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

 



 


 

 

Uses and and benefits of EM1

E


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.

A History of Bokashi and EM1

A History of Bokashi and EM1

While studying microbiology in Okinawa Japan in the early 1980’s Dr. Teguo Higa discovered important properties of several microbial species. He discovered a combination of naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts that together could do remarkable things. He patented and copyrighted this mixture as Effective Microorganisms 1 or EM1. In the beginning his microbe combination was sprayed on agricultural crops and was noticed to increase yield and eliminate the need for chemical pesticides, and fungicides. Soon it was discovered the same combination could eliminate odours from livestock pens and prevent skin diseases on livestock. With further experimentation and study it was realized Dr Higa’s effective microorganisms could also break down many chemical pollutants into inert forms and ferment food waste without foul odours. From the discovery of fermenting food waste bokashi composting was born. Bokashi involves inoculating food waste (including meat and dairy) with EM1. EM1 begins the decomposition through fermentation (like making pickles or sauerkraut) rather than the stinky process of putrefaction. Through this action pathogens are eliminated, lignjns and cellulose is softened and complex organic molecules begin being disassembled into smaller, plant available compounds. Bokashi does not create heat, does not smell foul and retains more nutrients than other methods of composting. The labour input is minimal because there is no turning piles, monitoring temperature, or adding moisture. Bokashi can also be done on a very small scale, indoors making It more suitable for apartment dwellers. EM1 and bokashi are a viable method for repairing the environment, saving food waste from landfills, reducing or eliminating the need for chemicals in farming and creating a healthier future for generations to come. Perhaps one day EM1 will be in every home, business and school.

You can learn more about EM1 and bokashi or get your own supply by clicking here 

The Truth About “Worm Wee”

What is Worm Wee?

 

Worms do not have a urinary system nor a bladder, I can assure they’re not “weeing” “peeing” “whizzing” nor otherwise urinating.  So what is this stuff people continually call worm wee? The liquid that many collect from beneath their worm bins and call “worm wee” or “worm tea” is accurately called leachate.

Frequently the question is asked “how do I use it?”  “is it safe to use?” For me these questions need to be answered with a question “Why the HECK (feel free to replace heck with a stronger expletive if you wish) is your worm bin so wet?” You should NEVER have enough leachate to start watering plants with it. You’ve leavhed most of the nutrients out of your castings, you’re asking for anaerobic pockets in your bin, you’ve made your bin a muddy pile of slop AND there’s a chance because you’re flushing improperly composted material you are washing pathogens into your collection container. A few drops of moisture occasionally is normal but a steady flow of leachate is a sign you’re mismanaging your system.

So the unadulterated truth about whether to use leachate is NO because it should NOT exist in a well run worm composter. Yeah yeah I know someone will disagree, that’s your right but not everyone wants truth, sometimes they want reassurance.


Acidic Worm Bin?

Acidic Worm Bin

This topic is a particular pet peeve of mine. It seems no matter how much I debunk the myth of acidic worm bins this keeps resurfacing. I’m here to tell you now the PH being far off neutral is a load from the southern end of a north facing bull. It can only happen through a lack of knowledge or through carelessness.

PH is a measure of hydrogen (H+) ions vs hydroxide (OH-) ions, an abundance of H+ ions creates a low PH (high acidity) and an excess of OH- ions creates a high PH (highly alkalinity)

Without delving into an advanced chemistry conversation, decomposition of organic matter CAN cause weak acidity due to the respiratory processes of microbes. Carbon dioxide (CO2) released mixes with water (H2O) to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). Other processes going on in a worm bin tend to balance themselves as far as PH  (nitrification and denitrification as examples) if however things do go awry and conditions swing toward acidity the simple addition of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) can keep PH fairly close to neutral and avoid sudden swings in PH.

When calcium carbonate reacts with carbonic acid (water must be present, but a worm bin is wet) it reacts to produce water plus calcium bicarbonate (this is what is generally called “hard water”) and the PH is fairly neutral.

Where do I get calcium carbonate?

Calcium carbonate is a main component of eggshells, periodically adding some ground eggshell to your bin will stop acidity in its tracks. If you’re allergic to eggs or are vegan or have some other reason to not use eggshells garden lime is a suitable source of CaCO3.

What about alkalinity?

