Worm Farm Trouble!

First, let me say, ‘I love my worm farm’.

There.  I said it.  Not something you hear everyday, but for me, it’s true!  I have been getting about 2 quarts of wonderfully composted worm poop mixed with composted vegetable matter every month or so for about a year and a half now. And that doesn’t even account for all the worm compost tea!

Worm farm

This is the vermiculture kit my husband and I gave each other for Christmas.

If you would like to read previous articles about our worm farm, you can read about how we first set it up by clicking HERE, and then another article about how to make worm compost tea by clicking HERE.

VermicultureI kept the worm farm in my kitchen until just recently. “In the kitchen?” you gasp.  Well, yes, that’s the most convenient place to put it.  After all, it is so easy to gather up the apple core or tomato peel right off the cutting board, take a few steps, and plop it into the worm farm.  Believe me, it never smelled!  In fact, when I opened up the worm farm to feed my wriggly little pets, all I smelled was the scent of good soil right after a rain. Seriously!  Except for the time I put in a bit too much plum pulp at once. After a week it had a faint odor of plum wine! 😉

While the worm farm was in my house, the only problem was when I had a small fruit fly infestation.  George took care of that.  George was a daddy-long-leg spider who took up residence in the corner behind the worm farm.  I let him be,and after a couple of weeks his web was absolutely chock full of dead fruit flies.  Good ole’ George.  When the fruit flies were gone I took George outside and set him free.

Yes…    I did. 🙂

Fast forward to a couple of months ago.  We are putting our home on the market and having a worm farm in the kitchen was not something the Real Estate Agent wanted to explain to prospective buyers.  So out to the garage went the worm farm.

That’s when the trouble started.  The first month when I went to harvest my black gold worm poop, I noticed a few ants crawling around on the lid of the worm farm.  As I harvested the bottom most tray, I noticed a few more ants, so I decided to investigate.  In the third tray up – there it was – an ant nest!  Ugh!  There must have been a thousand ants and they were scurrying to grab all those little white eggs.  There were no worms on this level either – just ants and a lot of not decomposed vegetable matter.  Harruumph!

I had to dispose of the contents of the entire tray.  I didn’t want to spray any kind of insecticide because the residue could hurt the worms and ultimately the poison could get into my garden, so I just dumped it into our green waste bin – which was being picked up by our local garbage service the next day.  Then, I put each leg of the worm farm into a plastic cup and poured water in.  That should keep the ants out in the future.Apple Maggots in the Vermiculture Bin

When I decided to harvest some compost for one of my potted plants yesterday, I found another problem – a really icky one – maggots!  Big fat ones! After doing a bit of research on the internet, I found that they are apple maggots. They must have come off the scraps left over when I made my home made pectin.  They were so gross, squishing and munching around in the compost stuff – I could actually hear them!  Eeeewwwww…

The weird thing about it was that the worms were inhabiting the same trays as the maggots!  Apparently they don’t mind each other, but this made getting rid of the maggots a bit more of a chore.  Again, I didn’t want to hurt the worms but I had to somehow get rid of the maggots.  So, I got a pair of my husband’s needle nose pliers and picked them out one by one.trouble with the worm farm

Now – what to do with all those fat apple maggots?  I decided to treat my local feral chickens.  These are chickens that have lived beside the highway in our town for decades.  There used to be a ranch there (now long gone and turned into a shopping center surrounded by fast food restaurants) and over the years the chickens have learned how to fend for themselves.  They run through the parking lot of the grocery store, looking for handouts.  At the Carl’s Jr and Wendy’s restaurants next door, I am sure people throw them french fries and bits of their hamburger buns all the time.  I thought some nice fresh plump maggots would be a healthy alternative!Problems with the worm farm

When I first arrived the chickens were a bit cautious.  They are used to people feeding them, but they are also on the lookout for kids that try to chase them around.  I threw a couple of the maggots out of the plastic bag they were in and a rooster came running up to see what I had to offer.  Then a hen came.  Then another hen.

Nom Nom Nom 😀

Pretty soon I could see that the maggots were a hit!  I loved watching those chickens, chasing each other around with their prize (even though there were plenty more on the ground!), and can’t wait to move up to our future homestead so my husband and I can have some of our own.maggots in my vermiculture

I guess my lesson here is to observe my worm farm more often than once a month when I am harvesting the worm poop compost.  I did read that if I freeze all the vegetable matter I put in – especially fruits – then I shouldn’t have to worry about an infestation like this again.

Is it worth it?  You bet!  My houseplants haven’t looked better and the worm compost tea is like liquid gold for some of my outdoor potted plants!  Besides, I know several feral chickens got some needed protein and I received the joy of watching them!

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Worm Compost Tea

Last Christmas 2012, my hubby and I gave each other worms.

