29 May 2015

picking worms

I just realized I've already applied the latest batch of vermicompost to come out of the bin, and forgot to mention how that harvest went. Because I finally found there's actually a gardening task that's a tiresome chore for me- and its harvesting the worm castings. I've tried several different methods, and I always end up crouched over the bin or a pile of worm dirt for long periods of time, picking worms out until my back aches. It did go a little better this time around, but I still spent several hours picking worms out. I don't mind weeding, or turning compost, or even mowing and edging the lawn- but I do get so tired of sorting worms. And I can't leave too many in there, or I end up with worms in my houseplant pots! which I don't like.

So. This most recent effort, I left the worms four weeks without food. To make sure they were good and hungry. Meantime prepared the new bin with shredded cardboard as usual, soaked it the day before and drained so it was nice and damp. Set the new bin over the old, with two usual "helpings" of worm food buried in there. Left it alone for two weeks, then dug around to check. Only a moderate amount of worms had moved into the new bin. I lifted it off and turned over stuff in the old bin- not much cardboard bits in there, lots and lots of worms still. The vermicompost was very moist and getting compact. I loosened it all up and turned with hands, meantime picked worms out of about half the bin before got tired of that. Put more food in the new bin on top, left it alone another few weeks. Checked again. More worms had moved over, but when I turned stuff in the lower bin, there's still plenty there! I picked worms out again, this time working through the entire bin. It took an hour or so. Repeat it all a week later. This third time I went through the lower bin, it was getting very compacted and damp, even starting to drip a bit into the tray below. But it was easier to separate the worms from the compost stuff- it didn't really stick to their skins, they'd kind of slide off as they wiggled, so that part got easier. At this point I started going through the lower bin in handfuls, picking out the biggest worms for the new bin and tossing the compost into a bucket. It was destined for the new garden, so I didn't care if a few worms went with it. Plus just getting tired of it all. When my back started aching, there were still a few thick inches of compost in the lower bin, I left it for later.

Next time I dug into the top bin to deposit worm food, I was surprised at the absence of worms. Hardly any moving around in there. Turned stuff up from the bottom- still not many worms. Lifted the bin off and surprised to find they had moved en masse back into the lower bin! Why? it was damp and soggy and thick down there, no food- hardly even any cardboard bits left. Maybe the new bin bedding was too dry? But I'd tossed in plenty of lumps of soggy compost from the old one as I worked through the worms. This was really annoying. I sat down there on the floor and steadily picked through handful after handful of compost until the lower bin was all empty, and tons of worms dumped back into the new one. Fed them well, sprinkled with old fish water, covered with a layer of dry cardboard chips to hold the moisture in. This time they had nowhere to go and stayed put- seem happy enough so far. None are trying to climb up the lid or out the base. I still can't figure why they moved out of the new bin- maybe something in the pH balance was off, or moisture level...?

Anyway, I still want to find another way to harvest the stuff. I love having it to feed my plants, and having a way to turn food scraps into something rich and useful, but it sure is a pain to get the worms to move into new quarters, and to get them all out of the vermicompost. The only thing that seemed to work better this time around was I left the worms without food a much longer stretch of time, which I think made them more motivated to move into the new bin where fresh food was... but I still ended up picking through it all. It's just so tedious. Ok, there. I'm done complaining for now!

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