9/15 – A Beginner’s Guide to Vermicomposting (10:30am-12:00pm)
San Antonio, TX 78204
Vermicomposting is the natural process by which red worms process waste and convert it into an efficient natural fertilizer. In this program, Kyle Harrell of Texas Red Worms will show participants how they can take kitchen waste to create a wonderful fertilizer that will enrich their garden soils and plants, all with the help of worms! All paid participants will receive a sample of Villa Finale’s compost and a few red worms to get them started at home. Comfortable dress is recommended. Space is limited – please call Villa Finale Visitor Services to make your reservation.
For more information on Kyle’s work, visit www.Texasredworms.com
Last Spring was the first time my parents used worm castings exclusively to fertilize their garden. My mom and dad claimed their best tomato crop they can remember. We used a handful of castings with each tomato seedling, and the results were terrific. Even in one of the driest and hottest years on record, the taste, yield, and size of the tomatoes were outstanding.
Worm castings or earthworm manure is the best all natural fertilizer you can get. Beyond Potassium and Nitrogen, worm castings are alive with beneficial microbes. Beneficial bacteria, nematodes, and other tiny beneficials that will add life to plants and soil. You can maximize your castings harvest by brewing compost tea. You will need an aquarium pump, water, castings, and some unsulfured molasses to amplify the effects. Worm castings are the only manure that can be directly absorbed by plants roots. They are perfectly pH balanced and won’t burn up plants like other high in Nitrogen manures.
I have tried several models of flow through systems and continue to tinker to get the results I’m looking for. The idea is for the finished castings to fall through the grate at the bottom of the bin and the worms to work towards the top of the bin.
Materials: square metal tubing, plywood, braided cable, 1.5″ self tapping metal screws, small I beam we found for the base bar to mount winches, and 2 winches (one we salvaged and another from Tractor Supply @$20) for pulling each direction.
We welded a bar to slide along the bottom of the bin to agitate the castings through the grate. I have tried other versions without the cutting bar, and castings tend to get clumpy and stuck. Stay tuned for the big reveal when we add worms and a few finishing touches.
The Garden Volunteers of South Texas will be hosting their monthly “Essentials of Gardening” from 12:15 – 3 PM tomorrow at the San Antonio Garden Center (3310 N. New Braunfels at Funston, next to the Botanical Garden.) Dr. Jerry Parsons will be speaking first on year round garden planning. I will follow him w/ a worm composting presentation. Admission is free but a $5 donation is encouraged. Come join us!
Above is a pic of one of my Alabama Jumper bins. Worms are feeding on my DIY Worm Chow and some pumpkin.
Alabama Jumpers are best suited for tunneling, aerating, and mixing the soil. They can be raised in bins like your other composting worms (red worm and european nightcrawler). I set my bins up with a few inches of clay soil on the bottom to make the worms comfortable and try to replicate their natural home. Next, I add several inches of compost that will provide the organic matter they will feed on. In a worm bed or bin the second generation will flourish if conditions are right (moisture and food). Having been born in the environment worms will adapt much better from birth and be happy in their new home. When introducing Alabama Jumpers into a new environment (bin or bed), start with an ample supply of the medium that you harvested them from to ensure a greater chance for success.
Worms will eat just about anything they can fit into their tiny mouth, and are the ultimate composter, humus maker, and soil conditioner. The primary feedstock I feed my worms is composted horse and cow manure, yard clippings-leaves, and table scraps (minus dairy and grease). Between feedings I sprinkle my own version of Worm Chow over the top of the bin. This simple recipe is great for fattening up your worms for a fishing trip or just adding some diversity to their diet and your castings. Use for your Alabama Jumpers, Red Worms, European Nightcrawlers, or African Nightcrawlers.
TexasRedWorms.com Worm Chow is:
1 part corn meal
1 part ground up oatmeal
add crushed egg shells for minerals and flavor
I have spent the last couple of weekends harvesting castings from my red worm bins and european nightcrawler bins. I had tried to hold out until after Labor Day, when it’s only 95 outside. The heat can add stress to harvesting castings for you and the worms. Exposed worms can dry out and die quickly.
Loaded down with finished worm castings I was left with little choice. The girls pitched in and really helped speed things. My harvester that was built last winter, really came in handy. We were able to crank through 100+ pounds in no time. The girls picked worms stuck in the harvester screen. On a side note: Use cooking spray on the wire mesh to help keep the worms from sticking.
In picking egg capsules and smaller worms from two separate harvest runs (red worms/ european nightcrawlers), I was surprised at the performance of the nightcrawlers. The cocoon or egg capsule production has definitely slowed down for the red worms compared to other times of the year. Compared to the red worms, the nightcrawlers had about triple the amount of eggs. That’s right, from what I have seen this Summer, the European Nightcrawlers have outperformed red wigglers in reproduction.
This past Winter and Summer have been the most extreme temperatures I have seen since beginning worm farming. The good news is that with a little planning and preparation worms can flourish in just about any part of the country.
Francisco was kind enough to share these pics of his double tub worm bin. Francisco got started a few months ago and is doing great. His double bin construction technique allows for excess moisture to drain into the bottom catch tub (worm leachate). His bedding base is comprised of finely shredded newspaper mixed w/ food waste. As a mulch layer, he keeps a few sheets of wet newspaper on top of the bin. Francisco also shared some of his homemade worm chow that my worms loved. It was gone the next morning.
Thanks for sharing your ideas and pictures.
This Summer has been brutal, and can be very stressful to your worm bins and beds. Redworms perform best in temperature ranging from 40 F – 80 F., and keeping them moist is essential to their survival in these less than ideal conditions. Don’t drown your worms, but error on the side of wet in this blistering heat.
I posted earlier, how to keep worm bins cool by adding frozen water bottles. This works great, but w/ temps hitting 100 in the shade this week, I began having to use more and more ice bottles. I was running out of freezer spa, and was able to convince my wife to let me bring my smaller bins indoors.
My larger worm bins kept in full shade, have faired well. Size of the bin is a big factor. Larger bins or containers will naturally have more volume to allow for greater insulation and protection from extreme temperatures. Smaller bins will “feel the heat” and not have as much buffer or room for protection. I keep old rugs on top of the bedding that are sprayed down daily to keep moist and cool. Add a few more inches of mulch to in ground worm beds and keep as moist as possible in these tough conditions. The mulch added to worm beds or flower beds will add organic matter, protection, and an additional moisture barrier.
Thank you to all who came out to the San Antonio Botanical Garden this weekend. I have included some links and attachments to dig a little deeper into some of the topics we covered on Saturday.
Worm Handout pdf
• Care of worms- what to do when you get your worms.
• Harnessing the Earthworm - by Thomas J. Barrett
• Adding worms to your raised bed
• In ground bin
•Harvesting Worm Castings- My harvester
• Compost Tea
Thanks again to all who participated and to Sasha Kodet and the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Let me know if you have any questions, or if I can give you some feedback on your set up.