Larry Shier

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Environmentalism In India

I'm on record as saying I believe India will become an environmental leader in the 21st century. I try to keep a close eye on what's happening there. I've noticed that a great deal of what you can learn about India as an outsider seems to depend on the phrasing of your search, what you're looking for and the source of your info.

For example if you search "India environmental issues" you tend to find a lot of western news sources talking about "India is the fourth worst country in environmental policy." You'll see that India has made statements in international climate discussions such as "India's right to development is non negotiable."

However searching "composting in India" or "vermicomposting in India" the results are MUCH different. Stories of a grassroots movement to clean their environment. Photos of large composting facilities. Stories and studies on the positive effects of vermicompost on farming and the environment. Even stories of failed government composting projects.

After researching for a while it's easy to feel like India has a split personality. I almost picture the little devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other; like we have all seen in cartoons.

So what is the reality? I started contemplating the reasons why there is such a differing message on the state of India's environmental solutions. What follows is my assessment as an outsider based only on the information I've been able to find.

Western media paints a very negative picture of India's environmental policies and the leadership of the country refuse to sacrifice their economy and development to appease the international community. The same negativity slammed President Trump when he announced dissatisfaction with the Paris accord. Does western media have an internationalist agenda? If so is that agenda responsible for the reporting? I just can't know, but I have to question the objectivity of the reports.

I do tend to believe that India has some fairly serious issues regarding environmental practices. Previously weak policies have led to a crisis or near crisis situation in regard to pollution and sanitation.

So with all of these things going against India why do I predict they'll be an innovator in composting, vermicomposting and eventually environmental cleanup?

The university in my home city specializes in environmental studies and sciences. Over the last decade I've witnessed an ever increasing number of smiling students from India, visas and passports in hand enrolled in our university and eagerly studying in the library. Indians are taking education very seriously.

A recent article in The Asian Age details some regulation that appears to be more strict and more fiercely enforced than most I've seen elsewhere. Housing developments over 20,000 square metres must earmark a composting space for all trash that can be composted. Bulk solid waste generators are being legislated to deal with waste at its source rather than placing it in landfills or hauling it offsite. Failure to comply can lead to imprisonment and hefty fines. If Canada's Ministry Of The Environment and/or the USA's Environmental Protection Agency are threatening prison for failing to compost; I've not heard of it.

In Prison

  Another observation I've made is a tidal wave of interest in composting and vermicomposting technologies from India's residents. Whether the interests are fed by fear of penalty, or profit seeking based on the requirements of law, or a genuine desire for improvement; I don't know for sure. It appears a grassroots movement is sweeping across India to reduce solid waste pollution.

  It appears as an onlooker that India wants to solve her own problems and yet not be forced into arbitrary quotas or purchasing carbon credits that would negatively effect their GDP. 

  My feelings on India are that there's a  unique mixture of desperation, desire, education, and stubbornness that is fueling changes in environmental policy that will lead to a cleaner tomorrow as well as profit for a few Indian innovators and entrepreneurs. 

Organic or Synthetic Fertilizers?

Organic Fertilizers

Are made from dead from plants and animals. Examples of organic fertilizers are: Bone Meal, Vermicompost, Manure, Kelp, Compost, and Fish Hydrolysate.

Synthetic Fertilizers

are inorganic, they're usually manufactured in large factories using otherwise waste materials from petroleum products. Examples are Ammonium Nitrate, Ammonium Phosphate, and Potassium Sulfate, and Urea.

Rock powders 

are also inorganic but are generally permissible in organic food production. Examples are Greensand, Rock Phosphate, Basalt Dust, Azomiite and Zeolite.

sprinkling rock dust

Rock dusts can be used to provide trace minerals

Plants require 13 nutrients. Three well known macronutrients; nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).  These three nutrients are used in the largest quantities by growing plants, and must be replaced in our soil to maximize productivity and crop yields.

The secondary nutrients are; calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). In most soils contain enough of these nutrients , so adding more is not always needed (though calcium is often used to control soil Ph).

The micronutrients required in smaller quantities are; boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chlorine (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn).

Plants cannot distinguish between an organic or synthetic fertilizer and in fact organic fertilizers must be broken down by microbes in soil to inorganic compounds to be absorbed by plant roots. This doesn't mean though that there's no difference to the health of your plants.

Chemical fertilizers often add only quick release nutrients to the soil, they don’t add slow release, long term plant nutrition and seldom add the secondary and micronutrients.


decadent chocolate cake

Using synthetic fertilizer would be like eating only this for the rest of your life

Plants also need organic matter and microorganisms. Synthetic fertilizers do not support microbiology in the soil. Synthetic fertilizer actually kills a significant percentage of beneficial microbes because they are salts and remove water from multicellular and single cell organisms by osmosis.

Microscopic creatures break down organic matter into a more slow release meal for plants than a chemical fertilizer. Organic material is like a healthy meal in our bodies and synthetic fertilizers can be compared to living on desserts.

Microbes are crucial for improving soil fertility in the long term. Much like our own bodies would become unhealthy surviving on cake, soil, plants and biology become less healthy on a chemical diet.

Some microbes convert nitrogen from the air into plant useable forms, others "mine" for nutrients from surrounding rock and others break down large, insoluble organic molecules into smaller, inorganic compounds that can be taken up by plant roots when dissolved in water.

a group of fruiting fungi

Fungi decompose "dead stuff" and nine for minerals for plant to use

Composted organic matter should increase the diversity of beneficial microorganisms in our soil. Nitrifying bacteria found in soil and compost convert organic nitrogen (often in the form of proteins from dead microbes or ammonia produced by decomposition) into inorganic nitrogen (nitrites and nitrates), in a process called nitrification. Plants may then take up the nitrogen released by these bacteria. Compost contains a surprising variety of microbes, many of which may be beneficial in controlling plant and human pathogens

• Organic matter improves soil structure, microbes produce sticky "glues"that hold organic materials into particles resulting in "crumbs" called aggregates. Aggregates allow water and air to enter the soil, roots to penetrate more deeply, and biology to grow. Diverse and active biological communities help soil resist compaction and to cycle nutrients at a rate that meets plants needs. Soil health and soil quality are terms used to describe soils that are fertile and also have physical and biological properties that sustain long term crop yields, and promote plant and animal health"• Organic matter holds water like a sponge and enhances the fertility of soil.

