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Apr 11, 2013 06:36 AM

Where did the worms come from, and other composting ruminations

So, yesterday I emptied my spinning compost bin that I have been feeding all winter; I had just enough to top off my four raised beds. Only a dusting really, but since it's at half least manure I have high hopes.

First off, I couldn't believe the amount of big, juicy earthworms living in there. It's wonderful, but where did they come from? The bin sits at least two feet off the ground. So weird.

Second, a lot of stuff hadn't really decomposed. I haven't added much recently, so all this is close to a month old. I've been throwing whole hunks of waste in there: Are you supposed to be grinding it up into little bits maybe?

Also, a lot of things were actually growing in the bin. I had a brussel sprout stem that had quite a few 6 inch leaves growing off it. Also tons of potatoes, do they grow from peelings? I pulled out the biggest things but did leave some smaller stuff laying in the garden, thought it would be fun to see if there were any surprises (other than racoons and rats!)

The cool thing is, I planted some pea seeds only a few days ago, but couldn't turn on the sprinklers yet because we had our driveway blacktopped. Last night we had a ferocious thunderstorm, and when I looked out this morning, the pea plants are a few inches high already! Since I haven't even planted my indoor seeds yet, for various reasons, this gave me the boost I need to get back to work.

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  1. Not surea bout the earthworms, but my guess is that there were eggs in the manure you added. Also, it seems as if you have something closer to a worm farm than composter- not a bad thing, just doesn't sound like stuff is composting.

    3 Replies
    1. re: EWSflash

      Yeah it wasn't QUITE what I expected. But it did smell nice, like a barn, guess I have a lot of experimenting to do in the next few years.

      Do earthworms even lay eggs? I though they split in half or something. Now, icky intestinal worms is another story. That's what I was thinking of, even though these were obviously earthworms.

      1. re: coll

        Nope, they lay eggs. Don't know if they divide too, but i doubt it.

        1. re: EWSflash

          I looked it up, it's complicated. But I wasn't a science major in school. Hopefully I will become one in real life instead.

    2. I went to a composting workshop last year. Or, as my husband called it, "Dirt School." The people leading the workshop recommended chopping up everything into bits before putting it in the compost bin. I confess to being too lazy to do this.

      3 Replies
      1. re: eepi

        Thanks, maybe I should look for a class around here!

        1. re: coll

          Congrats on baby peas!!
          Much to the chagrin of my mother, my dad runs about half of his stuff for composting through the VItaMix for a couple of whirls. She made him get a separate container [although I don't think that was REALLLLY necessary].
          Every 2 or 3 years he tries a new composting container or method. It always does about 80% of what he expected.
          I'm not a gardener, but I do know that he doesn't put "wormy" compost on his greens/lettuces/cabbages.

          1. re: Kris in Beijing

            These are earthworms, I don't think they eat cabbage and such? I think those are cutworms? Guess I'll find out!

            My block is having a yard sale next weekend, maybe I should look for an old food processor.

      2. For compost to develop properly you need a balance of brown and green materials and moisture, and the whole mass has to rise to a temperature that will kill bacteria. This article should help explain the process or link you to more info:

        7 Replies
        1. re: junescook

          Thanks this is a very interesting website, and easy to follow. I have bookmarked it for my next batch, to be started soon!

          1. re: junescook

            That's a very interesting website. Any idea why horse, cow and chicken manure is ok, but dog and cat poop is not?

            I'm on my second batch of compost and have learned a few things, like not including melon seeds, keeping it moist, and chopping up leaves. I added egg shells in the first batch and they really didn't break down, so I wasn't adding them to this second batch. I was surprised to see them and nut shells listed on the "do compost" side. Maybe I'll start adding them again but break them up more.

            1. re: AmyH

              Carnivores digestive systems often have parasites that can infect people. Herbivores' intestinal parasites generally cannot survive in people.

                1. re: Eldon Kreider

                  Chickens are omnivorous, but in my limited backyard experience, they prefer grains, grass , and seeds more than bugs or meat scraps. Since mine are now outside 14 hours a day, egg production has dropped way off, but the eggs are richer than ever in flavor and color. I give them access to chicken feed based on grains, but they prefer to peck at grass, weeds, and garden soil.

                  I'll be mixing the dried winter poop with soil and applying to the garden now that the plants are growing well.

                2. re: AmyH

                  I do add egg shells to the composter, but I squish them up pretty well beforehand.

                  1. re: pine time

                    My lesson from last year is, find a way to really grind up all the ingredients! Live and learn.

                1. re: swimmer5555

                  Thanks! I was just mystified because my compost bin is a tumbler, sitting several feet off the ground. I was glad to see all the fat healthy worms, but I think they caused the birds to peck up my garden something fierce in the beginning.

                2. I know this is a late reply, but if things aren't decomposing completely it is a combination of factors: length of time (month isn't very long); contents are not getting hot enough (hence the things sprouting); there isn't a proper ratio of green and brown (which contributes to the lack of heat). It may also be too dry.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: gourmanda

                    Thanks, I just dumped a bunch of grass clippings in there, I wasn't so vigilant last year. The tumbler bin does let rain in, somehow, but maybe I should water it too when I water my porch plants?

                    I am starting this batch for next spring, so another thought is to stop adding to it once the weather gets too cold in the winter? Because the stuff that didn't break down was obviously the things I added in the month or two before.

                    Oh and my other bad (at least I think so) is that if I don't add anything for a few days, I don't turn it either. I think that might be part of my problem.

                    1. re: coll

                      You don't want it too wet--I've always read/heard it should be the equivalent of a damp sponge so no, not watering every time you water the plants.

                      As for not adding in the winter...a proper batch (which I don't have) is supposed to keep hot in the center but obviously the surrounding air temperature will have something to do with that. Maybe you could keep the food scraps in your freezer over the winter? Or get a counter top composter? I've considered a worm bin but never followed through.

                      1. re: gourmanda

                        I'm actually excited that this is not so simple, and that when I break the code I will be in my glory! I will try it all and figure it out, if I live long enough.

                        Sort of like the perfect pie crust, and making jams.

                        1. re: coll

                          I feel the same way! I just keep trying different things and figuring out what combination works. I don't think I've achieved "heat" yet, and I'm not sure why not. I have tried a compost accelerator and that does seem to help get things broken down more. But sometimes I feel like things rot faster in the crisper drawer of the fridge than they do in my composter!

                          1. re: AmyH

                            True! Maybe I should give everything a head start in the fridge before taking it out back?

                            1. re: coll

                              I actually recall someone (maybe on Chowhound?) referring to the crisper as the rotter!

                              1. re: AmyH

                                I hate when I open it up to find gush and juice, doesn't happen often but I'd be lying if I said never!