Patrick's Rants


Worm Bucket Pics

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 8:09 am

If you are easily grossed out – take a day off from reading my blog. Today is gross picture day. I don’t usually post photos, but I was asked for pictures of my worm bucket system by a co-worker so I took a few. These buckets started out life as pickle containers.

Worm buckets, outside view
This first photo shows just a few of my buckets lined up.

Worm castings aging bucket, outside
Worm aging buckets: One solid bucket, ie no holes drilled as our “catch basin” and one bucket with holes drilled for draining and aeration. This bucket contains mostly finished VC – vermicasting or vermicompost – a little bit of unfinished bedding and lots of worms. I’m currently top feeding with outdated powdered vanilla pudding mix and powdered milk. The level of VC has shrunk about two inches in just a few weeks time. This might take a few months to get to the point where I can just scoop out the castings onto the plants. The remaining worms will be relocated to the more active buckets.

Worm castings aging bucket, a look inside

The worms are “swarming” over the powdered milk mix.

Worms love powdered pudding mix and powdered milk mix

Actively working worm bucket
View of a much less processed bin.

Actively working worm bucket

Worm bucket spacer
Two of these bucket tops are cut off to make spacer rings. These are placed on top of a nearly full active bucket. A new empty active bucket is placed above the spacers. The new top bucket rests on the built up waste below. The spacers prevent the bucket from smashing the waste and bedding in the lower bucket. I add a little bit of bedding and slowly start feeding the new top bucket.
Bottom worm bucket
Worms continue to work the bottom bucket. Notice the slight indented ring where the top bucket rests.
And if you thought these photos were gross, don’t dare visit RedWormComposting (humorously, he abbreviates his site RWC)


Building the 5 Bucket Worm Stack

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 9:47 pm

Building the 5 bucket worm stack. Easy and inexpensive worm system.

Red Wiggler Composting Worms 2lb Pack


Death in a Bucket

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 7:46 pm

I heard through the grape vine that the original source of our worms had a complete die off. The worms had, as she put it, drowned. Now, keeping worms in the small space of 5 gallon buckets can be tricky. I have had relatively few problems, but the small systems can be very sensitive to any imbalance. I have spent hour after hour researching vermiculture on the internet. I carefully built my bucket systems based around what I have learned. I periodically empty the leachate from the bottom bucket. I feed slowly and methodically, never too much. My worms are thriving and I’ve harvested quite a bit of vermicompost as of late.

After hearing that our benefactor had a total loss, A was sure they had a complete failure in the vermiculture department as well. But, with worms, benign neglect is worse that dutiful over feeding (and not emptying the leachate) and A & J’s worms were just fine. I did decide to do a harvest of the system. As I was using the reclaimed colander to shake out a few castings I pulled out the wood pieces and decorative gravel that the original designer had placed in the bucket. I never understood what the gravel was for – turns out neither did the system designer. He just threw it in there. I threw the gravel onto the driveway, losing some castings in the process. The wood I threw onto the driveway as well.

At the bottom of the first set of buckets the designer had placed a rock to keep the top bucket from getting stuck in the bottom. The idea was imperfect, the rock had cracked the bottom of the lower bucket. Turns out benign neglect saved a pool of stench in their garage. If the buckets had any moisture, there would have been a permanent reminder stain. I consolidated the worms into one system and brought the Homer buckets home – to await a time when I can collect enough Burger King pickle buckets to rebuild the bucket set.

As fate would have it, I was at my mom’s working on a few things so she can move when she crooked her finger at me, beckoning me to the garage. She had me lift the active bucket from atop the solid bottom bucket of her worm bucket system. The active bucket slurped away from two gallons of leachate. Leachate is anaerobic. So is the human colon. And they smell the same (although leachate could be worse). I dutifully carried the six inches of stench around to the flower garden and poured it over the surface. Six inches of undrained leachate contains about two inches of solids. And when first poured off it looks pretty much the same as it smells. Thick, black as night, anaerobic. It’s disgusting.

Mom had been doing so well with the worms. When she was on a weird diet she bought a single banana per week just to let it go mushy so she could squeeze the innards out onto the top of the bucket like an over sized tube of banana tooth paste. The worms were ecstatic, thriving, vibrant. But that all changed because mom is moving. She stopped feeding her outdoor compost bin and doubled down on the worms. Nay, quadrupled down. Mom’s buckets could have used the next working bucket placed on top, but the bucket sat empty next to the stack. When I dared open the top I saw a two inch layer of lettuce and smelled the unmistakable odor of dead worms. I cannot describe it, but I know it when I smell it. I stuck my unprotected hand into the top layers of lettuce and paper. I pulled slightly to the side and was both sickened and saddened by what I saw. Worm bodies in a semi decayed state, still with stretch but with no life. Barely a day away from being unrecognizable. But such is the way of life, ashes to ashes, worms to muck.

This allows me to perform a small experiment – assuming that mom doesn’t ditch the entire waste treatment plant in a bucket. Leaving the buckets alone for a month or so should allow the lettuce to melt into mush and any worm egg casings to hatch. In theory, the hatchlings should repopulate the buckets. I should really add a second set of buckets to mom’s system so they can handle the double down. I may have to add some more worms to her system though.