• Diverse and healthy microbe populations can break down contaminants in soil and water to compounds that pose less of an environmental or health hazard (bioremediation)

There are some minor downsides to using organic fertilizers, but the benefits outweigh the pitfalls. Cons of organic amendments:

• Organic fertilizers may have large variables in nutrient content between batches.

• Organic materials are less dense in macronutrients compared to inorganic fertilizers. And rely on soil biology to work.

• Organic fertilizers may be expensive to use on large scale crop production.

• Organic fertilizers often lack consistent shape and size, and can be more difficult to apply as existing spreaders and equipment are designed for the uniform structure of synthetic fertilizers.

• The release of nutrients relies on microbiological activity, which generally rises and falls with soil temperature and moisture content; making nutrient availability variable.

spreading manure

Organic fertilizers can be messy and potentially cost prohibitive 

Limitations of chemical fertilizers:

• Synthetic fertilizers usually do not provide micronutrients.

• Synthetic fertilizers do not support microbiology in the soil and actually tend to lower the diversity and overall biomass.

• Chemicals fertilizers do not add organic matter to the soil. This prevents the production of aggregates and crumb which leaves the soil vulnerable to compaction. Compaction prevents roots from penetrating deeply and increases irrigation costs.

• Synthetic chemicals can be applied excessively, and can damage roots, or create a concentration of salts that draws water from plants backwards into soil through osmosis.

• Chemical fertilizers release nutrients quickly, creating a great deal of above ground growth above shallow roots. This type of growth leads to weaker, disease prone plants, with lower crop yields.

• Synthetic fertilizers, because they dissolve easily, and release nutrients faster than plants use them often leach into groundwater or wetlands. This causes algae blooms and environmental issues due to the competition for oxygen in aquatic ecosystems.

chemical fertilizer

Synthetics are more uniform in shape and are easier to spread and apply

Healthy plants produce healthy food for healthy people. Organic principles produce healthy soil to grow healthy plants. How we treat our soil suddenly becomes as important as personal hygiene in maintaining our health and living longer lives.

Worm Farming Has Lost A Community Icon

This will be a pretty short post today. I just wanted to honour a member of the worm farming community that has sadly departed. Jerry “Worm Dude” Gach was someone I never met personally, I had several email exchanges with him and always found him to be sincere, honest and respectful.

Jerry carved out a niche in vermiculture as a major supplier of worms throughout the United States. He drop shipped for many suppliers and developed the Worm Inn.

The feeling I got from one particular email exchange was that Jerry was a pretty patriotic guy. He seemed very proud that the Worm Inn was American made and refused to have it made (even if cheaper) in another country. It almost seems fitting then that he left us on the 4th of July 2018 despite being far too young.

I just want to send out prayers and condolences to Jerry’s family in their time of loss and say “Worm Dude: we’re all gonna miss you.”

Healthy Soil Can Eat My Shorts

Your mom told you to always told you to put on clean underwear in case you were in an accident (I never understood this because there's a good chance if you're in an accident that bad your gitch will be dirty afterwards anyway).

The Soil Conservation Council of Canada and other groups interested in soil health. want you to filth up your panties in a challenge they're calling "Soil Your Undies." The challenge is meant to check the health of your soil and is quite simple. You just get a pair of 100% cotton underwear (white briefs aka tighty-whities are the preferred type), take a before photo and bury them in your field, paddock or garden where you want to check your soil health.

Healthy soil contains a large mass of microbes, earthworms and other decomposer biology.

After 60 days you dig up the underwear and take an after photo and post both pics to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #SoilYourUndies.

In healthy soil with diverse biology there will be little left but elastic after the 60 day time period.

If we actively work to improve our soil using organic and "no-till" methods the rate of decomposition of the underwear should improve as well.


If your soil doesn't meet the challenge this year then you need to step up your regenerative methods before next year to increase soil fertility.

A few ways to improve your soil are:

  • Increase the soil organic matter by using compost or mulch.
  • Plant cover crops, root exudates from cover crops feed bacteria and fungi, bacteria feed nematodes, earthworms and protozoa. These in turn increase levels of plant available nutrients, in particular nitrogen.
  • Don't till or plough your soil. In nature dead plants and animals fall on the surface to decompose and feed the soil biology- we should emulate nature for the best results.
  • Avoid using synthetic fertilizers- these are salts and dehydrate soil biology and can even prevent efficient water uptake by plant roots if over applied.
  • Start now learning to compost and/or vermicompost. Healthy compost contains an astonishing number and diversity of microbial life.
  • Long term soil fertility is the result of constant decomposition and recycling of "dead stuff." In nature soil is never bare. Forests drop leaves, branches and dead animals to be recycled, in grasslands stalks and stems die, fall to the ground and a new generation grows through the old. Where we farm or garden and remove crops and "waste" we must replace the organic matter consistently. Leaves, grass clippings, garden waste, food scraps, spent brewery grains, wood chips and coffee grounds are just a few readily available materials that can be composted and returned to the earth to promote and sustain soil fertility and health.


Upcoming Events in Worm Farming

It isn’t often there are worm farming events worth announcing far and wide. Right now I have 2 things coming up in 2018 that you should know about. The first is the 19th annual NCSU Vermiculture Conference on November 10th & 11th 2018 in Raleigh NC. To register for the conference go here. This year the conference falls on a weekend and the lineup of speakers looks impressive so far.

Rhonda Sherman the chief organizer of the event has, what promises to be an excellent new book coming out on November 6th 2018 called The Worm Farmer’s Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions

Rhonda has travelled the world teaching vermiculture and is a leading researcher with many publications to her credit. Rhonda also had a large role in (what I consider) the ultimate guide to working with worms (so far) Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and Environmental Management

All in all the end of 2018 looks like an exciting time for worm farming fanatics.

I will unfortunately be unable to attend the conference but it’s sure to be a great time and an awesome learning experience for all.

How To Calculate How Many Worms To Start A New Worm Bin With.

