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My Worm Composting & Life Update

Worm Ball Anyone?

Hey guys it has been quite awhile since my last blog post. It’s funny how I struggle to decide what’s most useful and relevant. I have 10 different blog posts that have been sitting and I can’t seem to get them “just right” for publication… and so they sit. I decided enough is enough, time to get back to it and share what’s going on in my world! It has been a whirlwind year both personally and professionally and I can’t wait to get you up to speed!

As most of you may know, I am a nurse and this darn night-shift life is taxing! I love my job but sometimes I feel like I eat, sleep and breathe nursing. I do enjoy my worms though and what a huge meditative “escape” it can be at times. Worms and my side worm business are a great distraction from the everyday stressors that we all have to deal with. I figured I would take this opportunity to share what has been going on and what’s in the works.

Before We Get Started:

A huge thank you to all my supporters, friends and mentors in the worm world! I wouldn’t be able to do it without everyone in my corner supporting me! Shocking fact: I am both introverted and very insecure and nervous about “messing up”. I am told I come through very confident and authoritative but I feel far from it. I am working on that! Working on personal development and being the best person I can be both in my personal life and professional life as well.

Bullies have been a little more vocal lately and it has been hard for me not to fall into that little negative trap of feeding into a bunch of B-S. It was suggested to me that giving those bad apples the time of day isn’t worth it and as obvious as that is, I needed to hear it. Why worry about the haters? I have so many cheerleaders and supporters and you guys are the ones I actually want to be here for!

That being said, let’s all remember some etiquette and finesse when we are online. I can see now why social media can be so harmful to young people and their self-esteem because I see the damage to my own psyche at times. Negative and aggressive comments don’t serve anyone and a little love and kindness go a long way. Disagree all you want but remember to be tactful and polite when doing so. Productive conversation is where its at!

A Year in Review (So to Speak)

The Conference:

Amazing Lineup of Speakers

I will try to keep this post as short as possible but I can already see how it may end up being a little novella. Bear with me! Back in November I attended the NC State Vermiculture Conference which was absolutely eye-opening and an insane opportunity to meet so many like-minded people and learn about all the science behind why what we are doing is so incredibly impactful on the environment and the future of waste management. Interested in attending in the future? It’s worth every penny.

Click here for the NC State Vermiculture Conference Info

The Podcasts:

Around the same time as the conference, I was approached by Kevin at Epic Gardening about being featured on his podcast after one of my loyal YouTube subscribers had reached out to him. I was featured on a week-long series devoted to all things worm composting. The short 8-10 minute segments can be heard here:

The Crazy Worm Lady Week Podcast

Shortly thereafter I was also approached by Jill McSheehy at The Beginner’s Garden about being featured on one of her podcasts. I was blown away that my channel was growing and my subscribers were hooking me up with some fantastic people to talk to. The hour-long podcast can be heard here:

The Beginner’s Garden Podcast

The Experiments:

Anyone Need Some Eggshells Ground Up?
  1. I successfully “over-wintered” some worms in an outdoor garbage can: Over-Wintering Worms
  2. I ran a reproduction experiment: The Reproduction Games
  3. I started a cool 3-way composter developed for children to watch worms at work: 3 Chambered Composting
  4. I started some Carbon Only Experiments
  5. I ran a Neglect Experiment (leaving worms for 103 days with no food or bedding)
  6. I started ANOTHER Urban Worm Bag and a VermiBag Max
  7. I still have the Sand vs. Eggshell Experiment
  8. I started ANOTHER Forbidden Foods experiment
  9. I started a Coffee Only Bin
  10. I started a brand new education series on Worm Bin Basics

So many different experiments, mini-experiments, live streams and work behind the scenes have been fantastically fun for me. I continue to learn all the time and I love to be able to share all of these with you guys!

The Reproduction Games hit some major hurdles and needed to be ended early, but the Neglect Experiment, Over Wintering Worms Experiment and Carbon Only bins have been so much fun and quite insightful.

Over-Wintered Worms Bin

Exhausted yet? I am! It has been so much fun to grow as a channel all the way up to 2,500 YouTube subscribers currently as I write this blog post. I have grown from about 500 subscribers to 2,500 in about a year and that poses its own challenges and pressures. I am trying to juggle it all to keep the excitement going!

