Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feeding My Worms

I got to feed my worms last evening. Since I'm new to vermiculture, this has not lost its newness or interesting-ness (if I can say that) yet. I'm still fascinated by these little guys and am learning a lot more about them.

Before we got some worms, I had known that they were necessary. When I was growing up, we always had worms, you just assumed that they were there because you always saw them on the sidewalks after a rain storm and when you dug a hole in the ground or turned over your soil in your garden, you saw them (and so did the birds!). So we always just took them for granted.

But I live in the desert of Las Vegas and worms are not the norm here. You can find them, just not in my neck of the cactus. A desert is really a place with limited organic material. Our soil here is highly mineralized with almost no organic material at all. Sand and rocks and the dreaded caliche are the norm. We have excellent drainage, but there is nothing to hold the water in the soil. We have to build our soil in our growing areas which is why raised beds is such a great idea here. (Wicking beds would be even better. I hope to convert mine in the next year.) And because we have to add every thing organic, we have to add our own worms.

My son-in-law stopped by one of the plant nurseries in town about a week ago and bought two half-quart cartons with worms from them. They each advertised 100 worms. When we popped the lids off, we could find a bunch of writhing, wriggling worms nested in a bed of coconut coir. Seems like that is a versatile material. I didn't take the time to actually count the 100 worms, I'm sure they do it by weight with the average being 100. (I did feel sorry for the guy whose job it is to count worms into little cartons for sale. One, two, three, four.... There's a job to die for, or from.)

So now that we had worms on the Stealth Farm, we had to make some living arrangements for them. We grabbed one of the 55-gallon barrels and my son-in-law cut it in half longitudinally. We drilled several holes in one end to act as a drain for the naturally occurring juices that come from worm composting and attached a piece of two-by-four to the other for stability and to provide some slope for gravity to work on the juices.

All we needed was to add some semi-finished compost from the compost tumbler (also made from one of the 55-gallon barrels) and dumped in the worms. We put one carton with its population at each end of the barrel. Then I added a chunk of 'worm food' that we had previously made and frozen to the center of the bed. More on the worm food later.

We added some shredded newsprint and then a few inches of straw for insulation. I'm more concerned with overheating than being too cold, at least for the next 6 or 8 months, so I'm a bit over cautious. That was that. We placed the new worm bed on the water container that will become the centerpiece of the aquaponic system we are building. This will only be temporary until we figure out exactly how we are going to do this long term.  Here's what it looks like:

 This is the side view of the bed. It is just under half full of bedding and straw. You can see the stabilizing two-by-four on the left end. It is attached by means of several drywall screws and keeps the barrel half from rolling around. It won't tip over, but I don't think seasick worms will do what they need to do as well. The worm bed extends over the side of the base so the juices can drip from the drain holes into a 5-gallon bucket below.

Here's another view where you can see the bedding.

Here are a couple of view of the worms in the wonderful semi-compost. See how many you can see. Look closely, they're there.

Maybe later I'll add some arrows to point them out. Since I know what I'm looking for, I can see them.

Here is what the food looks like. Now doesn't that look yummy? I made it myself. We have a compost bucket under the sink in the kitchen. When we have food wastes that would normally go into the trash, we put them in the bucket. When it gets full, I take them out and liquefy them in the blender. No, I didn't ask my wife's permission. Yes, I'm going to get my own blender from the thrift store.

Once the stuff is blended well enough, I pour it into a zipper-locking bag and put it in the freezer. No, I don't put it where my wife will easily see it when she opens the freezer. Yes, it looks a little gross. Once it's frozen, though, it just looks like a blob, you can't see what is in it.

I read in my research that you don't have to do it this way, you can just toss the scraps into the worm bin and let nature take care of the rest. However, I also read that worms only eat what they can put in their little mouths (makes sense) and since I want them to eat a lot, get fat and poop a lot and make a lot of baby worms, I don't mind grinding it up for them. Besides, I only have a couple hundred worms so far. Any unpleasant odor I can avoid I will. The theory is that they can eat and process this stuff faster than just rotting food in the ground. We'll see.

I dig a small hole in the worm bed by pulling back the straw/newsprint cover and lay the frozen mass on the compost below. Then I cover it up. It melts and the worms eat it.

I know this is the case because this is the second blob of food I have put in there. The first one was much greener than this one (I think it had a bunch of watermelon rinds in it.) and in less than a week, it was gone. I could not find a trace of it left. Wow. The little buggers were hungry.

Remember that I said we dumped the worms in at each end? Well I put the food in the middle. A couple days later I checked on it and I could find no worms at either end. They were all over, in and through the blob of worm food. When I checked on it again yesterday, it was all gone. 200 worms ate through about a pound and a half of food in less than a week. I'm impressed.

So, if they keep eating, I'll keep feeding. I have 5 or 6 bags of food in the freezer ready for them and I'm making more.

Here is a view of the drain holes on the bottom of one of the ends.

Just a dozen holes drilled into the barrel. We made them small so that the worms would be less tempted to venture through them to see what's on the other side. So far, so good.

Here is the bucket with the worm tea already in it. I'm sure that the food had some moisture to add to this, but the rest of it comes from whatever these guys do to the food and the water we use to keep their bedding moist. They don't like dry conditions and will actually die if they dry out.

So far we haven't had any worms show up in the bucket and I hope it stays that way. If you look, you can see that I had the bed insufficiently extended past the edge. I fixed that problem. The tea I pour on my garden. I'm thinking about using it on just half of my onions to see what kind of a difference it makes.  Could be interesting. Could be nothing.

I'm excited about these guys and hope we are successful in breeding lots of them. I want to be able to put them in the garden as well as have a great supply of castings (worm poop, don't you just love euphemisms?) to use in the buckets and planters and to side dress the plants. You can never have too much good stuff in the soil and worm castings are a great way to keep beneficial microbes alive and well and they make many more nutrients available to the plants. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants which reduce disease and pests which yield a greater harvest which provides more for the compost bin and the worms which.... Well, you get the picture.

C'mon, Worms!


  1. This is the coolest thing EVER, Dad! I think it's awesome that you got worms! The thrift store blender is a pretty good idea too. I would strongly encourage that happening!


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