Archive for the ‘Around the house’ Category

Wormbin: resurrection complete

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

Well, it’s getting cold outside, which means that it’s time to think about preparing my wormbin for winter. Let me write about what happened (and what didn’t) in my bin since my last report.

The worms got many

I should count weigh them one day and see exactly how many there are. I far as I can judge after the last [partial] vermicompost harvesting, they are more than the half-kilo that I bought two years ago, and MUCH more than what I managed to “resurrect” last spring. Must be around a kilogram of wigglers there.

The BSFL are still there

Not that I like them more than before (actually, I still find them quite repelling), but I was wrong about them. I used to think they don’t get along with worms. BSFL are pretty large and very active, so I thought worms would be stressed to have them crawling around. BSFL eat very quickly and leave a very wet mess after them, so I thought the bin would quickly turn anaerobic, something that worms don’t like. I thought BSFL might prey on worms, or eat worm cocoons. Judging by the number of worms, I was wrong.

Somehow they manage to cohabit. After I covered the whole surface of the bin with a piece of cardboard, I noticed that they have a distinct pattern of behavior. Worms and BSFL tend to occupy different parts of the bin, but usually stay close to each other. When there is food, BSFL stays in the top layer of the bin and eats, while worms stay close to bin walls, also in the top layer (not sure how they are distributed deeper on). When there is nothing for BSFL to eat, they stay close to the bottom, while worms take over the whole surface, right under the cardboard.

Indeed, when there’s new food, it’s BSFL who come first. After they are done, there’s usually nothing but a very wet and somewhat smelly substance left. Worms to not mind hanging around in it (usually, by that time there are no BSFL in the area), so I think they convert it into castings, just like everything else.

As for the potential vermicide threat, I am pretty sure BSFL don’t touch worms. On the other hand, I can’t be 100% sure that BSFL do not feed on cocoons, because somehow I didn’t see many cocoons lately. Let’s hope for the better.

There’s vermicompost to harvest

A couple of weeks ago I decided to refresh my bin by harvesting castings and adding new bedding. As harvesting ALL castings would have been too stressful for the worms and too time-consuming for me, I decided to to do it in parts. An important observation for me was that worms are more active in the upper layer of the bin. They don’t just feed there — they also lay the castings there, which is against the “theory”. Although it’s quite moist in the bottom part of the bin, I found more unprocessed paper and cardboard than in the top part. Who knows, maybe the lower layers are too packed for them, or insufficiently aerated.

I stopped just short of clearing half of the bin. The reason was very prosaic — no cardboard. What I regarded as a good source of bedding turned out to be “Good, new boxes. Don’t touch them!” :-) So instead of mixing cardboard with shredded paper I had to do with shredded paper only. I don’t like paper much, because it tends to get too packed, and worms are usually slow to colonize it. At this point I can’t move on with harvesting, because my worms would be left with no “home” to live. And I can’t move on with adding paper, because I’m afraid I’ll end up with a lot of packed cellulose pulp. That’s OK, I can wait.

Wormbin: the resurrection

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

My wormbin is up again! I have no idea how many worms are inside, but I’m sure there are lots of them.

After my first attempt on vermicomposting came to an unfortunate and unexpected end last summer, I discovered that I still had few worms and cocoons scattered over my flower pots. So I tried to restore my worm population. Long story

DIY plant filter for my aquarium

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru
Plant filter for fish tank

Plant filter for my fish tank

It’s probably not the most efficient filter out there, but it is definitely better than the one that came with my fish tank. It consists of:

  • air pump
  • case with water intake and waterfall (I bought a fish nursery — it was much larger than a waterfall filter)
  • gravel
  • plants
  • plastic tube

The plants sit inside a piece of plastic tube, a bit narrower than the width of the case. Water inflow is done by simple air-lift. Incoming water flows into the tube with plants, goes down, washing plant roots, and then goes up between the tube and case walls, all the way through gravel. Finally is flows back into the tank through a waterfall.


Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

Last summer I bought I small fish tank. Now there is a dozen of guppies, a bunch of small snails, some plants and … freshwater shrimp. I didn’t buy the shrimps. (more…)

Worms … again :-)

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

In my previous post about worms I wrote that most of them had died and promised to start again.

I didn’t buy any new worms, nor did I try to save the ones who survived that terribly hot summer. I new there were some worms in my flower pots, so I could screen all soil in my pots, collect most of the worms and even some cocoons, and start a new wormbin. However doing so meant disturbing my plants and spending a lot of time digging in the mud. I had no desire for either so I just left things the way they were and kept on with my usual gardening (gotta post some pictures of tomatoes I grew last summer). Keeping in mind that there must be someone alive in my pots, I protected them from winter frosts, and that was probably the only care they received.

