Keeping Your Worm Bin Cool

How will I keep my worms cool this summer?

How will I keep my worms cool this summer?

It’s about to get really hot here in Texas for a few months.  This means it’s time for me to consider how I’ll keep my worms happy and eating and pooping.  Worms like temps between 40 and 90 degrees.  My worm bin in the garage is already right at 80 and we’re not even in the dog days of summer yet.

The school worm bins are going to be even tougher because they’re outside.  So, what will I do? I’ve done some research and this is what I’ve found.

For one thing, you could move your worm bin inside when it gets really hot.  Mine is right inside the garage.  It’s a matter of moving it maybe 5 feet to right inside the house when it gets really hot.  I’m sure I’ll do that when we start having 100 plus degree days.

Over at the school, I moved the worm bins to where they are in the shade.  This isn’t quite as optimal as moving them inside, but it’s the best I can do over there.  Maybe it’s the best you can do at your house too.  Having direct sunlight on your worm bin is a sure route to crispy worms.  Move your bin at least into the shade.

Moisture is also helpful.  Have you ever sat outside at a restaurant that had a misting system?  The evaporation of the moisture from your skin felt cool?  The evaporation of moisture from your worm bin will help keep it cool too.

Something else I’m going to try is that, before the school year ended, I got buckets of scraps from the school cafeteria and ground them up in my food processor, put them in ziploc bags and froze them.  I’m planning to feed these chunks of frozen food to the worms.  I believe the coolness of the frozen food, not to mention the moisture of it, will help alot.  I’ve read of people putting frozen water bottles in their worm bins and I’m sure I’ll do that too.

Do you have any other suggestions for keeping a worm bin cool in the summer?

Worms on the Plane

Transporting Composting Worms on a Plane

Worms on the Plane!

This weekend I flew to Oregon to see my niece and her family, including her new one month old son.  Trying to be a good great-aunt, I knew I needed to bring older sister a gift.

What better gift than composting worms?  Isn’t that what every little girl wants?

So, I went to home depot and bought a small white bucket.  I came home and set up a small worm bin in the little bucket.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get it on the airplane or not, what with security being what it is, but I knew I had to give it a try.

I arrived at the ticket counter with my suitcase, my laptop case and my worm bucket.  (What? Doesn’t everyone carry around a worm bucket?).  The agent that checked me in asked what was in the bucket.  I told him, “Composting worms.”

“You’re not going to be able to fly with those.” He said.

“Well, I’m prepared for that, but can you tell me why?”

“Health concerns.” He said.

Of course, you and I know that that is ridiculous.  There are no health concerns surrounding composting worms.  They don’t even smell bad!

I didn’t argue with him.  He didn’t take my worms, so I just took them and kept going. I went through security with no problem or comment from anyone.  The worms seemed none the worse for wear from the x-ray.  I tried to stay away from the area directly surrounding my gate just in case the ticket agent had sent some kind of message to the gate warning them of my clandestine worms.

I was the first one to board.  I slipped my worm bucket into the overhead bin and sat down, looking innocent.  No one said anything to me at all.  My worms safely made it to Salem, where they are composting today.

It’s a Wormtastrophe! How I overheated my worm bin and killed my worms

How I cut my worm population in half in just two days.

It's a wormtastrophe!

I have a fungus problem.  My town community garden plot apparently has fungus.  Sadly, that is exactly where I planted all of the tomato plants this spring.  (I didn’t realize the fungus issue before I planted, now it’s too late.)  I was researching how to try to eliminate the fungus and I came across the fact that worm tea is anti fungal.

Great!  I have my little worm army always working to make me worm castings!

I figured that it is going to take a ton of worm tea to eliminate this fungus problem, so I decided to be more aggressive with feeding so that my worms would be more aggressive about making baby worms, so that I would end up with more worm castings.

At the same time, last weekend I made a couple of Starbucks runs since I was trying to build up the compost pile over at the school community garden.  I had a wealth of coffee grounds.  Worms love coffee grounds. Match made in heaven, right?

As it turns out, the phrase “All things in moderation” applies here as well.

