Red Wiggler Bins and Eggs

What a busy fall it’s been – I have certainly overextended myself, once again, and am taxing my time management skills! But despite my deepest wish for more hours in a day, my worms are a priority that never gets put on the back burner. Last weekend, given the beautiful weather, I decided it was time to move them to a bigger home, a nice blue plastic, tub, as they are populating in leaps and bounds. So I moved my yarn into a box and used the plastic bin for the new worm home. First I had to drill holes into the side and bottom with a 1/4 iIMG_0626nch bit that I borrowed (did he have a choice?) from my husband and got to work drilling holes about every two inches around the top and about thirty holes on the bottom. Worms need oxygen, so it’s important that you have good air flow in their home. Some friends have asked if they ever escape through the holes, but that has not been my experience. They will try to escape if their environment is too dry, too wet, or without food. Other than that, they like to stay home. If they do try to escape, they will soon dry up on the flooring so you can throw them out for birds as it’s a great source of protein.

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Here is my jar of crushed egg shells. I use a mortar and pestle to crush them while I’m watching TV. It seems to do well, but a coffee grinder would be better.

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This pic was taken after I scattered mineral dust and egg shells. Afterward, I hand tossed it all to mix thoroughly.

To prepare the bin for the worms, I filled the bottom about one third of the way up with moist torn newspaper and scrap mail, and lots of moist fallen leaves. I added about two cups of scattered dirt, and eight cups of scattered moist peat moss, 1/4 cup of crushed egg shells, and two tablespoons of mineral dust. There are many YouTube videos on setting up a worm bin, some better than others. What those videos don’t tell you is how quick the worms can eat their way through all the paper, leaves, and peat moss, and what you should do to replace it. What are the signs to look for?  Once you have a healthy population of worms, I have found that within a month those little wigglers will need more of everything!  Not so much in the winter months; it might take two months before you’re ready to harvest castings, depending on how cool you keep your house.

So, as I was separating my worms from the castings, I was so pleased to find dozens and dozens of worm eggs. I haven’t shown pictures of them yet, so I thought I would put them up for you to see. First, you need to know that when a worm first sheds its gland to make that initial cocoon (see my other post on how worm babies are made), it will turn into a yellow colored egg (it’s almost transparent), then over time, it will turn a dark red color (the second pic shows two red eggs of different sizes):

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IMG_0639 more mature eggs

Seriously, isn’t that amazing? The really amazing thing is that an egg will typically bear two to four teeny worms and sometimes even more! So you can see the difference in the color of the eggs!  I was so happy to have found the yellow one, it’s not easy to do in a bin of dark castings.

 

 

I haven’t seen any worms actually being born, except online, but I did find some tiny worms while I was collecting casting and moving them to their new home. Here are a few pics to show you some size differences between more mature and toddler worms:

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If you look at my index finger, there is a tiny stick like shape, but that’s actually a baby worm! The triangular shape on my palm is a larger worm with a smaller one on the top left hand side. I’m afraid the castings make it difficult to see, but I was hoping you could get a sense of the sizes. I had to be very careful to put the tiny worm back in the bin without damaging it!

I was able to harvest about twenty pounds of castings which has been added to soil for winter gardening. I have a grow light in my home and will be starting lettuce soon as well as lots of microgreens. Yum!

I hope you enjoyed this post and it was informative for you. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Until next time, my best to you!  🙂

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Container Garden

Who’s been terrible at posting this year?  Yup, it’s me. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since winter!  But what a productive spring and summer we’ve had. First, we weren’t able to have an “in the ground” garden so I had to start my first ever container garden.  It was quite a learning experience. I harvested about four gallons of castings from my modest worm herd and used all of it for the container soil mix. I used a mix of 1 to 4, castings to soil (which is made up of soil and peat moss). When harvesting the castings, a few baby worms made their way into the pots but I was able to transfer them back to the worm factory once I found them. I usually use newspaper strips for mulch in the pots and would find little worms hiding under the paper and on top of the soil.

We’ve been growing thyme, which I’ve enjoyed in egg salad and tuna salad; basil, which is ready for pesto; scallions (still maturing); rosemary (slow in its first year); lots of lettuce, which I’ve enjoyed every day; green beans (only a few left); zucchini (pic below); green peppers (still growing); and peppermint (pic below).  I’ve started a late planting of more lettuce, calendula, nasturtium, and more basil.  I have a mini-greenhouse for the late season plants, too, which will prolong their growth. I grew most everything from seed and have been researching new farms from which to collect more seeds.

Let’s take a peek at a few of the plants that we grew!

Lots of blossoms hidden in the leaves.

Lots of blossoms hidden in the leaves.

