Tomgrow
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Fixing a neglected worm farm.

Hi.

I've had a worm farm for quite some time but I'm still not super knowledgeable on the topic. Having done a bit more research it looks like there's some maintenance that should have been done but hasn't. Would anyone be able to give me some advice?

I built it by getting a 190liter/50 US liquid gallon drum and cutting in half. Bottom half is for liquids, top is for castings. I do have a lid and air holes as well.

Basically I haven't rinsed it: I was worried about it getting too saturated with water thereby drowning the worms and creating anaerobic conditions. So it's just kind of been like that for maybe two years or so. There has been some liquid produced though. Quite a bit in fact. The bedding's more wet then you'd make your compost but not drenched at the moment.

At one point it was smelling bad in both the liquid and the bedding. It's not there any more as far as I can tell, but I didn't really do anything to fix it.

My plan is to get some 20liter/5 gallon buckets and make a couple of tiered systems. because this huge pile of castings isn't manageable the way it's set up at the moment.


My questions are:

- Is there an optimum ratio of bedding material to casting material? At the moment most of the material in the farm is castings.

- I have a huge pile of worm castings to deal with. Any ideas on what I can do with/how I can store such a quantity?

- How wet *should* the bedding be?

- If I only drained it now, after all this time would the liquid be too toxic to use? what about the castings?

- Is there a limited time that the beneficial bacteria will stay alive in the liquid produced? Do you need to aerate the liquid in order to store it long term?


Despite all this, worm population seems to be going pretty strong. I know I haven't done my due diligence and I have a lot of work ahead of me. Any advice would be really appreciated.

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applestar
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

I only dabble and use a commercial vermicomposter during the summer and just a small diy set up (stacked 2gal buckets) to overwinter sufficient worms for following year.

But you do need drainage spigot in the bottom catchment. If castings are very wet, let drain for several days first.

If you haven’t freshened up the bin for two years, I would definitely harvest current castings, clean the bin and put the worms in fresh bedding.

I find it easiest to screen larger chunks if any with 1 inch, then dump the lot on a tarp in the sun and sort from one end — the worms will burrow deeper, leaving the castings behind. You could also prep them first by pushing the castings and worms towards one end and opening enough space to put fresh bedding and food in the other end. The worms should migrate to the food/bedding end over the next week.

... if the liquid smells bad, it won’t have the same benefit but not unusable- I wouldn’t use on food crops (especially leafy and root) though. If castings smell, then it’s gone anaerobic. Draining and exposing to air maybe all that’s needed. In both cases, if in serious doubt I would cycle them through a compost pile. The fact that the worms are alive and healthy/thriving is a good sign, though.

You can’t really STORE liquid or castings.
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imafan26
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

You do need a drain for the barrel. If it smell like ammonia, you are feeding the worms too much and you probably need more carbon if it is also too wet. You need to maintain a carbon:nitrogen ratio. You should harvest the vermicompost every three months or so. If you don't have drainage, and don't don't harvest, the environment can become toxic to the worms.
I was told that was one of my issues. I did have drain holes but I did not empty the drain often enough. I did not add carbon when I did not see any bedding anymore. I also did not water my bin regularly. I was told that I should water my bin every day. I thought it was too wet, but did not realize my reservoir was in contact with the bin. The worms tried to escape. I also did not harvest the worms for long periods of time so there was a lot more vermicast they were swimming in. My bin was invaded by roaches that ate the veggies and I was doing more roach composting than worm composting. Geckoes got in and ate the worms. My next bin, I will have to add a drain so I don't have to lift the top box off all the time. It will make it much easier to drain. I need a tighter lid to keep the roaches and geckos out. The ants will still get in. I also have to harvest and give them more carbon and no envelopes with plastic windows.
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Tomgrow
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

Hi applestar and imafan26, thanks for the reply!

@applestar
I'm not quite sure what a drainage spigot is. All I have is the bottom catchment and a tap for the liquids. It doesn't smell anaerobic at the surface; I think the castings have a mild mould smell though? It's hard to convey the exact smell through text.