Get your own Red Wiggler worms (EF)


I’ve Got Worms

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 10:15 pm

Yesterday I managed to get another bucket out of Burger King. I recently found out that I’m competing with the manager of the store for the buckets. She’s using them, according to her, to make 5 gallon planters. That’s not a bad idea especially if you have to move plants inside.

When I got home, bucket in hand, my wife looked at me and said, “no more buckets!” as I placed the newly acquired bucket onto the counter. It wasn’t until I had to go back outside that I noticed we had even more buckets than I remembered from yesterday morning; the worms had arrived. It’s been around two weeks since the buckets were taken to the office to get “set up”. Now they are here and we can start to use them for composting part of our kitchen food waste.

This morning, I went to work modifying the two bucket set up. First, I transfered the worms to my four bucket system. The two bucket system uses one “solid” bucket as the base and an upper bucket with holes drilled in it and a lid with ventilation holes as well. My bucket system uses larger holes in the bottom – 1/2″ versus 1/8″ – over which I lay newspaper that is dampened. Both systems use newspaper as bedding material so there is not much change there. Then over the top I placed one inch strips of newspaper. All of this is moistened by spraying it with a water bottle – everything I’ve read tells me that it has to be the consistency of a damp sponge so it’s pretty wet. I then started scooping the lettuce and other greens that were placed on the top as food into a plastic bin that I set to the side with a hand cultivator. Once the majority of the foodstuff was placed to the side I tipped the starting bucket and gently pulled the remaining compost and the wriggling worms over the top of the bedding in my new system. I then added the food back to the buckets.

As I sat looking at the bucket system I was trying to figure out how to save a little space with it. Then it hit me, stack the “unused” segments below the used bucket. So I have the solid bucket on the bottom, next is a bucket with all the vent holes, then a “spacer” which is the top 6″ or so of another bucket with the bottom cut out and finally the bucket with the worms and a lid. When the castings get to be “too much” for the top bucket, the spacer is placed on top, then the next main bucket with bedding is placed into the top of that. Assuming that the top bucket sits just on the top of the castings and bedding. Start feeding in the new top bucket and worms should naturally make their way to the top. Leave it that way for three weeks and all the cocoons should hatch with the next generations of worms leaving nothing but worm castings on the bottom – which becomes plant food. Then we use the worm castings for fertilizer and start all over.


Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 7:55 am

I was telling my mom about the worm bucket system that I set up and she decided that’s what she wanted for mother’s day – a worm farm. And mom was serious. So I had to look into gathering more empty buckets. I had one and my “design” calls for four. So I stopped in Burger King last Friday, bought an obligatory coffee and asked about buckets. The kid behind the counter brought me one. I asked him about the ones I had seen by the dumpster and he told me that I could take those too. I scored five.

On Saturday I started making mom’s worm farm. After thinking about it for a while I decided to make the farm five buckets instead of four. My thinking was to make two into the spacers. That would mean that the stack would be: solid bucket on the bottom, empty main bucket, main bucket, spacers. Two of the rim sections of these buckets adds about six inches of height. Once the empty main is rotated to the top there is nearly a full bucket worth of castings in the main bucket. I liked this idea so much that I added another spacer to mine. I added 3″ of newspaper bedding and scooped out a couple of handfuls of worms to drop into the new system. It’s not much to start with, but they are supposed to be prolific breeders.

We went to mom’s on Sunday for late brunch. My aunt, cousin and my cousin’s daughter were visiting with my mom. I haven’t seen my cousin in something like 15 years so it was good to see her again. Mom was waiting for her worms. I showed her the setup, told her how to feed them and when to rotate the main buckets. Her main compost bin is too narrow, doesn’t heat up enough and dries out too fast (I see a new compost bin construction project coming) and she is probably going to end up using the worm buckets as her primary kitchen waste processor. And she couldn’t have been happier with a store bought gift.


Slow Wigglers

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 9:31 am

The worms are slowly getting established – they are not quite at the eat their own weight per day stage. At least it doesn’t look like that yet. We are still collecting the kitchen scraps to go into the compost pile at the garden. Little is going into the worm buckets as of yet. I looked and it’s only been a couple of weeks so maybe I’m just impatient, but I’m ready to start harvesting the castings. I mentioned the worm buckets to my mom who seems to think they are a good idea and wants her own setup. It sounds like I’m back to work.


Everyone Has Advice

Filed under: Gardening,General — site admin @ 9:44 am

When we first started discussing the idea of growing a large number of our own vegetables there were three couples present. My wife and I, J&A and T&L. I originally thought I was the resident expert but soon found out that everyone has an opinion and advice.

