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Adoption Day for my Worms!

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Post  Soose 1/8/2023, 7:47 am

Today I am picking up several pounds of red wiggler worms from a local grower.  I am planning to try to  give them a good home, proper nutrition and housing, and hope to  benefit by harvesting my own worm castings. 

I have an empty IBC tote of collected leaves for them to have a nice bed, the yard and truck are piled with a passle of cardboard to tear apart for their snacks, and for supper, I  separated the onions and citrus out of our bananas/coffee grounds/potato skin/avocado kitchen waste. 

I have to protect from critters like moles and raccoons climbing in. Provide ventilation, correct moist level. 

I had collected a big Rubbermaid type bin and some old igloo coolers last Summer, planning to use one of those. But I've decided to try to go bigger. One of our empty IBC totes. 

I wonder if I can ramp up production and process a lot of our kitchen waste through the worm bed rather than the compost beds and tumblers. 

The worm guy gave me data.

One pound worms per square foot; 
  If I start with 12lbs worms (pricey) in my 12 SFG tote, in about 2 months I should have about 24lbs worms and they will have generated  1/2 cu yd worm castings. 

Worms double every 2 months. 
Start 24sqft, 24lbs worms 
Harvest 
24lb worms
 1  cuyd equal 27cuft castings. 

I asked about winter slowing, but he said they'll actually do better in this cooler weather.  He also raises them in totes, as well as other beds.  

I debated how many to buy,  hedging with the first attempt, but need a lot of compost and worm castings. I bought 8lbs worms, in case I have to restart in a couple of months.  I will ask today about the plan to block off part of the IBC tote so they are a bit crowded in there, to start -- I read that makes them more productive. Better chance of finding each other to reproduce? 

in 2 months yield ( early March)
Plus 8lb worms 
plus about 9 cu ft castings. 

At 2mos start with 16lb worms. 
Yield at 4mos (early May)
Plus 16lb worms
Plus 18cu ft castings. 

At 4mos, start with 24lbs worms. At 6 months, 
Gain 24lb worms, 
Another cu yd or 27cu ft castings.

That's the numbers.  Who knows, I might lose them and have to restart. 

But I'm excited! Last Spring I bought some 5gal buckets ( holds .67 cu ft)  from a homeowner, for $20 a bucket? This worm farmer said the going rate at a Farmer's market is closer to $30. 

 He also said that the bulk stuff at our feed stores and county co-ops are not pure worm castings, not done.  And some commercial stuff sold as castings seen from a customer that's been a short time in a worm bed, some of it as little as 2 weeks by a commercial grower. Yuck. 

I think aiding worms to work  a on isa relativelybigger scale is a  passive way to cut costs and labor and improve quality in my garden.  Should have started this immediately. My friend calls her washing machine and dryer her servants...  I prefer worm partners.

Think. 100percent recycling of our kitchen scraps and a lot of cardboard that would have gone into the waste stream. ( Got a truckbed load from the neighbor today, too. )
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Post  OhioGardener 1/8/2023, 8:24 am

Best of luck! Be aware that some of those "statistics" might be a little optimistic, assuming ideal conditions. If the worm bin is too warm, too cold, too wet, or too dry the redworms go dormant and neither eat a lot nor reproduce. But, having a worm bin can be a great hobby, and produce some great worm castings for the gardens.

For a wealth of information on worms, check out Uncle Jim's Worm Farm Blog:  https://unclejimswormfarm.com/blog/

And, specifically this thread on the blog on How to Start a Worm Farm: https://unclejimswormfarm.com/vermiculture-start-a-worm-farm/

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Post  sanderson 1/9/2023, 12:01 pm

Make sure you have some "food" for them right off the bat. Produce starting to break down with mold and bacteria. I started with kitchen scraps in 3" PVC hotels with caps directly in the beds. I would fill each and let them eat it down before adding more.

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Post  Soose 1/9/2023, 2:54 pm

Instructions say let them rest and get used to their new bed before feeding but I do have av book ready with foods.
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Post  KiwiSFGnewbie 1/9/2023, 4:21 pm

How exciting!!  I hope it all goes well for you Smile
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Post  Soose 1/11/2023, 4:13 am

Update. My worms seem happy to bury in to a deep bed consisting of a good many dumped out potato bags from last Summer. This is a pseudo Mel's Mix; I think my son didn't exactly follow the recipe as we did for the SFG's. Worms are supposed to be very happy in fully broken down compost, and this seemed close. Still a bit fibrous.

We tried to test pH with some old strips, verified the strips were semi ok with distilled water, then with ammonia 3 with lemon juice. (Just hard to read middle colors.) Mostly, the worms liked the mix. They would have tried to crawl off or out if this mix was wrong.

