worms, composting, organic gardening, and nature

Archive for June, 2011

What If: Everybody Vermicomposted?

At the Texas Worm Ranch, we are on our way to vermicomposting tons of materials that would have gone to the landfill this year.  Countless bags of leaves were picked up off other people’s curb sides, hundreds of Halloween pumpkins found their way to worm nirvana, many truckloads of horse stall waste were shoveled from the local stables, woodchip mulch from Lindsey’s Tree Service was added monthly, we fed at least 80 lbs of produce scraps a week from Highlands Cafe, and our own garden and food scrap waste went to the worms too.  Not one scrap of that needed to go to the landfill, but most people don’t think of the impact of doing just that.  I choose to use Nature’s gift of fertility to feed our family healthy, organic food…think about it….

What are the environmental benefits of vermicomposting?

Fact:  One pound of mature worms (approximately 800-1,000 worms) can eat up to half a pound of organic material per day


Fact:  Worms can eat:  fruit, vegetable, and grain waste, manure, leaves, newspaper, cardboard, office paper, junk mail, and other sources of cellulose.

Fact:  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each U.S. resident throws away 7.2 ounces of food waste each day. Dallas County had an estimated 2008 Census Population of 2,412,827 people. That population would produce 1,085,772 lbs. of food waste a day! Families or individuals that vermicompost remove that waste stream from the landfill.


Fact:  A typical cubic yard of residential waste weighs 225 lbs/cubic yard.  A typical garbage truck can hold 25 cubic yards of waste.  If all food waste was vermicomposted on site, 193 garbage truck trips could be reduced every day in DallasCounty.


Fact:  In a healthy worm bin, the worms and beneficial microbes work together to neutralize odors.  Worm bins are suitable indoor composting systems.


Fact:  Vermicomposting is not only important as a space benefit, but it also removes the danger of harmful methane gas being produced by the food and leaf waste in the landfills, which is then released into our air for decades to come. Worm composting does not produce methane.



Fact:  Methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is an important greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of 25 compared to CO2 over a 100-year period (although accepted figures probably represents an underestimate[21]). This means that a methane emission will have 25 times the impact on temperature of a carbon dioxide emission of the same mass over the following 100 years. Methane has a large effect for a brief period (a net lifetime of 8.4 years in the atmosphere), whereas carbon dioxide has a small effect for a long period (over 100 years). Because of this difference in effect and time period, the global warming potential of methane over a 20 year time period is 72. The Earth’s methane concentration has increased by about 150% since 1750, and it accounts for 20% of the total radiative forcing from all of the long-lived and globally mixed greenhouse gases.[22    Shindell, D. T.; Faluvegi, G.; Koch, D. M.; Schmidt, G. A.; Unger, N.; Bauer, S. E. (2009). “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to·  Emissions”. Science 326 (5953): 716. doi:10.1126/science.1174760. PMID 19900930.  22 ^ “Technical summary”. Climate Change 2001. United Nations Environment Programme. http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/017.htm.


Fact:  Vermicomposting converts waste into a wonderful organic amendment that’s beneficial for gardens, houseplants, and landscaping.


From reduced waste to reduced waist

We’ve been eating our garden goodies every meal.  This week we have enjoyed potato and leek soup, multiple variations on tomato/basil salads, and berries for desserts.  Yesterday, we had berries for breakfast, guacamole for lunch, pot roast with roasted vegetables and smashed new potatoes for dinner.  Cherry tomatoes are eaten from sunup to sundown as you pass the bowl or the vine.  Tonight’s meal will be a garden “kitchen sink” pasta.  I feel healthy and full of energy and if my girls’ energy is any indication, all this healthy produce is doing them good as well.  We should be super-infused with anti-oxidants.

Yesterday, my husband gave me grief about taking my daily multi-vitamin.  I admit to a massive eye-roll over his concern.  In the last few weeks, both upper respiratory and GI illnesses have run rampant through our neighborhoods, but we have remained hale and healthy.  Sure, there is probably some infectious Kryptonite lurking around the corner, but it has been great to avoid these illnesses so far.

I can’t help but feel grateful to our wonderful little red wiggler worms for creating lovely, organic worm castings that we use to grow affordable and healthy food for our family with.  By using all that compostable waste, I get a good workout and nutrient dense and low calorie food that tastes great.  If more Americans composted and grew their own gardens, imagine what a difference we could make on our national health care costs!  By supplanting our easy and fattening packaged food and fast foods addictions with garden activity and healthful foods…I have to believe we could make a dent in the debt and make less notches in our belts.  There you go, a new underground conspiracy by one of us crazy gardeners.

Hot Chile in The City

Taking care of the vegetable garden in the heat can take it’s toll, but there are a few things you can do to keep the food coming from your garden.