Yup.  We did.

A worm farm, of course!   I thought some of you might like to hear how it’s doing and how we have used the worm composted …. um….. well…… stuff.

Vermicompost tea

The top tray where I am adding the worm food – bits of fruits and vegetables, paper, coffee grounds, cardboard, egg shells and dried leaves.

If you didn’t get a chance to read about our worm farm and how we set it up, you can read about it HERE and HERE.

I have been rotating the trays – mine has four – but unfortunately I haven’t kept tract of how many trays of finished worm compost we have harvested. Lets just say we have used up several trays so far.

Red wigglers for worm farm

Here is a picture of the worms. The picture is a bit blurry because I couldn’t get them to stay still and say “cheese”!

We have used the worm compost to re-pot quite a few of our house plants, I potted up the two stevia plants growing in the garden with worm compost to bring them inside for the winter, and I have also made worm compost tea for watering. The plants seem to be greener and grow faster with the worm tea and soil, and I certainly don’t miss having to buy expensive fertilizer for my house plants.  Honestly, there’s nothing better!

How do you make worm tea?  Easy.

Worm Farm Composting

The bottom tray with the “finished” worm compost.

I just take about a cup of worm compost to two cups of water, let it steep overnight, strain off the liquid and – voila – worm compost tea!  I add just a bit more water (no chlorinated water – please) because a little seems to go a long way.  I haven’t had any problems with burning any plants – it seems this stuff is pretty mellow and yet chock full of the good stuff! I have very happy and healthy plants!  🙂

And the worms?  Well, lets just say if they could smile they would be grinning from ear to ear!  I think I finally got the moisture balance right after the “great worm exodus” I had when I was first learning how to compost with worms.

Vermiculture

One of the red wigglers! Anyone want to go fishing?

Really, you want the top layer – the one you are adding vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds (with paper filter), paper egg cartons, crushed dried egg shells, etc. to be the wet one.  The next one down, the one most of the worms will be in, should be pretty moist, but not sopping wet.  The tray underneath that one is usually a bit drier – not dry but not really wet either. There might be a few worms in this layer also.  The bottom tray (of mine, at least) is like the fluffy compost or potting soil that you get from the store.  This is the tray that you harvest the worm compost from to make tea or to pot up your plants with.  This balance of moisture in the trays seems to be the best for the worms.  If it gets too wet, they migrate down.  If it is too dry, they migrate up!  The worms aren’t too particular once you get a few trays up and running.

Worm Tea from Compost

A pint jar of freshly “brewed” worm compost tea!

We will probably start harvesting some of the worms this spring to use as fishing bait!  I know they have been making babies, because there are worms of all sizes in the trays.  I have even found a few of their eggs!

If you decide to try your hand at worm farming, and I certainly hope you do, spend some time doing a bit of research first!  There are several companies that make worm farms and lots of retailers who sell them.  Check out all of them to get the best size and price for your needs.  I have listed a few below:

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply   This is where I got mine at 20% off

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm    This company also sells the worms

Woodland Direct       This company offers three different brands:  Can-O-Worms, Vermi-Hut, and Worm Chalet.

If you would like to try worm farming (it’s actually called vermicomposting) but don’t want to fork out a lot of money for a commercial worm farm, you can google for “DIY worm farm” and come up with a lot of results.  Here are just a few:

Modern Farmer,  Happily Ever Crafter and Kiwi Urban Homestead

There are a lot of other blogs that cover the DIY subject of building your own bin, but these will give you the general idea.

I have truly enjoyed worm farming.  My grandchildren take pleasure in checking on their progress every time they come over and I think they are learning a lot about composting and permaculture because of the worm farm, even though they don’t know it yet! And let me tell you – the worms are almost like having pets!  Of course I can’t name them all, but the level of attachment I have developed for my worms is quite strange – perhaps unnatural.  😉    Ah well.

 

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The Worm Farm – Our Opinion

It has been almost six weeks now since we set up our worm farm (see how we set it up here ), and I am glad to say that we are very happy with it so far!

The only problem we had was when about half of the worms crawled out because I inadvertently drowned them (see post  here ).  I believe I was right in thinking that with two trays the worms can crawl from one to the other when necessary for the right environment, be it wetter, drier, more food, less food, etc.  The bottom tray has almost completely composted already with dark, rich looking compost.  There are still a few worms in the processing (bottom) tray, and I think I have found some worm eggs there also.

This is the bottom or "processing tray" of our Worm Factory 360.  You can see how dark and moist the organic matter is, and hardly anything is recognizable anymore!

This is the bottom or “processing tray” of our Worm Factory 360. You can see how dark and moist the organic matter is, and hardly anything is recognizable anymore!

