lundi 18 août 2008

Days of our lives with worms

Well, well, it seems like I’m going to have to start blogging both in French and in English :-) This post is the translated version of an earlier post on the multiple questions I received about composting with worms.

Question: How big is your worm composter?

Answer: About as big as an Ikea storage box for mine, a little more simple and smaller that the « Can-o-Worms » you can buy online at Vers-la-Terre in France or at the Abundant Earth Store. It fits perfectly on my tiny urban balcony.

Note that there is a lid underneath the box to collect the "worm tea" and holes for air on the sides of the box. There are also holes at the bottom to allow the "juice" to pour out. There is a lid on top too, to give the worms some intimacy but also not to attract racoons, insects, flies, squirrels or coyotes. Worm composting means taking some risks in the midst of the wild and hostile urban environment!

You can
build your own worm composter.

Q. Is it hard to maintain the worms?
A. Not really, once they are in their nice and fresh box, as long as you feed them once a week and water them from time to time, they are pretty happy! Only things they don’t like: excessive heat or cold, too much water (they would drown, poor things!) or too much acidic food such as citrus fruits. If you go on vacation, feed them a bigger portion and find some kind soul to water them from time to time, just as you would ask a friend to water your plants! This winter, my worms will be in the shed at the back of my new house, if it does get down to real freezing temperatures, I’ll stick the composter in a big cardboard box stuffed with newspaper. You can also add some "toys" for the worms, a big mango or avocado pit will allow them to bore holes and make themselves at home. (No laughing in the back there, worm rearing is a serious matter!)

Q. Do they eat a lot? Can you feed them anything?
A. Here it becomes a bit more complicated. No, worms don’t just eat anything and you should not overfeed them, otherwise the composter will start to stink and you will face an invasion of fruit flies (those ugly tiny flies that are young geneticists’ favorite guinea-pigs…)
So, first week, you feed them about 2 pounds of food, second weeks about 4 pounds and from the third week on, you can fed them about 6 pounds. If you have a large family and you eat loads of fruit and veggies, you may as well get two or three boxes.Then, you have to cut up the food a bit, so to make their work easier. Don’t just dump an old rotten carrot in, cut it up in smaller pieces.

You can feed them fruit, veggies, peels, coffee grinds with the filter if it is not bleached, tea bags if you take out the staple, ground egg shells, green garden clippings (in reasonable amounts), brown paper bags (no glossy magazine paper), and some cardboard if you tear it up into pieces.

NO cooked stuff, dairy or grain, not cat litter, not too much acidic stuff such as citrus fruits, unless you add a bit of garden lime to correct the acidity. (Garden lime can be found in any garden supply shop)

Q. Isn’t there a risk of overpopulation?
A. Well yes, worms don’t just eat; they also make babies from time to time. Don’t panic, in about 4 to 6 months, it will be time to collect your compost. When collecting the compost, you will separate the worms from the compost and you can grossly separate the worm population in two. Then you can start two composters, give worms to a friend or, if you live in Vancouver, donate back worms to CityFarmer who can use them in schools for outreach programs.

There are several techniques to separate the worms from the compost. I haven’t tested any yet but will post about this when the time comes to share my impressions.

Q. Is « worm tea » really a good fertilizer for plants?
A. Excellent ! As long as you dilute it one for ten in water before watering your plants with it. To collect the tea, it’s really simple; I use a turkey baster and put the "juice" in an empty bottle. I recycled old milk gallons and juice bottles to keep my home made garden products, whether it is worm tea, natural insecticide or fongicide against powdery mildew (a plague here in wet Vancouver!)

Tools for worm composting: a garden claw to lift up the bedding and pour in the food, a turkey baster to collect the worm tea and the book «Worms eat my garbage », Mary Appelhof’s best-seller, where the worm farmer will find all the answers she/he needs!

More about worms:
CityFarmer’s comix on how to compost with worms.
Vancouver Worm composting program: get a bin, worms and a one hour workshop for $25, call 604-736-2250

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