Perhaps I am over thinking it. You've made a good point: If I have healthy worms it can't be going too bad and running things through compost pile is a very good idea. We are in winter in this part of the world but it's doable.

You can't store castings or liquid? How long after extraction do you need to use them?

@imafan26
Is the carbon/nitrogen ratio the same as for regular compost? Wow that sounds like it didn't go too well. I seem to have gotten away with doing quite a bit wrong so far.

I think food's the one thing I did put a lot of effort into. I do try to feed them more newspaper than other material, but I think I've been doing maybe 50/50 in practice. Newspaper is very thin as a material and it sticks to the blades of the blender. Thinking it through I probably would have run into much more trouble if I didn't have as much carbon in the mix.

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applestar
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

Spigot=tap a mechanism that opens a pipe to drain... or some people just allow to free drip out of holes to catch tray— but That’s messy. Like imafan said, you should be draining it to keep the reservoir level from touching the bottom of the lowest tray.

An easy “cheat” I you don’t have the time for full revamp of the set up is to soak a brick of compressed shredded coir, then squeeze/wring out by handfuls and mix into the tray of castings and worms. I like doing this with a gardening hand-fork because I can thoroughly fluff up the tray with minimum harm to the worms. If I feel like the tray needs it, I would also add used coffee grounds. Both of these materials make good “bedding” for the worms but are indistinguishable if the castings are harvested soon after. I mix these ingredients in by using the “folding in” technique as in baking, which helps to thoroughly aerate the castings and create healthier environment for the worms.

The leacheate when kitchen scraps are still visible are less composted/digested — raw. Not the same as vermicasting tea. It could be aerated like AACT (actively aerated compost tea) to allow the microbes to digest, otherwise the good microbes will die off and go anaerobic. But like AACT, ratio of bacteria to fungi will change. If I remember correctly, leacheate has lower pH and is more bacterial.

This is why IMHO vemicast (or compost) tea sold in bottles are a joke.... They have no shelf life.

I believe that leacheate should be used right away after collecting and that you should know that quality is diminishing by the hour, the longer you procrastinate. BUT it is still nutrients, and it is still beneficial. I just don’t trust leacheate on food crops that are eaten raw — so Not on leafy greens or root crops. Leacheate should be diluted with de-chlorinated water for use unless pouring on garden soil.

As for bagged vermicast, they have to be dehydrated to a certain % moisture content. Sometimes/places, they are required to be pastueurized first. :roll:

Nope, not the same as freshly harvested vermicast, and at home most people have no way to test them so quality of bacterial and fungal population can’t be monitored as time passes. At most, to store for a short time —and knowing quality will diminish— you need to let the harvested casting dry (spread out on a tarp for example) to at least moistened potting mix level — hold and squeeze and the lump will hold shape but crumble when poked... then keep in vented bags (such as ones good quality organic potting mix come in) or storage tubs.

If yours smells faintly moldy, then I would say it probably is — from being too wet. Slightly mushroom-y would be better. You could probably improve the beneficial myco/fungal population of your casting by adding any discarded mushroom stems from your kitchen for the worms, and by adding inoculated potting mix or beneficial mycorrhizae booster to the harvested casting.

You can improve the beneficial bacterial population by feeding your worms harvested bokashi or by adding some bokashi starter to the harvested casting.
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applestar
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

@imafan, I can’t imagine having to go through all that. It sounds like you would need a specialized vermicomposting system... I would imagine tightly fitting modules (tubs/buckets) with I think -rather than drilled ventilation and drainage holes- larger holes securely covered with reinforced metal window screening mesh (must be small enough opening so most worms can’t get through. I envision glued on and holes framed on both sides over the screening and bolted down.
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imafan26
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

I did have screen mesh, but he lid on my rubbermaid tub did not have a lock and i did not belt it so they still got in. A bucket might do better. I have gotten a new tub with locks and I may still belt it too even though it is a pain to have to unbelt it every time.

