the home-made version.

You can see that I have a pretty small tub. This is partially because I’m only feeding little ol’ me, so I don’t have that many scraps to use. I am also dealing with an apartment kitchen. Granted, it’s probably twice the size of my last one, but it’s not exactly overflowing with spaces to tuck a large tupperware container. However, this box just fits in an overhead cabinet that keeps the worms away from the vibration of the dishwasher and the garbage disposal but close enough so I don’t have to think too hard about chucking dinner’s scraps in there. I have a clear box, but I’m thinking it should work, as it will be shut in a cupboard about 23 3/4 hours a day. However, if the worms object too much, I can always paint it or tape construction paper along the sides. Worms don’t like light or vibrations.

Air holes

Most of the instructions tell you to use a drill to cut air holes in the top and upper sides. I don’t have a drill, so I opted for a hot knife. It cuts plastic almost as easily as it cuts butter. If it’s hot enough. Kids- fire and knives require parental supervision. Not that you weren’t already aware of that fact. The knife may or may not survive the experience so don’t use the good silver, please. As you can see, I melted holes in the cover, the tops of the sides, and around the bottom for drainage. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be using as a tray underneath to catch any drainage, but I’m thinking some sturdy tin foil should be fine. I mean, how much could worms actually pee, anyway?

The next step is to fill it with bedding. Hand-shredding newspaper is a good way to keep oneself brainlessly occupied. I was actually a little surprised at how much newspaper it took. Every time I thought it was full, I pushed it down a little and realized I needed more. I also cleaned, dried, and crushed eggshells. These are for calcium supplements for the worms, and to act as grit to help them digest. They have  a gizzard like a chicken as a part of their digestive process. And voila. All I have to do is wait for Rick’s Nurseryto call me to say the worms are in. Then I’ll damp down the newspapers, add the worms, and give them a couple of days to settle in before I start feeding them.

Doesn't that just look fluffy and snug?

Project number two was prompted by a friend who asked if I had business cards, since she knew someone that might be interested in hiring me. I am still very much seeing this as the potential for a business, but I have a lot to learn, yet. It never occurred to me that there are people who might be willing to pay for what I know now. However, I am not about to spend money on business cards for something that I still don’t really see as a business. Then I remembered this post. I don’t have stamps, but I’ve been thinking that my penmanship could use some work. Perfect opportunity!

My penmanship isn’t bad. My photography skills could use some work.

I don’t make things very often any more, so it’s good to be able to look at something and say “I did that.” It’s doubly good to make something that I can use. I’m all for art, but you can only have so many hand-made knickknacks before they just get in the way. I also think that something is lost when you are only handling items that are factory produced. The few items that I own that have genuine character, in my opinion, are made by hand. They can be simple, they don’t have to be covered in curlicues or flourishes, but they have a piece of the craftsman in a way that factory items do not. From a strictly practical standpoint, I will probably eventually replace my hand-written cards with purchased ones. After all, I can’t produce them in the kind of volume I would need to really advertise when the time comes. Until then, look what I made!