Can I Use Worms To Compost Dog (or Cat) Poo?

  People love their pets and most are responsible owners who pick up their dog’s poo. A minority of pet owners still don’t. Those who do not subject others to potential health hazards and those who do are stuck trying to figure out how to responsibly dispose of it.

  Sending dog poo to the landfill (even in biodegradable bags) can send high nitrogen runoff into water sources and cause algae blooms that rob fish and other water creatures of oxygen.

  So today’s discussion is about one responsible method to dispose of pet poo that can also be safe with a few precautions…vermicompost it.

  The short answer to the question can I use worms to compost dog poo? is YES. Worms have been eating and composting poo of all types for millennia, dog poo isn’t anything new for them. HOWEVER, there are some health precautions that should be followed. Dog and cat poo can contain some nasty microorganisms that can potentially make someone very sick. Toxoplasmosis, E. Coli, salmonella and potentially helminth (parasitic worms) eggs for example. Precautionary measures should be used such as:

  1. Wear gloves
  2. Never touch poo barehanded and preferably use tools.
  3. Keep pet poo tools separate from those used in your other worm bins or vegetable garden,
  4. Use good hygiene, soap and water and a good hand washing is still necessary.
  5. Never use the compost from dog or cat poo on edible plants.
  6. Keep pet poo composting bins away from water supplies.
  7. Feed ONLY pet poo to pet poo bins.
  8. When doing this with cat litter box contents DO NOT add the entire contents (litter). You’ll end up with a ball of clay that becomes anaerobic and could harm your worms. The exception is if you’re using a non clay litter like Yesterday’s News Brand made from newspaper.

  When you’re stooping and scooping, think about the bags you’re using.

Regular plastic bags are a poor choice, they don’t decompose well so you’ll have to rip and empty all the bags into your bin. 

Compostable bags are designed to decompose in the presence of heat (a compost pile). A worm composter doesn’t get hot enough.

Degradable (as opposed to biodegradable) break down into smaller pieces but the remnants of plastic will remain.

Biodegradable bags should be your #1 choice. These decompose through microbial action and there should be plenty of that in your worm compost setup.

So How Do I do it?

  Vermicomposting pet poo should be done outdoors, well away from water supplies (leaching), away from outdoor living spaces, and away from edible garden crops and away from your other worm bins. In colder climates digging a hole 2-3 feet (0.6-1m) deep and partially burying an old trash can with the bottom cut out is a good start. Place a layer of old soaked leaves or shredded and soaked cardboard in the bottom, add your worms if you wish (or let the native worms work on it) and begin adding your pet poo as you collect it. Cover each poo deposit with a handful of leaves or cardboard (to avoid odours and lower the number of flies buzzing around).

  When the can is almost full you can start another can or lift the original can off the pile of partly composted poo and start a new hole. Cover the pile with a tarp or something to cure for a few months, then spread it on ornamental bushes or flowers.

 This video show a very similar backyard pet poo composter to what I described. Skip the Rid-X or septic starter when using worms.

Tips For Collecting Food Waste For Worm Farmers

  Anyone who has tried to collect fruit or veggie waste from a restaurant or market for worm composting knows that it can be a difficult task to convince business owner. This is a common snag for many looking to be environmentally responsible who have successfully grown a larger herd of worms. It’s fairly easy to quickly outgrow the waste an average family produces. This leaves one either selling/donating worms or looking for other food sources. So how can you convince that restaurant, market or other business owner with waste to give it to you?

  When Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People he made a couple of suggestions we can use.

1. Call people by their first name and remember details about them.

2. Use a gift or token- the mind is programmed to reciprocate such actions.

If possible find out the owners name before trying to ask for a favor, then when you do meet him try to remember things he or she tells you and write notes later-This way the next time you see them you can greet them “Hi Tom, how are the kids?” instead of “Good day sir thanks for the food waste.” Making a human connection is crucial.

A market owner might appreciate a coffee or some baked goods when you show up, but it would be ridiculous to offer this to a restaurant owner- try to do some research and find out some small thing they might like.

Come prepared with business cards and I really like the idea of a sign for the business to put up. A sign that makes the business look like a hero or that they’re doing good deeds.

You can make a better design than these but make the business the hero.

Create a few sign designs and let your supplier choose this is a vanity gift that the business owners will want their customers to see.

Without asking details of the businesses finances you can also mention that having you pick up their scraps for free will save them money on dumpster emptying.

Arrange a set pickup time and day(s) and ALWAYS be reliable and consistent.

With some persistence and practice it should be possible to develop some good business relationships using these few tactics and a smile goes a long way too.

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to an infographic I found on visual.ly, brought to us by northcarolinahealth.com

 This graphic has a lot of great info for the beginner with growing organically. I personally prefer the no-till method

to planting cover crops but either way not allowing soil to remain bare is crucial to keeping soil healthy.

