Monday, December 21, 2009

Vermicomposting Part 2: The System

The system is fairly simple. I use a very specific system, and it's not the cheapest solution available, but it does illustrate the workings of this process very well, so we'll use it as a sample case, to drive home the primary points.

I'm using a Can-O-Worms, from Waikiki Worm, but many DIY options will work, once you understand the principles. I've even heard of people using single coffee cans with a hole punched in the base. I'll go over the process with my system, though, to help show you the basics.

The base (A) rests on the ground, in the shade. When you start, You fill the first bucket (B) with some kind of neutral fiber bedding (mine came with a block of coconut husk which, when soaked with water, serves as a decent place for the worms to live), and nest it into the base. You provide food for the works to eat; vegetable waste and the like. You sprinkle it over the top, and add your worms. Cover the top with shredded newspaper. Wet the whole thing. The lid (E) fits into the first bucket. Cover the system and go live your life.

(The worms eat the food. They also eat the bedding. They will eat it and poop it out and eat their poop and poop that out and so on until their poop looks a lot like mud. This is not a coincidence. Mud is made of tiny rocks and water, but it is also made of organic material produced by decomposers like worms. You are facilitating the economic conversion of a natural process, harnessed and directed for personal gain. You are, in essence, a pimp.)

As you generate more vegetable waste from the eating of vegetables, you add more of said waste to the first bucket, under the shredded newspaper. The newspaper gives the worms something to crawl through to get to the food. The worms will also eat the newspaper. The worms will eat just about anything you put in the bucket. They will even (get this) eat human hair from haircuts. My wife cuts my hair, and the first time she cut my hair while we had worms, I tried to put all my cut hair into the bucket. My wife stopped me, for fear of giving the worms a taste for human tissues. Worms get a raw deal. This is the kind of prejudice you will be dealing with, should you decide to keep your own worms.

Eventually, your first bucket will fill with food. The worms will have broken some of it down, but it will still look like food. "Gross," you will say. It should be noted at this point, that if you stick to vegetable matter, your system will not smell bad. It should actually smell kind of pleasant, like a forest floor, or some equally nice metaphor. When your first bucket is full, you scrape up the top layer of vegetable waste and newspaper and place it into an empty bucket. (C), let's say. You lay that on top of the first bucket (B), and continue as if nothing had happened.

Here is what is happening here: The buckets all have little holes in them (H). These holes are just large enough so that worms can pass through them. The worms will crawl up from bucket (B) to bucket (C), and eat the food there. They will also crawl back down to bucket (B) and eat the partially digested food there--and I cannot be sure of this, but it seems they will also move to the lower levels to breed. I often see little baby worms in the lower levels. These baby worms also eat the partially digested food, and further digest it. All worms move throughout the system, breaking down new food, and really breaking down older food in a process called... I have no idea what this process is called.

We're a couple of months in, at this point. All the while, you've been feeding the worms with waste from your kitchen (as you create it), and watering the worms every couple of days. The water trickles through the system, and keeps everything moist and happy. This water drains out of the system I have via a spigot (F) that empties into a regular bucket (G). This water, in later stages of this process, is nitrogen-rich and valuable to plants, which I will discuss in subsequent chapters.

At some point, your top bucket will fill up with food, too. Then, you add your final bucket (D), in the same manner you added bucket (C). Go ahead and inefficiently eat vegetables and fill that up too. Months more later now. You've filled up (D). What do you do?

You harvest vermicastings, that's what. With the help of friends, lift up the top layers (Buckets (C), (D); and lid (E)). Remove bucket (B), and place it on top of bucket (D). You will notice this: That the worms, while you were living, working, making love, plotting revenge, etc. have converted all of the original bedding and food into something that that looks a lot like mud. This "mud", as you naively call it, is the most nitrogen-rich soil additive your small mind can conceive of. "Gardeners' Gold", they call it. Can you imagine how amazing it must be for them to call it that?!? Anyway, put the lid to the side and wait. Go inside, and play Little Big Planet, or something.

I'm planning a chapter on worm behavior, but here's a spoiler: Worms hate the light. When confronted with light, a worm will move in the other direction. So your first bucket, bucket (B), exposed to all that light, should be clear of worms in an hour or so. Give it a stir every so often; they'll migrate down to bucket (D) in short order.

