#125 - Adding Worms to the Hungry Bin
Ok, after letting the Hungry Bin sit overnight to settle in (which is not required per the instructions but I am erring on the side of caution) I retested the pH level and moisture level.
Using a moisture meter is basically useless as it will only show that the compost is "WET" but that doesn't really give us any information. For instance is it just right or is it too wet. According to the meter it is pegged all the way to the wet side of the indicator, but by performing a manual test of the compost just as we do on the hot compost pile, it appears to be just right. I am not able to squeeze any water out of the compost, yet it does hold together in a clump when squeezed and breaks apart easily afterward.
The pH yesterday was just a tad high at just over 7, but it has settled down to right on 7 today which is right where it needs to be. When raising worms be careful when purchasing a soil pH and moisture meter as most soil pH meters sold today only have a range of 3 to 8 and we need a wider range than that. Luckily I have a pH meter that I purchased a few years ago that goes all the way from 1 to 14.
The reason you do not want a pH meter that tops out at 8 is it will not be very accurate near the top. Any meter is most accurate closer to the center of its scale, so when it gets closer to the top end of the meter it can be off and you would not know it. Since a neutral pH is already at 7, having a scale top out at 8 is pretty useless. If the soil starts to become alkaline, you would not know it until it was too late and you started trying to figure out why your worms were either dying or were trying to all escape out of the bin.
I noticed an issue with the location where I wanted to have the bin set up at the back of the house so I decided to move it to a new location at the front of the house so that it would be in shade longer dirung the day. Unfortunately this location does get sunlight in the later afternoon and evening before the sun goes down so it is not ideal, but overall it will get less sunlight than the original location.
A word of caution here, be very careful as you move the Hungry Bin from one location to another, especially if you are moving it over hard surfaces like concrete. Remember that the whole system works on compression of the castings as they are pushed down through the wedge shape of the Hungry Bin body. Everything is being held up my the collection tray on the bottom of the bin that is held in place by the to snap clips on the sides. If the Hungry Bin encounters a sudden sharp blow, for instance going over a large extension cord and the hard plastic wheels slamming back down hard on the concrete surface, that may unlatch the clips and allow the material inside to drop farther down than it is supposed to be, further compacting everything.
This is exactly what happened to me, not once, but TWICE as I moved it from one location to another. The first time on the extra heavy duty extension cable, and the second time it happened I had to take it down a set of concrete steps and it landed just a bit too hard on the bottom one, again unclipping the side clips allowing everything to drop lower in the chamber and compress once again.
If this happens, there is only one way to fix it. I had to shovel all of the compost back out of the Hungry Bin into a storage tub, remove the bottom collection tray and clean the screen back out, then lock it back into place and refill the Hungry Bin with the compost once again.
My suggestion, set up the Hungry Bin where you are going to operate it, especially if you will not be moving it across a softer ground like your yard where you will be rolling it around on grass.
Ok, the Hungry Bin is reloaded, again, and since everything looks good with the moisture level and the pH level is within normal range I am going to add the worms to the system today so they can become acquainted to their new home and get settled in.
I want to add a light dusting of sawdust over the top of the compost. This accomplishes a few things. First it can absorb excess moisture if it is present, second, it is a carbon source which the worms can use as a food source along with the shredded newspaper of their bedding if they need to while they are getting settled into the bin.
The sawdust that I use is basically wood flour, it is an extremely fine grade of sawdust, so it is small enough to be consumed easily by the worms. I do have regular sawdust that I use in my compost piles, but it would not be a good idea to add anything that large to a worm bin if you are wanting them to have it as an optional food source.
When you first add worms to a new bin they are under stress. We want to limit the amount of stress as much as we can so we will be gently adding the worms to the bin and covering them with a layer of shredded newspaper that is wetted down and then covering with another sheet of moistened newspaper on top to keep everything from drying out and to block the light from them, to make them feel more secure.
Worms are photophobic, which means they do not like light. This is built into their genetics as a safety defense. Out in the open in the light is where their predators are at, ie: birds, rodents, etc. Also, light normally means sunshine, which equates to heat and drying, all death sentences to worms. Worms do not have eyes but they can sense light on their skin and will bury themselves deeper into their bedding for safety to escape the light.
