Posts Tagged ‘worm bins’

Your worm bin should be as a moist a wrung out sponge. A great way to find out if the moisture is just right is to do a squeeze test. Grab a handful of the castings in your bin. If water drips, your bin is too wet. If the castings do not stick much to your hand, it is likely your bin needs more water.

With the changing temperatures moving from summer to fall, be sure to keep an eye on the moisture of your bin. To make adding water more convenient, our Master Composters recommend keeping a spray bottle nearby. It is also great to moisten any paper you add to your bin before adding to keep your moisture levels up.

photo courtesy of http://growinggroceries.wordpress.com


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There are several things to keep in mind when setting up your composting station:

  • Sun or shade?

A worm bin is best placed in the shade. The worms will not fare well in hot temperatures or during a deluge of water during a rainstorm. By placing them in the shade, they will be more protected from the elements and less likely to dry out.

As for a regular compost bin, direct sunlight does not cause the compost pile to heat up. The microbes working busily inside the compost are why the pile heats up. With this in mind, keeping your compost bin in the shade will decrease water evaporation. Also, people are more likely to turn their pile if they do not have to go out into the hot sun to do it.

  • Dirt or cement?

For a compost bin, it is best if it is placed on the dirt. This allows the beneficial insects to crawl up into the bin.  These insects will speed up the decomposition process and are naturally occur in a healthy compost pile. Put hardware cloth or wire mesh underneath the compost bin to prevent the larger animals from digging underneath and into the bin. If a compost pile is set on cement, it is likely that the cement will be stained.

For a worm bin, it does not matter if it is placed on cement or on dirt. It is more important that the bin is in the shade. People often even keep worm bins inside their garage, under their counter, or in a closet.

  • How close do I want my compost bin to the house?

Most people do not want to put their compost bin directly up against their house because of smell and pest attraction fears. If you are composting correctly, neither of these problems should be of issue. How close you put your bin to your house should more so be determined by hose length (if your bin is further away than your hose is long, you’ll be lugging buckets over to your pile!) and ease of use. If you don’t see yourself hoofing it across the yard to dump out your kitchen scraps, then you probably shouldn’t put your bin all the way across your yard. As for the pests and smells, err on the side of caution. If something goes wrong in your pile and it starts to smell or you get an unwanted visitor, it’s better away from your house than directly under your kitchen window.

  • How much room will my compost bin need?

If you plan on being an active composter and turning your compost pile, it is important that you have a space twice the size of your compost bin. This allows you to turn and then rebuild your bin directly next to where it was previously sitting. Turing your bin increases air flow and allows the microbes to break down the material more quickly. If you plan on having a more passive bin, this is obviously not necessary, though you probably want a little room around the bin so it can be accessed from all angles. Worm bins, on the other hand, do not need extra space.

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Crock Pot Composting

How to make the ultimate worm food!

By: Diane Hollister, Master Composter

Worms have no teeth, so they can’t consume the kitchen scraps you feed them until the scraps are broken down a bit.  You can do this yourself very easily by putting your food waste in a crock pot.  Here’s what I found works.

1.  I bought an inexpensive 5 qt. crock pot from Target for around $20.

2.  Put about ½ cup of good compost or some soil from around any plant that is growing well.  This will provide the microbes needed to break down the material in the pot.

3. Add kitchen scraps, the smaller they are cut up the faster they will break down.  Crushed egg shells are great to provide grit.

4.  Put the lid on and set the crock pot on warm.  Check the temperature in 24 hours.  In mine, the temperature was 140 degrees, which was ideal.

5.  Stir when you think about it and add water to keep it moist.

6.  If the contents start to smell, add some paper from your paper shredder, some compressed pine pellets (sold as kitty litter), some coir or any other small sized carbon rich material.  Mix well.  If it still smells add more carbon.

7. In about a week everything will be nicely broken down.  Let it cool and feed it to your worms.  They will go crazy for it!

I found you can add meat and dairy to the pot as there is no problem of rats getting into it.  Also, if I think about it I turn the pot off at night and back on in the morning and that works fine too.

If there is more material than your worms can process, just bury the rest in your yard or add it to your compost pile.

Leave about a cup of material in the pot to start your next batch.

Have fun!

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Water is added to a Biostack during a rainless day.

Bin wetness from rain is usually a non-issue in San Diego County but recently, with the extreme rain that has fallen on our lovely County, outdoor compost bins are probably on the soggy side. Remember, optimum bin dampness is comparable to that of a wrung out sponge so if your bin is dripping, it is probably too wet!

Backyard Compost Bins

A “too wet” compost bin will naturally dry out over time as the water in the bin evaporates, but if it is rainy or cold outside, the bin may stay wet for an extended period of time. A bin that is too wet can lead to a smelly, anaerobic situation that most strive to avoid. To speed up the drying process, add additional browns (materials high in carbon) to your bin. Items like dead leaves, straw, shredded paper, and mulch will suck up the excess water, drying out the bin. Once the bin is back to the dampness of a wrung out sponge, the microbial population will increase, speeding up composting in the bin.

