Sunday, March 29, 2009

Emptying the bottom layer of your worm bin

In many of the discussions on worm bins people ask about either adding the next layer or how do they go about emptying the bottom layer (or even knowing when it's ready to empty).

I generally empty mine when the top layer is almost full (generally twice a year with my family) and I try and do it in the Spring and the Autumn i.e. while the weather is still reasonable.

A common misconception is that all the worms will have vacated the bottom layer and moved up. I've owned a wormery since 1998 and I have never yet known this to be the case - there are always a few of the stubborn ones quite happy in the bottom layer.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin

So how do you separate them from the compost?

You have a few choices:

  • The first is don't bother. You can just empty the whole bottom layer in your border or compost bin where the few stragglers and eggs will either live in the garden, become live food for the birds or in the case of the compost bin carry on regardless. I like the last option because they can then colonise your compost and thereby speed up that process as well.

  • You can empty the whole lot into a barrow or onto a plastic sheet and hand pick them out, either adding them to your wormery again or even box them up and head off fishing. The choice is yours.

  • Put the bottom layer on the top with the lid off. Scrape away and remove compost until you come across some worms and then leave it for a bit. Worms hate the light and will burrow down into the compost that remains. Repeat this process until they have all burrowed into the layer below, by which time you will have harvested all the compost.
    Be warned though that this is a lengthy process.

When you remove the bottom layer you will almost definitely find that the sump is full of worms. Many beginners panic and worry about worms getting in the sump but they always do.

It's yet another reason to make sure you empty the sump regularly so that they don't drown.

They can and will climb out when they are ready but you're very lucky indeed if you never find any there.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin

As you can see from the pictures both my bins have plenty of worms in the sump. So while we're emptying the bottom layer make sure you empty the contents of the sump (drain it of liquid first though) into the top layer. It tidies the sump up as well as helping establish worms in the new top layer.

So now you've emptied the bottom layer and cleaned out the sump you can place the now empty tray to the top of the bin.

When adding this new layer be careful to make sure that it fits snugly. If there's too much stuff in there then a) you'll be squashing them with the new one and b) they can get out of the sides.

I just add the layer and start adding waste - they will move up when they are ready i.e. they have eaten most of the layer below and fancy some of the new stuff.

I guess it wouldn't harm to take some of the bottom layer and add it to the new one, especially if it's quite full and stops the new layer fitting snugly. Definitely add the moisture mat (or a layer of cardboard) as the darkness will further attract them into the new layer.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin

As you can see from the pictures, adding what's in the sump can make the wormery look quite wet and soggy so make sure you add a fair amount of shredded/scrunched paper and/or cardboard to help dry things out.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin You can never have enough paper in a worm bin, something that people often forget. It helps keep things dry and adds a god dose of carbon. The worms will munch their way through it as fast (if not faster) than the food scraps and the resultant compost will be of a higher standard.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I've won an award!

Turns out that I have won the 'The Bokashi Backup Award' in the The Rubbish Diet Awards 2009.

I'd like to thank Almost Mrs Average for the honour - I'm really pleased that some of my advice and help was able to be used in her extremely successful attempts at getting us to slim down our bins by reducing, re-using, recycling and generally buying more carefully.

I'm off to celebrate now with a nice cup of tea ...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Creating a raised bed for vegetables

For the last few years I have grown a few vegetables in pots: spinach, tomatoes, dwarf beans and even a single runner bean plant. They have all done well, as have the odd lettuce and rocket.

With my small garden I've relied on these pots (and the greenhouse), while keeping the main garden for lawn and borders full of flowers, as well as shrubs for attracting birds and insects (it's also nice to look at).

link-a-bord system newly assembledLayer of cardbooard for suppressing the grass
This year though I have decided to expand the vegetable production and will be utilising two raised beds by the greenhouse for this purpose. I purchased a link-a-bord kit from Wiggly Wigglers and have today set it up. The kit itself took all of 5 minutes to assemble and is made from recycled uPVC. I think I would have preferred wood but this kit is light, simple to assemble and won't rot.

I didn't fancy the back breaking job of digging up the turf so laid some cardboard on top of the grass. This should stop the grass growing through yet still allow the bed to drain well. By the time the season is over the grass should be dead and the cardboard rotted enough to just be dug over like a normal plot (well that's the theory anyway).
A layer of BokashiA layer of compost from one of the bins
Next came a bucket of Bokashi for the base followed by a layer of home made compost from my third bin. Both these will add nutrients to the soil as well as help stop the soil drying out. I did exactly this in my pots last year and had the best crop of veg ever, even though our summer was atrocious, so I'm sure that it will help just as much this time around.
Finally, a layer of John Innes multi-purpose compost
Finally I topped it off with some John Innes multi purpose compost as that will be ideal for planting the veg plants into. Once established in this the roots will find their way down to the compost and Bokashi and all the nutrients they contain will keep the plants fed and healthy.

The second raised bed kit is on order and I'll be setting that up next to this giving me quite a bit of growing room. I'm hoping to utilise this room properly once I've read Growing Fruit and Vegetables on a Bed System the Organic Way by Pauline Pears.