1)  Plant heat-loving crops:  Tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, eggplant, sweet potatoes, and peppers (thus, the corny “hot chile in the city” title).  Lettuce and broccoli and peas are great little English Garden staples.  Have you looked at a globe and seen how close England is to Iceland?  Replant those lovely crops in the early fall, but give them a rest right now, they are going to be done.  Choose things that are grown near the Equator, that can take the heat–even if you can’t.

2)  Check your garden every day when it is 90 or above.  Plants will have stress, and a pest infestation or not enough moisture can kill them in a day.

3)  Consider Neem Tree Oil as a pest control.  Use sparingly and apply in the evening as beneficial bees and wasps are leaving the garden.  Spraying in the evening is also better for the plants, so the sun does not scorch leaves after oil is applied to them.  The Neem is only harmful to them when wet, but is a detractor to plant chewing bugs that land on your plants.  I WOULD spray very diluted mix on tomatoes, which seem to be a more tender plant than others.

4)  Continue care–foliar feeding with Worm Wine (TM) or homemade compost tea will keep the plants nutrition and anti-fungal strength high and help them resist pests as well.

5)  Water with a soaker hose to keep soil borne disease at bay.  Check the soil to see how dry it is 2-3 inches below the surface.  On hot, windy days you may have to water every day.  Watering this often is going to leach nutrients, so worm castings plus a small amount of alfalfa meal, or another all around good organic fertilizer will really help your plants thrive.

6)  Expecting your plants to produce fruit over about 93 degrees is a lot to expect.  They most likely will not produce during a heat wave.  However, if you don’t give up on them and keep them healthy, the tropical garden plants will reward you with a wonderful Fall bounty once the temperatures become more tolerable.

7)  Hose down—yourself that is;),  as I am working in the heat, I use a hose to cool off my pulse points and stay cool.  As a 3 time skin cancer surgery veteran, I must implore you to wear sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat to protect your face and neck.  Drink plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks.

Take care of yourself and take care of your garden, Fall is only about 100 days away, not that I’m counting!  Come see us at Texas Worm Ranch, we’re here for summer support.

What to Feed Red Wigglers

I hope you have brought in any bins you might have outside or in hot garages?  There are some important things to know about managing your worms in the summer.  In the Texas heat (85 degrees and above), it is important not to overfeed your worms.  The process of decomposition does heat that bin up.  If your worm bin gets too hot from overfeeding, you are going to kill your worms.  Slow down on the feeding, reduce grains and grass clippings, or other foods that heat up a compost bin.  The other 9 months of the year, Texas has it easy compared to our Northern neighbors and you can enjoy easy and productive vermicomposting.  So, manage your worm herd in the heat and you can prepare for some great fall gardening with all those castings!

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Worms can (in general) eat most fruit and vegetable peelings, grains, coffee grounds and filters, and tea bags
  • Food should be raw, or if cooked; have no additives (oil, salt, butter, spices, etc.)
  • Worms (in a small plastic bin) will not be happy with more than a very small amount of garlic, onion, broccoli or cabbage, or citrus (which contains the irritant limonene).  When the gas from these vegetables are released in a small bin, with a lid on, it can create a problem called “protein poisoning”.  This can also happen with too much food in a small bin.  The poor worms begin to look like a string of pearls and actually explode.  If you see this start to happen–TAKE YOUR LID OFF AND REMOVE THE FOOD!
  • Avoid meat, bones and dairy to keep smells at bay
  • Avoid dog and cat waste if vermicompost will be used on a food source
  • Beware of herbicides and pesticides on grass clippings.  Wash fruit (especially bananas which can have an anti-caterpillar pesticide) and vegetable peels from non-organic sources.
  • Do not feed pineapple and papaya, they have “protein-eating” enzymes.  They will kill your worms.

Vacationing?  Don’t overfeed (which will overheat and kill your worms) or take your worms to a worm -sitter!  They will be fine if you don’t overfeed them before you leave.  We have been gone for over two weeks, and the worms were very happy that we left them alone and stopped pestering them for that long!  Here are my vacation tips:

1)  Cut a sweet potato (which take a long time to decompose) in half and place on opposite sides of the bin, below the paper/cardboard layer.

2)  Add a lot of moist newspaper or cardboard–up to the air holes.

3)  Have fun on vacation!  Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and bring your tickets and reservation info.

4)  When you get back, go see just how well the worms did.  You should have lots of castings from all that paper they ate through.

Hope this helps keep your worm squirm healthy and productive through the summer.  Come see us at Texas Worm Ranch, whether you are from Massachusetts or Texas, Washington State or Alabama, or just about anywhere–we’re here to help you vermicompost.