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Composting

Katie Alexander July 5, 2009
I've been using my worm composter for over a year now and it's the best thing ever. I bought it while living in Collegetown -- I wanted to compost but didn't have a yard that I could install a "typical" compost pit. I bought a Worm Factory (http://www.cascadewormbin.com/) from Home Green Home in Ithaca. The women working there also had one, and was happy to supply me with worms as well. You can buy worms online too. The worms compost all the food wastes I produce and make a deliciously rich soil, as well as nutrient rich leachate. The Worm Factory is great for composting in small spaces -- stick it under your sink or in a closet. And best of all, you get hundreds of new pets to care for! Reply to comment
Steven Skoczen July 6, 2009
We've been talking about doing this to supplement compost and handle bits of dairy and eggshells in the SixLinks house, so I've got a few questions maybe you can answer, miss worm-expert :)

1. What's the waste to size ratio? So let's say we make... 4 L of organic waste a week. How big a worm bin would we need?

2. How many worms are needed? Can we just start with two, and like bunnies, have a quick pile-full?

3. What's maintenance like? Watering, application schedule, etc?

Thanks!!
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Rachel Mays July 6, 2009
I've got to admit, the part that has me most excited is "hundreds of new pets to care for".

Can we name them?
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gin tree Feb. 16, 2010
Hi Steven
A compost worm - either of the species Eisenia fetida, Perionyx excavatus, Eudrilus Eugeniae, or Lumbricus Rubellus, which are not listed as invasive species, will consume up to its own weight in organic material every day. One of these worms weighs on average 500mg, so if you have 1 kilo (2 pounds, 2 oz) of compost worms you need to feed these voracious eaters a kilo of organic matter a day. If you make 4L of organic waste a week, you need about 500g of compost worms to manage your organic waste.

Make sure you include at least 25% shredded moistened paper or cardboard in the total amount you add each day, and keep the top of the bed covered with shredded moistened paper or cardboard.

When this top layer is dry, check the worm bedding for moisture. It should clump in your hand, and also crumble easily like coarse coffee grounds. You will find if you keep a layer of paper/cardboard on top, and your foodscraps are nicely moistened, you wont need to do much watering - if you do, just water the paper layer.
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Katie Weglarz Feb. 16, 2010
Hi Gin,
I'm not sure if you know how listing an invasive species in the US works, but it generally doesn't happen cohesively in one place. Here's a little background.

The National Invasive Species Council was created on Feb 3rd, 1999 by President Clinton under Executive Order (EO) 13112. This order defines invasive species as species that are non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health. The Council estimates that damage from just a limited number of invasive species costs the US approximately $74 billion a year. This council is charged with creating an invasive species management plan and not actually compiling a list of invasive species and implementing management. The council defers to other agencies for lists of invasives and suggests you contact your extension unit (usually associated with your local land grant university) for more information about local invasive species. http://www.invasivespecies.gov/index.html

As far as the worms you are listing go I can assure you that they are non-native species and their impacts on northern hardwood forests can be drastic. The University of Minnesota has done a lot of excellent research on earthworms as invaders (http://www.nrri.umn.edu/worms/action/index.html) and I highly suggest anyone interested in using worms for composting contact their extension unit. Those scientists are there to help you!

There are also alternatives to vermiculture for indoor composting such as specially designed indoor composters and bokashi.
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Katie Weglarz July 6, 2009
Just a small note. Be careful with earthworms; most species used in ag and for fishing and such are actually invasive in North America. Their presence can actually change the under growth in deciduous forests. While most places are already inundated with worms, you should check to make sure there is not an active movement to keep worms out of your area before purchasing a worm composter. Reply to comment
Sam Fladung July 6, 2009
1. I've usually seen the size ratio off of weight or number of people. I would guess you want something along the lines of 2'x2'x12" (3 people, about 6 lb) although if you are using other composting also, that may be on the large side.

2. I would recommend getting 1lb of worms to start. You could get a couple, but it would take them a while to reproduce and you're composting ability would be reduced during that time. Note: you want redworms not earthworms.

3. I maintain mine very infrequently and they seem to be doing fine. I imagine you have to be a little more careful if you have yours inside and are worried about insects.

On the invasive issue, it shouldn't be a big deal since the type of red worms used in composting have a very specific niche and will not survive in standard soil. They need the richness of the concentrated compost.

Also, you don't necessarily need to buy anything fancy. A homemade wooden box waterproofed using a simple oil will suffice.

For a good, but rambling discussion of worm boxes check out http://journeytoforever.org/compost_worm.html
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Katie Weglarz July 6, 2009
Unfortunately, the worms used in composting are generally either Lumbricus rubellus or Lumbricus terrestris. Both of these species have been shown to be highly successful invaders in the northern deciduous (non-evergreen) forests. They also tend to be found in the highest densities compared to other invasive earthworms. Earthworms affect nitrogen and carbon cycling and alter plant root systems. In some forests you can actually see where earthworms are present by a distinct line in the undergrowth. I know using worms is very tempting but it can also be very dangerous for the ecosystem surrounding you if those worms get lose in an undisturbed area. I would just like to encourage everyone to be cautious before venturing out to purchase worms; there are many insects that occur naturally in your backyard that can be great composters also.

Sam, if you would like I can send you a couple papers on earthworms.
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Sam Fladung July 7, 2009
The standard worms to buy for composting in the US are actually Eisenia foetida which I do not believe cause very many invasive problems.

Lumbricus rubellus can be invasive, so you should be careful not to buy them if that is a concern in the area.

Lumbricus terrestris (Night Crawlers) are not particlarly good composting worms. They are used more for fishing and gardens.
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Katie Weglarz July 7, 2009
Eisenia foetida or E. fetida (it goes by two names) has not been as extensively studied as invasive but it has definitely established itself in North American soils. I'm not sure where the idea that these worms cannot adapt to our soils originated but I can tell you what I know. Earthworms are very successful at adapting to their environments as they are very hardy animals. Annelids have even been used to remove heavy metals from soils. Also, the very closely related Eisenia rosea (also very similar looking) has been shown to be a problematic invader. They are also not one of the easiest animals to identify correctly and I wonder how the average person can be sure of which worms they have purchased. Earthworms have not been able to effectivelty recolonate the northern part North America since the ice age in the Pleistocene. While we do have approximately 100 species native to North America, they are generally found in the Northwest and Southeast and are not viewed as particularly good composters. Reply to comment
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