Recently (end of March to early April) I started thinking of a wormbin again. However, instead of having a separate bin for worms only I decided to further keep them in my flower pots (two of them proved to be “inhabited” to some extent). My plan is to grow plants and keep worms in the same pots. If they multiply, I’ll move them into a separate bin, but so far I’ll be feeding them banana peels and other soft wastes and watching how things go.

No worms

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

They died. I assume it was too hot and not enough oxygen for my worms in the bin. In March I moved the bin outside, to my balcony, which was a perfect place as long as the temperatures were moderate. The rainy season with its high humidity, as well as high temperatures of June contributed to the problem.

Of course, I still have some worms. I discovered them in my flower pots. They must have gotten into the pots together with compost, either as cocoons,or as very young worms. Anyway, after the temperatures go down I’d like to start it all over again. This time I have to select a better place for the bin.

Update: When I was disposing of the bin contents I saw several larvae in it. They looked quite large and disgusting. Combined with unpleasant smell and very moist and messy look, they provided strong motivation for me to throw everything away, without sorting compost from unprocessed matter.

In that time, I suspected that these larvae might have killed my worms. I also attributed excessive moisture to worms’ inactivity — when they are active, they move a lot through the garbage and help aerate it.

Today (May 9, 2011), while reading about black soldier flies and composting with their larvae, I realized that this is exactly the kind of larvae I saw in my worm bin. The text said larvae composting produces a lot of moisture, which is exactly what I witnessed last summer. There are many accounts of SBF larvae successfully coexisting with worms, when enough drainage is provided.

So, from today’s perspective, the most likely cause of woms’ death was insufficient drainage, insufficient aeration and maybe high temperatures. By the way, all this story repeats what happened to Anne Parmeter from Kobe, whose article in Kansai Scene and blog on inspired me to start vermicomposting.

Worms update

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

There’s no special reason to write about the worms today, it’s just a summary of what happened so far.

I kept the bin indoors until around mid-March, after which it was relocated to our small balcony. The move is permanent, except for a couple of times, when the night temperatures were going down too much. I was not sure which of the two evils — spending a cold night outside or being disturbed — is worse, but I thought that disturbing them will have only temporary effects — well, some of them would want to roam, so what? –, while a frost might have permanent — and lethal — effects, so I decided to move them indoors.

In April I finally “harvested” vermicompost. By that time I got used to the idea that I wasn’t going to see anything close to homogeneous and well-structured matter they sell in garden shops. What I obtained was exactly up to my expectations: most of the staff was decomposed and it was impossible to guess what each piece used to be before it got into the bin. I took away about half of the bin content [which shrank considerably compared to the volume of foodscraps] and put it outside for drying. It was somewhat smelly, but after drying the smell mostly disappeared. To get rid of the smell — and to get some use of my compost! — I added it atop of my flower pots.

to be continued

Worms again

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

Well, here I am and here is another worm report. Nothing special happened during this month. I relocated the bin, I added shredded paper and I tried to “harvest” the compost.

First inspection. I undertook the first real intervention into the worm, after I realized that the ventilation holes in the bin bottom got clogged by soggy cardboard and the liquid was flooding the bin, creating anaerobic conditions. It wasn’t a big disaster — I just cleared the ventilation holes with a chopstick and the STINKY liquid drained onto the trey. To see if there are survivors I scooped the upper layer of shredded paper and digged in the semi-decomposed matter with a chopstick. The worms survived and looked healthy, but it was absolutely impossible to tell how many of them died.

Moving the bin. As it has been getting colder, I was worried about my worms having to survive the Japanese winter. So I decided to move my worm bin to a place with a more or less stable temperature. Now the average temperature around the bin is about 10°C, which makes them much less active then in warm conditions.

Fruit flies. As I mentioned earlier, I noticed fruit flies but did noting until they turned into a real menace. To fight off their invasion, I stopped feeding my worms, hoping they they will eat everything all available food and leave nothing for fly larvae. However, due to cold weather worms didn’t eat everything they had been presented with and the bin is still attractive for the flies. Besides this, I added a thick layer of shredded paper in hope that the newly hatched flies get suffocated. Unfortunately, some of them still make it to the surface.

Gnats. Another species to improve biodiversity of my worm bin are fungus gnats. They made their way into the bin from my indoor plants (gotta write a post about my plants some day). The gnats, together with surviving flies, made me drill a large ventilation hole in the lid, cover it with a cloth and — finally —  tightly cover the bin. This helps control their population and contain them within the bin. Although greatly decreased in number, the flies and gnats are still there, so the final solution is still on my agenda.

Mites. After I put the lid, the air under it became much more humid and mites reappeared. I know that all this time they were around, but I never cared to look for them. Now I see many around the ventilation hole, which makes me conclude that they like dry place with a flow of fresh air. Still not sure how beneficial they are for the bin and for the worms.