 One question I'm frequently asked is how many worms do I need to start a worm bin? When starting a new worm bin many of us are doing it on a budget. We usually have the bin first and want to start with enough worms but we're also aware of our spending if we are buying our starter worms. Today I'm going to help you figure out how many worms to buy based on the size of bin you're starting with.

1/2 pound of worms (don't buy by the count) for every square foot of bin surface area is enough to get a fairly good start at worm farming and provides enough space to allow the worms to breed into the bin. Much lower density and the worms will compost too slowly and higher density they'll become overcrowded fairly quickly and you'll spend more than necessary.

Calculating Surface Area

  So you might remember the old length x width calculation from school. 

If we measure the bin in inches, we need to convert square inches to square feet. to do this just take the number of square inches and divide by 144. 

  Let's practice by saying the bin above is inches by  14 inches:

24 x 14 = 336 square inches

336 / 144 = 2.33 square feet.

So to get a good start the minimum we should start with is 1 pound of worms, but 2 will work if it's in our budget. 

Basic math calculations like this is about as complicated as you need to get to operate even a large scale worm farm. to increase worm populations, from here you can keep splitting bins whenever they get crowded, or you can learn to do it the way commercial worm farmers do.

Calculating Worms Needed Based On Available Waste. 

Over feeding worms is a frequent problem new worm farmers run into. This is exacerbated by worm growers that sell by count instead of weight; ultimately shipping short, hoping you won't count. 

  If you prefer to calculate how many worms (red wigglers) you'll need to handle all your available waste there are a few more variables and the calculation is a bit less accurate. You'll often see claims that worms can eat their own weight each day. This could hold true for certain water heavy and soft foods (watermelon and pumpkin for example) in ideal conditions. However my own measurements with random food waste are closer to eating their own weight in 5 to 7 days in "good conditions"  

  What you'll have to do is, collect all your food waste for at least a couple of weeks and weigh it. take an average weekly weight of food waste and buy that many worms (or round down). 

 For example your household produces 6.7  pounds of waste each week then start with 6 pounds of worms to be able to keep up to your household food waste. 

No Shit! Facts About Manure Composting

Oh Shit! Facts About Composting Manure

If you’re corprophobic (irrational fear of poop 💩) you better skip this post- this one is where the brown stuff hits the fan!

I’ve been around composting (and manure) for a good part of my life. It amazes me how much people DON’T know about poo or particularly about composting it.

Let’s begin by examining the problems associated with manure in modern society.

 

Lake overgrown by algae

Environmental Impact

In nature animals just do their business on the ground, herds of bison as far as the eye can see all just dropping their waste. This has a net positive effect on soil because as nature intended it is added to the top of soil and broken down when the animals migrate to new feeding grounds. Spread out like this over thousands of hectares of soil it is quickly devoured by everything from bacteria to earthworms and dung beetles. The negative impacts of manures comes with the flaws of modern farming. Huge herds of animals are grazed in limited space or worse placed in buildings where manure accumulates and is removed into piles. In these conditions, manures are able to accumulate in much larger quantities than nature is equipped to handle. In large piles where more manure is frequently added (but oxygen isn’t) microbes and other detritivores just can’t keep up; the pile ferments in an anaerobic state. Anaerobic piles of manure off gas ammonium, hydrogen sulphide and methane. Methane is considered by scientists to be a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so manure piles contribute to climate change.The result of rain or snow seeping through these piles is a leaching of plant nutrients and potentially pathogens into groundwater. Such an occurrence combined with a series of blunders resulted in over 2000 illnesses and 6 deaths in the small, rural town of Walkerton, Ontario in Canada in the year 2000. Flies will lay their eggs in manure and can potentially carry pathogenic bacteria and viruses into homes and onto food supplies. Manure piles can result in outbreaks of illness. When manure is composted following best practices (we will get into best practices a little later) pathogens are easily brought to levels low enough to avoid infection.

When plant nutrients from manure are leached into wetlands, ponds, lakes or streams it can cause algae blooms and seaweed growth that rob aquatic life of precious oxygen. Manure results in fish die offs and damages ecosystems.

Long term, excessive applications of raw manure result in accumulations of salts that damage the microbiology of soil by stealing water through osmosis. Long term manure use DECREASES soil fertility.

 

Financial Impact

Dissolved nutrients promote seaweed growth that hinders recreational as well as commercial boat traffic. Manure negatively affects tourism and trade.Dredging seaweed diverts tax dollars that could go to roads or schools, un-composted, raw manure is a financial burden to communities.

 

What About Solutions?

It would seem that manure issues will continue to be with us well into the future. Even if all the world turned vegan today, setting free the quantity of existing livestock isn’t feasible and would result in undesirable encounters with humans. Domesticated animals just aren’t equipped to find their own food and lack the fear of humans that wild animals instinctively have. A massive slaughter would be wasteful and unacceptable to most of us (and particularly so with vegan principles and belief systems). So finding solutions to the problems associated with manures is crucial.

There are a few solutions for turning farmyard manures into valuable products. Three well researched solutions are:

  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Aerobic composting
  • Vermicomposting

Any of these solutions results in a large decrease in volume of manure, meaning more can be stored in the same space if necessary. Composted manure can be added directly to fields or gardens to increase yields, plant health and help deter pests and disease; without dangers of pathogens reaching water supplies.

Anaerobic digestion involves placing manure into large airtight receptacles with water and allowing it to ferment. As mentioned earlier this produces methane and hydrogen sulphide gasses. The difference here is that the gases are captured and diverted for heating or cooking fuel. This reduces the usage of hydrocarbon fuels, a non renewable energy source. After the digestion process the remaining solids are similar in texture and appearance to sphagnum peat moss. These solids can be incorporated into soil or potting mixes.

Aerobic Composting- this is perhaps the easiest and most cost effective method of dealing with large quantities of manure and other waste products. In this process manures can be mixed with other municipal waste and aerated to create a valuable soil amendment. Ideally composting can even occur on-site right on the farm as an additional source of farm revenue. In many cases manure and bedding can simply have temperature monitored and be turned and aerated at the appropriate times. The high temperatures of composting destroys pathogens, sterilizes weed seeds and locks up many nutrients into a form that is much less harmful when leached into groundwater or wetlands, streams etc.

