Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lawn conversion stage two- in place worm farming

 When we decided to convert the lawn to a fruit garden, I went in bracing myself for the hard job of removing the grass.

As I learned few weeks ago, this went faster than I could have imagined, and the sod embankments that will stabilize the hill were similarly trouble free.

Then we ran into a completely unexpected challenge.

Not enough worm food.

Seattle is a very worm-centric community. Many households have worm bins, which they use to dispose of kitchen scraps while harvesting a little high quality compost for their gardens.

My first visit to David's house, he showed me his worm farm and told me how to take care of it. I was new to the city and thought he was a lovable eccentric, but I've since met several other people who introduced me to their worms.

Small scale worm composting consists of a box full of bedding like shredded paper, moistened but not drippy. The worms are placed in the bedding and fed a mixture of household veggie scraps and garden soil. Worms can eat something like their own weight in waste food every week.

 The food makes its way through the worm and out the other end as black, shiny castings - worm poop, an excellent soil amendment.

My vision for the front yard is to create a bedding layer of worm castings an inch or two deep, over the burlap that covers the bare soil. I would then cover this with mulch and install the plants.

Below the mulch layer, the worms would finish decomposing their food and dig into the burlap till it was all eaten.

But with nearly 3000 square feet of garden bed to fill, I was striking out at finding that quantity of shredded paper for a starting medium. Not to get all math heavy, but to fill an area 3000 square feet with bedding 1" deep would require about 9 cubic yards of mixed material. That's a lot. It will be big, messy and heavy.

Perhaps this is a good thing I haven't found a source. It will slow me down so I can experiment with a smaller amount and make sure this "worm farming on the ground instead of in a bin" idea is a good one.

Yeah, let's say I planned it this way all along. I'll start with a small test area, 3' x 6' x 6" deep. That way, if the process produces a lot of odor or attracts pests I'll know before I've committed a huge part of my lawn!

Today I started my test.

I set out a bag of shredded paper which I obtained from freecycle.

On top of that, I dumped about 30# of beet and carrot pulp from a juicing company. They will have enough of this for my whole project, if I pick up a batch a week.

The beets and carrots were pretty colored, but I could already tell they would break down into a slimy, smelly, clumpy mess that worms couldn't even push their way through, unless I broke it up with some other organic material.

Lucky me. Seattle is a huge coffee drinking town, and many coffee shops are more than happy to give away their spent grounds.

It saves them the cost of composting, and helps them get green credentials.
I know from previous worm bins that coffee grounds help break up other material and keep the bedding open so the worms can move around better.

It also has a fresh, pleasant odor that will cover and absorb less pleasant smells from other material.
Worms need grit. Like chickens (who knew) they have gizzards.

They use the grit to grind up other food.

I dumped a bucket of garden soil on top of my bedding to provide this important supplement.

Oh. Last but not least, the worms.

I dug up a five gallon bucket of mixed worms and their compost from my worm bin and spread them out on top.

Then I stirred it all together (this is not a project for the squeamish) and watered it till it felt like a damp sponge.

By this point, robins, crows and chickens were eyeing the whole affair with greed and hunger. I covered the bed with burlap to hide it from their acquisitive eyes.

It shouldn't need anything for the next week or so. The forecast is for occasional rain and weather in the high 60's. Perfect.

I'll check back in a week and we'll know how the whole project is going.

Hopefully the worms will be thriving. And hopefully by then I'll have a lot more bedding to start this thing really rolling.

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