Second inspection. A couple of days ago I surrendered to curiosity and carefully inspected the bin. I wanted to know if the worms are alive and if there’s any compost to “harvest”. Well, actually I was quite sure there’s a lot  of it, so instead of digging in the “substance”, I  scooped the upper layer of shredded paper (it’s a thick layer as I mentioned before), and just dumped the semi-decomposed matter on the sheets of newspaper that I put on the floor. Well, I have to admit that things were a little bit different than I had expected.

Bed quality. The cardboard that I had put on the bottom — although very wet — did not decompose. The food scraps that I had been adding for two months were at different stages of decomposition. So the lower layer of the bin looked quite far from homogeneous, well-structured, dark-brown vermicompost that I had expected to see. Although the bin contained a lot of worm poops, they were mixed with food, so actually there was nothing to harvest.

Worms. Although I have no easy way to assess their quantity, I think my worm population now is smaller than it used to be. There are a number of natural reasons for it.

  • First, when my worms arrived they looked quite healthy to an un-experienced guy like myself. Now they look much better and I realize that they must have suffered during transportation and a part of them must have died soon after arrival.
  • Second, what I bought was mostly adult worms, almost no youngsters and almost no cocoons. Few youngsters and few cocoons now means few adults later, so before the production of cocoons could catch up with the death of old worms, there should be a population decline (in sociological terms this is similar to “aging population”).
  • Third, I am afraid that the conditions were not exactly favorable for the worms (or they just differed much from the conditions at seller’s), especially since it got colder.

Fortunately, during the second inspection the worms looked very healthy and I found quite many cocoons, so my hope for a coming baby-boom is grounded.

The final word is about white worms (pot worms). They successfully colonized the entire bin, but — contrasted to red worms who tend to live in the middle layer in the center of the bin — are seen in high concentrations on the upper layers. After I put the lid and humidity increased, I permanently see half a dozen of them crawling on the walls and the lid surface (before it was too dry for them). It looks like they are the main vermicomposters in my bin. I’ll have to read more about every species’ preferences.

Worms: a month after

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

So, it’s been almost a month since I can call myself vermicomposter and here goes a worms update.

My worms are still there, despite all my fears. Sometimes I feel anxious about them and I start thinking they don’t like their bin and instead of getting rid of my garbage I’ll end up with a bin full of a very strange substance. All because when preparing the bedding I ignored recommendations and used not only black’n’white paper, but some color prints and even some glossy paper. These days, who knows what printing ink is made of?

In the first week I wondered if my worms would be able to process all my kitchen wastes. I read that they eat 50 to 100% their weight per day (I bought 500 grams of worms). So first of all I set up an experiment: I was feeding them all my kitchen scraps in order to find out the maximum quantity of food they’d be able to eat on a constant basis. I’d know by odors when they can’t cope with it, in which case I’d add more shredded paper and stop feeding them, say, for a week. Well, as I keep my worms indoors I actually gave up before I sensed any odors and made a break. When I saw lots of them in the new material, I resumed feeding and now they eat virtually all my organic wastes.

Since my “bio-fermenter” is essentially a plastic bin, harvesting worm castings implies turning the bin upside down, dumping its content and manually separating compost from semi-processed materials. To make life easier, I used non-degradable net to divide the bin into several layers. The worms don’t care, but it will be a lot easier for me to manipulate the bin contents when the harvest time comes. Using this simple technique I don’t have to dig in the garbage to feed my worms — all I do is just pull up one side of the net.

Finally, some words about … biodiversity? There’s quite a lot of different creatures wondering in my bin. Besides the earthworms that I bought, I could find:

  • Pot worms — tiny white, almost colorless, creatures about 1cm long and very slim. I suspect that I introduced them together with the red worms, mixing them for baby red worms. I see them wiggling together with their red cousins, but I don’t mind, as they essentially do the same job.
  • Fruit flies — I usually see a couple of them inside the bin, which means that their eggs and larvae are somewhere in the garbage. They aren’t exactly a pleasant neighbor, but as long as they are not many I don’t resort to drastic actions. I will just bury my fruit scraps (their favorite food) somewhat deeper, so that the flies that hatch in it get suffocated in the garbage.
  • Some white variety of mites — I can spot these microscopic white balls moving quickly on the walls of the bin. Can’t estimate their number, but they don’t seem to be a menace.

As long as none of the species is threatening the balance, let them be there and eat my garbage.

I got worms!

Posted by Vitalie Ciubotaru

My worms arrived! At last here they are!

OK, I owe an explanation on this matter. Several months ago I read an article in Kansai Scene mentioning vermicomposting in Japan. Then I found the author’s blog. She turned out to be a recently-converted vermicomposter living in Kobe. Inspired, I decided to buy worms as soon as we move to another apartment. In the meantime I was searching the internet for additional info on worms and worm sellers in Japan. Long story