I have never yet seen a legitimately alkaline worm bin unless someone added a strong alkaline material like wood ash or builders lime. There are 2 cures for alkaline soil, one is a lot of organic matter and moisture to create carbonic acid through microbial respiration (sounds like a worm bin) the other is elemental sulphur.

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Is This Worthwhile?

  • Perhaps it’s the rainy weather here this spring. Perhaps it’s a feeling of spinning my wheels trying to counter the horrible information that’s out there. I’m finding my patience running low lately and I’m considering just letting it all go. Hanging up my hat and letting people keep making their mistakes. Definitely going to take a break from the bigger Facebook groups and stay in the more intimate WFA secret group. I’ll work on getting inspired to bring more information to you here but right now it’s not happening. Be around later if I decide it’s worthwhile.
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How Should We Harvest Worm Castings?

Worm castings, harvestThis may not be the post you were expecting to see if you’re looking for step by step directions. I’ve been asking the question myself lately. How to harvest worm castings? Why have I been asking this? I have some friends working in soil food web testing labs. They are finding that many worm castings they’ve tested are surprisingly lacking life. We’re all told how worm castings are the best thing for plants and soil. How can it be if they’re so lacking in life? I began investigating and found a quote from Elaine Ingham:

Feb 15 2016

Worm castings do not, willy-nilly, have more beneficial life than compost. I’ve been unfortunate enough to have looked at “worm castings” that are just as bad as the worst manure you have ever seen. So you can’t trust people to manage worms right either. However, if they do manage the worms aerobically, with good fungal foods, then worm castings and thermal compost and static compost can be every bit as good as the others.

How do you tell? MICROSCOPE

Elaine R. Ingham
President, Soil Foodweb Inc.

Ok, so I know some of the worm farmers whose tests were lacking life. These folks are doing a pretty good job of keeping beds aerobic. They’re adding what are considered fungal foods. What’s happening?

I continued to investigate, something was missing.

I was asking a lot of questions of worm farmers about methods: How do you harvest? How wet are your bins? what do you feed? what’s your bedding? The answers varied greatly but their tests were coming back similar.

Next I turned to the laboratory owners/workers. How are the samples arriving? What life is lacking most frequently? Consistently fungi and nematodes were the most often lacking organisms.

Finally I had something consistent, a trail to follow.

Eventually I had a conversation with Vivian Kaloxilos a student of Dr. Ingham who does soil food web testing in Quebec, Canada.

She made me feel like those cartoons where the lightbulb pops on above your head when she said:

“I asked a client to send me her sifted and non sifted vermicompost. I found twice the amount of fungi in the non sifted, plus tons of nematodes. In the sifted, the fungi was much lower and nematodes were barely present. This brings us to the issue where vermicompost producers need to harvest their worms and eggs from their product before giving it away. Its a catch 22”- Vivian Kaloxilos

This was what I’d been searching for! It would seem drying vermicompost to screen it or perhaps the agitation of screening was damaging the organisms in the castings!!

Now this begs the questions: How do we harvest castings without doing harm? Does the aesthetic appeal of finely sifted castings matter? How do we not give away cocoons or baby worms and still sell the best quality castings?

I’d love to see the readers comments and suggestions on this!!

BSFL Introduction Part 5

black soldier fly emerging

Photo by Matt Maney (FB)

One of the things I love and admire about BSFL is the diversity of food they can eat. unlike worms, BSFL do not require a carbon based bedding material. They aren’t adept at eating stuff like peat moss, cardboard, paper etc. that we might use as worm bedding. Soldier fly larvae can eat any kind of fruit and veggie waste that a worms can. Besides the usual wastes BSFL can and will eat: meats, dairy, onions and garlic, citrus, vegetable oils (with other food) and even the freshest manure. All the stuff we’re told to leave out of vermicomposting. Things like grass clippings and garden waste can go into the BSFL bin but are less likely to be as quickly devoured.

 A mix of 50/50 meat and veggies has been shown to provide the greatest growth rates for BSFL if you’re growing for large larvae. If growing for feed a choice without meat is perhaps a safer alternative regarding pathogens. One place to get “clean” waste is to try to get spent grains from a brewery or distillery or fruit and veggie leftovers from juicing.
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It’s On!!