The New Business:

Breeding Trays

Oh how dare I leave this to the end? I have started a huge undertaking in breeding worms and selling cocoons through the website (check out the store) which has been some of the hardest work I could have ever imagined. Props to all the professional worm breeders out there, no one can truly understand the amount of hours and work that it takes. I know I didn’t! It has been so much fun learning about the different types of worms, the rate in which they breed and how to get the best cocoon laying possible based on slight changes in how I run the trays.

I am raising red wigglers, European Night Crawlers, and African Night Crawlers for cocoon sales currently and if you add those bins to all of the other systems I have running I am well over 60 “systems” going INSIDE my house right at this very moment! Worms probably outnumber dust spores at this point, hah!

In Conclusion:

It has been such an amazing year (since I last posted) and I have put tons of hard work in but it has been equally rewarding. I am so proud of where this community is going. I think we are definitely converting people who never thought they could possibly stomach having worms into full-blown worm nerds! What more could I ask for?

My goal from day one was to educate, invite people along for my journey and to make worm composting fun and more accessible. I think we are making progress for sure. There is no right or wrong way to go about composting and I hope through some of my experiments I have been able to show that! What are you waiting for? Grab yourself a tote and get started!

** Although never required, I certainly appreciate any support I can get in my ventures. I put in 15+ hours every single week on worms, worm videos, editing, collaborating and working on sales. If you feel so inclined, I am linking my PayPal which is way outside of my comfort zone but we all start somewhere and every little bit helps to keep me afloat. I am working hard to get my business up and running, bring the best content possible, entertainment and education. I thank you for your support. http://Paypal.me/EmilyLeuba**

Mating Red Wigglers
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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Worm Composting

 Using worms for composting can be an amazing way to reduce your waste!  Worm composting not only puts your scraps to use but creates an amazing and organic fertilizer for your soil and gardens as well.

The thought of bringing “worms” into your home (or even outdoors) makes some people a bit squeamish.  I get it.  I was that person too.  I was petrified of worms invading my house, bringing in pests, smelling, or otherwise being a royal waste of time.

I researched the idea/concept of indoor worm composting for hours on end and I decided to take the leap.  I haven’t looked back since, I continue to grow my “collection” of worms and my passion is only amplified the longer I do this.

All of this being said, my perception of what this hobby would be like and the actual reality were quite different.  Let us look at some of the things I wish I knew before I started putting my worms to work.

  1. Starting Small and Cheap is the way to go

I had this big dream of producing buckets and buckets of castings every month.  I felt like due to my “research”, the only way to do this was to buy an expensive system.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my systems in their own ways, but the “simplicity” aspects of commercial systems aren’t always as advertised.

Later, I learned that some super cheap and DIY systems using Rubbermaid totes work just as well as the larger systems and would have probably been a good place to start.  If it hadn’t worked out for me I wouldn’t have been out quite so much money.  For $10-$15 dollars I could make my own bin.

2. You Don’t Always Have to Buy Your Worms

I bought my worms from a commercial company I found on Amazon.  For a pound of worms I paid roughly $40.  Not terrible, but I know now that it can often be easier to get worms from a friend, local garden club, or smaller companies that have better customer service and better prices.

I learned from my experiences on Facebook forums that many big commercial worm farmers don’t have “pure” breeds of worms and they short your order.  Who’s going to actually count 1,000 worms (1 pound) or think about throwing them on a scale when all they can think about it putting their new babies into the bins?

Worms I have bought since my initial investment have all been much healthier and purer breeds and when I weigh them, they are often even more generous than advertised.  As much as 1.5 pounds or 1,500 worms in an order.

I have given worms to many local friends I have met and I think this can be a great way to save money and meet friends that have similar interests to you.

3. Patience is Probably the Most Important Tip When Getting Started

Let’s face it, big dreams and your desire to try and reduce your waste overnight is super appealing.  I know when I started, I was stock-piling fruit and veggie scraps and loading my freezer down with a backlog.  I would break down when the freezer was busting at the seams and end up overfeeding.

Overfeeding is probably the biggest worm composting mistake.  So many problems stemmed from my inability to control my excitement.  I had systems flood out from all the water waste my scraps would release.  The bin would heat up and my worms would go running for the exits.  It caused me stress.