  It’s important to note the line “chemicals developed for military applications were applied to agriculture” in reference to chemical fertilizers. After WWII there was a huge surplus of nitrates that had been used to make explosives that needed to be disposed of and the chemical fertilizer industry was born. With this came several decades (and it’s still going on) of corporations and government subsidizing chemical methods over organic.

  Feeding soil rather than plants is a sure path to success. Plant disease, nutrient deficiencies and the presence of insect pests can all be used as clues to the health of your soil. 

  Mulch conserves water so it’s best to keep a thick layer on top of your soil but not right against plant stems. Regardless the method you try, you’ll have to find what works best for you in your climate.  hope you’ll try organic methods if you’re not already.

Beginner

 

From Visually.

I Have Big Maggots in my Worm Farm.

If you have big maggot looking things in your worm farm they may just be the larvae of Hermetia illucens aka black soldier fly larvae. I’ve written about black soldier fly larvae before but new vermicomposters tend to panic when first seeing them. No wonder they can appear quickly and their writhing is almost creepy.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae- photo courtesy thelittlewormfarm.com
Black Soldier Fly Larvae- photo courtesy thelittlewormfarm.com
black soldier fly emerging
Adult Black Soldier Fly Emerging from it's Pupal Stage - Photo Courtesy Matt Maney

Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are a frequent visitor to worm farms where soldier flies are native. Female soldier flies are attracted to rotting food so overfed worm farms are especially vulnerable to invasion. If your worm bed islarge enough BSFL are no harm to worms. They can however generate a lot of heat through the friction of their movement and compete with worms for food. BSFL poop (frass) is however an excellent food for worms but keeping both in the same bin can be problematic. If you wish to use the BSFL to compost then you’ll want to scoop out all the larvae you can and place them in their own bin. Once most of the larvae are removed youll want to cover your worm bin and any air holes with a fine mesh. Monitor this mesh for soldier fly egg clusters as female soldier flies may lay eggs on the mesh and you can end up with more BSFL in your bin.

  BSFL make great chicken treats or bait for fishing if you just can’t bear to compost with them. You could also place the larvae in a more traditional compost pile to speed up the process.

Recommended Reading:

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About “No-Till” Gardening

Ruth Stout is often credited with beginning the no-till gardening movement. In 1955 she released her first book How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening. She was frequently featured in gardening magazines in the 1950’s and 60’s for her revolutionary gardening methods. more than 60 years after the release of that first book people are still seeking her methods. Intuitively we seem to know there’s a better way to garden. 

  Traditional gardening with plowing and tilling damages the microbes that convert organic material into plant nutrients. Add to this that traditional gardens tend to not add enough organic matter and use chemical fertilizers as a replacement and you have a weed patch with almost no life.

  The basics of Ruth Stout’s methods involve simply keeping the garden covered in a thick layer of mulch such as straw. Thick mulching has several advantages over other methods of tilling and plowing.

  • Mulch conserves water – by slowing down evaporation moisture stays near plant roots.
  • Mulch blocks light weeds would need to be able to thrive. Almost no kneeling and weeding.
  • Thick mulch helps prevent pest insects from laying eggs in the soil – larvae are restricted access to roots.
  • Blocked light and trapped moisture provide excellent habitat for microbes and earthworms – you get a healthy soil food web.
  • No-till is believed to release less CO2 into the atmosphere – environmentally a better choice.

 

  When first beginning a no-till garden laying a thick layer of cardboard over your garden area followed by a deep layer of compost, manure (horse or rabbit is a good choice). Top this all with several inches of straw or wood chips and water thoroughly to start.

  Simply pull back a small area of the mulch, dig a little hole in the compost layer and plant transplants. To plant seeds pull back the mulch, plant in the compost as usual and only begin back filling the mulch as the seeds begin growing. Straw and/or wood chips are regularly added to the top to replace mulch that’s been decomposed at the bottom.

 You’ll discover this method just gets better after year one, have patience and you’ll be rewarded for doing less work and following what nature intended.

  If you give these methods a try send me an email or comment to let me know how it worked for you.

What Are These White Worms in my Worm Farm?

The question “what are these white worms in my worm farm?” is one that comes up frequently enough to deserve it’s own post. Often new worm farmers will think they’ve had a massive hatching of baby red wigglers when they actually have a population of pot worms. Pot worms (Latin enchytraeids) live in regions with very high organic material content and are related to other compost worms. If they’re in your bin they are helping out your compost worms.

  Pot worms themselves are a healthy addition to a worm farm, but very large populations of pot worms can indicate an environmental problem for your red wigglers. Common issues pot worms might indicate are a PH issue or a moisture problem. Letting bins dry a little and treating them with eggshell or garden lime can sometimes help reduce their numbers to more acceptable levels. 

 Pot worms seem to be very sensitive to a lack of oxygen and will frequently be seen climbing up the walls of a plastic bin that lacks airflow.

