Monday, February 4, 2008

I Make Mistakes With The Worm Wigwam So You Don't Have To

Here's a short list of mistakes that I've made in three very long days.

1. Adding undigested matter to a start-up Wigwam.

2. Adding the contents of my small bin to the new big bin (my source of undigested matter).

3. Wetting the top bedding.

4. Not mechanically shredding that top bedding into confetti-sized pieces (it was hand-ripped, like strips of paper mache).

The folks at Worm Wigwam have been very nice and have thoroughly answered all my questions. But stating in the instructions "Forget everything you already know about worm farming" and then not explaining why you need to forget it, or stating precisely what knowledge should replace it- well, it's confusing.


Which has lead me to ponder an interesting question. What is bedding and what is food?

If you've read ANY instructions on keeping a household worm bin:
--"Bedding" is ripped-up newspaper, leaves, or coir, and it's always damp, like a wrung-out sponge.
--"Food" is household food scraps, excluding animal-derived food products. Of course, the worms eventually eat the bedding, too.

The contents of small bin can be very flexible, because it is too small to generate it's own heat. The most you have to worry about is odor and flies, both of which are usually caused by overfeeding. And all manner of trouble in a small bin can be solved by removing food and adding bedding.

At a commercial scale, food and bedding sort of converge. A lot of large commercial worm operations use pre-composted organic waste as both food and bedding. It's processed with beneficial microorganisms and/or a whole lot of heat. At that scale it's not terribly green, because it takes a lot of energy to process and transport. Although, it is definately greener than just sending it to a landfill. (SOAPBOX ALERT: if everyone- individuals, restaurants, businesses, schools, you name it- composted their own organic waste on-site, these large-scale operations wouldn't even need to exist. Ok, I'm done for the moment.)

I'm way below large commercial scale- I'm very small mid-scale. But, the bin I have is large enough to generate heat, and heat is caused by undigested "food" for the pile (that old green-to-brown + moisture ratio from Composting 101). According to my thermometer, it's still officially too hot, though not hot enough to cook the kids. In fact, today I've seen more egg cases and more babies than I've ever seen in a bin anywhere, which is really good.

But, in worm bins, lots of egg cases and babies often indicate overfeeding. And I've overfed (in my mid-scale, heat-generating bin) with what would normally be considered bedding- i.e., the little wads of paper bedding from my small bin.

This critical little factoid took me all day to figure out. Holy cow.


Rabbits' Guy said...

Well lookee there ... worms can train a person as well as can a rabbit!!!

We are all surely glad to learn about this trauma by blog, rather than hard knocks!!!

lbc said...

I have 5 plastic bins and need to expand. I'm considering getting the wigwam, would you recommend it?