Monday, July 26, 2010

Tales From the Bucket: Hands Off That Worm(ery)

(image from IMDB, came up in a search for "worm dude". Don't ask.)

The bucket wormery was harvested mid-November or thereabouts, at which point I refilled the bucket half and half with cured bokashi and porch sweepings (that's “dried leaves” to most folks, though sweeping off a deck picks up different stuff than raking a lawn). It occurred to me just after adding the bokashi that there were almost certainly still a few small or stubborn worms clinging to the sides and seams of the bucket—I'd overturned it to collect the vermicompost, but hadn't bothered to rinse it out or anything.

Oh, well. Seeing as I hadn't killed any worms in a while, I tossed another dozen into the mix and decided to call it a test. Small population, lots of food guaranteed to heat but a good mix for wormfood aside from that, no modifications.


This bucket is the basic homebrew jr. wormery, nested kitty litter buckets with a spigot for drainage and holes in the upper rim and lid. But I have no tolerance for fruitflies, so my jr. got a cotton pillowcase snood fairly early on in its career, and I've never seen any reason to reclaim it. Once the bucket was full, I scrunched the pillowcase on, making sure it covered all the vent-holes, then shoved the whole thing underneath my outdoor seedling table. Where it remained. No insulation even during our hard freeze, no added water, no stirring, no dusting of eggshells, and no peeking.

Until spring. Around the time the BSFL were waking from hibernation, I decided to check on that bucket. Looked really pretty, lots of dark brown threaded with wriggling red, but I wasn't prepared to harvest that day, so I just tossed them some UCG and a few crushed eggshells to tide them over and went on my way.

Took another two months for me to get around to that harvest, so I'm glad I gave them that snack, but I think they might have been all right anyway. I pulled a respectable few cups of worms out during the harvest, along with eight beautiful liters of pure vermicompost all rich and dark and so very different from the less mature, soil-amended stuff I harvest more regularly (or at least more frequently) from the tower wormeries.

Not the most controlled experiment ever, but definitely worth doing again! For large planters, I prefer the soil-amended vermicompost, but for seedling mixes and soil-free applications having pure vermicompost is pretty much required. Also, it's a whole lot better suited to making compost tea*.

The planter towers are more immediately useful—I grow things in the tops—but there's something to be said for the no-tend model. No BSFL, no squash bug larvae, no fruitflies, no ants. Told myself that next time I'd be kinder to the worms, mix the leaves and bokashi in a worm-free unit to let it cook, but I didn't. Just as soon as I'd finished chortling over the total harvest, I tossed some leaves into the still-unrinsed bucket. And then some bokashi. And a dozen worms.

Hey, why mess with what works?

In a few generations, I might think about mixing some worms in from another colony. Other than that, I think this is part of the rotation. To a lot of vermicomposters, of course, this is heresy—planning to neglect the worms!—but I'm still working on the two-touch container garden (plant and harvest with no tending between). Always assuming I don't manage to cook this set before they produced some cocoons, I think this one's ready for cloning to my satellite locations.

Good thing my friends all know I'm obsessed. "Hi! How'd you like to foster a wormery? Junior's no trouble at all, just leave him tucked up in his blankie. I'll be back in a few months."


*or AIM, but that's a whole post on its own!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don’t Try This At Home

—no, wait, I’m not your mother! Do whatever you like. But this may present a slight hazard in some situations…

Some little while ago, I tried a reclaimed bit of peat-based potting mix as an absorbent material in the bottom of a mini bokashi bucket, yet another version of the no-drain model some folks seem to prefer. Worked very well with drier materials, though it was pretty easy to overwhelm and correcting moisture levels isn’t nearly as simple without a drain. But the bokashi it produced was a dense, spongy mass held together with thick mats of mycelia, and it broke down into a usable potting medium remarkably quickly, so I had to try it again. Full-sized bucket this time, with three inches of new coir in place of the soil-less mix I didn’t have. (The stuff that comes in bricks for worm bedding, not the long-fibered kind from which planter baskets are made.)

At first, I thought it was my imagination, but it wasn’t: the coir plus EM bokashi bran plus a pot’s fresh UCG started a thermophilic composting reaction in my kitchen bucket. That first heating passed, presumably through lack of oxygen, but it restarted with each new addition of food (and air). Without a recording thermometer, I can’t be certain, but I’d guess it never went above 160 and didn’t sustain that much heat for more than a couple of hours at a time. Not much visible breaking down, but signs of fermentation are present, so I guess the heat isn’t hurting anything. And it’s even a food-grade bucket this time, so I won’t worry too much about plastic off-gassing or melting. It’s not like I store my working buckets on top of oily rags or anything. Still…

After all the years I tried hot-composting in spaces too small for the ideal three-bin set-up, with barely enough success to keep me from giving up entirely, it’s a tad bit unnerving to have things heating where I don’t really want them to.