Enchytraeids aka pot worms. Photo courtesy of compostshop.co.nz
pot worms. maggots and a baby red wiggler for comparison. Photo courtesy compostshop.co.nz

Pot worms are relatively easy to distinguish from baby compost worms. Red wigglers and other common compost worms are a pinkish color, even at birth. Enchytraeids on the other hand are non-pigmented and are white throughout their life cycle.

 Julie in New Zealand who graciously supplied photos for this post has begun intentionally growing pot worms to supply a fish feed niche.

Overall there’s no reason to panic if you have a few pot worms in your worm farm. Now take a deep breath of relief and stop worrying. 

A New Worm Bin Is coming

I’m excited to let everyone know there’s a new worm bin being released early in 2018. Dubbed the Urban Worm Bag ,it may look very similar to another worm bin you’ve seen me recommend in the past. There are some important differences and what should prove to be great improvements. 

  1. Urban Worm Bag actually comes with a painted metal stand. No chasing down materials and painting it yourself.
  2. It’s lower for easier feeding and a lower center of gravity , so it’s less wobbly and easier to put in food.
  3. Extra stitching means long life.
  4. A sturdy, marine grade zipper replaces the drawstring in the competitors bag. no escaped worms or casting falling out on the floor.
  5. A new material is designed to better capture moisture so it should need less moisture added.
  6. The frame pockets are the full length of the bag. No zip ties and no corners coming apart.

The harvesting area is fitted with a sturdy, marine grade zipper to eliminate the “mess” factor. This should also mean no more building a false bottom to keep materials inside the bag until processed and less unfinished compost in the first harvest.

 Frame pockets the full length of the Urban Worm Bag will provide a sturdier and longer lasting base. Because the frame is included you always know the bag will fit the frame.

The included metal frame is painted with deep corner fittings to minimize the risk of collapse or tipping, The designer is a dad and was concerned about the Urban Worm Bag falling over on a child.

There’s a generous amount of space inside the Urban Worm Bag and because of the breath-ability it will hold nearly double the worm density of a plastic bin. This means it will process 1-2 pounds of waste every day.

This is what you get in the package when you receive your Urban Worm Bag. Everything you need to set it up and get started within the shortest time possible. Within minutes in some cases.

The Urban Worm Bag is sleek and looks good. It could be kept out in the open as a conversation starter if you wanted to.

Stephen Churchill

Steve is the designer of the Urban Worm Bag and is a father, USAF reserve pilot and a commercial pilot. He still finds time to run a blog and a worm business at UrbanWormCompany.com and is now releasing his first physical product. The Urban Worm Bag

 I should have an Urban Worm Bag in my hands early in the New Year. At that time I’ll do an unboxing video for YouTube and a full product review. Steve has informed me that once released officially the price will increase to $109 (at least) so I wanted you all to get a chance at a discounted pre-order price.

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10 Excellent Resources on Worm Farming That are Free

Often people are looking for free eBooks and videos to help out their worm farming. Today I’ve decided to compile a list of 10 of my favorite free resources on worm farming.

 

  1.  Manual of on Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture – by Glenn Monroe
  2. Composting with Worms – Oregon State University
  3. Vermiculture Basics and Vermicompost – Larry Yarger
  4. Training Material on Composting and Vermicomposting – Compiled by Ecosan Services Foundation

  5. Vermicomposting- Worms are a gardeners best friends – by Sudha Chib Punjabi University (Slideshow)
  6. Vermicomposting: How Worms Can Reduce Our Waste – Mathew Ross (TedX video)
  7. Worms For Bait or Waste Processing – Alice Beetz
  8. Vermicomposting for Beginners – Rodale Institute (web page)
  9. The Status of Vermicomposting in North America – Rhonda Sherman

The above free resources will give a good start to anyone interested in vermicomposting or vermiculture. I hope you enjoy the books, web pages and video above.

