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You CAN do it!

Several months ago I had a REALLY nice couple come over to purchase some worms and a Worm Inn.  They were EXTREMELY excited to start Vermicomposting.  I walked them through the entire process, and they were ready to go.  A day or two later I received a frantic email.  They had killed all their worms and were desperate for help in figuring out how they could have killed them so quickly.  They were very sad.

I help people with their worms all the time, but this was a particuliarly strange case.  Because The Worm Inn makes composting simple, I could not imagine how they killed their worms….especially in such a short period.  I invited them to come over and to bring their Worm Inn so we could diagnose the problem.   Obviously, something went very wrong.

It turns out that my explanation about FILLING their Inn completely with bedding was misinterpreted.  They filled their Worm Inn with lots of scraps, but almost zero bedding.  Worms NEED bedding to survive.  We spent about 15 to 20 minutes having a paper shredding party.  They could not believe how many newspapers we used to fill The Worm Inn (25-30 full newspapers).  Their comment was, “If I had not seen this myself, I would have never realized what you meant when you said to FILL the Worm Inn”.

I’m happy to have received this email today:

Hi Jerry, not sure if you remember us, we’re the couple in S.J. that had a bit of trouble getting started, but you hung in there with us.  Our worms are doing great….I keep dumping veggie/fruit scraps and then topping with new shredded paper which I keep damp.  No flying critters or smell, and I continually replace the shredded paper as it shrinks down….I know not where!   I’m wondering how do we know when it’s time to harvest the castings?  I check the worms, but not often and when I do, I go down about 6″-8″.  Lots of worms and other stuff that looks like castings.  Need your expert advice.  Thanks!

My Response:

Hi.  Of course I remember you.  Glad all is going well.  There is no specific rule about when to harvest.  I’m assuming by now your bag is getting heavy.  If so, it’s time.

Here is what I do in preparation for harvesting:

I continue feeding, but stop watering the bag for a week or so.  This will make more worms come out of the damp castings, and into the area with the rotting vegetation (The moist area of the bag sloughing off water).

The castings will get a damp coffee ground consistency during this time.

With your bucket underneath, open the toggles and release (Controlled release) the castings into a bucket….

As soon as you hit some unprocessed material, close the bottom and lock the toggles.  Put the unprocessed material back in.  Make sure the top layer is clean damp paper and you are done.

No system will be completely free of worms in the castings, so if you want to get the rest of the worms out of your bucket of castings easily…just bury a piece of rotting fruit slightly below the surface of the castings.  Within a day or two, all of the straggler worms will be eating that fruit.

Feel free to use your castings, or store them in a bucket with some air holes.  Because plastic retains so much moisture, a plastic bucket is good for keeping castings viable for a long time.

Have Fun!

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