Starting worm composting brand new, you have to take into account the fact that microbial activity and breeding don’t happen overnight.  I could only realistically feed my 1,000 worms a cup a week when I began.  Keep in mind that once the worms start doing their thing, population booms and the system takes off.

Around the three month mark I noticed that my worms were managing my waste much quicker and the number of worms I had was going up noticeably.

All things worthwhile take time, right?  We have all heard it.  I wish I would have reminded myself of that early on.  I would have been much more successful in taking off had I not pushed the system and stressed the worms out.

4. The Worm Bin is an Ecosystem

Okay, I am the first to admit that I am a major nut when it comes to bugs.  Even the beneficial guys get wars waged against them in my house.  We had some ants one summer and I had the house bombed and invested in $60 monthly pest services the same day I spotted that one rogue ant.

That being said, I was quickly in for a rude awakening when it came to the “bug free” systems I imagined in my dreams.  Do not panic!  I was literally at the point where I was ready to dump the worms and quit the day that I spotted that first mite.  It’s normal to be caught off guard when you start seeing helpful additions to your worm bin.  Mites, pot worms, fruit flies, small beetles, and springtails have all made appearances in my bins.  Sometimes in large numbers.

These bugs have ZERO interest in leaving the buffet in front of them.  I have never seen a single mite or any other bug anywhere but in the bins.  As you learn more about the ecosystem of a worm bin you start to appreciate the whole process behind it.

Nearly all pests in a worm bin are simply helping the process along.  These small bugs help in the breakdown process of the food waste in the bin.  A worm bin is teeming with beneficial micro-organisms (most of which aren’t visible with the naked eye) and they are not in fact a nuisance, but a crucial player in a well-running system.

I won’t lie, I still get the creepy-crawlies on occasion when I have a boom of certain worm bin bugs but I am learning to appreciate each and every one of them.  You can manage the numbers of these pests with good worm bin maintenance, but I would never suggest freaking out or throwing in the towel because the ecosystem is working in your favor!

5. Worms Are Very Forgiving

If you are anything like me, you get your new babies into their home and the desire to check on them every 15 minutes is real deal.  I was obsessed.  I poked around multiple times a day, dug up food and re-buried it a hundred times over to see the progress.  I definitely inhibited the process for quite some time before I was able to resist the urge to make sure they were still alive 500 times a day.

I was reading everywhere that checking on them could do more harm than good.  I was told that digging around could damage the worms or trigger an exodus.  I was legitimately worrying constantly.  I even had frequent dreams about the worms (I know, I am quite the loony anomaly) you get my point.

I realize now, the longer that I do this, that worms are ultra-forgiving.  Worms are not the delicate creatures that some articles, blogs, or forums may make us think.  Through digging, overfeeding, a frightful day where I shoved frozen food in the bin… all of it, my worms flourished anyway.

I continue to dig through my bins at least once a week (per bin or system).  I turn the bedding up, handle the worms and continue to make mistakes… it happens.  I have yet to kill a single worm (to my knowledge) and my worm population keeps going up.  I raise 4 different types of worms and all of them are surviving the learning curve just fine.

The Takeaway:

There are lots of misconceptions and bad information out there.  There are many acceptable ways of handling your worm bins and I personally don’t consider any one way to be “best”.

The process of worm composting isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds when you just start researching it.

  • You don’t need expensive systems!  Starting out with a DIY is a great way to test the waters before going all-in.
  • You don’t need to pay an arm and a leg for worms if it isn’t in your budget.  Ask around, order from small companies or just buy a few hundred worms to keep it all within a financially sound purchase.
  • With patience and time you will be processing loads of compost for the garden, so don’t rush it!  It CAN be frustrating, but when your worms start mating like crazy, you will be shocked what even a small system can do for you!
  • The Worm Bin is an ecosystem.  Learn to embrace it!  Don’t let the bugs freak you out.  There are very few bugs that should be considered a problem.  Observe the bin and you will soon realize that the worms play well with others.
  • Don’t worry about your worms too much, they can handle quite a bit!  I don’t suggest testing torture treatments on them, but even through trial and error, there isn’t much you can do that will truly hurt them.

Happy Worming!