Monday, January 24, 2011

Let's make compost!

It's freezing cold out.

The dual-barrel compost tumber is both completely full, and completely frozen.

And down in the basement? The can-o-worms vermicomposter is also maxxed out - the bottom tray could probably have all the worms removed and I could add the worm castings to a tub, then take that emptied tray and put it on top of the other two, which are loaded with food scraps, damp shredded paper, and my work crew of worms....but they just don't work fast enough compared to the food scraps we've generated.

Buying another expensive worm composter is outta the question.

I haven't yet seen plans for a homemade worm composter that perfectly deals with all the issues I know you can run into - making sure the worms don't think of escaping, and draining excess moisture (aka worm pee) that's so great for the growies.

Soooo I tried rigging up something new a couple weeks ago:

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I know, you're wondering what the hell I'm up to now, right?

Well, what you see is two separate plastic shelving units - a three drawer unit on top, and a single drawer unit on the bottom. The two come from the same line of products and are designed to stack together.

Why the smaller drawer on the bottom? Because I wanted a convenient place to collect any worm pee that needed to drain out, and didn't feel like dedicating a BIG drawer for it - just not necessary.

The 3-drawer system doesn't have anything separating the drawers vertically - the bottom of one drawer just hangs over the open space of the drawer beneath it - PERFECT!

And the bottom single drawer unit? Well it has a white plastic top that's pretty sturdy.

So I drilled a BUNCH of holes in the bottom of the two big drawers that are maybe 1/8" around (think "worm sized"), and then in the white plastic top of the single-drawer unit I drilled SOME holes of the same size, plus a whole bunch of smaller holes. I don't want to encourage the worms to crawl down into the bottom unit, especially if it's collected a lot of worm pee, and then drown. Trust me - this has happened in the name brand can-o-worms I've had for a few years.

Stack it all together, and start loadin' it up! I started with the bottom large drawer, filling it with food scraps, and layering in some wet cardboard and a lot of damp, shredded newspaper. Once that was full, I started putting more of the food and damp newspaper in the next drawer up. Oh, and I also moved a bunch of worms over from the can-o-worms to the new worm bin.

Pretty cool! In fact, what I found really interesting was just after a few days, if you put your hand on the outside of the clear plastic drawers with all the scraps, you can feel warmth radiating out! I'm guessing that's a sign of the worms doing their job (plus perhaps just some flat out composting breaking-down goodness?).

So far no worms have gone down into the bottom drawer - why would they with all that good food.

And I really haven't had much liquid drip down into the bottom drawer, aside from a partial picture of water I poured in when first getting it started, just to make sure the cardboard wasn't TOO dry.

So now we wait and see how long it takes them to do their business and chew up all that stuff and leave lovely worm castings in it's place.

Oh, and I met a nice master gardener guy at a symposium Mary and I went to this past weekend who builds his own worm composter I've got an email out to him to share our plans and see how his contraption works.

I might be buying some more worms soon!

And if you're wondering what I'm doing with the castings, can see here one thing I'm trying out with them right now!
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Sherry said...

You are amazing. . . even in the dead of winter, you find a way to do gardening!

Hey! I got a Mac! Never thought I could make the switch. But my 5 year old Dell was dying a slow death and so many people kept telling me, "Get a Mac!" So I got a MacBook Pro and absolutely love it.

Jeph said...

Oh congrats on your new toy! I am definitely not a Mac person. I have a MacBook Pro for work, so that I can test code on the various computers/browsers, but a lot of the UI just doesn't come naturally to me. Yes, it's definitely attractive looking, but I'm not a fan of how apps work, are accessed, etc. Oh well, it gets the job done! ;-)

Chris said...

Good idea with the stacked drawers. Much easier than DIY stacked bins. I'm just afraid you might decapitate a couple of worms when you open a drawer. Any such experiences?

Cathy Gilchrist said...

Hi Jeph...stumbled onto your blog and have been having a blast reading your posts! I'm dying to know if the drawers worked for your worms? I want to start my own composting colony and I love this idea

Jeph said...

Hi guys - sorry - I seem to have missed the last two comments here... I stopped using the drawers after about a year, mostly because of their smaller size, and I felt I was likely to overstuff them, plus not maintain them as well. Since I've got the three-tray worm bin, and also a couple plain old Rubbermaid tubs now, the drawers were just that much more work to slide open and closed and, as I said there was the size issue. Bigger drawers would probably be great.

Chris - I didn't notice any decapitations, but it IS possible. I worry about the same thing with the stackable tower trays because whenever I lift the lid off, there's always some worms on the lid, near the edge, etc and while I'm putting food scraps in, someone tries to make a run for the edge (I don't think they're trying to escape - they're just moving around). Between that and using a large kitchen spoon to lift up bedding to add more scraps, I know I've chopped some worms over the years. It's never intentional, but it happens. I remind myself that worms can recover from minor wounds (no, you won't likely get two worms from cutting one in half) they're sort of a bit mindless, and hopefully aren't too aware?

Cathy - Thanks! Unfortunately I don't maintain the blog as much as I used to. These days I'm more likely to just post a pic with quick comment on Facebook.

Like I said above, the worm drawers DID work, but I started off with a smaller drawer system, AND sometimes I can go for weeks or longer before checking on the worms. In the bigger systems (the worm tower/trays, and the big Rubbermaid tubs), there's sort of a critical mass that keeps everything moist and they can finish off EVERY bit of scrap and shredded paper and they still do fine. With the small drawers, I'm afraid I let them dry out at some point. I just told myself that the worm castings were also benefiting from composted critters. And BOY do garden/house plants green up a short while after giving them a dosage of castings/worm pee!

I've found a much simpler method than the drawers and even the stackable trays. I know we're told we're supposed to always have drainage, and I've seen where people have a Rubbermaid tub with holes drilled in the bottom and various methods to siphon off the worm pee (funnels and tubes, another tub underneath to catch it, etc)...but seriously, I've had two Rubbermaid tubs in our basement for probably a year or more, and I just pile scraps and shredded paper in them, alternating between them and the tower depending on which I kinda sorta remember loading stuff into the last few times, and that's it. I don't drain the tubs (so no, I'm not getting the perks of diluting worm pee into my plants), but they're also not drowning in there. I don't clamp down the lids, and I found a sheet of burlap a little bigger than the top helped take care of all the fruit fly problems I had for awhile. Worms, scraps, shredded paper to cover it all, a piece of burlap overhanging the top, and then the lid rested on and maybe only one side clamped - SUPER easy. Then when I need castings, I go in and scoop into a garden bucket and use it where needed. Sure, some worms get chopped - but they could also get picked out of the soil by a robin. I don't separate out the worms from the castings - I figure they'll help in the garden. Maybe they're not winter hardy for this area, but they've had a great life until then.

Sorry I've babbled on - but hopefully there's some good tips here you can pick and choose from.