I’m sure most of you know who Bentley Christie at red worm composting is. Well we’ve been online friends for a few years now and I like to rib him a little behind the scenes for his “worm mix” he sells. A worm mix is a whole lot of teeny tiny worms and cocoons densely packed into some bedding. It’s really a great way to start a worm bin, but the worms are so tiny. Well some joking around about teeny worms later and Bentley sends out to his Worm Farming Alliance  newsletter list that I’m gonna challenge him to a worm growing competition. He wants people to know about it because he wants to embarrass me. HA HA I got news for him, he will be the one embarrassed. I’ll post my progress here as this thing unfolds. We just gotta come up with some rules. Should we start from cocoons? baby worms? adults? are there rules about size of bin? Is it just grow one worm or is it our biggest from a group of say 5? Comment your rule suggestions, if I let Bentley make all the rules he’s gonna rig this thing lol. A lot of smack talk and maybe a few (badly) photo-shopped pictures and memes are bound to be thrown around inside the Worm Farming Alliance.

Regards Larry

P.S. It seems fitting to announce this challenge on Mother’s Day because; Bentley you’re gonna be crying for your mama when this is over!

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Introduction to BSFL Part 4

black soldier flyIf you’ve decided to run an outdoor BSFL setup and use wild BSFL to manage your waste or feed your chickens . Your only real controls of environment are shelter, moisture and shade. If you’ve decided to attempt this indoors in a climate controlled space. You can have full control over the above as well as temperature, humidity and lighting.
If you’re using climate control you want to maximize either composting, or grub production. You’ve made a large investment and an ongoing investment in utility bills.
Let’s first look at greatest grub production. The largest conversion to grub mass occurs at a temperature around 27C (80F). Lower temperatures result in slower grub production but larger individual grubs. Higher temperatures mean more grubs but smaller average size. Often it’s said the 27C (80F) is “ideal”, well that may depend on your usage and need. A bait seller might profit more from a larger number of smaller grubs. If huge larvae aren’t needed and selling by the count higher temperatures are better. 
Relative humidity around 60% provides excellent results for egg production. 60% is acceptable for larvae growth as well. Bin moisture should wet but not watery. Adding water too quickly to a dry bin can cause larvae to climb out of a bin. It’s easier to control moisture through food type. Too dry? Add wetter food, too wet? Add something with a lower water content. This is something you’ll get better at with practice.
Adult black soldier flies need a broad spectrum light source to reproduce. Grow lights can provide the spectrum needed. Mercury halide lights being cheaper to buy and producing heat. LED lights produce little heat, excellent light and lower energy bills. Whatever lights you choose the heat, safety and cost are factors to considered. Most breeders suggest leaving artificial lights on 24 hours a day. Adult flies only survive a few days. So maximize the possibility that females get fertilized. Adult black soldier flies also love to bask on plant leaves when seeking a mate. So some artificial or potted plants with larger leaves are beneficial as well.
Observation suggests the adult flies seem to reproduce with some temperature fluctuations. Do your adults seem hesitant to breed or oviposit? Simulating cooler overnight temperatures is something worth trying. Getting conditions right for soldier fly reproduction can be a bit of a guessing game. Keep records of what works and what does not. This way you’ll learn what works best for you.

BSFL Introduction Part 3

Black soldier fly

Photo by Quoc Huy Nguyen Dinh

Now you’ve started acolony or believe you should by either attracting females or purchasing a starter of larvae. Now there are a couple of decisions to make.