Fungi, Mushrooms And A Connection To Plant And Human Health

One of the common topics of conversation for those interested in soil remediation are fungi and mushrooms. For good reasons fungi are beginning to be recognized for their health benefits to plants. Mushrooms and fungi are used in making medicines for a wide variety of illnesses and culinary mushrooms also can aid in overall health.
For mushroom lovers, the most intriguing interspecies companionship is that between
fungi and plant roots. In mycorrhiza, the threads of the fungal body sheathe or enter the roots
of plants.
Indian pipes and other plants without chlorophyll are supported entirely from the
nutrients they gain from fungi in their roots; many orchids cannot even germinate without fungal assistance.
Here plants gain sustenance from fungi; in more cases, however, the fungus obtains sustenance from the plant. But a mycorrhizal fungus is not just selfish in its eating. It brings the plant water and makes minerals from the surrounding soil available for its host.
Fungi can even bore into rocks, making their mineral elements available for plant growth. In
the long history of the earth, fungi are responsible for enriching soil thus allowing plants to evolve; fungi channel minerals from rocks to plants.
Trees are able to grow on poor soils because of the fungi that bring their roots phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and more.
Tsing, Anna. (2012). Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species. Environmental Humanities. 1. 141-154. 10.1215/22011919-3610012.
A regular intake of mushrooms can make us healthier, fitter, and happier, and help us live longer. A variety of mushrooms have been used traditionally in many different cultures for the maintenance of health and in the prevention and treatment of various diseases. A total of 126 medicinal functions are thought to be produced by medicinal mushrooms (MM) and fungi, including antitumor, immunomodulating, antioxidant, radical scavenging, cardiovascular, anti-hypercholesterolemia, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, antifungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective, and anti-diabetic effects. Special attention is paid to mushroom polysaccharides. Many, if not all, higher Basidiomycetes mushrooms contain biologically active polysaccharides in fruit bodies, cultured mycelium, and cultured broth. The data on mushroom polysaccharides are summarized for approximately 700 species of higher Hetero- and Homobasidiomycetes. In particular, the most important for modern medicine are polysaccharides with antitumor and immunostimulating properties. Several of the mushroom polysaccharide compounds have proceeded through phase I, II, and III clinical trials and are used extensively and successfully as drugs in Asia to treat various cancers and other diseases. Mushrooms are superior sources of different types of dietary supplements (DSs) (tonics). The advantages of using mushroom-based DSs as a matter of safety (as opposed to herbal preparations) are: (1) The overwhelming majority of mushrooms used for production of DSs are cultivated commercially (and not gathered in the wild). (2) Mushrooms are easily propagated vegetatively and thus keep to one clone. The mycelium can be stored for a long time, and the genetic and biochemical consistency can be checked after a considerable time.

Chang ST, Wasser SP. The role of culinary-medicinal mushrooms on human welfare with a pyramid model for human health. International Journal of Mdicinal Mushrooms 2012;14(2):95-134.

Vermiponics- Automation of Worms and Plants

This Video recently got my attention, I wanted to share it with everyone and give a few of my own thoughts. If you’re familiar with hydroponics it is growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil. Aquaponics is growing plants without soil using fish manure and ammonia exhaled by fish as the nutrient solution. Vermiponics is very simply growing without soil and using worm castings as the nutrient solution.



Initially I really liked the ideas presented here for using vermiponics to grow plants. After re-watching a few times I started having some concerns:

  • Flooding worm beds of manure might be fine for ornamental plants but may not be safe for food crops.
  • There was mention of fertilizers already present in the soil- is this truly organic?
  • The water is being recycled back to the worm beds so selection of fertilizers is crucial to protect the worms.
  • This still appears to be using soil and not a medium like expanded clay beads so may not qualify as true vermiponics

Overall I like the ideas here and besides the flower industry I see other potential for a system like this:

  • Potential for golf courses
  • Partial composting of feedstock for pathogen removal may make this suitable for edible or medicinal crops.
  • The reduction/elimination of fungicides and pesticides for a more organic and sustainable option.

This video has given me a few ideas to work on my own prototype vermiponics system.

How to Make Compost Tea

There are almost as many ways to make compost tea as there are people making it. There is a growing number of people that are taking the art of making compost teas to an entirely new extreme. Let’s have a look at some different methods, brewers and ingredients people use in their compost teas.

Compost

Homemade compost or fresh vermicompost are ideal for making teas. Sometimes one might get caught without a supply on hand though. Purchased Compost will work to make a compost tea but it may be microbially inferior to our own compost.

Ingredients

Many people seek to add trace minerals to their teas for a power packed boost of microbes, nutrients and trace minerals. Some additions people like to add are:

 

Recipes

There are dozens of compost/vermicompost tea recipes online. Regardless the recipe you choose the results will be dependent on the quality of the compost used. Please remember that nature is very forgiving and if your tea isn’t perfect it very unlikely to be damaging, it just may not be as good as it could be.

I’ll give here two recipes I’ve used with good results.

Recipe 1 (Lawns and green growth)

About 50 gallons (190 L) of water

4 gallons (16L) compost or worm casting

1 gallon (4 L) rolled or whole oats

2 cups (500 mL) alfalfa leaf (this will cause a lot of foam-may cause brewer to overflow)

2 cups (500 mL) of forest soil and/or 1/4 cup (60 mL) liquid humic acid.

Bubble water in your brewer for 12 hours to remove chlorine and maximize dissolved oxygen. Add liquid ingredients to the water 15 minutes before adding the dry ingredients in a Large Compost Tea Brewing Bag Hang the bag from the side of your brewer or follow the instructions for your brewer.

If you’re monitoring your tea with a microscope begin taking samples every 4 hours beginning at 24 hours.  36 hours of brewing is about where the magical maximum microbe density occurs. If you’re not using a microscope begin applying your tea between 32 and36 hours after beginning to brew.

