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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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How to Solve ALMOST All Your Worm Bin Woes With Bedding

We have all been there.  Some of us more than others.  We are shaking our heads and feeling defeated, deflated and utterly ticked off at our worm bins and their problems.  Starting out vermicomposting before finding many of the resources I use today, I was completely lost.  I had one book on the topic and had found one forum which had minimal interaction and slow feedback time.  I would be sitting up, waiting to get the “expert opinions” on how to fix my problems.

Fast forward a year or so and I have found that there is one ultimate (not so secret) fix for all the troubles that effect our worm bin efforts.  Bedding.  Yep, that’s right.  Bedding can make or break you.  Sounds kind of extreme, but I beg to differ… bedding can be the solution for most of the problems you run into when raising composting worms.

Many issues that afflict the worm bin ecosystem are related to poor feeding habits (a story for another day), and not utilizing bedding to it’s highest potential.  Read on to see some major problems that can be remedied with simple adjustments to your worm bedding.

What is Worm Bedding

As most of us know, in a worm bin we try to balance carbon sources (bedding) and nitrogen sources (foods).  The complex nature of those ratios is far less important to understand unless you are looking to sell your castings with a perfect makeup of nutrients and bio-availability to soil.  Sounds complicated and it is, which is fine because I am not in that business.

Bedding can be any number of readily available resources.  Leaves, grass, garden waste, newspaper, paper towels, cardboard, egg crates, peat moss, coconut coir, and many others.  For sake of this post I am going to focus on the resources I typically use in my bins: cardboard, newspaper, egg crates and coconut coir since these are what I have the most experience with.

Solving Moisture Problems in the Worm Bin

I remember the fateful day that as a new vermicomposter I added a healthy amount of watermelon to my stackable tray system along with my usual handful of shredded newspaper.  I went about my day and woke up the next morning to an all out flood that had come out of my spigot, filling the catch tray and had overflowed onto the floor.

On the other end of the spectrum, more recently I purchased my first continuous flow through (bag style) system.  I was a little overzealous adding tons of coconut coir and ended up with the Sahara Desert in my system.  Worm were no where to be found and the food was a matted mess up top with the coir.  The worms were fine, but they had burrowed deep into the bag where it was still moist and they could survive.

What was my underlying mistake in these scenarios?  Bedding.

In an overly wet bin, adding a good amount of dry bedding and mixing it into the muddy sludge is the best way to absorb the excess and to help restore a balance that will result in nice flaky, damp castings.

On the flip side, not understanding your bedding can result in a dry bin.  As I was trying to fix what I thought was a slightly wet system resulted in me drying it out too much!

How do you figure this equation out?  Understand your bedding and the proper moisture level that you should have in your bins and you will rarely run into moisture problems.  An appropriate bedding should be damp but not dripping.  Most people describe it as a wrung-out sponge.  When you pick some up and squeeze it you should only get a few drops of water out.

So when you find yourself with a wet bin, add small amounts of dry bedding and monitor until the bedding is lightly moist and the castings restore to a nice damp consistency.  When the bedding is too dry, soak some cardboard, newspaper or egg crates in water and add it to the bin over the course of a few days until the dry bedding has absorbed some of the extra moisture and again, the balance is restored.

How Bedding Can Fix Bug Problems 

I may be the worst person to ask about bugs in the worm bin.  I am phobic of most bugs which in retrospect is hysterical because I was somehow under the impression that my worm bin would be bug-free and flourish.  Jokes on me, the worm bin is a complex ecosystem which houses way more bugs and micro-organisms than worms!

I have found myself in quite a number of pickles related to bugs over the course of my vermicomposting journey.  I am admittedly not very good at sufficiently burying my scraps which can lead to bug nightmares for those of us with phobias of the creepy-crawlers.  The main solution to minimizing the population of mites, springtails and flies is bedding.

Without adequate bedding to cover your feedings, fruit flies can find their way in to the worm bins.  These critters in particular are a royal pain in the backside to get rid of.  The flies lay eggs in the yummy produce in the bins and before long you have a true nuisance on your hands.  I have found that when a bug problem reaches epic proportions (see my videos on springtails and mites for reference) adding a thick layer of DRY bedding on top of your bin severely inhibits the capability of the flies getting down to the feeding to lay eggs and it smothers out the hatchlings from being able to make it out.  BOOM: problem (mostly) solved.

How Bedding Can Solve the Problem of a Food Shortage

When your worms are eating you out of house and home it can become a difficult road to walk.  Take it from me.  A household of two, we do not create nearly enough food waste to keep all 14 of my bins fed.  I am lucky to have a number of friends and relatives who save scraps for me, but nonetheless I still run into the occasional food shortage.

Fret not, bedding is also food for your worms.  Why do you think you end up with lovely black compost that is devoid of all signs of paper and cardboard?  The worms eat that too!  Whenever I find myself low on food, I err on too much bedding.  I personally feel it is NEARLY impossible to over-bed the worms.  Overfeeding is a problem, adding too much bedding is usually pretty harmless and provides your worms with something to munch on until your next banana peel is ready to be thrown into the bin.

I am Travelling and Worried My Worms Will Starve      

This is almost impossible.  Short of a 6 month trip, its pretty hard to starve your bin and thus kill it off.  I have seen some videos on people who have neglected to even open a bin in nearly a year and there were still worms flourishing in the bin.  People tend to worry and over-feed their bins prior to a trip.  This is a common mistake.  Over-feeding can create a hot, anaerobic and acidic environment which CAN kill the worms.

If you are travelling, resist the urge to feed your worms a bucket of scraps.  Add a normal feeding and double-up on your usual bedding amount.  I can assure you, your worms will be alive and thriving on your return.

The Takeaway

There are plenty of problems that can be solved using various methods however the most simple and basic in my mind is too consider your bedding.  Do you have enough of it?  Are you using it to its greatest potential?  Consider your bedding type, absorbancy factor, and how much you can use to try and trouble-shoot your worm bin problems.  Happy Worming!  Load up that cardboard!