Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I have worm fever!

Worms! Who would have known?

I can't even remember how it started now, but somehow the spark ignited and all of a sudden I had to be composting ASAP. I did some preliminary research and it was actually pretty easy to start something like this up in a small home or apartment. I have no yard, so it would have to be something that I could do easily on my patio or in a small space near the kitchen. This seemed to be pretty easy.

As someone who has ideals about DIY I looked for a way that I could build such a device for cheap, and on my own. First a little bit about worms. Keep in mind that this is from my own textual research on the internet (it never lies right?) not from experience or any kind of scientific research.

Worms are one of the worlds great garbage disposals. Some worms in particular are exceptionally good at turning food type wastes (salad leftovers, tea bags, coffee grounds, fruit rinds) into what amounts to the best thing you can do for your plants. There are 2 basic by products of worms doing what worms do:
  • Castings: This looks a lot like dirt, and it is kind of like that in its applications and uses, but it is very nutrient dense and works great as something to add to soil as a great nutrient boost

  • Tea: This is a liquid that is a byproduct of the activity of the worms. It is great as a source of plant food (read natural fertilizer) and can be used diluted as such



In my sittuation, apart from a few basic house plants I actually have very little use for either compost or tea. Why, praytel, would I want to go to all the hassle of setting up a composting system when I can't reap the benefits directly? Quite simply it is the right thing to do. While the city of Seattle does offer yard waste/compost collection they do not offer it for my apartment complex. So my food scraps go into a land fill where they benefit no one. In addition I know of several people who CAN take advantage of the wonderful work that my worms will be doing and they would likely share any veggie bounty that they have with me :).

There are a ton of great resources around on the net (see resources below) on getting started with your own Worm Bin for composting. Stuff as simple as getting a Tupperware container and drilling a few holes, to things much more elaborate. I chose to go with a simple Tupperware container system that should allow me to collect both Castings and Tea from my little buddies. I found the directions for this system at the Seattle Tilth resources page about compost. The system from that page I decided to build was the Off-the-Shelf Worm Bin. This looked pretty simple and something I could do pretty quickly.

So I printed off the plans and set out to build my bin.

Shopping List



  • 2x medium sized Rubbermaid storage containers with lids. Make sure they are dark in color. Also there is no need to go more then about 24" deep or so, shallow is better then deep.

  • 10x 1" Louvre vents

  • 2x 2" Louvre vents

  • 1x Male Garden Hose adaptor

  • 1x Female Garden Hose adaptor with some type of shut off valve

  • 1x Washer for sealing the garden hose adaptor where it penetrates the Rubermaid tubs

  • 1x Teflon thread tape


Pretty simple right? It was for the most part.

I had trouble finding 1" Louvre vents, and the 2" vents that I found came in packs of 6. I purchased 2 packs of 6 and installed them all into the bin.

Also The Home Depot has a really poor selection of the fittings required for this job, which I discovered pretty quickly. Lowes has a much better selection I found, and so bought all my supplies there.

Construction


So the construction of these bins is dead simple, I'll give some basic instructions but your best bet is to print off the very good documentation from the Seattle Tilth website (Download Here).

For the purposes of these instructions I will use the terms Bin 1 and Bin 2. There is no difference starting out, just be sure to keep them straight.


  1. Bin 1: Flip the bin over and drill 20 or so evenly spaced holes using a 1/4" drill bit. This is important for ventilation in your bin. Proper circulation prevents anaerobic zones which can bread some pretty nasty stuff.

  2. Bin 1: On the long sides drill 2" holes evenly spaced apart. I used a hole saw and put 4 holes on each side.

  3. Lid of Bin 1: Drill 4x 2" holes evenly spaced around the lid.

  4. Bin 1, and Lid of Bin 1: install the 2" Louvre vents into the 12 holes you just drilled. On the vents located on the side of the bin, there is an up direction that should be marked on the vents. Be sure to install them according to that marking.

  5. Bin 2: Close to the bottom, on one of the sizes drill a 1" hole. I used a spade bit for this. Be Careful, I had my drill spinning at very high RPM's and ended up damaging the bin (the hole was much larger then it should have been). I had to get a 2nd bin and drill much slower. This Worked much better for me.

  6. Bin 2: Attach the garden hose adapter to the bin. The male end goes on the inside with the washer between the male piece and the bin (this is what seals in the tea, so it should be water tight). Don't forget to put 3-4 wraps of Teflon tape to keep the threads nice and tight.