Composting has a greatly reduced off gassing of greenhouse emissions and stabilizes nitrogen into plant usable forms rather than ammonium gas.

Vermicomposting is similar to composting but is done at lower temperatures and uses worms to enhance the rotting process. Manure can be aerobically composted prior to feeding worms or can be directly added to worm beds in layers thin enough to allow heat that would accumulate in an aerobic compost pile to dissipate quickly.

Advantages of vermicomposting is compost that’s finished without a curing period, and worm casts are considered a “premium” compost for gardening and farming. The worms themselves can also be used as protein for livestock or sold for additional farm revenue.

The one disadvantage of vermicomposting if you’re using manure directly is that, without the heating of aerobic composting; weed seeds can and do survive the gut of an animal and aren’t sterilized by worms either. Vermicomposting large quantities of manure also requires specialized equipment to separate worms from compost.

 

Best Practices

Anaerobic Digestion

When using anaerobic digestion to cope with manures, best practices mainly involve preventing oxygen from entering the vessels and preventing resulting gasses from venting into the atmosphere. Anaerobic microbes eventually create sufficient quantities of volatile waste products to almost sterilize the remaining solids. Much like in wine or beer making you cannot brew to over around 11-12% alcohol before yeasts die and distillation is required to further raise alcohol concentration so too anaerobic digestion ceases when concentrations of waste reach a critical point.

Aerobic composting

Safety standards for composting are well documented and in the USA are recognized by the Food and Drug Agency (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Similar standards are mirrored by government agencies in many other nations.

The requirements are for ALL material being composted to reach 131 degrees Fahrenheit or 55 Celsius for a period of at least 3 consecutive days. This means to follow these standards, temperature needs to be closely monitored and recorded and cooler parts on the outer portion of the pile must reach the centre of the pile and be reheated. The high temperatures sterilize stray weed seeds and neutralize pathogens.

 

Vermicomposting

Actual standards for vermicomposting manures are (at the time of posting) are still under review inside the USA. Research seems to indicate that vermicomposting can bring pathogens below safe levels within 14 days. The FDA however is/was leaning toward the more conservative suggestions in the book Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and Environmental Management.

Those standards are as follows: Materials of animal origin (manure) should be processed for a minimum of

  • 45-60 days in a continuous flow through reactor.
  • 120 days in a batch system (like a plastic tote or where you dump it and harvest).
  • 120 days in a wedge windrow (walking windrow)
  • 365 days in a static windrow.

BioFiltro, a company in Santiago, Chile has designed a wastewater treatment system based on worms and microbes to clean and filter water contaminated with manure from dairy farms. Similar filtration systems have been used for recycling black water (toilet water) India. 

What About DE-Worming Meds And Worms?

  I’ve long suspected that the hub-bub about worm medications was far overblown. I have an online friend who works in a veterinarian’s office who has tested almoist every worm med they have- including those used for dogs and cats as well as heart worm medications.  She’s tested them from the bottle at full strength and also fed the poop from treated animals to worms without ill effect. I haven’t asked for permission to use her name or quote her here yet so I will not. 

  George Mingen- owner of  Kookaburra Worm Farms Australia’s largest commercial worm grower had this to say: “We use a lot of horse poo to feed our worms. The horse worming medications do not appear to affect earthworms. They are frpom a completely different animal family! (from parasitic helminth) We have done trials with several common horse worming medications and none of them have harmed the compost worms. 

 If in doubt, try a small of poo first and if the worms are into it and all ok after a week or so thenit is safe to use. Wet horse poo down thoroughly first.” 

 

 

Soldier Fly Composting

  Similar to vermicomposting but using the maggot of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucnens)  in the place of worms. Soldier fly composting has a somewhat lower value compost but has a high value protein source for fish, fowl and livestock. Soldier fly also process a larger amount of waste into biomass and reduce waste by a larger percentage. Soldier fly maggots however cannot handle animal bedding like straw whereas worms can. 

  Soldier fly larvae in combination with vermicomposting, farming or gardening and aquaculture or aquaponics is a potential closed loop system of handling manure. 

Hazards Of Manure Handling

  There are risks in any activity, the risks of composting manure are fairly low and relatively easy to minimize.  Raw, uncomposted manure should be handled using a pitchfork or shovel when possible. If you must handlke it with your hands then wear gloves and practice proper hygiene methods. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and scrub your fingernails after handling manure and eating, drinking, rubbing your eyes or any other activity where pathogens could enter your body. 

 

 

What About Antibiotic Resistant Pathogens?

  The chance of contracting antibiotic resistant strains of pathogens is very low from handling manure. Most pathogens do not compete well with other microbes and in that way manure may actually be safer than a public restroo, visiting a loved one in the hospital or even riding the bus or a taxi. Places that are cleaned regularly leave little competition for pathogens and become a breeding ground. 

 

In Conclusion

  The negative environmental and financial impacts of not properly handling manure far outweigh the minimal risks of properly composting manure. For the farmer composting manure could provide additional revenue for the farm, greatly reduce or eliminate chemical fertilizer costs, reduce irrigation and the costs associated with it.  Anaerobic composting requires a large initial investment but could be a move toward self sufficiency. Vermicomposting and/or soldier fly composting has the additional income stream from selling worms or maggots to others for their own composting or as  high protein animal or fish feed. 

  For the small scale composter or vermicomposter there’s a satisfaction in knowing you’re part of a larger solution. 

Now go gather up some manure and help the planet. 

Can A Worm Bin Save My Marriage?

Totes of lawn thatch

Every year I rake and gather my lawn thatch. Every year I try to vermicompost it. Every year I get in a battle with my wife and another with a swarm of fungus gnats.

I really like the texture and quality of the worm castings from using thatch but those gnats about drive us from our home.

Sticky strips, mosquito dunks, and sprays I’ve had to go into full on beast mode against the gnats for several years running- all the while with my wife nagging “these little bugs are driving me nuts” I told you not to bring that sh¥t into the house!”

