Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I GOT WORMS!: My Composting Diaries

I grew up composting & gardening out on the family farm. With a 7 person family we created alot of food scraps My mom experimented with different composting techniques over the years and through it all taught me alot about the brake down of waste. After graduating college, moving to the beach and settling in with my fiance', we began our own little garden & container planting. Our first year was a very amateur attempt at it all. I felt like I had forgotten alot of what I grew up doing. After talking over my mistakes and losses with my parents, listening to their advice and then doing lots of re-educating on new and old ways to garden I felt ready for the spring season! The soil where I live is sandy, so when it rains the water runs through the soil quickly and leaches any nutrients that might have been there. So last spring we bought TONS of bagged hummus, manure, and compost and rented a tiller to blend it all into the garden. We dug a hole in a corner of the garden and started a small compost pile. It was incorrect and was not meant to be permanent but due to lack of time it ended up being the compost pile for that year. I had planned out where plants would go according to their light and water needs and was little more educated than the year before. So last years crop was better but I was still having to use miracle grow and fertilizers to get my plants to produce. We had some losses (squash, cucumber, watermelon, broccoli, sweet potatoes, corn) but also had some gains (Tomatoes, Okra, Beans, Peppers, Eggplant, Lettuce, herbs).

This year I AM READY! I have planned out my fruit and veggie locations better, we have built 3 raised garden beds for the plants that needed more sunlight and space and have finally built a better compost bin. The garden that was built by previous renters behind the house didn't give some of the plants enough light.

Because I have been trying to eat organically I want to try and garden that way as well. That means organic seeds and no artificial fertilizers! I can DO IT! Using compost!
 The compost scraps that had broken down in my previous pile I mixed in with old potting soil. Oh, did I mention I don't throw anything out?? I keep all my old potting soil because it can be re nourished and used again. I use my rejuvenated potting mix for starting my seeds and I remembered something my mom had done back on the farm with her flower beds and thought I'd try it out on my dying Hydrangeas. Back in March I dug a hole about 2 feet down in the location where I wanted to plant my hydrangea. First I threw in some rocks, then fresh compost, then my newly enriched potting mix and then finally planted the hydrangea and filled in around it with enriched potting mix and left over soil. The plant roots want to grow toward the nutrients and the rocks provides good drainage. A month later and I have a fully green and bushy hydrangea plant that will possibly flower this year!

All my gardening done this year has been on budget. We recently found someone on craigslist selling almost $200 of lumber for $20. We felt very proud that we had  re-used old lumber to build 3 raised garden beds and for very cheap! I knew I also was going to need more compost and fertilizer for the upcoming garden planting but was searching for a cheaper and more organic way. Intro WORM COMPOSTING or Vermicomposting as professionals call it :)

After doing lots of research I found that worm composting was the most effective & best way to get fresh fertilizer and compost. What makes the fertilizer so rich is the worm castings or worm poop. They eat their weight of kitchen scraps, yard clippings, shredded newspapers, ect. everyday and create a nutrient rich fertilizer! So awesome how nature works. I read that 2,000 worms can go through a lb. of food a day! When they are working (eating) they reproduce rather rapidly and I could have grandchildren to the first worms I put in my bin in 3 months!! So, I bought 2,000 worms from Uncle Jims Worm Farm. and began getting their bedding ready.

The bedding the most important part of vermicomposting and if the conditions aren't right for the worms they could die or try and wiggle out. I wanted be sure to do it right so I wasn't wasting money and killing worms for nothing.

To prep for their arrival I bought a large plastic tub with the lid and cut out 1/2" holes all over the bottom, sides and top of lid. Then I hot glued regular screening to the sides and bottom so the worms couldn't get out but still had enough air to ventilate their bedding. I shredded newspaper into thin strips which will go on the bottom of the container and be the worms bedding. It doesn't have to be newspaper. It could be leaves, pine needles, old potting soil, lawn clippings ect. anything that is fluffy and brakes down well. It just needs to be shredded finely so it's easier for the worms to brake down.

They came in dry peat moss and were very small and skinny. Because they travel a couple days in the mail they lose 70% of their weight and are starving and ready to be fed as soon they arrive. I was ready to put the work so it's good they were hungry.

I put the shredded paper in the bottom and sprayed water and tossed it until it was damp. I did make a mistake here that I corrected later. I read later on that you should ring out the newspaper until you only get a few drops from it. Worms like moist environments, not soaking wet ones. Kinda like when it rains hard and then the next day you see worms all over the sidewalk. They are trying to escape the water. I made the mistake of soaking the newspaper and then adding all the rest of the layers and then hours later my worms were trying to wiggle out! If this happens just add a substantial amount of dry material; dirt, leaves, more newspaper, ect. and then leave the top off. The worms will wiggle to the dry materials and wait for better conditions below.

* I read later that it is better to add the worms to the newspaper then put food scraps on top of them..I think either way will work.

Next you put the food scraps you've collect from the week or past days. These can be moist or wet but food chunks need to be cut in small pieces. So bigger things like corn cobs or pineapple cores need to be cut up.

Then I lightly added a thin layer of potting mix/soil to soak up too much moisture caused by the food scraps. and put the worms right on top.

These hungry worms are getting right to work! Look at that worm ball to the left!! Holy Worms!

Then I added a thick layer of damp shredded newspaper over the worms.

Then closed the lid and placed it into another bin that has support in the bottom so the worm draining or worm tea as some call it will be caught in the bin.

I stuck it in a cool temp. place outside that doesn't get alot of light. You can keep them in your home or garage because they DO NOT SMELL! Will post updates on the worms and how their liking their new home. Then of course the next step is harvesting the compost!

Here are a few sites I used to get started.
How to Start Vermicomposting : Informative and hilarious video in this link on two guys making their worm bin.

Here is my newly built composting bin! Full to the brim.. I told my neighbor he was welcome to put his lawn trimmings and leaves in the compost box....Well he literally filled it to the top!! I had food scraps and some trimmings that came up to the second board and the rest was his! I know it will not decompose like this so I'm gonna have to figure out what to do with all those trimmings.  

I'm so glad to finally have good ways to decompose and use our waste to our advantage. Next on the list: RAIN BARREL! It will definitely be a future post for sure!

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