  1. Do you keep the colony outdoors and start over next spring?
  2. Do you allow the adult flies to be free to come and go as they wish? Or do you build an enclosure?
  3. What’s my end ourpose for the larvae?
If you live somewhere warm then starting over in spring should be easier as some of the pupae will overwinter, become adults once its warm and start breeding, laying eggs and start the cycle again. Summer is typically when we have the most waste to manage anyway, so letting the colony run its natural course may well be a viable option. However in a region with harsh winter climate; keeping an indoor colony over the winter months may be more desirable
  Once your black soldier fly colony is establihed, females will readily return to your bin to lay eggs and start a new generation. Some believe there’s  a scent given off by larvae that lures females to return to an already populated bin; as long as food remains available. If you’re concerned about adults returning to lay eggs or you’d just prefer to contain the flies a simple enclosure can be erected using PVC pipe and insect screen. It’s also possible to fashion a more complex bin or utilize a greenhouse space. However, or wherever you decide to try grub composting you just have to fulfill a few basic requiremts to maintain a healthy colony. In the next post of this series we will examine required conditions to keep our black soldier flies happy, eating and breeding.
 Most BSFL farmers are growing larvae for multiple reasons. For some waste reduction may be the primary reason and a few treats for their chickens is a secondary bonus. Others may be growing the larvae for aquaculture feed for their fish with waste reduction or compost as added benefits. Whatever your reason you should decide either before starting or very early in your endeavour. You may wish to feed differently based on your purpose for the grubs. Grubs for chicken feed shouldn’t be fed chicken manure to avoid potential disease issues as an example.
 BSFL are incredibly versatile with many uses for the larvae. The black soldier fly larvae can be used for animal feed for many different animals and pets. Besides chickens and fish that were briefly touched on, they are considered the only insect capable of being the sole diet of bearded dragons and they’re considered a very healthy food for many species of reptile as well as some amphibians like dart frogs. Enterra foods in Canada has recently received government approval to begin using soldier fly larvae to make food for chickens, fish swine and sheep. I expect approval for dog and cat food will come as well in time. Just a few other possibly profitable ideas for BSFL are bait for fishing, waste removal fees, using frass (bug poop) as food for worms and selling quality worm casting and/or worms, aquaculture or aquaponics, for food and/or to dispose of offal and tsnk solids.
 Using these questions to research and begin planning the future of your BSFL farm will save you some pain later because you didn’t consider location, food source, or localized sub-climate.  This stage of planning may be the difference between an enjoyable experience and the misery of carrying buckets of food much further than necessary. Part 4 will give more detail on optimal growing conditions. Until the next episode…let’s get grubby
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Should I be Buying Worms by Weight? or Count?

The two ways of buying worms

When you’re looking to buy worms, some vendors are selling by the pound and others sell say 250 or 1000 or 2000 worms. I wanted to show what and why I think is the best way for buying worms.

 

I recently posted the pictures below in a couple of Facebook groups with the question: how many worms are in this pile? I wanted to see how well people could guess the count of a mound of worms. The guesses ranged from 200 all the way to 2000. The majority of guesses were 1000 worms. Out of 100 guesses 92 were over 400 only 8 guessed there were under 400 worms. I estimated that those who guessed under 400 were most likely to be suspicious if I had sold this pile as 500 worms. Of those I estimate half would be very excited and put the worms in their bin without a second thought. Only 4 out of 100 MIGHT actually be suspicious enough to count the worms. I think this experiment is important for inexperienced would-be worm farmers to see. It is very easy for a seller to rip you off when you buy a set “number” of worms. When you purchase by the pound or by the kilo it’s very easy to throw your package on a scale and see if the entire package weighs at least what you paid for. It’s just easier to judge and if needed sort worms from bedding and weigh. Now if the worms are a few ounces (or grams) light I’d cut t he vendor a little slack, worms do tend to lose a little water weight in shipping and scales can be off a bit.

There are 250 worms in the photo, how well did you guess? Most of the folks on Facebook would’ve been ripped off by 50% or more. Ask yourself how cheap are the cheapest worms if you get half or less of what you paid for?

Black Soldier Fly Composting Intro Part 2- Starting a Colony

Image courtesy Shawn Marie Hardy

Part one of this series was pretty brief; here we will go into a little more depth on starting to compost with these remarkable larvae.

Starting a colony
If we want to begin a colony of BSFL to compost our waste there are 2 basic ways to do it.
  • Attract egg laying females
  • Purchase a starter colony

Attracting the Female Black Soldier Fly

Attracting females is a cheaper albeit potentially longer process to start growing a black soldier fly colony for composting. To attract egg laying females:
  1. black soldier flies should be native to your region,
  2.  it must be warm and relatively humid.
  3. You’ll need something rotting with a strong odor.
  4. You need a place for females to oviposit (lay eggs) above or adjacent to your smelly food.