This year I’m gonna try again BUT I’ve got a plan 🤪 a crazy plan that might just work. I’m going to keep my mouth shut and cram my Urban Worm Bag all the way to the brim with thatch from the lawn. The fabric construction and sturdy zippers should become a hellish prison for the gnats and all that thatch should be a smorgasbord or the worms.

Worm bag full of thatch

So far my experience has been that the Urban Worm Bag retains almost perfect moisture with the lid zipped shut. Further experience is that thatch decomposes, and the worms work it from bottom to top where it’s moist and makes contact with the other bedding. Once a week I plan to unzip it a little, stick in a vacuum cleaner hose and try to dispatch as many gnats as I can that might be trapped. I’ll add moisture if necessary, zip it back up and walk away. If this works as I’m hoping I should get good compost AND a wife who is none the wiser to my normally gnat infested, springtime obsession.

Urban Worm Bag loaded and zipped.

*UPDATE* I put the thatch into the Urban Worm Bag about 2 weeks ago and just didn’t get to publish this post. So far I haven’t seen a single gnat in the house. I’m really excited for how it’s going so far. I haven’t had to add any moisture either, it’s staying exactly as I want it. 

Worm Casting Extracts- On Their Own Or A Base For Tea

Making Worm Casting Extract

   After I first posted “Leachate, Extracts or Tea?” I’ve had a few people ask about extracts. I recently recorded a video making an extract for my house plants (this is the video above). 

  For anyone with a rather small scale worm farm that wants to grow it, or if you just have a small amount of casting; extracts are a quick and efficient method of using your castings and growing your worm herd if you choose. 

  Personally I don’t like sifting castings. If your bin is too wet it means drying your castings a bit, then sifting them (often more than once). After all this you’re still not sure how many egg capsules (cocoons) you’ve lost. 

  Experts I’ve talked to suggest this drying and sifting harms the beneficial microbe diversity in castings too. The very thing that helps make castings so useful. 

  What I’ve shown in this video is a very small scale method I use in winter just for indoor plants. I have sieves and filters  larger for spring, summer and autumn usage. 

 

The Sieve used in video and my larger one. Larger has 3/32" holes
This sieve sits on a 5 gallon bucket

The sieve I used in the video is a re-purposed pen organizer from an office supply store. My larger sieve(s) I got off of EBay as a honey sifter

I did have to contact the seller to special order the one with 3/32″ holes but also ordered the 400 micron one as pictured on EBay to remove castings from extract if I want to. 

  By spraying water over my casting to make an extract I’m able to remove almost all the cocoons from my casting to start new bins and quickly grow my worm herd. I eliminate the need for drying and sifting. I have the option of using the extract immediately or straining it to 400 microns and brewing an actively aerated casting tea

  I recommend giving extract a try for newer worm farmers or anyone using castings only for themselves.  

Worm Farming Has Benefits

Worms may well become one solution to environmental problems and lack of nutrition in the soil. Epigeic earthworms have the capability of converting otherwise waste products into a valuable soil amendment. In fact all worms work to improve soil but the epigeic species are the easiest to work with for composting.

Perhaps I should “step back for a second for anyone new to worm composting and explain the 3 types (broad categories) of  earthworms.

  1. Anecic worms are your “dew worms” or “fishing worms” these burrow deep into the earth and feed largely on soil. Some pull organic materials deep into the soil. They breed slowly and don’t do well in a compost bin.
  2. Endogeic worms burrow more horizontally in the top regions of the soil. These are nature’s rototillers. They breed faster than anecic worms but prefer things like leaf litter to food waste. They are much slower to create good compost than epigeic worms.
  3. Epigeic worms are the true composting worms. Epigeic means “above the soil” and these worms live in organic material laying on top of the soil, they rarely burrow and if they do it’s very shallow. They love to eat manure, rotting food waste, leaf litter, old grass clippings and virtually any dead, rotting organic material. They quickly turn this all into castings “worm poo” which is a fine compost.

Some may have goosebumps upon imagining the sight of thousands of worms (especially inside the house! – it truly is more than enough to give any average person the tingles up their spine. Worms have long been known to cultivate the soil and aid plant growth. It is really no surprise to find that they play a vital role in the whole composting process.

Some of you might think that worm composting is not really a good idea. But before you dismiss the idea, take a break, open your mind and hear out some of the advantages of the now-becoming-popular worm composting technique.

Number 1: Flexible: Indoors or Outdoors, Take Your Pick

Whether you want to have your worm compost indoors or outdoors, it does not really matter. You can have them in either or both areas. The good thing is that you won’t even have to sweat too much with your worm compost.It doesn’t require frequent turning or monitoring of temperature like other methods. Worms are compliant workers that make compost day in and day out, for relatively no charge. You only have to feed them to keep them in top condition.

Number 2: All it needs is moist bedding and waste material.

Worms like moisture, and you need a stable bedding material as a “safe zone” from heating or fermentation. Home worm farmers often use cardboard, paper or leaves (or a combination). Commercial farms I’ve seen often use peat moss, coco coir, sugarcane bagasse or pre-composted manures. Home farms usually begin with food scraps as food, commercial farms often use manure.

Number 3: Worms are readily available and are not that hard to cultivate.

With growing popularity obtaining composting worms has become easier. It is possible to harvest compost worms in some areas by digging around manure piles at a local farm. If this is too yucky there are plenty of places online to buy worms now and have them sent right to your mailbox. Use a little caution buying online there are some scoundrels out there sending less worms than they claim. I’d say don’t necessarily buy from the first ad that pops up, that only means they are spending the most on advertising. It is possible to get started free or cheap too.

Number 4: Aside from the yuck factor, the worms will happily do the work; you only have to manage them.

You will act more as a manager than a laborer with a worm farm.  You will do minimal work for such positive results. You get support from governments and people worldwide regarding worm composting. Social media like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter have many people willing to help out.  In  some communities, it is already being implemented and widely promoted to have worm composting in the home.

Number 5: Mobile

One thing worm composting that other composting techniques don’t have is the mobility. You can take it with you anywhere, assuming that you have a small scale composting setup, you can take it with you if you move.

Number 6: Helps the environment

When organic material is put in a landfill or manure is left in a pile to rot, it produces methane (a gas scientists claim is worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Composting and worm composting actually traps carbon in itself and ultimately in the soil of your garden instead of releasing it as CO2 into the atmosphere.