Yummy tea every night after work.

Yummy tea every night after work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The redworms have held up well and have been laying lots and lots of eggs.  Next time I harvest castings, which should be within the month, I’ll make a video on worm eggs and post it for you.

Hope you’re having a great summer!

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Growing Mung Bean Sprouts

I plan to start adding posts on various plant based topics, and here are quick directions on how to grow mung bean sprouts.

First, you want to purchase some organic mung bean seeds.  I purchase mine on Amazon.com from Todd’s Seeds.  I got quick service and the beans are healthy (not chipped or shriveled).

Then, I clean them in a strainer: IMG_1387

Once they’re clean, just fill a jar (I use a Bell or Mason jar) with about 1/4 cup of your clean beans, cover the beans with water, and cover the jar with a cheesecloth (secure with rubber band or ribbon).

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Let your seeds sit for about six to eight hours, then drain the water.

Now comes the easy part. Just fill your jar with water and drain it immediately to moisten the beans, each morning and night.  Ideally, I do this three times a day, but two times a day will do.

On the fourth day, your sprouts are ready to be added to salads! IMG_1353But if you want to wait two more days, they will grow to be perfect bean sprouts for a stir fry or chop suey! I snip off the long, stringy roots first.  The quickest way is to pinch it off with your fingers.

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BTW, I said I have recipes to try out using Mung Bean sprouts. Check my posts to see what I’ve shared.

Enjoy!

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Chop Suey using Mung Bean Sprouts

This is really easy.  All you need for a simple Chop Suey (like my mom made) are these ingredients:

1 Chicken Breast cut into cubes (about 1 inch)

6 celery stalks (chopped into bite sized pieces)

1/2 large onion (cut into bite sized pieces)

1 cup mung bean sprouts (let them grow for about five or six days)

Other veggies as you desire (shredded carrots, peas, broccoli bits, etc.)

1 teaspoon oyster sauce (optional)

1/2 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

soy sauce to taste

1/4 cup water

1 heaping tablespoon (or so) corn starch to thicken sauce

1 tbsp olive oil

First, brown your onion in olive oil, then add chicken and brown well on medium to high heat (about ten minutes). Add the oyster sauce and fish sauce and stir to mix everything. Cover pan and let cook on medium heat for about ten minutes. Then add water and celery, sprouts, and any other veggies, cover your pan to let everything steam for another ten minutes. Spread everything in the pan to the sides to make a hole and add the corn starch, stirring vigorously to thicken the sauce.

Serve on rice and enjoy!

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Happy Eaters

Happy Eaters

Worms on Thanksgiving, having a worm feast!

I finally harvested my first castings for a microgreen garden starter kit that I designed and gave a friend as a gift. You can see many black specks in this photo — those are the worm castings!  Yay!  Right below the food in this pic is about half a gallon of worm castings that I will scoop up, about one cup at a time, whenever I start a new microgreen garden. Not only are these worms eating up my leftovers and paper trash, but they’re also the biggest contributor to healthy microgreens!

I’ll post more on microgreens after the New Year.  And Happy Holidays to all!

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Red Worms Hiding from the Light

Here’s a short video showing how red worms will try to escape light. They don’t have eyes, but can feel light, just like we can feel a warm sun on our skin. If exposed to light for too long they can die.

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Tea, anyone?

There are two kinds of fluids that can come from worm farms. One is called ‘leachate’, which accumulates at the base of the worm farm and can be drained out using the spigot. FYI, I do not recommend using leachate on plants you plan on eating. The other is compost tea, which is brewed by steeping worm castings (with some snacks for the little microbes) in dechlorinated water (stir frequently) for one to two days. What’s the difference, you ask?  While leachate does have some nutritional value for plants, it doesn’t really contain microbial critters.  You see, bacteria and fungi, which are needed for healthy soil, stick to organic matter and aren’t washed off in the liquid that drains from the worm farm. Ideally, your worm farm won’t drain leachate. Mine doesn’t.  🙂  

On the other hand, compost tea is full of beneficial microbes! Because of the stirring (aeration), the tea is aerobic, and therefore, safe for your plants. In fact, compost tea can have up to four times as many bacteria because of the aeration process.  Amazing, huh? 

So what’s so great about compost tea, aside from the dense bacteria population? Well, it just so happens that when plants exudate (sort of like perspiration) from their leaves, they attract attract bacteria and fungi to the leaf’s personal space (phyllosphere). The same thing goes for when the roots exudate and attract bacteria and fungi to their rhizosphere (root’s personal space). But if the soil isn’t healthy, there may not be the microbiology needed by the plant leaves and roots. Compost and mulch take time to populate the soil with good microbes, but compost tea can quickly be applied to root areas as well as leaves. The good microbes from compost tea can compete with the pathogens (bad guys) for space and food –and can even protect the plant from attack!  Yay!