I filled two trays of my worm bin with a rather large quantity of coffee grounds.  I knew the coffee grounds really heat up a compost pile, but I didn’t stop to consider that it would do the same thing to my worm box.  When I checked on my little worm friends last night, it felt like my bin was on fire.  I immediately started scooping out as much of the coffee as I could get my hands on.  The worms in the trays with the coffee had fled to the sides of the trays.  They were crawling up the side to escape the intense heat.  When I picked up the bottom tray to look at the catch tray underneath, it looked like the lifeboat departing the Titanic (if that lifeboat were filled with worms).

I removed as many of the coffee grounds as I could, I added shredded newspaper to the top bin and I placed a few ice cubes around the hot trays so as to attempt to bring down the temperature.  I can’t believe I did that!  No telling how many worms I lost.  Just when I need to ramp up production of worm castings, I’ve killed who knows how much of my stock.

I feel horrible!

I went out again this morning and the top bin is still warmer than I would like.  There are still worms up around the edge so they don’t feel it’s cool enough to re-enter the bin.

I’ll keep you updated.

Using Coffee Grounds in Compost

Used Coffee Grounds are Magic in Compost

Used Coffee Grounds are Magic in Compost

The key to your success with compost might be at your local coffee shop. Oddly enough, used coffee grounds are a green in the composting world (meaning it’s high in nitrogen).  In fact, its a fabulous green in many ways.  Coffee grounds are readily available year round in sufficient quantities for whatever compost you want to put together. (Unlike grass clippings that only happen in the summer.) Coffee grounds don’t have pathogens like other sources of nitrogen one might use in compost (like manure).  Besides, where’re you going to get a steady supply of manure if you live in the suburbs?  Coffee grounds are already in small pieces, which helps speed up the process, and they’re readily available for free.  Coffee grounds also won’t add weed seeds to your compost.  Coffee grounds won’t add chemicals to your pile that could kill your garden later either.

Most Starbucks keep their coffee grounds separated out from the rest of their trash.  If you stop by and let them know you’d like grounds, they’ll give you whatever they have.  You’ll be keeping it out of the trash, and you’ll be treating yourself to some great compost. If you live in a Starbucks free zone (do those exist?) then stop by your independent coffee shop or maybe even the 7-11 on the corner and ask them to save grounds for you.  I have a school right behind my house and I have them saving grounds.  People are usually more than willing as long as you remember to pick up the grounds regularly so they don’t make a mess.  And it’s free!

Once you have your bags of coffee grounds, just layer them in with whatever brown material you’re using.  Remember your three to one ratio.  (Three parts browns to one part greens.)  After you get it all layered up, that pile is going to heat up within a couple of days.  You’ll be surprised and amazed by how hot it will get.  There’s almost nothing that intrigues me more than a steaming compost pile.  But, maybe that’s just me.

Here is an article from Science Daily with more scientific info on the subject. 

Here is an article from Sunset Magazine on the subject as well.

 

(Photo courtesy of http://www.caffesociety.co.uk)

Why I Love Worm Composting

Why I love my worm box!

I love my worms.

I keep a worm box.  I realize that this is not something that everyone does.  There are three reasons why I love my worms, and worm composting.

1) Less Garbage. Using my worms for composting means that I get to use a lot of what would normally go in the trash.  Potato peels, apple cores, banana peels, egg shells, used tea bags, carrot tops and many other things go right into my worm box.

2) Less Money: Using what I would normally throw away also means that my gardening endeavors cost me less money.  It seems like there is always some gardening doo dad I “need”.  If I’m not producing what I need to  put on my garden, it means I have to buy it.  I use my worms to use my garbage to make what my garden needs.

3) Worm Tea.  I love the organic liquid fertilizer I brew from the worm castings produced by my worms.  Worm tea will not burn your plants.  It is a natural fungicide. Worm tea repels aphids, spider mites, scale and white flies.

Worm tea is really a miracle product for your garden.  It is a living thing.  If you don’t believe me, make some up and try it on  your plants.  It’s simply unbelievable.  Don’t believe me? Get ahold of me and try it yourself.

4) Shock Factor.  I must admit that I love the shock factor of having worms.  The little girl who lives across the street witnessed me messing with my worms and said, “My mom would NEVER have worms in the house”.  Even my kids don’t like to look at my worms and refuse to handle them.  Of course, I’m an odd sort of mom anyway.  My birthday list this year included a wheelbarrow.

How do I speed up the composting process?

How do I speed up my compost?

How do I speed up my compost?

I mentioned in an earlier blog post about composting that, at my house, a compost pile hangs around for six to nine months before it has broken down enough to use it in a garden bed.