Recipe 2

About 50 gallons (190 L) of water

4 gallons (16 L) compost  or casting

1/4 cup (60 mL) hydrolized fish fertilizer

1/2 cup (125 mL) kelp meal

2 cups (500 mL) forest soil

1 cup (250 mL) rolled or whole oats

Bubble water in your brewer for 12 hours to remove chlorine and maximize dissolved oxygen. Add liquid ingredients to the water 15 minutes before adding the dry ingredients in a Large Compost Tea Brewing Bag Hang the bag from the side of your brewer or follow the instructions for your brewer. Follow above brewing instructions.

Brewers

Compost  tea brewers can range from simple and cheap to complex and thousands of dollars.

This 5 Gallon Bucket Aerator is a good choice for those on a budget that only need smaller batches of tea. The above would still require you to buy a pump, tubing and bag separately or it also comes as a Kit with Brew Bag, Air Pump & Tubing (571GPH Air Pump) so you’re ready to brew asap.

This 10 Gallons Brewer uses a permeable membrane to provide small even sized bubbles and claims to provide better aeration. It does however come with a larger price tag as well. This one might be appropriate for the medical cannabis grower. See it in action below:


The 50 Gallon Compost Tea Kit known as a Bubble Snake is a budget friendly option for much larger batches of tea.

 Using Your Tea

Regardless the method used compost or worm casting tea should really be applied on top of organic matter. For a lawn use a mulching blade to leave clippings on the lawn before applying your tea. In fall mulch some leaves right on the grass as well.

For a veggie garden add a heavy layer of mulch (leaves, straw, wood chips etc) then spray both foliage and mulch thoroughly. The microbes we are growing by making tea need organic matter to feed on. The goal is to create humus by decomposing our layers of mulch, grass clippings, leaves etc.  Humus is  nature’s ideal plant food. Using a quality compost tea in conjunction with organic matter will give you the best results possible.

The author has an affiliate relationship and/or another business connection to the providers of the products, that are contained within this article and may be compensated when you buy from a provider.

 

 

Using Plant/Soil Progression As A Starting Point

If you read the previous post on plant/soil progression you may be wondering why it matters. Well to start we can use it as a quick, visual assessment of  where we need to begin our work to revitalize our chosen plot.

Begin by carefully examining your plot visually. Note and try to identify some of the most common plants and insects. Try to uproot a few plants to see if there are worms, or subterranean insects as well. With a little knowledge and experience the plants and insects can tell you a lot about the soil you’re starting with. For example weeds like plantain weed (the herb not the banana-like fruit),usually indicate a compacted and hard soil lacking in organic matter and microbial diversity.  Dandelion, and thistles will often indicate a soil with low nutrients and minerals and a lack of organic matter. Ants like dry well drained soils, their presence in large numbers indicates a lack of water holding capability and organic matter.

With this knowledge in hand we can begin some early planning and taking  preliminary actions. Starting to collect organic matter to compost, gathering straw or wood chips for a deep mulching, planning irrigation systems if needed…

At this point I tend to look at a soil nutrient test with a preference for a mehlich 3 test. We aren’t really looking here for total nutrients or minerals but ratios of nutrients. And the CEC (carion exchange capacity). CEC   Is a measure of how many nutrients a soil is capable of holding onto. Properly reading these tests and assessing ratios is well betond the scope of a blog post. I recommend The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food as an excellent book to read.

I do like the idea of doing a biological assessment but not yet. My preference is to begin by balancing nutrient imbalances then adding my compost and mulch and keeping it moist for a few weeks. Mulch, compost and organic matter all bring with them microbiology, doing the test too soon tends to give a skewed result, whereas allowing them to reproduce and grow a while first tends to give a little truer assessment. Unless you’re well trained in microscopy have your soil and/or composts tested by a reputable lab. For our USA readers I  recommend   Microbes In My Soil as a reputable lab with reasonable pricing.

Planting cover crops will help boost biology, plants feed microbes with root exudates, microorganisms begin retrieving nutrients for plants.  Legumes (peas, beans and clover as examples) as cover crops add plant available nitrogen to the soil, they for relationships with bacteria that take nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants in the soil. Nitrogen is a major nutrient needed for healthy growth and lush green leaves.

Using visual cues and combining them with scientific testing with the knowledge to use both is a sure fire path to organic growing success.

 

Understanding Plant (Soil) Succession

 


The term “plant progression” or “plant succession” is frequently used when considering revitalizing or remediating a plot of land. So what exactly is plant progression? And why did I include “soil succession”?

If we look at the earliest phase of soil formation, it begins with mountains rising from the oceans either through the action of volcanoes (Hawaii for example) or from colliding tectonic plates (Rockies). These mountains begin as large boulders or sheets of cooled lava brought up from the depths of the earth.