It is recommended that whenever you add worms to a bin that you leave a light turned on above the bin 24-hours a day for the first week while they settle in and get used to their new home to prevent them from trying to escape. I will be watching them to see if I will need to do this or not. So far, they are not even thinking of coming up above the shredded paper.
I will be adding 3,000 red wiggler worms to the bin today to get the system started with. They should be doubling their population in about 3-4 months, so that will be a good start on them. The minimum required to start the bin is 2,000 worms, and it was recommended that I start it with 4,000, so I am going to split the difference and go with 3,000 until everything gets established. I can always add more later if I need to or I can just wait for them to breed.
When harvesting worms we do not count each individual worm. My God, that would take forever, lol. We use an average measurement of their being approximately 1,000 worms in a pound, so we weigh out the worms when harvesting. So I will be adding 3 pounds of worms to the Hungry Bin today.
We will not be adding a lot of food to the bin right away because due to the stress of them being harvested and jostled around in the move to the new bin they will not be very active at first. We do not want to take a chance that food that is not being eaten will start rotting in the bin which will raise the pH level of the compost and cause an anaerobic environment in the bin which is unhealthy for the worms and will cause the bin to stink.
Worms breath through their skin so we want to have a very aerobic environment for them. This is also why the moisture level of the compost can not be too high. If it gets too wet the worms will drown. This is why you will see worms climb up to the surface whenever it is going to rain, so they do not drown in the soil.
This is also why worms will climb to the top of the bin and will be all over the inside of the lid of the bin when it is raining, it is their normal instinct to climb as high as they can so they do not drown. They do not realize that the rain will not get into their bin, all they know is that it is raining so they need to move quickly or die.
Time to go pick up the worms . . .
Ok, I just got back from picking up the "3-pounds of worms".
These worms are not adults, they are all juvenile, and baby worms, most of them are not very old at all. Unfortunately, that extends out my timeline for having them able to breed and increase the size of the worm colony by several weeks. Basically we can tack on an additional month to everything now.
Apparently, here in Hawaii, worms are not harvested and weighed the same as they are on the mainland because this is definitely NOT 3 pounds of worms. It is 3 pounds counting the worms and the bedding/castings that they are in. The worms are supposed to be gently separated from their bedding using a soft-bristled paint brush to brush the bedding and castings off of the worms and then the worms are weighed. After you have the correct weight of worms then you add them to a container with some of their bedding for delivery to their new home.
For those of you who have not purchased worms before, 3-pounds of worms and their bedding will not fit in a gallon-sized ziplock bag, which is what these were in, and they only filled up half the bag at that. I ordered 3-pounds of worms, but only received around a pound of worms. That is all of the worms I received in the photo, not just part of them. I am not very pleased at all.
If you are on Oahu and are thinking about starting a worm composting bin please wait. Do not get screwed like I did today. Don't purchase your worms from the individual in Waikiki or the one in Ewa Beach that are selling worms for $160 per pound, and do not purchase the worms from the guys on Craigs list offering cheaper worms. You will not be getting what you are paying for.
Believe me, when I start harvesting and selling worms I will not weigh them that way, I will not cheat my customers. If they order a pound of worms, they will receive just over one pound of worms, in addition to some of their bedding as it should be done. I am going to put some ethics back into worm farming on Oahu.
It is extremely hot today. The Hungry Bin is measuring 94 degrees so after putting the worms in to get accustomed to their new home I also laid a 2-liter soda bottle filled with water that I keep in the freezer in with them to cool them down. You don't have to worry about it getting too cold for the worms as they can move away from it toward the warmer side if they need to.
A few minutes after adding the ice bottle to the side of the bin it is now measuring 86 degrees in the center, much better. And yes, that is reading correctly, it is 88% humidity today.
Each time the temperature rises a few degrees it causes it to sprinkle just a bit. Not enough to cool it down though, just enough to make it miserable and steamy. I'm thinking right now that ice bottle trick is looking pretty good, I may grab one to put on the back of my neck to cool me off.
Well, that it for this one. Time to cover them back up and leave the worms alone so they can de-stress.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73