Friday, May 13, 2011

9. harvest

The Orchard, 2010

what we've all been waiting for

As time passes you will begin to see your worm edibles transforming into gorgeous dark brown rich compost, worm compost. What exactly is worm compost? Worm compost, also known as vermicompost, is simply humus (decomposed organic matter), decomposing organic matter, a few worms, and some worm castings (worm manure). The organic matter in your boxes consists of bedding and kitchen rubbish. When you see the finished product you'll be amazed by the transformation. You can use your worm compost as top dressing on house plants, in garden beds, as a component of your homemade potting soil, and as a fertilizer for freshly planted seeds and seedlings. Unlike many fertilizers, worm compost will not burn seedlings. Worm compost also aids in holding moisture in soil.

Composting with worms is not necessarily the most efficient means of creating large quantities of compost. If you are striving to attain Type-A composter status, there are plenty of sources that offer instruction on this sort of thing. This is not one of them. Worm composting, at least my version, is more akin to slow food, organic herb gardening, and long walks. Rumor has it that worm castings, a main ingredient in your worm compost, contain five times the nitrogen, seven times the available phosphorus, eleven times more potash, and 40% more humus (decomposed organic matter) than is usually found in the top six inches of the soil. This is good stuff.

I read about a variety of harvest methods and I loved the idea of the Mary Appelhof's let the worms do the sorting method. It seemed perfect because it involved very little effort. The worms did all of the work. The concept is to imagine a dividing line splitting your box into two equal sections. One section is completely ignored while the other section continues to receive food in the usual grid manner. I divided and waited. All worms should leave the ignored side of the box and move to the side of the box receiving food. Once the worms move, you harvest worm-free compost from the vacated side. It seemed logical. I checked in after a week and no movement, two weeks, three weeks, a month, and then I just lost my patience. I'm not sure why, but they didn't migrate. Perhaps, even after a month, there was still enough appealing organic matter for the worms to chew on in the ignored side of the box. Whatever the reason, the let the worms do the sorting method just didn't work for me.

Here's what did work. After a few months you can stop feeding box #1 and allow all of the fresh worm edibles to metamorphose into worm compost. At this stage you will shift all activity to box #2. Check in on box #1 after a couple weeks and gently dig around to see how things are progressing inside. It should look more like soil than a pile of food. Feel free to wait longer and let nature take it's course. I tend to lean toward impatience and harvest a couple of weeks after I move all new activity to box #2. The only difference for those less patient individuals like myself is that you will find more in-process worm edibles (items such as apple cores that still look like apple cores) in your box. This isn't a problem.

It's preparation time. Pick a sunny day and begin early in the day. This process will not work without sunlight. Pull on your gardening gloves and prepare to harvest your first batch of nutrient-rich compost. Locate your gardener's knee pad and keep it handy. Your metal trash can (final compost holding container) should be situated in its final location. Once you start adding compost it will become heavy and you won't want to move it around. Find your 5-gallon bucket and keep it close to box #1, you'll need it in a few minutes. Spread your tarp or large sheet of plastic out in front of box #1.

Okay, let's go for it! Tip box #1 and empty its entire contents onto your tarp. Watch how all of the worms begin to scoot downward to escape the bright light of the sun. Let them scoot while you use your 5-gallon bucket to gather enough bedding to add approximately one inch to the bottom of your now empty box. Go ahead and leave this inch of bedding dry. Once your box has been emptied and you have added the bottom one inch layer of bedding, you are ready to remove identifiable worm edibles (items such as the apple cores I mentioned earlier) from the recently dumped pile now resting on your tarp. As you sift through your pile you will stumble upon these identifiable worm edibles, the bits and bobs that have not yet become compost, toss them into your now empty box on top of the one inch of dry bedding.

While working through this process you will see that all of tops and tails of your fruits and vegetables are not created equally. For instance, a shelling bean pod will take much longer to transform into compost than a withered spinach leaf. Egg shells remain identifiable for what seems an eternity and this is why it is best to dry them and crush them. Simply sprinkle the crushed shells over the surface of your bedding. These dried crushed shells are an excellent source of calcium and a fine addition to your compost.

After removing all recognizables, begin sorting the remaining contents of the box into little mounds, about five-six inches in diameter and as tall as possible without them toppling over. Watch the worms scurry downward again. Take a break and let the mounds rest for about one half of an hour. You need to give the little guys on or near the top of your mounds ample time to flee from the sunlight before you begin sorting.

When you return, begin removing compost from the tops of the mounds and placing it inside your five-gallon bucket. You won't get very far before you start running into a group of worms. Removing a handful or two of compost during this first phase should do it. When you begin to expose the group of worms in your first mound, cease activity with mound one and move on to mound number two, allowing the worms in mound one to continue their journey down toward the bottom of the mound. Don't worry if you meet up with the worms quickly, you'll repeat this procedure several times.

Along the way, before you run into a group of worms in a mound, you will discover an occasional disoriented single worm every now and again. These are the worms that couldn't figure out how to wiggle their way down into the mound. Help them out. Toss any stray single worms into your new box, on top of the dry bedding and bits of kitchen rubbish. As your bucket becomes 1/2 - 3/4 of the way full with finished compost, dump it into your metal trash can.

Take another break and make yourself some tea and cookies or whatever suits your mood.

Back to work. When you finish your tea and you return to your tarp, the mounds of compost will be ready for round two. Again, remove the top layer of compost from the first mound. Not too much, stop when you bump into the worms again. Repeat this process, including the one half of an hour breaks between steps, until you reach the bottom of each mound.

The bottom of each mound should reveal a jumble of worms mixed with a tiny bit of compost. Gather up the edges of your tarp and gently scooch all of the worms into the center of the tarp. Securely grasp the sides of the tarp and carefully slide the consolidated pile of worms toward the edge of the tarp, but not too close. Don't send them over the edge just yet. Create a spout with the edge of the tarp closest to where the worms now rest and delicately slip the majority of the worms back into box #1, and then, just for good measure, save the last handful or so to slide into box #2 to keep the population healthy and pumping. Watch them all beeline straight down toward the darkness and the food. The next time you open the box you won't see any worms on top of the bedding. They'll all be downstairs, beneath the bedding, working away in your compost factory.

Okay, hold tight, we're almost there. Dump your last bucket of finished compost into its final holding container and then shovel enough bedding into your empty bucket to add about three inches of bedding into box #1. Three inches will be enough to completely cover your worms and the worm edibles. While the bedding is still in the bucket, sprinkle it with water and toss it around until it passes the good ol' wrung out sponge test. Add the moistened bedding to the box and make sure to close the box securely.

You will now use box #2 as your primary box and box #1 as your overflow box. When box #2 reaches the stage box #1 was in when you stopped feeding the worms, right before the harvest, you'll follow these same harvesting procedures with box #2.

Congratulations, you've just completed your first harvest! Reward yourself for a job well done.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.