I've only put a bunch of wet cardboard on top for now. Trying to figure out a top, maybe hinged.

I did grind up some supper in the food processor -- contents of a 12 qt stockpot that I keep for veg waste, and give them a first feed under the cardboard, spread it out into the mix there. Careful not to feed worm intolerances or allergens so to speak. Lol.
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Post  Soose 1/12/2023, 7:56 am

The red wigglers seem to like their new home in the potato mix; lifted the cardboard and there are a bunch of them clustering around the food paste I put in. 

The bin is just covered with cardboard still.  I need to make that hinged cover strong enough to keep out critters that might discover them, still debating on materials.  (Again, the truck not working, prevents me from going to purchase some material to make a top.)

We'll have to move them to some shade before Summer heat.  Out in the open now.  By then, maybe I'll have enough for two tote beds, not one. 

--------------------

Question for this forum:  
Should I move some of the worms into the SFG totes, feed them there?  Or will they do well there?  Maybe one of the pipes.  I haven't wanted to do that since it takes up real estate in the SFG bed.  How many of you do that?

[  I wonder if from touch, the MM might be too wet for worms right now, as the water reservoirs under are full to the top from rains.  (The vertical overflow pipe is full to the top.  I might put a shorter stub on, let it drop down a half inch or inch, dry out some. )    I should go squeeze some handfuls  of MM this morning before it gets cold again tonight -- for worms, the rule is no drips of water coming out when you squeeze.  Damp. Will check before moving any worms in, and then I have to remember to feed them this winter, too.   ]  

--------------------

Anyway, I bought 8lbs of worms for the one 12 square tote, less than the rule of 1lb / sq ft, hedging on the investment.  Then last night, my phone started spouting a webinar on worms on Youtube.  And the lady says, do NOT go out and buy 10lbs worms. You need to observe them and figure out what they like first, learn how to raise them...  

I've only heard a bit of it,  it's 1.5 hrs long and seems very thorough, wish I'd seen it before buying worms.  Link here for future reference.  Will watch the rest of it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL8oQm8v3eE
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Post  OhioGardener 1/12/2023, 8:33 am

Soose wrote:Question for this forum:  
Should I move some of the worms into the SFG totes, feed them there?  Or will they do well there?  Maybe one of the pipes.  I haven't wanted to do that since it takes up real estate in the SFG bed.  How many of you do that?

They would not provide the same benefit to the beds/totes that regular earthworms do.  Red Wigglers are "top feeders", which means they stay in the very top few inches of the bed looking for food sources. Earthworms drill down into the soil opening irrigation channels and moving nutrition throughout the soil.

I have used "worm tower" tubes in raised beds, but don't currently have any.  The earthworms in the soil moved in and out of the pipes to feed and return to the soil. I experimented with taking Red Wigglers out of the bathtub worm bin and putting them in the worm towers. The Red Wigglers did not move in and out of the pipes very much and concentrated on feeding on the food scraps. I found the worm bin was more effective at producing worm castings.

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Post  Soose 1/12/2023, 8:54 am

OhioGardener wrote:
They would not provide the same benefit to the beds/totes that regular earthworms do.  ...   I found the worm bin was more effective at producing worm castings.
Thanks for the explanation I can understand and keep clear in my mind.  We'll keep them as compost producers. 

(But I realized from just the little bits of video of that webinar I happened upon what I'd been suspecting yesterday as I worked with the compost and worms:   the compost I feed the worms first still needs to have gone thru a hot-compost cycle to eliminate bacteria... 

We still have not made the tumblers work well, not getting it up to the hot zone.  I just have not had time to manage that myself and my son is real good at taking kit waste out and adding browns, and tumbling (been doing that since he was a youngster)  -- but his mind is on his job and despite multiple discussions/sessions and research and sending along helpful hints, he doesn't do the needed job of monitoring temps and adjusting the mixes to produce any real amt of compost.  The compost in there won't budge off 62F right now.  It's hard enough for those composters who are mindful and want to focus on it. I will need to take over that operation myself to make it happen, both for the garden and for the sake of the worm project now.  )
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Post  sanderson 1/12/2023, 6:46 pm

I don't know what videos you are watching. Think vegetarian scraps, a little paper and little dry leaves.

Eisenia fetida are good for breaking down produce scraps into castings.  Stacked tubs, PVC tubes or even free range wooden boxes like I also raised them in for a couple of years.  They don't need compost that has been through the hot method.

Earthworm varieties are good for burrowing into the ground, aerating and making castings that we never see.

