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What Makes A Worm Bin Tick?
February 14, 2018
What Makes A Worm Bin Tick?
Hint: It's understanding their natural habitat
Greetings Fellow Vermicomposters,
As we get ready to warm up and think about the spring approaching (YEAH!!!), I’d like to go over the basics of vermicomposting. Even if you’ve been worm farming for a year or two, you’d do well by listening to what I’m about to discuss.
I get many emails from people, who’ve been composting for 2 or more years, concerning how their worm bin has become a disaster. They say, “The worm farm has been going well for 2 years. All the sudden, all hell has broken loose! WHAT HAPPENED?!”
I can always narrow it down to the five fundamentals of worm composting. As a matter of fact, most of the time, I can narrow it down to one thing...Overfeeding (the root of all evil in vermicomposting). We’ll discuss this shortly.
Many “experienced” worm farmers will tell you worms will eat anything. So, it doesn’t matter what you feed, if it’s in moderation, right? This gets people into more trouble than I care to discuss.
Not entirely wrong, but this can potentially be bad advice.
Yes! Worms WILL eat anything, as long as it has become stable enough to do so. You know, the bad stuff you’re not supposed to feed worms like, dairy, onions, meats, citrus, etc., Eventually, it becomes stable enough to be consumed by the worms.
There are many that feed their worms strict diets of coffee grounds and grains. This is something that is gradual and not all at once. I would never tell someone that it’s okay to do so, UNLESS they first understood what worms LIKE VS NEED.
Remember growing up and being told to eat all your ??? This is the NEED part and not the LIKE part. We know worms seem to prefer some foods over others, but I'll get to this shortly as well.
My commitment is to teach you the fundamentals of vermicomposting, so you’ll be able to understand the inner workings of worms, recycling, and the production of castings and cocoons.
However, you can’t control it if you don’t understand it. In order to understand the needs of worms, we have to understand the natural environment they live in.
Soooo, grab your favorite beverage and Let’s begin!
One of my favorite things about worms is, They Never Change! They're the same yesterday as they will be tomorrow, hugely predictable. The only thing that changes is technology and techniques. Worms will always need what they've needed for millennia.
Picture the forest floor. Is it loaded with the same things you’re feeding the worms? If you’re feeding them loads of kitchen scraps, is this mimicking what’s found in nature? Probably not. So why do worms seem to love the high nitrogen content of kitchen scraps?
Kitchen scraps have much softer tissue than carbon material, and microbes are the FOOD of worms. Since it’s much easier for microbes to break down the soft tissue faster, it’s much easier to slurp down the microbes attached to the nitrogen food source. Easy, right?
So, it appears worms “love” the nitrogen over the carbon, but it’s just much simpler to digest. However, with all this nitrogen and no carbon to balance it, worms can succumb to high shifts in PH balance. Too acidic (for too long or heavy swings in acidity) causes worms to gas up and look like a string of pearls (Unless you're using a PH balancing mineral to help release the carbonate) Also, too much nitrogen brings in a host of pests and many other problems.
I know it’s tempting to add a lot of table scraps, but it’s not always best for their diet. Some worm farmers will succeed with this, but there are many variables at play and when something DOES go wrong (which eventually it will) you need to know WHY and how to correct it.
I’ve read many experiments going awry with only nitrogen foods. I’m not against these experiments, but one should understand how to correct it when they DO go awry.
Therefore, it’s paramount in understanding the fundamentals in order for you to correct the system, then take it where you want from there on, but if you DON’T understand it, you CAN’T correct it either.
Remember, that microbes ARE the main food source for worms. Anything you place in a worm bin like, nitrogen, carbon, minerals, or a mix of C:N (manure) is all food.
Many are tempted to load the system with nitrogen foods because they seek to raise the “N” levels on the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) spectrum. It’s a common conception to think that, the higher the NPK, the better the plant will yield. YES & NO!