Last week when I was feeding the top tray (called the working tray) I noticed some little wriggly worms in the compost mix.  I quickly got online with the company that produces the worm farm – http://www.naturesfootprint.com – and found that these are potworms, are very common and completely harmless.  Apparently the only problem I might have with the potworms is if they over populate themselves and compete with the redworms for food.  According to the website Q&A, all I would have to do is soak some break in milk and place it in the worm bin.  The potworms will flock to the bread and then I can easily remove the bread with a lot of the potworms.  Neat!  The potworms may be, however, an indicator that the organic matter I am adding is a bit too acidic, which is easily fixed.

This is the top or "working tray" of our worm factory 360.  You can see a coffee filter that the worms are actually eating!

This is the top or “working tray” of our worm factory 360. You can see a coffee filter that the worms are actually eating!

Is there a bad odor?  No.  At least not yet!  I have added my kitchen scraps faithfully in each corner – apple cores, shriveled lettuce, rotting tomatoes, coffee grounds, banana peels and old leaf litter – about once a week since I started.  When I examine the bins, all this vegetable and fruit matter is decaying – there is even a little mold in spots – but the only thing I smell is the scent of the ground after a fresh spring rain!  Believe me, if it smelled the worm farm would not be in my kitchen.  But there it is, right in the corner where I see it every day so that I don’t forget to feed my wriggly pets.

It’s not time to harvest yet.  That won’t come for a few months when all four trays that come with the Worm Factory 360 are full.  Fortunately that will be just in time to dress our backyard garden!  Would I buy this again?  You betcha!  To see the whole story, visit here .

I have not been compensated in any way for this post.  My husband and I bought the Worm Factory 360 for each other with our own funds for Christmas!  If I am ever compensated by a product, I will certainly disclose that fact.

Was This Suicide?

We arrived home from our long holiday weekend of working on our property up in the mountains to see an absolutely horrible sight.  It was heart wrenching, absolutely awful.  I don’t think the poor little dears knew what happened to them.  They were scattered all over our kitchen floor, their poor little bodies here and there.  Some actually had crawled several feet to their untimely death.  Was this actually suicide?

Poor little creatures - they must have escaped their home and wriggled to their death on our kitchen floor!
Poor little creatures – they must have escaped their home and wriggled to their death on our kitchen floor!

I’m talking about the worms from our worm farm, of course!

I uncovered the worm farm tray and carefully sifted through the bedding to see if I could determine what had happened.  I knew they had enough food.  After all, the pamphlet that came with our Worm Farm 360 even said they could be left alone for several weeks at a time, and I had just fed them a handful of food just a few days before we left.  When I raked through the material, I could find nothing out of the ordinary and it certainly didn’t smell bad, but there were some errant delicata squash seeds trying to grow.  I found out from doing a bit of research that the fact these seeds were growing was actually a good sign because seeds won’t generally germinate unless the soil is at least 60 degrees, nor will they germinate if the soil is too hot. So that means the temperature must have been okay. Was the bedding too dry?  It hardly seems that could be the case because I also watered down the newspaper covering the bedding material before we left.  Ah ha!  Was that it?  Did I water them too much?  We think that may have actually been the case.  Ray and I surmised that because the worms had crawled out of the bedding material, they were trying to get away from something, which was probably too much water.  Kind of like the earthworms that crawl out of your lawn during a rainstorm.  The instructional booklet that came with the worm farm said to keep a wet newspaper on top, but to only water the bedding material if it actually got too dry.  So I think I drowned them, or at least they would have drowned if they hadn’t crawled out.  But then when they crawled out to the kitchen floor they dried up – like jerky.  Poor little darlings. I had actually murdered them with my own ignorance!

Delicata squash seeds growing in the bedding for the worms.  This is actually a good sign!

Delicata squash seeds growing in the bedding for the worms. This is actually a good sign!

In hindsight, I think there may have been two good outcomes from this carnage:  Our cat (shadow) was probably amused and maybe even had fun with a few of the wriggly strangers in our absence 😉 , and secondly (of course, more importantly) I learned not to water the bedding so much at one time. As luck would have it, not all of the wrigglers escaped and died and quite a few actually remained in the bedding, so I decided to carry on and add a new tray today.  I surmised that in this way if one tray is too wet (or dry) they can crawl to the other one and I may be absolved of this sad crime.  Hopefully I won’t be seeing a mass exodus of biblical proportions like this ever again!

This is the new tray being added to the worm farm.  First went vegetable and fruit scraps, then moist coir, then moist newspaper scraps.  Hope the worms like their new home addition!

This is the new tray being added to the worm farm. First went vegetable and fruit scraps, then moist coir, then moist newspaper scraps. That’s also a used paper coffee filter on the top. Hope the worms like their new home addition!

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