 

Conclusion

Worm composting has a number of benefits to both the household and mankind. Deciding to compost with worms and grow our own gardens is a responsible activity and once you start you’ll be advocating it to your friends.

951 gph Pump For Compost Tea Brewing

Today I’m going to review the exact air pump I use to brew compost tea for my own lawn and gardens. I brew in 55 gal batches in a homemade airlift brewer (not a vortex) and this pump does the job at a very reasonable price. When secured to where it can’t move around this pump is pretty quiet, moves all the water in my (fairly large) batch of tea every 3.5 min. I’m coming into my third season of nearly weekly tea brews and the pump is giving no sign of having problems. For an airlift this is overkill for a small 5 gallon batch of tea but on an air-stone type brew would definitely provide adequate oxygenation. Overall I’m very pleased with this particular air pump. The hose does sometimes slip off the air fitting but this is easily fixed with a hose clamp or a zip tie.

How to Create a Healthy Fertile Garden Soil

Have you ever looked at the soil in your garden and considered it as anything more than soil? If not, you should because there is a lot more there than meets the eye. It performs many functions that you may not be aware of and having good quality soil in your garden is essential for your plants. In this article we will look at the functions of soil, what different types there are and finally some ways to make it healthier.

Functions of Soil

The most immediately apparent function of soil is a medium to support plant life. It provides support both physically and biologically. Physical support is provided by allowing the plant to grow its roots through the soil to hold itself in place. Biological support is provided by its ability to hold nutrients and water that the plant needs. It also supports other types of life as well. Microorganisms and insects live in the soil and they in turn aid plant life by helping to decay organic material and adding structure to the soil. Soil allows the growth of food crops which are consumed by humans and also plants used in the creation of medicines. Microorganisms like fungi and bacteria that live in soil and are used to produce antibiotics. All life on earth is dependant on it either directly and indirectly. This includes the plant life in your garden.

What is Soil Made of?

The four major components of soil are mineral matter, organic matter (humus), water and air. Mineral matter refers to the inorganic elements in the soil e.g. stones, gravel and makes up to 40%-60% of its volume. This part of the soil usually originates from the bedrock that lies beneath the soil. Organic matter (humus) is the decayed remains and waste products of plants and animals and has a great effect on the chemical properties of the soil e.g. availability of nutrients. Almost 40%-60% of a soil’s volume can be space and this is occupied by water and air.

Different Types of Soil Texture

Soil texture is defined as the size distribution of different mineral particles. These mineral particles are at their most basic level the following: sand, silt and clay. Sand particles are 2 to 0.05 mm diameter, silt particles are 0.05 to 0.002 mm diameter and clay particles are less than 0.002 mm diameter. Combination of these particles exhibit different properties in soil and some combinations favour plant life better than others. The following are the most common classes of soil texture:

Clay soil
Contains a high percentage of clay particles and feels lumpy to the touch. The small size of the clay particles means that they clump together quite readily and there is less room for air spaces. Consequently clay soils have poor drainage and do not hold nutrients very well. This is a heavy soil and is sticky when wet making it hard to work with. As much as possible you should take steps to improve the drainage of this type of soil. You will learn how later on in this article.

Silty soil
Contains a high percentage of silt particles and feels smooth (almost like talcum) to the touch. This soil is a well drained soil due to the size of the particles allowing space for water to permeate. This soil holds nutrients more readily than clay soil due to the spaces. It is easy to cultivate but can be compacted quite easily.

Sandy soil
Contains a high percentage of sand particles and feels gritty to the touch, Allows for quite a lot of space in between particles and as a result is very free draining. This has its disadvantages however as it does not hold water and essential nutrients can get washed away.

Loamy soil
This is the best type of soil texture you can have in your garden. This is soil whose properties are controlled equally by the percentages of clay, silt and sand particles. It is well drained but does not lose water too easily as is the case with sandy and sometimes silty soils. The fact that it retains water means it also retains nutrients for your plants to use and more easily grows microbes. It has a great structure and is easy to cultivate.

What Makes a Soil Healthy?
Healthy soil must be fertile and have a good structure.

For a soil to be fertile it must have nutrients readily available and a pH value at a recommended level for the plants that will reside in it. Plants to a degree can control pH around their root zone by attracting their preferred microbes with root exudates. Nutrients that should be available are the essential nutrients nitrogen (leaf growth), phosphorous (root growth) and potassium(overall health). As well as the essential nutrients there should also be trace elements like calcium and magnesium. The pH level of the soil refers to its acidity or alkalinity and each plant has its own preferred value range. Plants placed into fertile soil will grow up to be very strong and healthy specimens (that is if other conditions like light levels and climate are favorable as well).

The other determiner of a healthy soil is its texture. We learned about different types of soil texture earlier in this article. Soil having a loamy texture is the healthiest and it should be strived for if at all possible. In general a soil that retain nutrients and allow water and air to permeate it will be beneficial for the life of your plants.

How to Create Healthy Soil
No matter what type of soil you have the addition of organic matter will work wonders for its health. Organic matter is plant and animal residues in varying forms of decomposition. It will replenish the nutrients in your soil and improve its texture. You may have heard countless times about adding your leftovers and grass clippings to a compost heap. This is a great idea as compost is the best form of organic matter. Compost in an advanced stage of decomposition (dark and without smell) is magic for your soil. It encourages microorganism activity causing soil particles to clump together and form aggregates. The aggregates allows for spaces in the soil therefore increasing its drainage. This is especially beneficial for clay soils, which have poor drainage. Other forms of organic matter are animal manure, peat moss.

If your soil is lacking in nutrients and you don’t have access to a compost heap you have a choice of using inorganic or organic fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers (inorganic salts, manufactured chemically) can be purchased at your local garden centre and are applied in a dry form that is raked lightly at the base of a plant or in a liquid form. While inorganic fertilizers will work fine they have a number of disadvantages: they release their nutrients too quickly and there is some evidence to show that plants develop a resistance to inorganic fertilizer methods over time (possibly due to salts reducing microbe diversity), requiring more and more to achieve the same effect. Regardless chemical based fertilizers are NOT a replacement for organic material. Organic fertilizers are more in tune with nature because they are created from the remains or by-product of an organism. They act slower but they ‘amend’ the soil and feed the microbiology, rather than the quick ‘feeding’ it like inorganic fertilizers.