Wind, rain and the freeze/thaw cycle of water begin breaking little pieces of rock away to create pebbles and stones. Moss, algae and lichen attach to rocks and provide a habitat for microbes to begin mining minerals from rock to feed themselves and the moss, algae or lichen too.

Slowly, boulders become pebbles, pebbles become sand, silt and clay in ever decreasing size of rock particles. Lichens, moss and algae in conjunction with ever growing population and diversity of mostly bacteria and diatoms at this stage begin the basic formation of soil. As moss, lichen and algae die, their organic structures of mostly carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen provide food for a larger diversity of bacteria, diatoms, tardigrades, and insects. In the case of moss and algae which use photosynthesis there are sugars produced as well. Sugars (in particular glucose) is the main energy source for life on earth. These sugars are quickly consumed by microbe life and insects, microbes die, insects die and their remains are again recycled for their glucose and minerals. Soon there is enough food to support ruderal plant life (most of what we call weeds). These first higher plants are able to grow in hard, compacted and shallow soil with a low organic matter. They often have long taproots that writhe their way into the tiniest of cracks in rock and push through very compacted mineral particles all the while offering glucose in the form of root exudates to microbes; in exchange for retrieving other needed nutrients and minerals.  Microbes make minerals and nutrients available to the plants, the plants lift those nutrients to their leaves and seeds above the surface to produce proteins, more glucose and ultimately seeds to ensure survival of the species. Like all life, weeds die, the remains of the weeds now have minerals and nutrients (including glucose) on the surface of the earth. As nature always does these minerals, nutrients and glucose are recycled by microbes. Now however there are strands of primarily carbon compounds called cellulose and lignins. The bacteria and other microbes present up to now aren’t adept at reusing lignin and cellulose- enter the fungi.

Fungi slowly begin the process of recycling cellulose, with the help of  bacteria and other microscopic life start to form small balls of soil called aggregates. With aggregate formation there are air spaces between aggregates for finer, smaller roots to penetrate. With the presence of fungi begins the appearance of grasses and a lessening of weeds. Eventually as fungi population increases more, grasses are replaced by shrubby bushes, and eventually trees.

Every stage results in more and more organic matter being dropped and recycled. With more organic matter comes more fungi and a greater diversity of life (both microbes and larger creatures like insects, arthropods, and  earthworms on up to mammals).

Many people refer to this as plant progression or succession. I personally prefer to think of it as soil progression even though they’re tightly knit together. We can engineer a succession of soil without waiting for plant prgression by adding organic matter as mulch and/or composts and planting the appropriate plants to provide the root exudates to feed the organisms those plants require.

By looking at the plants growing in our plot to be revitalized or remediated we can, with experience (or the correct tools and knowledge) get a starting point on engineering the soil type our desired crop requires.

Why Autumn is the Best Time to Plan A Garden

 


With my kids going back to school next week and the upcoming Labour Day celebrations comes the stark reminder that for those of us in the northern hemisphere winter is only a few short months away.

Perhaps you’re harvesting your bounty of fresh fruits and veggies now. Perhaps you’re canning or preserving some for the long winter months. Either way many feel it’s nearing the end of the gardening season. I’ll show you why Autumn is the best time to plan a garden for next spring.

 

 To me autumn is the beginning of gardening, a time to prepare for next spring. The cool winds of fall bring with it an abundance of leaves. Leaves are natures mulch, a near perfect carbon source for a compost pile and an excellent additive to a worm bin.  Autumn also supplies the last of the seasons fresh grass clippings, veggie and fruit trimmings from preserves. All perfect compost ingredients for the organic gardener. It’s the time when everything you need to start a compost pile or start a worm composter are readily at hand.

Many gardeners begin to think about their gardens in spring as the temperatures warm. They order worms in the spring, start mulching, start looking for seeds and transplants. This is too late!

Fall is the time to mulch, the leaves are under your feet. Mulching in fall allows microbes to begin the composting process and the mulch to become saturated with water from the snowfalls. This improves drought resistance during the hot season the following summer and gives an early microbial boost to your soil when temperatures rise again.

Autumn is the time for building compost piles, the abundance of “waste” from gardening related activities combined with an abundance of nutrient rich leaves makes building a pile easy.

Spring is always the busy time for those selling compost worms. If you start vermicomposting in spring you’ll have minimal casting for next planting season. Starting in fall helps ensure you’ve got plenty of good quality vermicompost for starting seedlings and transplants. (It lets you get your hands into the dirt all winter too 😊).

Almost time to go make some soil- be back with more soon

 

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How To Calculate C:N Ratio for a Compost Pile

I’ve had frequent conversations about composting over the years. I’d read all the stuff about how a pile should have a 30:1 carbin to nitrogen ratio, I’d read the add 2 parts brown to one green (I never had good results this way). I’d even seen somewhat complicated compost calculators on the internet. It all seemed a bit complicated or didn’t really get me results. I kept wondering if there was an easier way. Finally I stumbled across a now forgotten article about how to calculate C:N ratios.