So now bucket (B) is filled with only worm castings. Again, Gardeners' Gold. At this point, kick yourself for not having a garden. Better yet, go back in time and make sure that you had a garden. This stuff is great for placing at the roots of plants to help them grow. If your plants are already planted, you can sprinkle it around their base, and let it filter down. I've maintained an herb garden for nearly a year now, and never fertilized it with anything not from my worms.

So yes, I've avoided using those little $0.69 cent sticks you can buy in gardening stores. And I've avoided throwing maybe a hundred pounds of kitchen waste down the garbage disposal, so the waste-water treatment facilities don't have to deal with it. Or the fish don't have to eat it. I'm fully aware of the horse-shittery surrounding this practice. Maybe it's good for the world, and maybe it's not. How the hell should I know? If we hit Peak Oil, and this is a skill I have, how does this help me prepare for the coming apocalypse? How does this differ from the completely useless practice of keeping birds? I don't fucking know. You know what grows well with all these worm castings and all this worm tea? Mint. You know how many recipes I generally make that involve mint? Two. And one of them's a Mojito. So yeah. Do I enjoy this? I sure do. Am I saving the world? No idea. It's fun, though. It's like keeping birds, a little. I mean, it's easy to get delusional about the importance of what I'm doing here. But will I ever achieve a carbon offset remotely equal to the cost of the plastic in my plastic worm buckets? Who knows? Actually, that's measurable. The question is, do I dare do the calculation?

So anyway, when you've emptied bucket (B) of castings, you leave it up there, at the top. You scrape off the top layer of bucket (D); the food and the newspaper, and cover the system again. The harvesting should happen every three months or so, but it will vary with the amount of vegetable waste from your kitchen, and other factors, I'm sure. To be continued!


Lungclops said...

Is there a relationship between the worms and the spice?

Galspanic said...

The worms are the spice. Take it from me, as I have begun my own Harkonnen-like operation with Fugu.

Galspanic said...

Everytime I see the worms flee when I open the canister by the way, I recall Zartan's reaction to sunlight. "The light! It robs me of my ability to change colohhhhh!"

I'm surprised, Poné. The Arena episode of Star Trek TOS should have taught you how valuable bird keeping is.

Mrs. 'Panic really enjoyed this post!

Ruby Tenneco said...

These are so good, Mr. P.

Fugu said...

I'm completely enjoying these posts, Pony. Thanks for the excellent job!

I did not know that about human hair. That is totally fucked up, but you're right, it's probably just my prejudices, thinking that we should be at the top of the food chain. Before zombies. Worms even eat zombies I bet.

…Zombie worms… huh.

The last time I fed the worms (started blending the stuff. The last batch was 80% onions, 10% coffee, and a mix of herbs and melons. It smelled weirdly good) I noticed that there was a ton (sorry) of maggots. Like, at least on the surface more of them than worms. Like a town meeting or something in the center of the tub. Anyway, is that an overfeeding issue, Mr. Pony? Can we train the worms to eat the maggots?

Litcube said...

"Do I enjoy this? I sure do. Am I saving the world? No idea."

Lungclops said...

If we hit Peak Oil, how many buckets would you need to have enough worms to eat, and still produce enough waste from your worm meals to feed the other worms?

Mr. Pony said...

I will cover both feeding and biodiversity issues in subsequent posts. In short, don't worry about the maggots. They're probably not even maggots. I mean, in the traditional sense; in the sense you should be worries about them.

Mr. Pony said...

Tangential to Lungclops' horrible horrible comment, I read a warning somewhere about not putting dog shit into a vermicomposting bin. Because I guess people have tried that.

Galspanic said...

I read up on the maggots, Fuge. Pony is correct. The maggots are not a sign of badness. They are a sign maybe taht there is too much acidity in the compost, which can be rectified by adding more crushed eggshells and/or ashes. Ashes from the humans we kill protecting our precious wormfarm, I'll wager. Biodiversity or Death!

Fugu said...

What way "should" we be worried about maggots, exactly? That's a weird statement to make.

Mr. Pony said...

Like if you found maggots in the trunk of your car, or in your underpants.