If you’re using chemical fertilizers, you’ll want a higher NPK ratio than that of worm castings. If you’re using worm castings, the high amounts of NPK will work against the plant as it tries to communicate with the soil. You CANNOT bring “chemical thinking” to an “organic doing” process or mindset.
Is it important to have SOME levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium among others?
Yes, it’s still important, but worm castings are relatively low in NPK ratios such as 1-2-1, 1-1-1, 2-2-1, 3-2-1, or 2-3-2 and so on. The lower levels allow the plant to communicate with the soil (outside of all the high levels of “noise” salts/amonia) for optimum plant nutrition. This is based on the available carbon and the already present microorganisms, and macroorganisms within the soil. Carbon is one of the most important material for foods within the soil-food-web.
Okay, sorry to get a little distracted, but I must lay down some prerequisites. We can discuss the whole plant communication thing later if everyone wants to get into that. just let me know by hitting reply :) and I'll make it a newsletter, especially with the planting season coming.
Carbon is the main diet that all worms in nature feed on, and we’re TRYING to mimic nature, right?
The 5 most fundamental elements required for ANY TYPE OF WORM SYSTEM AT ALL are:
1. Temperature 2. Moisture 3. Darkness 4. Food 5. Air
AND…Carbon (in the form of dead leaves, dead wood, dead grass, etc) is the most valuable in helping the floor to maintain these elements. Carbon provides many benefits on the forest floor.
1. Carbon helps shade. Worms are found under the leaves shaded from the sun which can kill them.
2. Carbon provides aeration as it’s not compacted, like that of nitrogen foods.
3. Carbon provides a moisture blanket and will not heat up when decomposing, like that of nitrogen foods.
4. Through many things listed above, carbon helps keep temperatures down as well as slightly elevated when temps drop. Carbon provides the necessary insulation in winter and breakage from wind, and Most importantly...
5. CARBON IS FOOD
Carbon is found on the forest floors, wooded areas, and grasslands in abundance. Worms will eat the decaying fruit of trees, animal manure, or dead animals on occasion, but ONLY when the condition is stable enough and NOT in abundance, like that of carbon.
You know! The healthy fall leaves that you bag up and get rid of every year? Yeah, THAT CARBON!
This is why it’s important to maintain a C:N ratio between 20:1 or 40:1 or below/above that ratio. It doesn’t need to be an exact science. Understand, you need a lot more carbon than nitrogen. When worms have finished consuming the nitrogen, feed them some more, or wait a few days while they continue to feed on the carbon.
Keep in mind, worms would normally be found on the outer edges or underneath the heap of nitrogen matter (animal droppings, dead carcass, fallen fruit), and only in the center, if conditions are right/stable. This is usually rare, much like an outside compost pile. If the entire compost pile is stable, cool, and well aerated, you’ll most likely see worms in the middle. However, a compost pile is usually loaded with carbon anyway.
So, this is how a worm bin ticks, just like in nature. Understanding the fundamentals will allow you to control, correct, and maintain your worm bin for several years to come and beyond, ever increasing in nutritional castings and worm production.
If you would like to print out the 5 fundamentals of worm farming, you can do so by going to the web page: 5 Fundamentals of Worm Farming Cheat Sheet.
Many of you will be starting a worm bin this year or may already be having issues.
I hope this broadens your perspective into the world of vermicomposting and helps empower you to improve dynamically.
Recycle & Grow Something Amazing! ~Pauly
P.S. You have one more chance to get an Urban Worm Bag from Steve Churchill for the Y(H)UGE discounted price. $30 off the discounted price of $109. PLUS, a free Worms Eat my Garbage, 35th anniversary, 3rd edition paperback book.
However, For those of you who purchase on Amazon, please send Steve an e-mail with your receipt (or whatever proof of purchase you're comfortable sending) and he'll send you a free copy of the 35th anniversary of the late "Worm Woman" Mary Appelhof's Worms Eat My Garbage, the seminal book on vermicomposting that popularized the practice in the US in the 1970s.
Through February 2018 ONLY!
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