Regardless whether you attract a colony or buy a starter colony the process will only vary slightly. Start out with a container of something with a strong odour. One particularly productive combination for attracting females is a mix of used coffee grounds and really cheap, dry dog food. Simply soak the dog food in water and mix it with the coffee grounds. Banana and coffee grounds are another good combination. Set this out in a bucket or a tote. You can use corrugated cardboard or corflute (corrugated plastic often used for political campaign signs) himg above the surface of the container contents as egg “traps”. This is usually irresistible to female black soldier flies. They will oviposit in the corrugations or on drier surface material. Once eggs appear the larvae will begin to hatch in as little as 4 days. Once hatching begins it’s a good idea to move the larvae and any full egg traps to a new, larger bin preferably with a harvest ramp (more on harvest ramps later). You can now reset your bin and attempt to grow your colony further by collecting more eggs.
 In the next post I’ll look at environmental conditions for keeping a colony going and feeding practices…More later
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Black soldier fly composting (an introduction)

Photo courtesy Shawn Marie Hardy- adult soldier fly

I’ve discussed composting with black soldier fly larvae a lot on Facebook, I’ve even written a book about it. I have neglected (until now) to write a little about them here. Hermetia illucens is the Latin name used for the species we are interested in for composting and waste management. The larvae  of black soldier flies are voracious eaters, eating even stuff that worms won’t/shouldn’t. A bin of larvae can go through meat, fish, dairy, and fresh manure as well as the fruit and veggie waste often given to worms.

Black soldier fly larvae as pests in a worm bin

This is the most common way for worm composters to be introduced to BSFL. In spring it’s common to see pictures of the larvae posted in the Facebook worm composting groups. Usually the pictures are accompanied by the questions: What are these? and Will they harm my worms?

They won’t eat your living worms but they can outcompete the worms for food and they’re extreme activity can produce heat from friction above where the worms are comfortable. I usually suggest people get as many worms as possible into a new bin and feed them a more carbon based diet during the warmer weather when black soldier flies are active. or secure some type of screen over the new bin to prevent the female soldier flies from laying eggs in the new worm bin. I like to suggest using the original bin then as a summertime BSFL composter.

Setting up a summertime black soldier fly composter

Summer brings with it gatherings, picnics, barbecues where there tends to be more food waste created. What better time to employ a critter that can handle all of it? From the fatty gristle on the T-bone to the lemon rinds from homemade lemonade, BSFL will lick their tiny lips (not sure they actually have lips) and look for more. If the larvae have already invaded your bin likely all you’ll need to do is keep adding lots of food. If you want to have something a little fancier the Biopod Plus™ or the Protapod™ are both available in our shop. If you want to try a DIY setup my friend Quoc-Huy Nguyen Dinh created a low cost EBook with instructions on a few bins he’s created and some helpful info.

Just How Fast do Black Soldier Flies eat?

Watch this 24 hour time lapse of BSFL feasting on a couple of rainbow trout:

EBook by Quoc-Huy Nguyen Dinh

Get More info by clicking on the book covers and stay tuned for part 2

Start Worm Composting Free (or at least really cheaply)

Beginning worm farming can be as cheap as free or as expensive as you choose. Because many begin vermicomposting to keep waste from the landfill and be more environmentally conscious we will begin by using free and recycled materials and tips to getting worms locally as cheap as possible. You’ll need a bin, bucket or container to start with. Sometimes places like bakeries or restaurants will let you have a free 5 gallon bucket or you can check Craigslist, freecycle or another local online classified (or newspaper classified ads) to see what type of container you can trade for or simply pick up. You may already have a clean bucket, storage tote, crate or other suitable container to use as a worm bin. Almost any uncontaminated and clean container can be used.

You’ll need to find a bedding material, cardboard newspaper, straw, very dry grass, autumn leaves and aged manure are just a few things you can find to use for free and save from a landfill.

To find local worms cheaply or free try local online classified searches for such terms as “red wigglers” “compost worms” “worms” if you find someone selling worms, message or email them and see if you can make a barter, maybe you mow their lawn for a set amount of worms, maybe that person wants a grass skirt just like the one you inherited from odd uncle William, whatever it is try to trade first and pay (but not overpay) if you must. Properly moisten your bedding as described in (fill later) and place it in your bin or bucket, add your worms and possibly a very small amount of fruit or veggie waste to start.