What can you do to speed up the composting process?  How can you get access to that fabulous compost as soon as possible?

Once again, there are three keys to compost success.

1) Make the pieces smaller.  Smaller pieces decompose faster.  If you want compost faster, grind up what you use in your compost.  Don’t put big chunks in.

2) Get more air into it.  Composting is an aerobic process.  For it to happen requires oxygen. The more you aerate your compost, the faster it will break down.  So, turn it or whatever, but keep air in all parts of it.

3) Add nitrogen when it cools off.  After you initially create your pile, if you’ve put a good amount of nitrogen in, it will heat up.  Over time it will cool off again.  If you can turn the pile while layering in some more high nitrogren, the pile will heat up again and the decomposition process will rage on.

Starting a Compost Pile

Setting Up Your Compost Pile

Setting Up Your Compost Pile

After you have the three composting basics in mind, now you just need to put it together.

Decide where you’ll put it.  It’s likely that your compost pile will be a part of your life for a while.  At my house it takes six to nine months for compost to happen.  Maybe there are some super compost ninjas around that get theirs broken down more quickly, but that isn’t how it goes for me.  (Here are some tips for making your compost break down faster.) It is important to put the compost somewhere that you can live with it for that long.

At my house, I have a Golden Retriever whom I love very much.  I love her despite the incredibly annoying love she has for spreading my greens and browns all over the yard if she can get to them.  Because of this habit, it is important for me to enclose my ingredients as well as my working compost. While you can certainly buy beautiful and costly compost containers, I just use chicken wire.  I just buy a roll at Home Depot or Lowes and unroll a good amount (a compost pile needs to be at least three feet thick and three feet high).  I fasten the ends together with cable ties.  There are probably more poetic ways to do that but I have lots of cable ties, it’s easy and I don’t have to use any tools.

If you don’t have any critters that will make a mess of your pile, you can just pile it up.  You may not like the look of a pile in anywhere in your yard. If you look around, you’ll find lots of beautiful, fancy and expensive ways to contain your compost.  What you do completely depends on how much money you have and how you want to spend it.  As for me, if I can find a low priced way to accomplish something, that’s what I’m going to do.

Once you have your place, start layering your greens and browns.  Three parts brown to one part green.  Be sure to keep your hose nearby so that you can add moisture too.  Keep mixing it up really well as you put it together.

Once you have your pile all put together, you mostly wait.  In a couple of days you should start to feel the pile heat up when you stick your hand down into it.  If you want to, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of your pile.    You can use any thermometer with a probe, although they do make specific compost thermometers with a really long probe so that you can easily get into the middle of your pile more easily.

You do need to make sure to monitor the moisture and throw water on it when it gets too dry.  You also need to get air into it if you want to help the pile break down faster.  (Here is more information about getting air into your pile.)

The Three Things You Need to Know to Compost

Three Steps to Compost

Three Steps to Compost

Thinking of beginning composting? It’s pretty simple. You really only need to know three things.

1) Your greens and browns. To have compost, you must start with the greens and browns. Greens are materials that are high in nitrogen, like grass clippings. Browns are things that are high in carbon, like dead leaves. You’ll need a ratio of about 3 parts carbon materials to 1 part nitrogen materials.

You don’t need to go crazy measuring things either. If you have too much nitrogen in your compost, your pile will stink and you can add carbon. If you have too much carbon in that compost pile, it won’t heat up and you can add nitrogen.

2) Oxygen. Compost needs oxygen. Even the middle of your pile needs oxygen. You can accomplish this in one of several ways. You can utilize a compost tumbler that allows you to easily turn the compost. You can drill holes in a PVC pipe and keep it in the middle of your pile to allow for air flow. You can get out there on the weekends and use a shovel and turn your compost. My favorite tool is this Yard Butler CA-36 Compost Aerator. This is what I use to stir up my piles.

3) Moisture. Your pile needs to be as moist as a wrung out sponge. If it is too wet, or too dry it will slow down your progess. We don’t want to slow our process..right?

So you’ve put together your greens, your browns, and you have a plan for keeping air circulation going and moisture. What now? Stay tuned. We’ll go over that next.

My Composting Video

I made this composting video  last year while I was working with my very first compost pile.  I’ve improved my technique.  I’ll write more tomorrow about composting.