I’ll  share with you a way to calculate C:N ratios fairly quickly with a pen and paper and some remedial math. This way isn’t perfect but it’ll get you close enough to make some minor adjustments and get good results.

The easiest way to show you is with a couple of examples.

with 2 waste products we will use leaves and chicken manure. Looking up the C:N ratio of each I found the average for autumn leaves is about 80:1 for chicken manure 7:1.

Start with one part of each and add them.

80 +7 = 87 now divide by total number of parts (in this case 2. So 87/2 = 43.5 since this number is higher than our desired 30:1 we need more nitrogen (manure). Let’s try 1 part leaves to 2 parts manure 80 + 7 + 7 = 94 now we have 3 parts total in the pile so we divide 94 by 3 and we get 31.3

A pile of 1 part leaves and 2 parts chicken manure is pretty close to the 30:1 we want. We could build this pile and be pretty close to the ideal and would expect decent temperatures and results.

An example with 3 waste products lets select:
Pig manure 6:1
Sawdust 325:1
Coffee grounds 20:1

Start 1 part of each 6 + 325 + 20 = 351 divide by total parts (3) 351/3= 117 it’s above 30 so more manure and/or coffee needed try 1 more manure and one more coffee (total now will be 5 parts 117 + 6 +20 = 143/5 = 28.6 now we can build the pile with 2 parts manure 1 part sawdust and 2 parts coffee and just add a couple of extra handfuls (depending on the size of your “parts”) of sawdust. This will be pretty close to our 30:1 ideal ratio.

When we get the C:N ratio worked out, we need create a pile at least 3x3x3 feet or 1 cubic yard (1cubic m) or place it in a compost tumbler  for easier turning

It is important to monitor compost temperature, all material should reach at least 131F (55C) for a minimum of 3 consecutive days to kill pathogens and weed seeds. The best way to monitor temperatures is with a Stainless Steel Compost Thermometer. If temperature begins to get close to 149F (65C) the pile needs turning or tumbling to stabilize temperature.

Since learning this method myself my piles maintain temperature better, decompose faster and more completely. This has allowed me to create better piles more quickly and create better compost. Give the method a shot or if you’ve done this method tell me your thoughts.

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Leachate, Extracts or Tea?

There are 3 types of liquid we can encounter with compost or  vermicompost. The word “tea” is sometimes used interchangeably when it probably should not.

Leachate:  

Leachate has been discussed before here on The Blue Worm Bin, its the liquid that’s created by a worm bin or compost pile that is too wet. This is the least reliable of the 3 liquids to use on plants. It may contain human or plant pathogen or compounds toxic to plants or it may be fine. If you opt to try leachate (at your own risk) it should always be deleted 10:1 or more with water

Extracts:

Extracts are really what previous generations called tea, To make an extract you place finished compost to vermicompost in a mesh bag, soak it in water and stir it vigorously every few hour. You remove the bag and use the leftover water on your plants.

My personal way to make an extract with vermicompost is a bit more involved but makes saving worm cocoons mucgh easier. I place vermicompost in a fine wire mesh basket and run the water over it into a bucket. The finest compost goes through the basket and the cocoons and larger pieces stay behind to be used to start a new worm bin.

The big advantage of extracts over leachate is; because its made with finished compost there is a far less chance of pathogens or toxins. The advantage over aerated teas is that the microbes remain in a similar ratio to the original compost.

Teas (aerated compost teas)

Aerated teas have become very popular over the last 30 years or so. Using an air pump with any of a number of brewer types and foods to increase the dissolved oxygen in the water and also increase the microbe levels to make a potent microbial additive. The advantages are that you can get a lot more “bang for your buck (compost)” with a much greater microbial biomass by volume.  One of the advantages can also become a bit of a disadvantage in certain circumstances. Different foods added can drastically change microbe ratios and without some knowledge and a good microscope those changes in ratios may not be doing as much good as the could (they’ll likely still be awesome so don’t worry).

Hopefully this brief description helps clarify the differences between leachate, extracts or tea. I believe we should be more careful to discriminate which we are discussing in conversation.

 


Compost, Vermicompost and Compost Tea – $12.95

Part of the NOFA Guides Series. Information on composting techniques from the author of The Soul of Soil, Grace Gershuny.

Why Carbon Materials Are Important to Worm Farms

One thing frequently overlooked by newer worm farmers is the importance of carbon material in vermicomposting.

 When we first set up a worm bin carbon serves as our bedding. Bedding provides a safe haven for worms in case something goes wrong. A lot of wormers never add more high carbon material. The result is a wet, muddy casting that turns to a hard lump as it dries and is almost impossible to sift. Adding drier carbon material when feeding is a good way to control moisture and helps create a more granular, pleasant looking compost that’s easier to sift.

Higher carbon material takes longer to compost and provides a longer term food for worms if you’re vacationing or miss a feeding or 2.

