Apr 2, 2010

green: vermicomposting

I learned about Vermicomposting when I stumbled upon Sustainable Dave's 365 Days of Trash. I watched a video or two, read up a bit, and eventually convinced Kyle (the eternal skeptic) to give it a chance. We bought a Worm Factory online (can't remember the store we bought it from, but I quickly Googled it and it's available at All Things Organic). We got a 4 tray system, but I think we could have done with a 3 tray system since wormies don't like most of the produce we throw out (citrus peels, fresh herbs, onions, garlic). There was one point when we had 2 or 3 trays full, but never 4.

It's definitely been a trial-and-error adventure. I was uber-excited when we first got it, and despite warnings of "don't overfeed!" I fed them too much and the wormies just huddled up and hid in a corner. Then I added fresh herbs (none of the books tell me I can't!) and onions (even though the books told me I can't...) and the population crashed. My theory for this is that the worms don't actually eat the veggies; they eat the bacteria (& other microbes, etc) that feed on the veggies, and onions & fresh herbs are antimicrobial... We decided to leave the composter alone and we just started throwing our veg scraps in the normal garbage for a few weeks. Eventually, the wormies worked through the food I'd given them and the population exploded (that's a good thing).

I had a few brief moments of panic when I noticed that there were loads of other types of bugs in the worm factory. I didn't know what I was breeding, and I didn't want them hurting my wormies! Fortunately, I was working in an invertebrate lab at the time so I brought a few specimens in and took a look under the microscope with Michelle. Turns out they were collembola and mites and they're good for worm factories!

My next obstacle was that I didn't realize how quickly worm tea filled up (worm tea = the liquid that accumulates in the bottom of the worm bin ... essentially worm pee/mucus?). It turns out that a combination of lots of organic-rich standing water + a lingering population of drainflies (Psychodidae) hanging out in the apartment means that you end up with your very own breeding colony. It got really bad in Windsor and I had to borrow a "pooter" (i.e. aspirator) from work to collect them off my kitchen wall and release them outside.

The next obstacle was moving them, but this one didn't turn out to be that difficult. We stopped feeding them for a while so that they would eat the food that they had and reduce the weight of the worm factory a bit. Then we added some bread/rice a day before we moved because digesting carbs increases heat and they'd be living in the truck the whole time. And lastly, it was above freezing when we moved so no problemo.

Our most recent obstacle has been a major one with some serious consequences. At some point we ended up breeding fruit flies but I think they mostly went away over the course of winter. However, we ended up with a species of fly that looks a lot like bigger fruit flies, but they like really stinky things like kitty litter and rotting onions. These guys have proven impossible to get rid of, thus far. They're not sooo bad, once we figured out a few techniques for managing them (i.e. set up fly traps, avoid feeding the wormies too frequently b/c it lets the flies out, add one plastic layer filled just with paper which makes it hard for the flies to get out). Unfortunately, because of the flies, I haven't been able harvest/sort through the compost very often (because the flies escape in waves when I start rooting around in the compost). My solution for this was to wait until the outside was reasonable (0 Celsius) and root around in the compost then, because the flies would die, hopefully, but the wormies should stay OK. Turns out NO wormies do not like that temperature and I killed nearly all of my full-grown wormies. I still have some babies and I hope they will grow up big and strong, but right now my population is seriously crashed. I think we've almost got the drain fly problem under control (yes, they moved with us to Quebec), and I think the other fly problem will be reduced when I can leave the compost outside for a few days at a time.

Despite all the trouble it's given me, I really like having the worm composter. It's kind of fun to have the challenge and keep a little community living (although I seem to have exterminated my collembola somehow too). And it's nice to get rid of a lot of our veggie scraps without throwing them in the garbage. And the unexpected benefit is that I have a nice collection of vegetables growing (mostly tomatoes and peppers, with the occasional ?? plant).

1 comment:

Shannon said...

I've read this a few times and it just kills me each and every time. I’m just picturing you sorting through the composter...