In Attendance: Ian Johnson, Jeromy Grant, Brynn Presler-Marshall, Ricardo Contreras, Erica Drahozal, Julian Narvaez, Sean Williams, Nicole Williams, Jennifer Nu, Michael Downs, Sager BT, and Sheryl Contreras.
This month the Hoonah Stewardship council met to talk about HIA’s vermicomposting experiments and how community members can get involved.
What is vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is the process of maintaining and feeding earthworms to create rich, dark, soil additive. They’ll eat otherwise food waste, scrap paper/newspaper, etc. and their poop will give your soil a boost of nutrients. The added nutrients will give your plants a healthier environment and will add lifetime for your soil. Once you understand your role in the process it becomes a very simple.
Why Should you try vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting can lead to enriched houseplants or gardening soil by re using your wasted food scraps, paper, or cardboard by turning them into worm food. The soil you already use on your plants will be given a boost of nutrients that will benefit the plants and the soil will last longer too. You’ll spend less money as you won’t have to change out plant soil as often. The process is cheap and easy to maintain and you can get your kids involved in something outside of their digital worlds. It only takes a few months to create usable compost. One thing for us in Alaska and especially here in Hoonah is our produce like fruits and vegetables don’t get here in the best condition. Produce here also doesn’t last very long. That already breaking down produce is perfect worm food to add to your bin.
How to start Vermicomposting?
First thing you’ll need to start vermicomposting is a bin. We especially don’t want to risk the worms getting out into our local environment. It’s likely if they did escape they’d freeze to death but that’s not a guarantee. Your bin will need some type of covering to help prevent this from happening. The cover shouldn’t be completely sealed though. The worms and microorganisms in the bin will need air to survive. Next you’ll if you have that sorted you’ll need worms. We use what are called red wigglers and there are few other earthworms recommended for vermicomposting but red wigglers are the most commonly recommended for people that are just starting out. You’ll also want a place to store your worm bin. The redworms we have a preferred temperature between 55- and 77-degrees Fahrenheit. The worm bedding shouldn’t be allowed to get below freezing or above 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Materials you’ll be adding to your bin.
Worm bedding is the best place to start.
You can use ripped into small or shredded carboard. It’ll need to be moist so you can either use a spray bottle to moisten the carboard or dip the carboard bits into shallow water in a separate container.
Make it enough carboard to cover most of the bottom of your bin. Avoid using shiny carboard The shiny cardboard will contain chemicals toxic to the worms or the worms won’t be able to eat it as it won’t break down. Bedding will also cut down on the acid levels, it’ll absorb moisture if it’s too wet in your bin, as well as the heat that may come off other compostable items you choose to put in your bin.
Bedding will eventually be eaten by the worms as well but it has important benefits outside of just food. It’ll create gaps in your bin material to provide aeration to any micro organisms living in your bin. It’ll also provide small channels for your worms to move through and get to all the food’s you’ll be adding.
You can easily feed your worms not enough bedding, but you can almost never have too much of it.
Small amount of dirt/soil.
The reason you want a small about of dirt is because it’ll make it easier to sort out the worm poop from dirt when it’s ready to use.
The small amount of dirt will introduce microorganisms to the bin.
The microorganisms are important because they give the food a jump start on breaking down. Worms rarely will eat directly from any food that hasn’t had a chance to break down.
The best worm food is from plants.
That includes vegetables, grains, beans and some fruits. You’ll want to avoid fruits that are high in acid or citrus. The worms will generally eat these last and by the time they do eat them you’ll end up with a bad odor coming form your worm bin.
Good qualities of food are soft, cut into small pieces, somewhat moist and buried in the bin, just below the surface.
There are many types of foods are scraps you want to avoid adding to your worm bin. Salty foods are one. If you have salty foods, you don’t want to waste on trash, you may soak it in water for a day.
Grass clippings are another worm food to avoid.
If your lawn is treated the grass is toxic. If it’s green grass clippings they’ll generate too much heat as they break down and the higher temperature can kill the worms.
If you have any questions on anything, I haven’t covered for worm food you may use other recourses such as google to find out if it’s okay to add to your worm bins.
With all that food the worms will need some help from you to digest. They don’t have teeth, so they’ll need food that is small, soft, and it’ll help if the food is already breaking down. One way to help food break down faster is to freeze the scraps before adding them to your worm bin.
The worms will also need some type of grit. Worms also don’t have stomach acids. The grit will provide them with the ability to push the foods through their digestive systems.
Worms will still eat without grit, but it’ll take them much longer to breakdown all your food and turn it into usable compost. There are many different types of grit. You can use sand, dry top soil, pulverized egg shells, sand or even used coffee grounds.
Worms need all of that and one more important ingredient. Moisture! Worms need moisture to survive.