What to feed them:  kitchen produce, juicing pulp, spent coffee grounds, a paper towel or 2, some wet leaves. . . .
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=little+red+wigglers&docid=607991245916417393&mid=20FFBBDAD55A89CB54A620FFBBDAD55A89CB54A6&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=red+wigglers+verses+little+red+wigglers&docid=608052221572433915&mid=420B1775E23AE8578DB3420B1775E23AE8578DB3&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

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Post  Soose 1/12/2023, 11:05 pm

sanderson wrote:I don't know what videos you are watching.
I had said in a previous post here...  (webinar with a univ prof and author of books on worms)...

Then last night, my phone started spouting a webinar on worms on Youtube.  And the lady says, do NOT go out and buy 10lbs worms. You need to observe them and figure out what they like first, learn how to raise them...  
I've only heard a bit of it,  it's 1.5 hrs long and seems very thorough, wish I'd seen it before buying worms.  Link here for future reference.  Will watch the rest of it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL8oQm8v3eE
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Post  sanderson 1/13/2023, 5:03 pm

I watched the webinar last night and finished this morning. In one part she mentions pre-composting to 140*F. Not finished compost. At another point she mentions that 131*F kills pathogens and seeds.

Whether one wants to go through the killing stage or just add the worm food directly will be an individual's choice. Personally, if I got my compost up to 140*F, I would just continue making the compost and give scraps, coffee grounds, paper to the worms. Two separate operations.

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Post  OhioGardener 1/13/2023, 6:44 pm

sanderson wrote: Personally, if I got my compost up to 140*F, I would just continue making the compost and give scraps, coffee grounds, paper to the worms.  Two separate operations.

That is my philosophy as well.  I make the compost to put on the garden beds, and let the worms make great worm castings to add fertilizer when needed.  A bag of coffee grounds can be dumped into the worm bin, and they will rapidly eat the grounds and filters as long as there are enough browns to offset the rich greens.

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Post  Soose 1/14/2023, 7:50 am

Ty Sanderson and Ohiogardener for the input.

I thought what she said (with the caveat that I've not been able ever despite multi attempts to give it my full attention)... Was that of 131F and 140F, bacteria would need one temp and weed seeds another.

And my impression was that she was cautioning about possible sources of bacteria we might not have thought of.
Contaminated commercial produce, or anaerobic compost, or bird droppings in an open cold compost pile. If this produce or compost is then fed to worms, the worms will not kill these bacteria in their digestive tracts. And we could be putting contaminated worm castings on our gardens.

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Post  OhioGardener 1/14/2023, 8:38 am

Soose wrote:And my impression was that she was cautioning about possible sources of bacteria we might not have thought of.
Contaminated commercial produce, or anaerobic compost, or bird droppings in an open cold compost pile.  If this produce or compost is then fed to worms,  the worms will not kill these bacteria in their digestive tracts.  And we could be putting contaminated worm castings on our gardens.

IMHO, there is way too much overthinking on this. Worm castings are pathogen free due to the digestive track of the worms.  Even the U.S. NIH says so:

"Bacillus cereus var mycoides were reported to decrease during gut passage while Escherichia coli and Serratia marcessens were completely eliminated during passage through earthworm gut (Edwards and Fletcher, 1988)."   (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725894/)

For the past 60 years or so I have not once, not ever gotten sick from eating any produce from my gardens, even though I frequently pick and eat the raw while working in the garden.  So, I'll not change my gardening methods for the last 10 or 15 years of my life.

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Post  Soose 1/14/2023, 9:21 am

@OhioGardener TY for the reference on bacteria in worms.  Good to know.  I suppose I can relax - don't have to pass stuff thru the tumblers first, get it up to temp.

I will keep in mind that the prof in the webinar is addressing an audience meant for new commercial medium or large sized growers setting up worm farms -- big ones.  The intended audience would probably want to be more concerned about contamination as they're selling products they are liable for - not just worms but castings, compost, worm teas. 

 The commercial grower I bought worms from (local) feeds store-bought chicken scratch of some sort.   And I think he has a source of manure.

I've seen loads of videos for smaller worm bins where the feed is a worm smoothie of fresh kitchen waste stuff. And that's what I've done this week.

Two feedings, the first just ground up into a thick paste via the food processor, then yesterday I added pure water and blended it.  (I used drinking water inside -- my goal is rain water for the worms, but the weather was bad and I didn't want to go get any.)

We had rain/a storm (and tornados elsewhere down here); there was one little puddle on top of the cardboard covering, nothing to worry about.  I am happy to say the worms had eaten almost all the first batch of food, other than an avocado skin or two,  and seemed happy.  I just cleaned out the fridge, and am looking forward to making a batch for them tomorrow.

I've had to create a second compost bin, a small one for onions, citrus, other acidic or fatty foods.  And I have to solve the problem that we mix paper towels and coffee filters into the kitchen waste pot -- I can't blend those so am having to manually sort thru the pot.
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