Okay, so here’s the surprise…compost tea is made from worm castings, which is actually worm poop, droppings, excrement.  And your plants will love it!

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Where Do Babies Come From?

I had an interesting question today. A friend of mine asked where do baby worms come from. It’s actually a great question because red wigglers are both male and female, they’re hermaphrodites. However, they are not asexual. There are worms that can produce offspring by themselves, but not our red wigglers! (Educational tip: The development of an egg without the process of fertilization is called parthenogenesis.) Our worms need a partner to reproduce.  Here’s what actually happens:

1) Two months after birth a red wiggler is ready to breed. It grows a bulbous gland called the clitellum about one-third down it’s body and it’s here that the worm needs to join with another worm. The joining takes around three hours and it’s very important not to disturb them.  How do they keep from slipping off each other? Good question, they are slippery little things. Well, they use their bristles (remember from yesterday’s post?) to hang on tight!

2) After the joining is over and they enjoy a candlelight dinner (just kidding), they begin to form a mucus ring around themselves for the fluids they exchanged. Soon they start to move/wiggle out the ring over their heads (kind of like pulling a sweater over your head), when this happens, the fluids from their joining are caught by the ring and deposited. Of course, this is the non-scientific, quick version of the process.

3) When the ring is pulling over their heads, it gets harder and as it falls away from the worm it becomes an oval shaped, light yellow cocoon! After a few weeks, the cocoon gets darker, reddish as the little hatchlings form. Fun fact: red wigglers can hatch from one to twenty hatchlings. Twenty babies!

Hatchlings take around two to three weeks before they are ready to emerge from their cocoons. They are super teeny but here is an awesome video of one being born: http://youtu.be/huWOOOZY6RY. See the pen tip? Now you know how little they are at birth.

Note: Worms need a few things to mate: stability (it can take weeks after moving to a new home before they are comfortable enough to mate), food and a moist bed, warmth, and calcium.

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Hydrostatic Skeletons

While our little red wiggler friends are busy making eating and excreting castings, there are lots of fun things to learn about them. I will try to find interesting websites and videos that will enhance your learning about worms. Today, I thought it would be cool to learn a little bit about worm biology!

Worms (annelids) are different than we are, in that they have a hydrostatic skeleton. Did you know that? It means that they can move much more fluidly than we can, although I’ve seen some dancers, who were quite flexible. Worms are actually filled with fluid and muscles that apply pressure within their wormy cavity to move. To move, they use teeny bristles (chaetae, pronounced, ‘keetay’). A hydrostatic skeleton is pretty amazing as it means the organism can decrease in diameter while increase in length, which I’m sure you’ve experienced with worms.  For a more scientific explanation, see http:youtu.be/n0QF50BbG1k. The video is interesting–you just can’t imagine what’s inside a worm!

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Getting Started

Their new home!

It’s been a few years since I raised worms, in particular, red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). They’re the cutest things, really, and they are so handy for recycling much of your waste! These worms are top soil dwellers, meaning they don’t like to burrow down into the ground.  They are likely to be found above the ground, eating composting materials, manure, and other decaying materials. Interesting, eh?  Check under dead leaves and see if you find any there.  Chances are, you just might.

So this week I started my worm farm — I bought a four tray worm factory to get started but once my worms start multiplying, my engineer husband will build us a new and larger system. The worms live in my kitchen right now, which is very handy for feeding them. As you can see above, I have a tray of shredded newspaper on top of the worm bin for easy access to paper when I need it. I actually keep that tray covered, too, so it doesn’t accumulate dust before I add the paper to the feeding bin. There is a gooseneck lamp shining down on the worm bin, which I recommend while the worms are adjusting to their new home. I keep it on when the sun goes down. They will explore their new home and possibly escape if there isn’t bright light to dissuade them from roaming. They don’t like light.

One little worm did escape as we were setting up the farm and tried so hard to race under the piano!  I never saw a worm move so fast.  Luckily we scooped it up with a piece of paper and dropped it back into the bin. I’m sure it’s happier there than drying up under the piano.

The worm factory came with some great starter materials so when we added our worms, the bin had moist coir (fibers from coconut husks), mineral rock, pumice and moist shredded paper for the initial bedding. After two days of adjusting to their new home, we fed the worms some carrots (small pieces and peelings, about two cups) and a few lettuce leaves (also torn to small pieces). They have shredded paper on top of them and whole, moist newspaper pages on top of that.  Here’s a shot of the food:

Yummy!

Yummy!

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