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whenever i see vermicompost at the garden store, it is a very nice crumbly, semi-moist consistency. to start out (after harvesting) mine is always very pasty, smooshy, gooey, however you want to say it. when i let it dry it gets a hard crusty exterior as it dries, them becomes rock hard.
i want to use it primarily for soil blocks. how do i "process" it to get the consistency i want? mix it with the rest of my soil block mix ingredients immediately after harvesting? does anyone have a way that works for you?
I would mix it immediately, then make the whole mix the right moisture level to make into blocks.
If it dries out you just have to wet it again to break it up.
If you need to store up enough until you are ready to make the blocks how about mixing it with one of the ingredients of the soil blocks, for example fine compost or peat moss. Blend it well when you harvest, then label the package so you know what % you have.
What is the top layer in your worm boxes? If the material under the worm castings is loose and friable, how about skimming a bit deeper when you harvest and include that material? Then call it 50% worm castings.
I'm working with a vermicomposting tutor who uses straight Canadian peat moss (fine grade), purchased at Lowe's/Home Depot for his bedding. He keeps his red wiggler bins dryer than most recommendations (dryer than the wrung out sponge...), and mists his bedding as necessary.
I think he gets the beautiful coffee-grind like compost you're looking for...he harvests about 1"-2" of finished vermicompost and stores it in a covered, 5-gallon bucket, adding enough water to keep it moist, but not mucky.
i use mostly paper & coir, altho not much coir, i must admit. this is my office bin. my home bin gets more coir, and now that i think about it, is not so mucky. but my work worms are more productive--it must be the environment!
i will mess with the ratio of coir, and experiment with peat moss altho i just don't know what to believe any more re: the sustainability of coir vs. canadian peat moss.
There is a concern about the sustainability of peat. Some say that we are using ti faster than nature can form it.
Peat takes a very long time to form; some say centuries. Coir is the by-product of the coconut industry. Some
coir has really high salt content.so would not be appropriate for worms used right out of the package. It must be
soaked for quite a while to leach the salt out.. Peat does not have this problem.
I was just looking at a report where plants were tested growing in coir and peat. The peat performed better except
coir had better moisture holding qualities.
I have my worms in coir and have had trouble starting. Once the bin gets established, the worms seem to be fine.
I do continue to pour water over my bins, keeping them really wet. In hot weather, I pour five gallons of water every
other day over my 24 gal. bins. I have read where the worms won't drown if they have enough oxygen in the water
They breathe through their skin, absorbing oxygen.
I am just finishing a flow-through worm bin using a 24 gal plastic tub from lowes. (Pictures to follow...when done?
We just had a fire at the ole shack so it will be a while until I can return to the shop. Electric panel; lots of smoke
damage and stink,,, YUK. Insurance is on it. Living in a motel until shack is repaired.???)
This will allow me to harvest castings out the bottom without having to put too many worms back in the top. Red worms
live and work in the top 3 or 4" of the bin.
what i see come out more is that we are harvesting more than the few millmeters that generate annually, and destroy the bogs themselves.i have been using coir, altho not a lot of it. worms seem very happy, i just wish the consistency of my harvested compost was nice to work with.
lonejack, i am sorry to hear about your fire. i hope you & yours are all safe.
Unfortunately lonejack there are few sustainable resources left on planet Earth. The trees we use to make paper and cardboard are probably in as much danger if not more than peat moss. Choir is not available in our neck of the woods, but being close to the Canadian border peat moss is at a decent price too. I have been looking into outdoor vermicomposting using aged cow manure, rotten straw or hay, leaves, wood chip fines, and coffee grounds, all of which are readily available here basically free for the asking. Windrowing or cool composting as some would refer this method is greatly enhanced with the addition of red wigglers seeded in the spring from indoor compost bins. The resulting fertilize after about 120 days is 4 to 5 time more effective than composting without the addition of worms.
These piles or windrows start with a ten inch layer of these materials and can be added to until they reach three feet in depth, then it's time to start a new pile or row adjacent to the previous one. Worms will travel to the food and taking ten inches off the top of the previous pile or row to seed the new pile or row after about 120 days, leaves the previous row ready to use.
I just recently spoke to an old friend, Stan Brown of Brown Bear Auger about making a walk behind auger which could turn a windrow in a matter of minutes. No one to my knowledge has developed anything like this as yet. Stan feels there may not be a market for such a tool. Hopefully he will change his mind. If more people would get into this outdoor vermicomposting I think someone will develop such a tool.
Just South of the Portland area, I witnessed a large dairy, about 200 cows, that uses vermicomposting to process their
cow waste. The liquid was treated in an open lagoon. The solids, with straw mixed was composted in an open pit about
20' X 50' long.