Perhaps most important is carbon materials feed fungi. Fungi is lacking from most agricultural soils. Fungi is important for most plant growth and for creating aggregates in soil. Long term fungi improves water retention and conversion of minerals and nutrients to a plant available form.

These are a few reasons why carbon materials are important to worm farms. 

Can I use worms I find to compost?

Frequently I’m asked can I use worms I find to compost? The short answer is “not really”.

There are a few thousand species of earthworms, only a handful of which are really good compost worms.  All worms can all be lumped into 3 groups that are useful to determine whether they are useful to us for composting.

  1. Anecic worms – anecic earthworms dig deep vertical burrows that they use over and over. They do not like to have their burrows disturbed and are very slow to reproduce. They eat and breed on the surface but otherwise stay deep under the surface. Their deep vertical burrows provide oxygen to deep roots of plants, allow drainage of water deeper into soil and carry organic matter into the subsoil. These are the most commonly found worms after a heavy rain.
  2. Endogeic worms – endogeic species dig shallow, horizontal burrows in the top 3 feet (90 cm approximately) of the soil. These are natures rototilliers, moving organic matter into the top root zone of plants. These are still slow to breed but faster than anecic worms. These worms also do not tolerate disturbance well, so aren’t suitable for most composting operations.
  3. Epigeic worms – the epigeic worms are the compost worms. These live above the surface of the soil in rotting organic matter like leaf duff, manure etc. They don’t form permanent burrows, as they eat the matter collapses. This makes them more tolerant of being disturbed. Living onnthe surface also makes them easy prey to birds, skunks and other rodents. To overcome this the breed very quickly to replace themselves and ensure survival of the species. Epigeic worms are evolved to eat things that fall on the ground. Things like fruit and vegetable waste is a natural thing for them to feed upon. Because these worms live above the surface it’s very rare to find them flooded out after a rain. It’s not impossible to find epigeic worms flipping over leaf litter or manure piles but being sure of what you found is tricky. It’s better to purchase from someone trusted (not necessarily the one advertising most). This will usually get you started “right” with the best chance of success

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What is Effective Microorganisms


What is Effective Microorganisms (EM1)

After my first two posts about bokashi and EM1 I had someone ask me “What is Effective Microorganisms?” I realized I did a really poor job of explaining EM1 previously (sorry!)

Effective Microorganisms or EM1 as discovered in the early 1980’s are a combination of 3 facultative  microbes.  The benefits and some uses of EM1 were covered in my previous article the microbes that EM1 contain are:

  • lactic acid bacteria
  • yeasts
  • purple non-sulphur bacteria

Lactic acid bacteria are well known, they’re used to make yogurt, cheese, kefir and other fermented foods.

yeasts are also well known, they’re used to make beer, wine, liquor and cause bread to rise.

Purple non-sulphur bacteria (PNSB) are the least known of the 3 ingredients. PNSB are commonly found in sediment in ponds, lakes and swamps below shallow, slow moving water. PNSB are phototropic or photosynthetic bacteria. Their purposes in EM1 is mostly in benefiting plants in the garden. PNSB are nitrogen fixing microorganisms and provide food for other soil microbes. They also provide some decomposition of potential toxins that may exist in the environment or fermentation process. To get original EM1 for gardening and agricultural usage click here

 



 


 

 

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Uses and and benefits of EM1

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Benefits of EM1

Continuing the series on EM1 and bokashi today let’s look at some of the benefits of adopting this biotechnology.

Many of the benefits of EM1 can be enjoyed by several groups of people. Urban farmers, permaculturists, environmentalists, gardeners and even apartment dwellers can find a use for EM1.

Farmers, gardeners and permaculturists.

Originally Dr Higa used EM1 directly on plants and soil to eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides with increased crop yields, it can still be used effectively this way by spraying it with equipment you likely already have.

EM1 contains microbes that fight odours from livestock, using EM1 in animal pens and even gently spraying your livestock reduces or eliminates odours from chickens, cattle, fowl, pigs, in fact all animals.

Some farmers use EMI in their animal feed as a probiotic and claim better weight gain and leaner meat on less feed.

EM1 is all natural and OMRI listed as organic for those with or seeking certification.

Environmentalists & GreenieS

This photo shows the effect of EM1 on polluted waterways ( source emrojapan.com)

EM1 has been successfully used to break down pollutants and clean waterways. It is even used in Japan to help reduce toxins and pollutants from water and land after damaging earthquakes.

Using EM1 on your own property can help create a “safe zone” from toxins currently existing in or around your home.

EM1 is an environmentally friendly, natural  odour reducer and drain cleaner too.

Apartment Dwellers and Others

EM1 can be used to reduce odours in the home, keep drains and toilets clear and with a bucket and some bokashi starter can ferment your food waste, provide a nutrient rich, living additive for house plants and reduce pet odours.

EM1 has a benefit and a purpose for every household.

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