Adding your worms

Once you’ve gotten your worms they need to go into the bedding you prepared. If you purchased by mail order they may be dehydrated, gently remove them from the packaging in which they were received. It may be a good idea to shoot some video of this. In the event your worms arrived dead this will make the process of making a claim on a live delivery guarantee easier. Gently spritz the worms with a spray bottle of water until well wet down (presuming they’re alive and all is well.) gently place your worms on top of the bedding you prepared. They should almost immediately try to bury themselves into the bedding. It’s prudent to leave a light on and any planned lid off of the bin for the next 24 hours and leave the worms alone (I know you want to dig in and peak but resist). Shipping worms and changing their bedding are both very stressful to the worms and this first 24 hours is the most likely time for worms to attempt to escape your bins. You should wait another 24 hours minimum before beginning to add food waste or other “food”. The worms won’t starve in this couple of days as they also eat the bedding in which they live.

Bedding:

Bedding is basically the worms home, this should be considered and treated as a “safe zone” for them to retreat to if something goes wrong. Compost worms are surface dwellers, living, eating and breeding mostly above the soil level, in dead organic material . Bedding therefore shouldn’t be too deep, 6 inches for most worms and never deeper than 10-12″ even for the slightly deeper feeders. You should try to keep the bedding material moist but never soggy wet and never dripping “tea” as is very commonly believed. A handful of bedding when squeezed hard in your hand should produce only 2-3 drops of water. I personally start my bins a little wetter than that but I also spend little time tending my worms and don’t want to spend a lot of time wetting my bins down. By the time I’m ready to remove castings the moisture is goldilocks (just right).

2

The Forgotten Pioneers of The Soil Food Web

Microscopic creature in soil food web

A view of soil microbiology

There’s a saying that goes “that which is old becomes new again.” Nature itself renews and recycles dead material back into useful and productive soil. Microbial life in a food web recycles the old, the dead by using it as food. A recent research project led my friend Nina (owner of Microbes In My Soil LLC) to discover that the recent interest in the soil microbiology is also nothing new. Recently Nina discovered the work of Raoul Heinrich France and his wife Annie France-Harrar who in the early 20th century were counting, identifying and recording soil microbiology in the soil food web

 France was born in 1874 in Austria. He met Annie in a class to learn microscopy; she became his assistant and later they married. Together their life’s work became peering through the eyepieces of, by today’s standards rudimentary microscopes. They discovered that the humus portion of soil that supports all life  is created by the activities of the mostly unexplored world of microbes. Prior to WWI Raoul set up a laboratory and a school  to teach soil microbiology. It was destroyed during the war. After WWI he again started teaching and researching the soil, again his work was destroyed in WWII. 

Raoul Heinrich France and Annie France Harrar. The forgotten pioneers of the soil food web

They were quite philosophical about the soil food web as a way to produce healthier food and sustain a growing population. They believed the teachings needed to reach the masses to save the world this is perhaps why Raoul and Annie created over 80 books about their discoveries during their lives.

 In 1943- Raoul Heinrich France died in Budapest, Hungary. WWII ended 2 years after the death of Raoul, at that time corporations that had been manufacturing weapons were now left with a stockpile of nitrates and phosphates they no longer had a use for. At this time the work of the Frances was pushed into obscurity and these stockpiled chemicals would be the dominant fertilizers for the next 70 years.

  His wife Annie continued to research soil life and the formation of humus by microbial action for nearly another 3 decades until her death in 1971.

Introduction to France’s Soil Food Web

 

 

 

 

 

The above sketches and  key to those sketches are in R.H France’s own hand. On the bottom of the key is some early work being done on a “vaccine” to create humus. This recipe is based on percentages and ratios of microorganisms. The recipe translates as:

 

 

Bacteria 13%

Spores 7%

Nannedaphon 14% (other documents so far just say a little known group of organisms)

Soil fungi 18%

Eukaryotes 3% (diatoms for example)

Rhizopods 22% (amoeba)

Cysts 3%

Nematodes 13%

Rotifera 7% (Suggests rotifers but picture doesn’t match)

 

There’s some difficulty finding English translation for much of the Frances work but it appears that Annie also continued to refine this recipe for a “vaccine” to produce humus after the death of her husband. (I’ve since discovered the full recipe and assay)

 We can see that the relatively recent interest in soil microbes is based on work approaching a century old. The old has again become new, yesterday’s dead material has become food for today. Das Edaphon has created the humus upon which the towering trees of today feed.