The reason I saved it for last is because everything you’ve added before will affect the moisture levels in your bins. Examples are if you add a lot of cardboard, you’re it’ll likely dry and absorb and water from a spray bottle or from food scraps. Inversely if you add too much moisture the worms will drown themselves in it.
You don’t want puddles forming at the bottom of your bin but you also don’t want it to be dry as the worms will shrivel up and die.
Things not to do involving your worm bin
Things you should not put in the bin include the following: Plastic bags, rubber bands, sponges bottle caps, aluminum foil and glass. This includes avocado pits and fruit pits. These materials will be in the bin forever and make you bin look like a trash dump.
The worm bin is not a litter box. Cat urine contains ammonia and it could kill the worms
You may occasionally get small insects or mites in your worm bins, but you should never use insecticides around your bin. The pests will be taken out but so will the worms.
Don’t use manure in as your worm bedding.
The manures will heat up and will cook your worms. This also includes grass trimmings as it may have the same affect.
You also don’t want to add meat, animal products, dairy, or greasy and oily foods. They will all smell terrible as they decompose. Also, if your bin is outside the vermin and bears might become attracted to the odors and start knocking it over.
How to tell if your vermicomposting process is done?
How will you know when it’s done?
If you’ve been giving worms everything they need over the course of a few months, this includes a healthy variety of different foods, moisture, grit and they haven’t died in that time causing a restart there are several indicators that it’s time to harvest.
1) There is a deep, dark brown color in the majority of your vermicompost. “black gold,” an actual black color may indicate your vermicompost is well beyond finished and is now possibly anaerobic meaning you didn’t provide the material with enough air.
2) Uniform Texture: The vermicompost that needs to be harvested will have a uniform texture throughout the bin. However, this won’t be a good indicator if you grind up your bedding and food together.
3) Worm reproduction slows: Worms don’t mind staying and continuing to eat amongst their own poop but even they have their limits
4) Small worm size: your worms will shrink if to reflect inadequate conditions for growth
5) Flat, felt like surface: A top layer of the bin that has a similar appearance to a black or brown billiard table it needs to be fed fluffed or changed out.
If your bin has 2-3 of these indicators its likely time to harvest your vermicompost and you can restart your bin.
How to Harvest your finished compost?
How to harvest your vermicompost?
To keep things easy, I’ll tell you one simple method. As mentioned before these worms do not like light at all. You can use that to your advantage.
You can grab out all the material, worms and all and put it on a flat surface. It’ll help to have a bright light and all the worms will eventually crawl their way down to get away from the light.
You’ll then be able to scrap the top and sides away. Repeat this until you have just a pile of worms.
The main drawback to this method is it’s very hands on and easily on of the more time consuming methods.
Basic Vermicomposting Ideas to Remember.
Here some basic ideas remember when it comes to your worm bin.
1) I can’t stress this enough. Do not let them escape. There are too many unknowns to risk letting these worms get out into our local environment. It’s possible if it did happen, they’d all freeze to death but that’s not a guarantee.
2) Check on your worms regularly especially as you get used to them.
3) Pay attention to what you feed them. If you have any questions about what the worms should and should not be eating google is a great tool to find out. I know a small bit about worms from experience of the last few months but google is still where I go when I have questions.
4) Worms NEED moisture to survive. Everything you add and don’t add to your worm bins will affect the moisture level. Fruits and vegetables for example will have their own water they will add to your bin as they break down. Bedding or items such as cardboard or shredded paper can sometimes dry out in your worm bin and absorb more moisture if you have too much in your bin.
Meeting Questions and Feedback
Can you use local worms?
You won’t be hurting anyone but yourself by trying to use other worms but red wigglers are the most highly recommended. They are surface feeders and can hold the most extremes in terms of temperature. Other worms will make it harder on yourself because their behavior is less predictable.
Has this presentation been done for students?
No this was our first time showing what we’ve learned about worms.
It’s good you’re emphasizing to not let them escape because there’s been mixed opinion on what would happen if they do. If your worm bin has too high of moisture it will build up on the sides of your bin and the worms will sometimes follow that moisture out of the bin. YouTube has a lot of resources about vermicomposting and worms and many different types of bins or process’.
Worm castings or vermicompost isn’t a 100% soil replacement. Data shows it can replace up to 40% before the benefits of start to decline.
Can you get worms?
Yes! We have worms to give away to anyone that wants to start their own worm colony. We can also act as a resource for any questions you encounter along the way.
Forest Service Announcements
The forest service has two job openings they’re looking to fill. Both jobs come with government housing.
The forest service is getting money from an infrastructure bill. First plan of action is gathering feedback from the community about where people would like any possible forest service cabins to be built and a meeting will be held at city hall June 2nd, 2022.