Worm Bins

Red Wigglers are terrestrial creatures. They will quickly perish if placed into a pool of water. If their environment gets too wet, they will wriggle for their lives, migrating to a safer location, probably out of the worm bin. To dry out the bedding, add shredded paper or cardboard. The worms will eventually eat the paper and in the meantime, it will absorb excess water. If space in your bin is at a premium and additional material cannot be added, placing a piece of cardboard or burlap on the surface of the bedding will absorb moisture and can be replaced if additional moisture needs to be removed. Make sure to also check the worm tea level of your bin. Most of the water in the bin will end up in the worm tea level. If it fills, it will saturate the lowest level of the worm bin. If the tea levels are high, drain the tea from the bin and use it as a liquid fertilizer on your plants! They’ll love it!

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“Earthworm” is the common name for over 2,500 species of Earthworm. But not all species are suitable for vermicomposting or the compost bin. Earthworker worms do not eat a large volume of organic material, do not reproduce well in confinement, and do not thrive when their burrow systems are disturbed. Vermicomposting worms on the other hand, reproduce quickly, eat large amounts of organic material, and tolerate disturbance.

red wigglerRed Wigglers
Eisenia fetida
Red wigglers are the most common type of vermicomposting worms. They are rust brown in color with striping between segments. Adults can grow to about 3 inches in length, they prefer temperatures between 59-77 degrees F, and cocoons hatch between 35 and 70 days. Red wigglers work well for vermicomposting because of their high reproductive rate, ability to survive in varying conditions, and because under perfect conditions, they can eat their body weight in food everyday. Red wigglers are not soil dwellers and will likely perish if added to a garden.

Red TigerRed Tiger
Eisenia andrei
The tiger worm is a close relative of the red wiggler and shares very similar vermicomposting abilities. They are dark red or purple in color and can grow up to 3 inches long. They prefer temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees F and can process large volumes of organic material. They are often not separated from red wigglers by commercial growers.

Red WormRedworms
Lumbricus rubellus
This worm works well for vermicomposting and bait as well. It is said to be irresistible to fish. This worm is dark red to maroon in color with no striping between segments. They can grow up to 3 inches in length and prefer temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees F. Redworms cocoons hatch in 12 to 16 weeks. This worm can potentially do double duty as a vermicomposter and earthworker.

Lumbricus terrestris
Nightcrawlers are not ideal worms for vermicomposting bins. Nightcrawlers are deep dwellers that can burrow up to 6 feet into the ground. Nightcrawlers do not like their burrows to be disturbed and prefer temperatures around 50 degrees F. They can grow up to 12 inches in length and prefer to eat leaf litter and mulch. Nightcrawlers are earthworkers, performing  an important role in soil mixing, taking organic matter from the surface into deeper layers of the soil.

For more information on worms, please check out The Worm Book by Loren Nancarrow or Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof (available at the Solana Center). For a list of worm retailers in the San Diego area, please click here.

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It is pumpkin season, but now that you don’t need your carefully carved pumpkin any more, don’t throw it away! Pumpkin is a great addition to both your compost and worm bin!

To add pumpkin to either bin, it is important that it is broken down into smaller pieces. Chop, cut, or saw the pumpkin into smaller pieces. If some neighborhood hooligan has already smashed your pumpkin, they saved you some work!

In the compost bin:

Pumpkin is a “green.” It is very high in nitrogen. Make sure to bury the pumpkin or follow the addition of the pumpkin with a layer of browns to detract pests. It is important that the pumpkin is cut into smaller pieces. If a whole pumpkin is put into a compost bin, it will take a lot longer to compost. Also, next time the bin is turned, you’ll inevitably get the whole pumpkin stuck on the pitchfork (and who wants to resurrect a partially decomposed pumpkin on a pitchfork?).

In the worm bin:

Worms will love the variety of pumpkin in their diet. Remember – worms have small mouths so it will take them a long time to work through a giant chunk of pumpkin. Smaller pieces will disappear from the worm bin more quickly. If you want to give the worms a special treat, blend the pumpkin into a slurry, pour it into your bin, and then cover with bedding. The worms will go crazy over this easily eaten treat!

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The September Composter Quarterly Newsletter is available online! This edition features information about the next Master Composter Course, the Solana Center’s newest worm bin, and information about upcoming events and workshops. To view this edition click here or visit the Composting 101 page for an archive of the Composter Quarterly Newsletter.

The next Master Composter Course starts September 30th! Click here to read more!

In this edition: The next Master Composter Course starts September 30th! Click here to read more!

Don’t miss the next edition!

Click here to sign up to receive the Solana Center Composter Quarterly Newsletter!

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