Now make sure that your valve is closed and drop Bin 1 into Bin 2. The vents on the side should clear the edge of the bottom bin (for ventilation). Now you are ready to put in the material.

Installation


I used a combination of shreded newspaper and cardboard. I was a bit unsure as to how big I should shred the paper and so I ended up making it about 1/4 the size of one full newspaper size. I crumpled these up a bit and put them in a 5 gallon bucket and put in some water. The trick is to put in enough water to soak your paper and get it good and wet. Then squeeze out most of the water and put it into your bin. The paper should be about as wet as a wet sponge, if that helps (it didn't really help me much). I filled my bin up about 1/2 full of paper and cardboard.

They say you should let your bin settle for a week or so to make sure it is good and redy for worms.

Worms


There are a few different kinds of worms, not all of which are great at being your leftover disposals. The worms you want fall into the Manure or compost worms category. By far the most popular variety of worms for composting are the Red Wiggler worms. Unless you have a need to use your worms as bait in addition to composting then I would stick with the Red Wigglers, otherwise you could try the European Night crawlers, which serve both purposes.

Now what


We have a problem


OK I have my worms and they are in the bin, and they have some veg to rock out to, now what? Well for some that is about the end of the line, they happily collect the food scraps and offer them to the worms. For whatever reason I have some fundamental issue that prevents me from leaving well enough alone. The main problem I have with the worm bin that I finished building a few days ago, is that I worry my compost will not be aerated enough. The bins fit in very tight with each other, they create pretty much an air tight seal. So while there are air holes in the bottom of Bin 1 they are not able to breathe properly because they are set into Bin 2. I'm afraid my worms are going to be very unhappy. Of course I don't know this to be true, and the plans supposedly produce a very good worm bin, but like I said I have an issue. So I needed another solution.

Almost, but not quite


I did what every self respecting nerd does when he is feeling light on information, I went to the internet. What I found was several sites that offered different, slightly more complicated DIY systems that seem to deal with this issue specifically.

One such system put ABS drain piping through the side of the tub and wrapped it in landscape fabric. This provided a tube circulating air that seems like it would offer pretty good ventilation and a mostly easy hack to what I had already.

Another system is what is called a pass-through system where you put the material into the top of a big barrel and at the bottom you access the end product. This had the benefit of cutting down the hassle of harvesting your castings (you literally just scoop them out with a shovel). That was appealing because removing material from my system seemed like a real PITA. The down side here is that it was a lot bigger (think 55 gallon drum) and required me to do some creative scavenging for the barrel in the first place. Which I'm not opposed to, but given the size issue it didn't seem to work for my apartment.

Solution


Then I came across some videos on YouTube going over the process of setting up a drop in solution called Can-of-Worms. The first of the videos can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A9fq8WDN9g. In addition to having great information about setting up a Wormery the videos are pretty entertaining, which is nice. Anyway, the videos got me thinking about other solutions such as the Can-o-Worms and I eventually came across the Worm Factory line of products. Of which I purchased the 360 version of. You can see the manufactuers website here: http://www.cascadewormbin.com/. I really liked that they are a Bellingham company. When I purchased I went with a great company out of Lake Stevens who sells a bunch of great Vermiculture supplies as well as worms. They are called Northwest Wigglers (http://northwestwigglers.com/) and buying from them was great, I'll definitely consider them again for worm related purchases.

The idea with these systems is that you have a series of four trays and one sump. The sump goes on the bottom and catches the precious worm tea, and you put one tray on top of it. In the bottom of that tray you put your worms, and then a layer of nice tasty snacks for them. As the first tray gets full you simply put another tray on the top and start filling it with food for your worms. The worms eventually will move up through the trays into the food they want to eat and leave you with what you want in the bottom trays. The trays keep rotating from the top to the bottom of the system. They provide good air circulation and process quite a lot of scraps (7-14 lbs per day). A lot more then we can produce I'm expecting.

I've not used this yet, but I think it will assay my fears about me becoming an worm murderer in the near future.

That is all for now, I'll try and keep you updated as my Vermiculture progress'

Resources



  • Seattle Tilth: http://www.seattletilth.org/

  • Cascade Manufacturing Sales, Inc.: http://www.cascadewormbin.com/

  • Yelm Worms: http://yelmworms.com/

  • Northwest Wigglers: http://northwestwigglers.com/

  • Sky Nursery: http://www.skynursery.com/ (closes place near me that sells some supplies)