Archive for December, 2009

Worms again

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

Well, here I am and here is another worm report. Nothing special happened during this month. I relocated the bin, I added shredded paper and I tried to “harvest” the compost.

First inspection. I undertook the first real intervention into the worm, after I realized that the ventilation holes in the bin bottom got clogged by soggy cardboard and the liquid was flooding the bin, creating anaerobic conditions. It wasn’t a big disaster — I just cleared the ventilation holes with a chopstick and the STINKY liquid drained onto the trey. To see if there are survivors I scooped the upper layer of shredded paper and digged in the semi-decomposed matter with a chopstick. The worms survived and looked healthy, but it was absolutely impossible to tell how many of them died.

Moving the bin. As it has been getting colder, I was worried about my worms having to survive the Japanese winter. So I decided to move my worm bin to a place with a more or less stable temperature. Now the average temperature around the bin is about 10°C, which makes them much less active then in warm conditions.

Fruit flies. As I mentioned earlier, I noticed fruit flies but did noting until they turned into a real menace. To fight off their invasion, I stopped feeding my worms, hoping they they will eat everything all available food and leave nothing for fly larvae. However, due to cold weather worms didn’t eat everything they had been presented with and the bin is still attractive for the flies. Besides this, I added a thick layer of shredded paper in hope that the newly hatched flies get suffocated. Unfortunately, some of them still make it to the surface.

Gnats. Another species to improve biodiversity of my worm bin are fungus gnats. They made their way into the bin from my indoor plants (gotta write a post about my plants some day). The gnats, together with surviving flies, made me drill a large ventilation hole in the lid, cover it with a cloth and — finally —  tightly cover the bin. This helps control their population and contain them within the bin. Although greatly decreased in number, the flies and gnats are still there, so the final solution is still on my agenda.

Mites. After I put the lid, the air under it became much more humid and mites reappeared. I know that all this time they were around, but I never cared to look for them. Now I see many around the ventilation hole, which makes me conclude that they like dry place with a flow of fresh air. Still not sure how beneficial they are for the bin and for the worms.

Second inspection. A couple of days ago I surrendered to curiosity and carefully inspected the bin. I wanted to know if the worms are alive and if there’s any compost to “harvest”. Well, actually I was quite sure there’s a lot  of it, so instead of digging in the “substance”, I  scooped the upper layer of shredded paper (it’s a thick layer as I mentioned before), and just dumped the semi-decomposed matter on the sheets of newspaper that I put on the floor. Well, I have to admit that things were a little bit different than I had expected.

Bed quality. The cardboard that I had put on the bottom — although very wet — did not decompose. The food scraps that I had been adding for two months were at different stages of decomposition. So the lower layer of the bin looked quite far from homogeneous, well-structured, dark-brown vermicompost that I had expected to see. Although the bin contained a lot of worm poops, they were mixed with food, so actually there was nothing to harvest.

Worms. Although I have no easy way to assess their quantity, I think my worm population now is smaller than it used to be. There are a number of natural reasons for it.

  • First, when my worms arrived they looked quite healthy to an un-experienced guy like myself. Now they look much better and I realize that they must have suffered during transportation and a part of them must have died soon after arrival.
  • Second, what I bought was mostly adult worms, almost no youngsters and almost no cocoons. Few youngsters and few cocoons now means few adults later, so before the production of cocoons could catch up with the death of old worms, there should be a population decline (in sociological terms this is similar to “aging population”).
  • Third, I am afraid that the conditions were not exactly favorable for the worms (or they just differed much from the conditions at seller’s), especially since it got colder.

Fortunately, during the second inspection the worms looked very healthy and I found quite many cocoons, so my hope for a coming baby-boom is grounded.

The final word is about white worms (pot worms). They successfully colonized the entire bin, but — contrasted to red worms who tend to live in the middle layer in the center of the bin — are seen in high concentrations on the upper layers. After I put the lid and humidity increased, I permanently see half a dozen of them crawling on the walls and the lid surface (before it was too dry for them). It looks like they are the main vermicomposters in my bin. I’ll have to read more about every species’ preferences.