Conclusion

Soil like a lot of things in the garden requires maintenance. We have learned about the different types of soil texture, what constitutes a fertile, healthy soil and how to create it if it does not exist. The next step is to step out into your garden, take a look at your soil and help your plants out if your soil is of a poor quality. Your plants will thank you; believe me. Good luck!

Early Review of The Urban Worm Bag

Today I unboxed and assembled my Urban Worm Bag from Urban Worm Company. It took me less than 10 minutes to fully assemble and I’m very impressed with the strength and quality. The metal tube frame is sturdy, the material is thick and durable (it feels like a high quality backpack), The zippers glide easily and seem strong and durable as well. I’d be lying if I said the zippers don’t give me a little concern BUT I know Steve at Urban Worm Company and he’s backing it with a lifetime warranty so that eases any concern I have. I plan to put my Urban Worm Bag through some rigorous testing and update this review as time goes on. To get a metal frame, and a heavy duty bag for $109 with a lifetime warranty this is almost a no-brainer. In fact I think I’ll order a couple more.

You should try the Urban Worm Bag if you’re looking for a strong, durable, look good worm farm that’ll handle a LOT of food or garden waste. Because Steve backs up his lifetime warranty you have nothing to lose.

Above you can watch me assemble the Urban Worm Bag in less than 10 minutes. If you have you bedding and worms prepared you could easily have this set up and making castings in less than 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Guide to Composting With Black Soldier Fly – Review

EBook by Quoc-Huy Nguyen Dinh

This guide to composting with black soldier fly larvae is Quoc-Huy Nguyen Dinh’s first eBook. He’s done a remarkable job of including a couple of DIY  soldier fly larvae compost bins as well as some good info on care and feeding. If you’re starting out with BSFL composting this book is at a novice level to get your colony going. If you don’t know Huy (his first name with Vietnamese name structure) hes gone from knowing almost nothing about soldier flies, to making some money in a side hustle by selling larvae within a pretty short period of time. He’s priced his book to sell and provides a good deal of value for the buck. Anyone interested in reducing their waste with black soldier fly composting  should consider giving this book a read.

Worms As Medicine

For centuries earthworms have been used as a protein rich food and a medicine to treat heart disease and pulmonary illnesses in parts of Asia.  Earthworms offer unanticipated potential health benefits without common drawbacks that come with other biological, alternative forms of medicine such as cost, ethical and pathological concerns of animal testing.

The earthworm’s evolution of maintaining soil and living among rotting organic matter has caused it to build itself an extraordinary immune system. Earthworms have developed symbiotic relationships with beneficial soil microbes that protect it from disease as well as developing it’s own anti-pathogenic proteins.

Considering the fact that the majority of the immunologists all over the world are focused on the mammalian or particularly human immunology, it may sound surprising that invertebrates—and among others earthworms—have been an important experimental model since the very beginning of immunology.

An extract from the earthworm Eisenia fetida has been shown to inhibit the activity of influenza and adenoviruses. Coelomic fluid of Eisenia fetida also inhibits the growth of many plant pathogens like Fusarium oxysporum and their castings a reduction in damage from plant parasitic nematodes.

.Scientists in Poland believe the digestive fluid that helps worms be able to safely consume any microorganism could one day be used to treat lung cancer.Initial research has been showing promising results.

With all these emerging potentials of worms as medicine, and as a relatively cheap source of protein, it may well be time for our “advanced” western civilizations to reconsider the ICK factor around earthworms. Will you embrace the lowly worm as a cure? as an entree at a fancy restaurant?

 

Earthworm fluid destroys lung cancer cells in lab | Reuters.com

https://www.reuters.com/video/2017/10/23/earthworm-fluid-destroys-lung-cancer-cel?videoId=372798974

Earthworm Immunity – Madame Curie Bioscience Database – NCBI Bookshelf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45034/ Martin Bilej, Petra Procházková, Marcela Šilerová, Radka Josková

Potential of actinomycetes isolated from earthworm castings in controlling root-knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita | SpringerLink

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10327-015-0637-4

Revising lysenin expression of earthworm coelomocytes – ScienceDirect

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145305X12002601

An extract from the earthworm Eisenia fetida non-specifically inhibits the activity of influenza and adenoviruses – ScienceDirect

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254627213600886

Inhibitory effect of earthworm coelomic fluid on growth of the plant parasitic fungus Fusarium oxysporum – ScienceDirect

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1164556316302321

Dilong: Food for Thought and Medicine – ScienceDirect

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016301109

Beast Worm Bin Plans PDF + Videos

Continuous flow through worm bins are the envy of commercial worm casting producers. With an easy harvesting method with castings that are almost worm free, these bins make casting production easy.

Australian worm farmer Brian “The Worm Man” Donaldson is the creator of The Beast Worm Bin Plans PDF + Videos. For the price these are probably the most comprehensive DIY continuous flow worm bin plans available. With a 50 page PDF17 videos to rent or buy for a maximum cost of $37 USD this is a bargain (similar plans elsewhere are $50 or more without the videos

With minimal DIY abilities and a few tools you can have a mid scale castings producing bin going in a weekend.

The photo above is of 2 Beast bins each 10 square feet placed back to back.

 

New to CFT’s? I’ll email you a FREE guide that Brian has graciously allowed me to offer you.

 

Worm Farming Revolution Book

Rarely a worm farming book  that’s easy to read, informative and has information you can put to use comes along. The Worm Farming Revolution is a book that may never get to your bookshelf because you’ll find yourself going back to reference it frequently.

The Worm Farming Revolution Book teaches you everything you need to know about raising worms in order to grow amazing plants, recycle kitchen scraps, or grow your own fishing worms.

Because:

At over 270 pages this is one of the most comprehensive worm farming books on the market written by a guy with years of practical and hands on experience (and still doing it too).

It’s a Return to the Founding Principles of Successful Gardening and an almost lost art our forefathers passed down to us.