 Raoul Heinrich France and his wife Annie France-Harrar were pioneers of organic farming and the soil food web. Those of us involved in the field of organic growing, microbiology, soil remediation and composting should reflect for a moment on the brilliance of a couple from Austria who  laid out the groundwork for our modern organic movement.

 

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Worm Inn Setup-My Way

Wooden Stand from Brian

Wooden Stand from Brian

There are several way to setup a Worm Inn or Worm Inn Mega. I’ll be using the standard PVC stand in my posts to show you how I like to setup.

. A friend of mine named Brian has a really nice set of plans on a “pay what you wish” basis. Leave the price at $0 if you want them free (I encourage you to send him a few bucks he worked really hard to bring these to us).

Once the Worm Inn is on its’ stand I like to pull the drawstrings tight, then loop them back around the opening and tie them with a knot I can easily undo later. This closes up any space that castings can fall from or worms could escape.

 

 

worm-inn

When you receive the Worm Inn, it would be easy to be disappointed. It just resembles a denim bag with a piece of mosquito netting and a zipper. There’s no special rake or bedding included. There’s no instruction manual or complicated vermicomposting information. Just a bag, 8 PVC corner pieces and 8 zip ties.

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8 of these corner pieces are included with 8 zip ties

8 of these corner pieces are included with 8 zip ties

You will need to purchase 3/4 inch PVC to assemble the stand as indicated in the directions if you choose the PVC stand over the wooden plans.

 

 

 

 

 

frameOnce complete the PVC stand looks like a tall rectangle. The tabs n the corners of the Worm Inn are secured to the corners of the frame using 2 of the included zip ties on each corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zip ties on either side of corner piece add stability

Zip ties on either side of corner piece add stability

 

Placing the zip ties on either side of the corner bracket adds some stability and helps keep the corners of the Inn in place.

 

 

 

Worm Inn on the stand

Worm Inn on the stand

 

You now have the Worm Inn ready to fill and add your worms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

setupI’ve unzipped and opened the mesh top and placed a bucket underneath in case moist bedding drips. I’m now ready to begin filling the Worm Inn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

start-fillingIt’s best to have a false bottom covering the bottom hole in the Worm Inn. Here I’ve used a cardboard disc from a frozen pizza but any cardboard or newspaper will do.

 

 

 

fillingI’ve begun filling it with shredded cardboard and paper that was soaked overnight. Many people don’t use the coloured cardboard or paper. It won’t hurt the worms and since I’m using this to grow more worms and not really for the casting I’m going ahead and using it.

 

 

 

eggshell2Once I have about 3 inches (6cm) of bedding I liberally add crushed eggshell or garden lime. Calcium carbonate in these is supposed to aid worm reproduction. It also serves as grit in the worms gizzard and neutralizes any acids from more acidic foods that may be added. On top of the eggshell I add a little food. Then I add another inch (2cm) of soaked cardboard.

 

 

ancwitheggs

 

I place my worms on top of all of this. Here I’m adding 250 African nightcrawlers (Eudrilus euginae)and whatever cocoons they’ve produced in the last 3 weeks.

I’ll be posting updates on this setup through the winter. I want to produce enough Africans to sell a few starter batches in spring.

 

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Potato-Dangerous to Worms? Pt 4

Healthy worms after 3 weeks

Healthy worms after 3 weeks

I’m a couple of days late with this weeks update, lets just say it’s flu season.

Anyway, this marks 3 weeks since I started feeding 50 worms nothing but potato. Last week all the worms were still healthy and showing signs of eating the potato. This week they finished devouring all the original potato. Today (7 December 2016) I split the bedding within the bin into two parts; That where potato was and the part never fed. The reason was to try to determine if the worms were avoiding the potato or preferring it. 41 of the 50 worms were retrieved from the side that had been fed potato. Only 9 worms were removed from the other half of the bin. This would seem to indicate that there is a pretty strong attraction to the potato as a food source.

The bedding was examined for cocoons and only 6 were found. I expected to find more but some reasons may be:

  1. The first week everything was extremely dry
  2. 50 worms was a pretty low population density for breeding
  3. I’m still recovering and could’ve easily missed a lot.

I believe at this point it’s been proven that potato isn’t a significant risk to the health of compost worms. At this point I have made my conclusions and will suspend this experiment as successful.

 

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