Amazing Adventures in Vermicomposting

(Warning - this post is not for the squeamish).

My friend Rainey got me hooked on Amazon lightening deals over the holidays. I checked them daily, even when I was done with my shopping, just to see what amazing deal was going to come up next.

I was ecstatic when a worm bin came up. (I know, you're excited too!) I jumped at the chance to get one on sale, but they were sold out before I could definitely make up my mind. See! Other people like worms too!

What is a worm bin and what is vermicompost you ask? In a nutshell - a worm bin is an indoor composter and vermicompost is worm poop. But, it isn't just any poop. It is the gold standard of poop! 

Vermicompost has 5x more nitrogen, 7x more phosphorus, and 11x more potassium than normal garden soil and is full of beneficial microbes. It doesn't burn plants like normal manures do, and doesn't need to be composted before use. (For the non-gardeners out there - horse and cow manure contain a ton of nitrogen and are "hot". If applied to plants without composting, it can burn the plants' roots.)

During the winter, our outdoor compost pile doesn't do much. I wanted to do something with all of the kitchen scraps we create over the winter (about 10 pounds a week!). So I ordered the bin, and a pound of red wiggler worms.

My oldest daughter named all of our worms "Snowflake", partly because it is winter, and partly because like snowflakes, no two worms are alike.

We received a pound of red wigglers, and added them to their new worm home. All seemed to be going swimmingly until I noticed a population boom of white mites. 

I knew going into this that it was very possible that other creepy crawlies would move in to our worm habitat, but I didn't know if white mites would do any harm to my beloved Snowflakes. I asked Dr. Google about the mites and read,

"White mites do not pose a danger to red worms. They feed on dead and dying worms."

"dead and dying worms"


In my rookie worm owning-ness, I'd overfed my poor Snowflakes. They supposedly can eat half a pound of food waste a day, and I'd been...making sure they weren't starving. In my doing so, I'd overfed them. Not only that, I'd also neglected to add new bedding to their bin when feeding them, so it was really wet.

Not good, Batman. Not good at all.

You'd have thought I was performing emergency surgery in my kitchen as fast as I ripped that worm bin apart. My 5 year old daughter was my assistant, and very politely (and quietly) said, "Mama, it smells like a zoo in here."

Now, I will be the first to say that I generally don't mind odors and smells that others may find unpleasant. I do enjoy the smell of a zoo. Sheep pens and horse stalls don't bother me. I am happiest when elbow deep in muck in the garden. Sweaty kids smell like puppies, sunshine and rainbows. 

But this smell...let's just say, there are no words in the English language to describe it. It had to be one of the absolute worse smells I've ever come across, and that is saying something.

This particular bin I have is comprised of stacked trays. As they're filled, a new tray is added. I'm still working on my first tray, which is stacked on top of a drip pan. The liquid in the picture is leachate. Normal worm bins have this as well, mine just also contains a good handful of dead worms due to my carelessness in feeding. If you look super closely, you can see a bunch of dead worms in that ghastly liquid, as well as a small pile of muck and an assortment of dead worms scattered on the pan.

Leachate is NOT worm tea. (Worm tea is "brewed" by soaking vermicompost in water, and using that to feed plants.) Leachate should be disposed of, especially if it smells bad (which in this case, is a significant understatement.)

I pulled everything apart and gave it a good scrubbing and set it outside in the sun. I then set to work on creating a new bed for my precious Snowflakes.

I was also unaware that I was supposed to turn the contents of the worm bin, similar to a compost pile. This helps to prevent an anaerobic environment. 

I lined a new bin with new paper. There are holes in the bottom of the bins which allow the worms to move up when I add a new tray on top. In the case of the previous tray, they'd composted the original lining, and fell through the holes to their doom.

Then I added LOTS of new bedding. SO MUCH BEDDING. I recycled my kids' homework and tore it into strips.

On top of that, I added everything from the previous bin, and mixed it up. 

Even with all of the rookie mistakes, they're definitely doing their job. Here's what the bin looked like a couple of weeks ago - 

They're also working on making new baby Snowflakes! Those 2 golden ball thingys are eggs!

Are you vermicomposting? Or are you pretty much horrified by the concept? 

Winter Grown Tomatoes

I love the science behind gardening almost as much as I love the actual act of gardening itself. This year I wanted to try to grow tomatoes indoors to get me through to July, when I'll *hopefully* be harvesting the beginning of the crop for 2014.

I started some "sweet baby girl" tomato seeds indoors about 6 weeks ago, and planted them a couple of days before Christmas. They're in 10 gallon Smart Pots which are filled with my homemade potting mix.

I used coir (a byproduct of the coconut industry), vermiculite, worm castings and rock dust. So far, the plants are looking fantastic, and are starting to set fruit.

In just over a month, I'll be sowing seeds for the spring crop - broccoli, swiss chard, onions, peas and beets! 

Have you started thinking about your 2014 garden yet?