Worm Farming Revolution Author With One Of His Freakishly Large Veggies.

Restoring Soil Health- Soil Is A Living Organism

Soil Is A Living Organism

I recently found this video from Plant Health Cure which does an excellent job of describing the importance of soil biology and how it has been harmed by the use of inorganic fertilizers. Rhizobacteria and mychorrizal fungi in particular are examined in this short film. Other biology in soil also aids plants. Bacteria feeding nematodes and protozoa convert the proteins stored in bacteria into plant usable nitrogen. Predatory nematodes attack insect larvae and help prevent attacks by pest insects. In return for water and minerals that biology supplies to plants. plants give the soil glucose. 

Conventional farming and gardening implements deep cultivation using tillers or plowing. This creates a compacted layer that roots often cannot penetrate. The result is a shallow root system and reduced availability of water and minerals. This actually increases the need for irrigation and fertilizer as roots are unable to access water and minerals that are stored deeper. Plowing or tilling also disturbs the biology in the root zone and decreases mineral uptake and allows plant pathogens access to tender roots.

Plowing creates a compacted zone and results in shallower roots
Shallow cultivation allows deeper roots as new roots follow existing channels

Tilling, plowing and fertilizers damage soil biology and thereby limit the usefulness of plant roots and eventually decrease the availability of nutrients beyond NPK supplied by the fertilizers.

Plants given ONLY fertilizer will eventually become diseased
Plant roots are very limited in the amount of soil they can access.

Rhizobacteria help plants to use phosphates in particular and create a natural barrier against plant pathogens

Rhizobacteria help make phosphates plant available
A protective barrier of beneficial bacteria keeps pathogens away.

Rhizobacteria do not travel or migrate. They don’t substantially increase the area from which plants can absorb nutrients. Mycorrhizal fungi to the rescue.

Most water and minerals are stored in pores too small for plant roots to penetrate
Mycorrhizal fungi can grow within these small pores and supply plants with nutrients in exchange for glucose.
Mycorrhizal fungi between micropores and in a relation with plant roots.
On the left plant root absorbtion with only fertilizer, on the right organic methods and mycorrhizal fungi

Humus is created by living soil decomposing dead organic material. Soil needs to be supplied with dead organic matter to create humus. Humus acts like a soil battery, storing carbon as CO2 in the soil. Using fertilizers without adding dead organic matter releases large amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere. 

This particular video is one of the best I’ve seen for explaining why we need to care for soil rather than attempt to grow plants. Pesticides only treat symptoms. Fertilizer without organic material causes disease and pest attacks. Not returning dead organic matter to soil to become humus releases CO2 into the atmosphere and away from plants where it can be used and converted to sugars and carbohydrates. 

Organic Gardening Mindset- Healthy Soil, Healthy Food

Healthy Soil One Vital Aspect of Organic Gardening

Imagine this. You’re volunteering to help the homeless, you’re working day and night and only eating chocolate bars and drinking soda. You haven’t pampered yourself. You’ve spent so much time working and taking care of others, but you haven’t tended yourself for your own good.

How would you feel? For a time, you may be able to continue. You may tire yourself out without asking for anything in return. But as the days go by, you will feel the negative effects of the situation. You will no longer have the kind of energy that you used to. Your body will deteriorate until it can no longer function.

How is this related to  organic gardening? You can actually compare this to the state of the soil. For about 70 years “modern” agriculture has relied on chemical nitrates, phosphates and potassium salts  (the equivalent of junk food)  to feed plants. The soil has reached the point now of being tired, exhausted and burned out. Modern science now is suggesting genetics as the solution. Splicing DNA to create crops resistant to the problems they’ve caused.

Soil is a living, breathing collection of organisms from the tiniest bacteria to earthworms, insects and arthropods. When life is in balance, plant disease and pest populations stay in check. Soil must never be left uncovered and bare. It must never go hungry. What happened to you in the example also happens to the soil. You have to feed the soil. You have to take care of it just like how you tend to yourself or to the plants situated on your garden.

One of the most important mindsets to acquire is that of being a soil “farmer” NOT a plant grower.  You’ve got to have organic material placed on the soil to feed the life within. Nature is the greatest recycler, all that lives, dies and all that dies returns to feed the living.

Composting is the process where decaying matter, like leaves, grasses, peelings of fruits or vegetables, even manures and fish heads are combined to act as your soil’s fertilizer. Incorporating large amounts of compost into your soil feeds the soil microbes that convert long chain organic molecules into smaller, soluble molecules plants can use. 

Mulching is placing organic material on top of the soil. Mulching can help control weeds, retain moisture and itself becomes food for soil. As mulch decays it needs to be replaced. Mulch can be almost any high carbon “waste” material. Leaves, wood chips and shredded cardboard all can make suitable mulch.

Understanding that healthy soil results in healthy plants is crucial for success in organic gardening and farming.

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Apartment Vermicomposting

  One advantage of vermicomposting over building piles that heat up to create compost is the smaller space needed. Vermicomposting can be done in a tiny apartment with some imagination. Under bed storage bins, under sink containers from office trash cans or virtually any container can be used. Even if you can’t compost all of your food waste worms can reduce how much you have and make a difference. You’ll be able to use it on houseplants or share with friends.

Under the bed bins like this are an easy way to hide your worm farm away in an apartment . You could spray paint the outer side to block any light, but it should be dark enough under your bed for worms anyway. Just need to start with some torn pieces of corrugated cardboard some worms and your food waste. the large surface area of these allows for more food waste to be composted than a deep bin with less area. Leave the lid off and lay something like bubble wrap cut to fit on top of the bedding to allow airflow and reduce escapes.

Keeping your food waste in an under-sink caddy until you’re ready to feed your worms is a good way to keep disposal handy and easy so it doesn’t become bothersome. Try to always keep it as easy as possible so you keep it up.

  If you cover food waste with another layer of torn cardboard you can avoid fruit flies and bad odors ….it shouldn’t ever stink. Try to get the feel for how much your worms can eat so as to not overfeed, that’s when you can run into problems with critters and odors. If your worms can’t keep up, then trash what they won’t eat, you’re still doing more than most people are.

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