When I was a kid I read the newspaper front to back – except the sports section – and Ann Landers once wrote that advice should be offered when asked. Otherwise, she said, keep your big mouth shut. Apparently not everyone read that column in the late 80s. Before we even dug our first shovel full of dirt I was told that sheep manure was better than horse manure by T with L backing up his opinion stating, “he knows what he’s talking about.” Well, T&L get to make their own garden if they feel like, but they’ve only tossed a couple of shovels full of dirt in our garden mostly out of novelty it seems. Now, I’ve heard the manure declaration a few times. Sheep manure is better than horse manure, and even that we should find llama manure because that’s even better. And when I called to find out if we could haul manure the guy on the phone told me that I wanted cow manure and that I should wait until late spring to early summer to get it from them. Here’s the thing. We’re ready to start now, not in the spring. I know where the horse manure is, I don’t know where the other types are – they are mostly privately owned. And the boarding center is about 1/4 mile away and will gladly give us the nearly trailer full that we can haul any day that we want it. Convenience, availability, and the fact that it can be used as a fertilizer are all important factors. Sure, if we can get any of the other manure types we would probably jump at using them. But I’m not sure that we could get sheep or llama manure in anywhere near the same quantities. For now, we’ve dug three deep rows that we’ve managed to fill with the 6″ layer of fresh manure – three trailers full of the stuff.

We have the potential problem of prairie dogs and the very real problem of rabbits. We bought rabbit fencing that we dug in 6″ down and 6″ folded over into an L-shaped barrier. It then sticks above the garden about a foot. Good ol’ T stopped by and said our fences were too low. What did Landers write again? For now, we are leaving the fencing alone, but we may find that the larger holes in the top half of the fence are too large and make some changes later. My wife and A both said something about fencing the whole garden in. J and I looked at each other and decided “no”. The thing is we would want to trench in the bottom edge of any fence and it’s really a beast to dig around that much ground. I’m thinking that T needs to keep his mouth shut.



Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 9:00 am

The worms continue to be happy. I noticed on my top bucket of one of my stacked bucket system that a few worms had made it to the top. I had been filling the bucket way too fast with kitchen waste and it was filled to the rim. There was simply no more room to add so I stopped. Now there are some people who say you can over feed your worm bins, and if they stink, they’re overfed. I was worried that mine would start to stink out in the hallway and I would have to get rid of them. I lucked out and about a month after I stopped adding anything to the top bucket there are worms near the surface – and the height has dropped about three inches. It looks like it will be worked over after all. Now it’s time to start peeking to see when the bottom bucket is ready for “harvest” of the worm castings.


Squirmy Update

Filed under: General — site admin @ 8:50 am

I think the worms are trying my patience. They haven’t reproduced very quickly that I can tell (but who can tell? I haven’t actually counted them) and they seem to be fairly slow eaters. I’ve read about the different ways that people prepare the worm food; kitchen scraps, etc. but I’m just not into cutting things up extremely small or running food scraps through the blender. These guys will just have to deal with portion size.

The first bucket that we started was just about ready to “harvest” meaning that there was not that much food left in it. I rotated the empty bucket up to the top of the stack and made sure that there was enough bedding to touch the bottom of the new top bucket. It’s been at least two weeks since I started with the new top bucket and the bottom – not as nearly finished as I thought – has most of the worms in it. There is still plenty of bedding – the ripped up newspaper – in the bottom bucket. They will have to keep chewing along until there is nothing left.

In news from the buckets at the communal garden, the first set was definitely ready to rotate. I’m hoping to harvest around 4 gallons of castings for fertilizer. Of course those guys have to crawl out of the bottom bucket too. J&A don’t dig in the buckets over there as much as I dig in mine, they feed sporadically and just maybe a little more sparsely than I do mine. The first bucket looks like it’s full of worms and castings – maybe I should leave mine alone more too? Nah, not gonna happen.

In other wormy news
Digging around on the internet looking for information on worm composting I found sites that suggested schools could save money by composting kitchen and cafeteria waste and forwarded lots of information to the elementary principal. Last week I found a news article titled Wiggler Power which talks about a worm composting experiment here in town at Flagstaff High School. I’m hoping to start a minor trend.


The Square Foot Garden Begins

Filed under: Gardening — site admin @ 9:12 am

I’ve lived in my apartment for around eleven years. Just a few weeks ago, due to the work and preliminary success of our “communal garden” I decided to set up a garden box outside. It’s really a bunch of plywood pieces held together with screws and 2×4 pieces from old pallets. It’s small, just 24″ front to back and slightly over 10′ long. I then acquired some used banana boxes to act as “pots”. A trip to Home Depot yesterday for several bags of soil, a bag of composted steer manure a couple of tomato cages and plants was just what we needed to get started. My wife also grabbed one of those upside down tomato planters. I don’t know how well they work yet since we only just planted it yesterday, but considering that she has another on the way from I’m really hoping they work.

I filled the bottom of my boxes with top soil, added a few inches of steer manure and a small amount of worm castings that I gathered in the woods (mine aren’t producing much castings yet). Into the mix went tomatoes and bell peppers. This morning I direct seeded onions, mustard, lettuce, carrots, spinach and dill. I still have a couple more boxes to fill and plant, but for now I get to sit back for a few minutes before trying to get a few more pickle buckets and collecting some mulch from the free pile at the public works yard to top off the planters.