Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My Bin o' Worms

Aside from a few days of concern, my condo worm composting project is coming along quite nicely. I do not think it is exaggeration to say that the population seems to have at least tripled. Each handful I look at contains several baby or juvenile worms now, and some of the adults are particularly large and juicy looking. I would say that cocoon production has slowed down, but I do still see plenty of new cocoons all the time.

There have been a few days of concern, however. I think it was just a few days after the last update when I started to notice some sluggishness in some of the worms, as well as what I can only describe as a sour kind of smell in the bin. I even found one worm laying on top of the bedding, with some kind of bubble-like growth on its dorsal side. When I pressed this bubble slightly it burst open, releasing a small amount of very foul smelling liquid. I have no idea what caused this, but thankfully I have not noticed any other so stricken worms.

However, I started to see more worms laying atop the top bedding layer, moving very little when the lid was removed. This is odd as red worms are not fond of light and usually scoot beneath the surface fast should they be topside when I remove the lid. I thought, due to the sour smell, that perhaps the Carbon:Nitrogen balance was leaning too far on the Nitrogen side. Adding more cardboard bedding seemed to help for a day, but then one night I lifted the lid to find about 20 worms climbing the walls and a few even on the inside of the lid. This means the problem was now even worse and was causing a serious amount of mutinous escape attempts. Given the fact that there was all kinds of food for them in the form of manure, cardboard and vegetative waste, I was fairly confidant that they were not starving. Also, the areas containing concentrated food was usually crawling with feeding worms, so over-feeding was likely not an issue either.

Castings were definitely starting to build up, so I began to wonder if oxygenation was lacking. I still found quite a few worms all through the bin so I didn't really think this was the issue either. Then I noticed that the materials might have been getting rather dry so I used a spray bottle to add about 1/3 of a litre of water. This led to a significant drop in escape attempts, but it did not stop them entirely.

The last noticeable potential cause was temperature. We had a couple of weeks of quite hot temperatures here, and even with the lights off and curtains drawn, this condo was getting pretty hot inside. Apparently this was heating the bin beyond a comfortable temperature because aiming a fan at the bin from about 3 feet away seems to have stopped the escape attempts completely.

Looking back, I suspect that more than one of these factors were working together to throw the system out of balance. I'm glad that keeping an eye on it probably helped to regain balance but I have a feeling that, in the long-term, adding water was likely all that was needed. I also added a tiny amount of normal dirt, since worms digest via a gizzard which needs tiny grit and their guts need to replenish clay which is used in processing and released in the castings.

I am also using a 12.5" deep tub in this system and this might be a little bit too deep for the width/length dimensions (16"X24"). I have started a second bin which is only 8" deep. This might provide a more efficient depth/surface area ratio. I am letting this second bin sit without any worms for awhile, letting the decomposition processes get a nice start. I am using the typical cardboard (drink tray/egg carton) bedding and crumbled cow manure. I also added two chopped up apples and sprayed probably 2 litres of water in, since the manure was very dry. Its been very cool to check this second bin once a day and see the formation of molds (I think) and long, fragile mushrooms. I just realized that I should be taking pictures of this progression. I may well start doing so.

If only our human systems were so easily sorted out. Still, there are definite lessons to be learned from observing and interacting with such limited systems.

Peace and comfort to all.


Maine Worms said...

I never realized that the surface to depth ratio was so important. I raise my worms in lots of sheet rock( 5gal) buckets stacked on top of each other. I havent had a problem that I know of. Thanks for the article. We all can learn something new everyday

SoapBoxTech said...

I agree, we certainly can and should learn something new every day.

Thanks for visiting and commenting!