They had a huge compost turner that would mix the compost, moving it backward about 10' every day. The day's fresh
manure was dumped in the void at the front of the pile. The turner straddled the pit, running from old compost at the
outside end to new composted material at a covered end. The old compost was then spread on a worm trench that was
a ditch running about 200 yards up the access road.
When the composted material reached the end of the road. The dairy began to scoop about 6", containing the worms,
from the top of the beginning worm pile over to the other side of the road. Then they would dump the day's compost
on the top of the moved worms.
They scooped the remaining compost with worm castings into a holding pile to finish composting for about 2 months.
They were able to sell this compost with castings for about $50 a ton. When you buy Black Gold potting soil, it contains
worm castings from this dairy farm.
Contrary to popular belief, the paper industry is very self sustainable, now they have developed special species of tree.
In Central Oregon, Potlatch Forests, has a huge cottonwood tree plantation. When you drive East on Hwy. 84, the plantation
stretches for about 5 miles. When you can glimpse the depth of the plantation, you can't see the end over a hill at least
a mile in the distance. These trees produce pulp in about 4 to 5 years and are replanted as soon as harvested.
Here in Western Washington, pulp trees are the biggest cash crop for many small are large holders. We get enough rain
to grow these trees without irrigation.
So having said this, using paper for worm bedding is using a sustainable product. The only problem I have with paper are
the chemicals used to produce the paper. Although, the worms don't seem to mind.
lonejack, the dairy farm vermicompost operation is pretty much what I did with municipal wastewater sludge starting in the mid70's, but without compost worms. Unfortunately I didn't connect my vermiculturing with vermicomposting at that time. Would have been a nice addition to our experiment back then. You comment about the length of time it would take using a windrow auger pretty much verify my thoughts. With all the horse and cow manure available here in the valley large scale vermicompostin would be an attractive idea, however few people garden here due to the short season and tuff climatic situations. Potatoes are an excellent crop though and the combination of these two gardening procedures would probably do well in Montana.
I agree that tree farms do seem to be sustainable even though they are pretty intensive compared to "natural forests" where trees might take 20-80 years to mature, and all the wood returns to humus.
Some usage of peat moss can be replaced by pine bark fibers and fines, though it holds less water. It certainly breaks down MUCH slower, in the soil! Fir and balsam bark are also excellent soil amendments and mulches.
I thought cottonwoods only grew along streams or over a high water table!
I can speak on tree farming, as I have had 2 farms in West Virginian and now here in Virginia. We replant with White pines which are in demand for puplwood. They grow very quickly but are neither sprayed nor watered, all we do is mow between the rows if possible. They are mature enough in 15 years to be harvested and the cycle begins again. As they are not heavy feeders, the time between plantings is long enough to keep the soil naturally fertile, even in the WVA mountains.
I have no reservations whatsoever about using shredded newspaper or printing paper for vermicomposting or as mulch in my garden. I just wish they would quit making the glossy sales papers because they are questionable as to chemical makeup and are not very absorbent.
I've tried 100% coir as bedding but the microorganisms that break it down don't do it very quickly, and that makes for some unhappy worms. I try to keep the mix 60% paper and 40% coir. I don't add shredded leaves or dirt as I'm afraid of bringing unwanted visitors into my house, such as ticks.
I don't let my vc get hard. I am too afraid of killing the baby worms. I just take a scoop and put it on per-moistened ground... them water it in a bit. If I am making a tea I make it really quickly for the same reason. Don't want to kill the little ones.
I don't think you need to worry about killing off baby worms - under favorable conditions your red wiggler worm population will multiply rapidly. A mature red wiggler (3 months old) can produce two to three cocoons per week. Each cocoon averages three hatchlings. Cocoons take up to 11 weeks to mature and hatch. Hatchlings require two to three months before they grow to be mature breeding worms.
Population productivity over 11 week incubation period:
1 worm x 3 cocoons/wk x 3 hatchlings/cocoon = 9 hatchlings/wk
11 weeks x 9 hatchlings/wk = 99 hatchlings/worms
In two to three months those hatchlings will be mature breeders, producing offspring of their own. At the same time, their parents are continuing to mate and create offspring.
Actually, worms don't mate they are both female at the front end and male at the rear end.
At the front the slip has eggs deposited in it and as it slips back along the worm the eggs
are fertilized by the rear male part. If you pick up a mature worm, you can see slips at various
stages down the body.
I know I am a bit weird but I don't want to take the life of something I did not give birth too (unless it is a roach, slug or snail... they just have to go). I want them all to be happy worms. I have drowned a few in my day. And my worms are spoiled! They will have a honeydew melon this weekend... all of it!