The leachate is best used ASAP. I just mix it with water and pour it over the plants. It does not go a long way so It takes a while to make it around the yard. Vermicast has live bacteria. Usually we keep the bag open and keep it in a cool place. Since vermicast does not go a long way, I put it in a sock and make vermicast tea with it. I can use the sock a couple of times before it is spent. Then I spread whatever is left somewhere in the garden. You want to use it as soon as you can to take advantage of the living microbes.
You can buy cooler replacement spigots from amazon and I have made spigots with ball valves and I found this one on the internet on how to make a valve using a hose shut off valve. I found a bulkhead fitting for rain barrel that should work and all I would need to ad is a 3/4 inch pvc end cap. I would have to make sure the worm bin is up high enough to get a bucket under it. I did see one that used a cork to plug the hole. A wider opening is better than a right angle since, like the rain barrel, it will be easier to unclog.

My friend did try to leave the drain open to drain into a bucket, but that did not work out, the mosquitoes liked to breed in the leachate if you did not empty it almost daily.

https://www.amazon.com/Bulkhead-Fitting ... se+adapter
http://www.seattletilth.org/learn/resou ... tsbinplans
https://www.amazon.com/Tomlinson-Replac ... lon+bucket
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Tomgrow
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

Thank you very much for the info guys. I'm learning a lot. I'll definitely keep this bookmarked.

I was aware that fungi play an important roll in plant health. I didn't know that the type of fungi that produce edible mushrooms are the type you want for your plants. What about putting mushroom compost in the worm farm? Or inoculated coffee grounds? I'm experimenting with growing oyster mushrooms at the moment. From experience you don't get the mycelium growth unless you go to major effort to sterilise or pasteurise the medium. I certainly don't think I'd see any oyster mushroom activity inside a worm farm. Maybe there'd be beneficial stuff going on that I can't see though?

I hadn't thought of bokashi but that's a good idea. I saw an interesting video a long time ago on making compost tea. I believe they got some soil material from a variety of locations that were likely to have beneficial bacteria and fungi. It seems like worm farming is like plant farming in a lot of ways: All about keeping the soil aerated and helping the good things thrive.

I suspect I might be better off having smaller bins for the worms so they move on quickly and I can harvest the castings quickly and make sure they're always in aerated bedding.

Thank's for the links imafan26 It gives me some ideas on what to look for. I'll be interested to hear how your next bin goes.

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applestar
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

Primary reason for suggesting putting edible mushrooms in the worm bin is for safety. But I believe biodiversity will help suppress undesirable fungi. I am not certain if ...let me rephrase and say I don’t think... cultivation level inoculation/infusion with mushroom mycelium is desirable in a worm bin — Depends on species, but especially deadwood fungi might compete with the worms?

- Oyster mushrooms has shown mixed results as vegetable symbiote.
https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/view ... s_theses_2

Impact of Oyster Mushroom Mycelium on the Growth of Kale and Forage Radish - ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst
by L Lilly · 2018
21.8% increase in cabbage yield (Brassica oleracea var. capitata L.) when crop rows were interplanted with ... Stamets (2005)


- There are proven plant-symbiotic fungi and “beneficial” mycorrhizae but, again, I would only use them as more-or-less balanced part of the fungal diversity in the worm bin, and add recommended concentration of them to the casting after harvesting when preparing a planting mix.
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applestar
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

This is getting OT but...

My guess is that it stands to reason that highly adaptive large “FRUITING” fungi such as oyster mushrooms would outcompete plants for nutrients. (I do want to experiment with interplanting with King Stropharia garden giant mushrooms — it’s one of my back burner projects... yeah those are even larger... :P )
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Tomgrow
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Re: Fixing a neglected worm farm.

Okay. Well I think the thing to do is add any sort of material that's likely to have a good mix of beneficial bacteria and fungi and it probably won't hurt to throw a few mushroom scraps in the bin as well :)

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