On the other hand, this might actually be an all-in-one indoor compost--with no draining, no bugs, no worms, no off-odors, and no need to empty anything until it’s done. What’s a little fire risk compared to that?

...she asks, suddenly hoping the landfolks aren’t reading this. -G-


[no image credit, because I've lost the link. Sigh. File says "international pictogram no flame-bucket]


Harvested that bucket a bit after posting this. Next time, if there is a next time, I'll have to add a thick coir layer at about the halfway point, since the material in the middle of this bucket was too wet and trending toward failure, though not quite there. But the stuff at the top was bokashi leaning toward self-composting, and the stuff at the bottom was compost with a slightly higher than normal pH. I layered it with dried leaves, giggling at the speed of heating, and then...well, this is me. I forgot to turn it! But Verne neared warp-speed in his haste to move in, and it's largely degraded past identifying contents already.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A hole above the ground

Necessity is the mother of…Repulsive 2010 beta.

My usual spigots can’t handle grubbery leachate; it's pretty nearly sludge, thinner if the filter hasn't been dislodged yet but always muddy and with fine-silt particles that clog the tap. I can’t lift a full inner bucket right now to get at the lower one to empty it (wrist injury’s healing, but not yet fixed). And letting the reservoir back up into the unit is not an option. So I set the inner bucket on top of a soil-filled planter that had once been fitted out as a wormery--which means that it had ventilation holes on the sides and bottom, plus a drip-tray beneath. Also, since Verne has no concept of personal space or respect for ancestral colony gravebins, some worms.

This largish unit has about the same volume of soil beneath as potential food-and-grub volume above, and I’m not sure I’d try much less than that; eight inches of soil minimum, if my admittedly sketchy math is correct.

So far, it’s working quite well. A few grubs have no doubt squirmed into the soil, but most of them stay near the top, that being where food comes in. (I decided not to worry about it unless or until I saw a grub using the wormery part to escape; so far, no grubs have been sighted emerging from the soil layer or hatching in the soil-packed vent holes, and the mamas don't tend to bother probing them.) It's quite possible there are worms in the grubbery's inner bucket, but that's not a problem either, and the holes are there should any aggregate bit decide to move. Leachate seeps out of the grubbery into the soil, where it serves to keep the worms fed and moistened, and since soil regulates temperature and pH, there’s no need to worry about Verne no matter what the grubbery gets up to. Too, between the weight of the soil and the nesting of base and rim, plus the inevitable-here-in-Bucketville weight on top, the grubbery’s as nearly secure as I can make it. No human-perceptible odor escapes except when it's very wet--as in, after our recent storm-cycle--and then it smells like fertile wet soil, no trouble at all. Judging by the adults flying around, happy-BSFL pheromones are being produced and food-scent is perceptible to them, since despite crawl-off there's no population shortage on the horizon, but so long as my neighbors and I can't smell it, it's a success.

I'm kind of excited: a moisture-regulating grubbery means one less chore, and one less chance I might accidentally spot one of the aggregate bits that earned Repulsive his name. Well worth the temporary reallocation of a bucket of cheap dirt! Have to say, I’m not sure how well it’d work without worms in the soil layer and/or EM in the foodstuffs. Or, ideally, both. But since I do have both, this is a workable model for me.

At some point, of course, I’ll have to do something with the unit, but with any luck at all, that won't be until fall. Lure the last layers to an alternate location, let the grubs in the unit mature and crawl off or go dormant, let the worms work the bucket over the winter, and in spring and harvest a bucket or so of rich vermidirt and worms. From stuff I wasn't willing to feed my bokashi buckets.

The obvious next step is to test this as an urban pet waste disposal; I've had some success with temporary in-ground units, but that only works where you have a hole in the ground away and downslope from your garden! Too, that was to get rid of the leavings from the neighbors' dogs. The household feline's box is a very different matter. EM, obviously, but what then? I'd thought about BSFL before, but they don't like clay, and there remained the question of what to do about the remains in the bucket once they'd done their part.

Worms were also a possibility, of course, but they can't handle fresh liquid wastes. Grubs + worms seemed reasonable, except for everyone saying how difficult it is to maintain them together.

We shall, as ever, see.

Glad to be back,

Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service , where some very odd photo categories can be found!