Monday, May 3, 2010

Tower Test: The Which Way is Up? Wormery

Can Verne Read a Compass?*

Success or failure? Depends on your needs, I guess. Can you add bokashi directly to a smaller worm unit, without pre-composting, using this technique? Seems so, though more testing’s probably a good idea. Will your worms die or run away? Not based on current evidence, though perhaps Verne is special. Will you get vermicompost out of it? Yes, in time. Am I planning on adding it to my rotation? Not on your gamma seal! Though I may try something midway between this and my usual worm-feeding practice, one of these days…

I’m recovering from a bokashi shortage, so when the debatable item I decided to add anyway turned out to be unsuited for a household bucket, I just tossed in an extra scoop of EM bokashi bran and set the container aside to cure a little longer than standard. When I opened the bucket, there was evidence of fermentation (vinegar scent and visible acetobacters), but not nearly enough to make me happy. I really should have added more EM bokashi bran and stuck it back in its corner awhile, but I’m impatient as well as lazy, and having found the ambition to empty that bucket, I didn’t want to waste it. The ambition, I mean. Or the bokashi, come to think of it. –G–

How lazy am I? I’m so lazy that the idea of mixing cured bokashi and dried leaves in a one to one ratio and setting the mix aside, covered, sometimes sounds like too much work. Why should I have to play personal chef for Verne? Other people get fine results adding food directly to a wormery; in larger outdoor units, including cured bokashi. I wanted to skip the pre-composting step. And the mixing. And (always!) the sweeping.

Bokashi is acidic, and worms like acid about as much as your average wicked witch likes water. Too, wet bokashi + dry or barely damp carbon = heat. Not necessary fatal-to-worms temperatures, but even without that, a sudden jump in bedding temp is not guaranteed to make your worms happy. (And, no, I still can’t tell a happy worm by sight, except that I figure if they’re in the towers and planters for me to see them, they must not be too unhappy. Or they’d leave.) Adding bokashi directly to any of the 1 to 2-gallon planters I use for wormery trays is not a good idea. Before I gave it up as too risky, I even had troubles when doing the pre-composting in a no-worms planter just beneath the planted layer in a tower wormery, when gravity pulled bokashi juice from that tray, through the empty one beneath, and into the top wormy planter. Imagine the high-pitched screams: “I’m mel-ting!” Thank you, no.

But Verne’s not as cautious about bokashi as I am on his behalf; some of his aggregate members have infiltrated pre-composting worm-food trays many, many days before I’d thought it safe. While I’d never seen him go after unamended bokashi, perhaps he might! And it would be so much more convenient to set the stuff someplace he could get to it whenever he wished, a space safe from Repulsive and those nasty sharp-nosed rat-tailed possums. If only there were some way to keep the too-strong liquid from dripping down on his little red heads… Yep, I stuck the bokashi layer beneath the worm tray. All the vermi-lit says that composting worms move UP toward food, but as I’ve noted before, Verne doesn’t read. He can find his way into a thirty gallon trash bin doing duty as a cold compost container; a simple reverse shouldn’t be much trouble! So I risked the health of a single tray and assembled a stack of planters: one leaf-filled planter instead of a reservoir, one filled with the well-cured but mediocre bokashi, one layer from an active wormery, and an “emergency hatch” layer on top: a few inches of moistened soil beneath a heavy clay saucer, in case contact with the bokashi altered the pH of the active layer too much and the worms needed to run away.

A week after assembly, there was only one worm beneath the saucer. A collection of wrigglers in the active tray. And some uncounted number in the bokashi layer, mostly younger (smaller) ones, healthy enough to wriggle away from light, and showing no reluctance to dive deeper into the bokashi.


The mediocre bokashi’s smell had concentrated rather than dissipating as it would have in a composting or worm-food planting. One whiff, and I wasn’t about to pester Verne for a headcount. I didn’t even lift that tray to check the status of that leafy reservoir, just hurriedly dropped the worm planter back on top to keep the smell from spreading! Had it not been a mediocre ferment, the smell would have been less overpowering, but the issue remains: a full tray of bokashi, unamended by dried leaves, finished compost, or soil, may retain its odor for some time after assembly.

So this belongs in the same drawer as the clean-the-fridge bokashi bucket. Something to assemble and set aside in an area out of doors, not in direct sun, secure against pests and weather, and sufficiently out of the way that it can sit, undisturbed, for at least one month, and likely two or three.

As I said up top, this is not something I’m planning on doing routinely--I don’t really have a secure enough space, and it’s not all that much work to mix some dried leaves or porch sweepings into the cured bokashi--but this feed-from-below model may prove useful for me. Space is always a concern; if I could add food to the towers without a separate pre-composting area, that really would help! Too, though I have no shortage of dried leaves here at home, that may not always be the case. Nice to have options.

Even if I am going back to my standard one-to-one. At least the neighbors will be happy, as that does mean I have to sweep.

*Blogger's still not giving me an image option! Grr.


Phil said...

A wormery is a fantastic addition to any garden. Not only does it reduce unecessary food waste going to landfill it also provides you with high quality compost.
Watch your garden blossom with the help of a wormery. You can even decompose meat and bones, helping stop your bin smelling awful too!

D. S. Foxx said...

Well, meat's rather a debatable addition to your wormery. Folks with large outdoor units sometimes add limited quantities of meat, and I'll add scraps to the bokashi bucket, which may subsequently be pre-composted and fed to the worms, but it's not generally advised for all wormeries.

I assume that second "bin" means "trash can"; in which case, very true.