Monday, December 18, 2006

Out in the cold! - Update on the bins...

This picture, taken the beginning of November, is the fresh pile of leaves (mostly maple) my neighbor has left for me after fall clean-up in his yard. The pile is probably about 4 feet high and about 6 feet by 10 feet for the biggest part. This is an on-going leaf pile I use for the worm bin. Even in the dead of winter I can dig into the middle of this pile and find workable material to put on my bins which not only provide a layer of breathable material, but act as a blanket on the worm bins holding in heat.

The handful of bedding to the right was the consistency of the lower layers in the bin at this same time, the beginning of November. It is important that while the weather is still mild, that the bins are turned to get air down into the bedding. Too much moisture and not enough air causes the environment to go anaerobic. This you can tell by the smell of the bedding. It will start to "stink."

Right now the outside temperature is freezing. Our high today was in the mid 30's and our low was in the low 20's. The leaf pile was frozen on the outer layer, but once I broke through that layer I was able to gather soft wet leaves from inside the pile for the worm bins. The worm bins were reading 56 degrees, with one of them reading 61 degrees. This was the bin I worked last time and added some food waste to, covering with a layer of leaves.

I have one bin which has no heat source. It has been without a heat source since the fall of 2005. So this is the second winter without heat. This has been my best performing bin.

The top layer is frosty looking, but when I inserted a compost thermometer it slid into the bedding material easily, indicating the bedding was not frozen. However, it was reading in the 30's. I did not disturb this bin at all. In the spring I will show you pictures of the worms in this bin. They have consistently out-sized the worms in my other three bins which have a heat source.

I don't work the worms as much during the winter for obvious reasons, it's cold outside... So I try to keep the beds cooler so the worms require less - less food, less water.

Hope your happy worming wherever you are.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

AACT - What's that?

AACT is the acronym for Actively Aerated Compost Tea. I have recently been dealing with a customer in Hong Kong who is an orchid hobbiest and he has been interested in using my vermicastings in brewing tea, so I have been busy gathering information for him. I will share what information I find here on my blog and on my website - VermiCulture Northwest.

What I have been reading lately has to do with chlorinated water. Chlorine in your water will have an effect on the bacteria in your tea. This issue can be solved in a number of ways.
  1. You can simply choose to let your water sit for 12-24 hours.
  2. You can aerate your water for a couple of hours.
  3. As pointed out by Dr. Ingham, if you add humic acid to your tea, it will change chlorine to chloride, and not effect your tea.

That's it for now. More later on AACT.

Happy worming,


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nothing Short of Magic

We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.
- Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1500s

Nothing short of magic is how I see the wonders of what my little workers will do with the likes of manure, leaves, shredded newspaper, and what we call garbage.

But, of course there is more than magic to it, actually it is science. And in reality it is more than one science - microbiology, ecology, soil science and agronomy.

Recently, soil ecology has developed to the where the lid on the black box of underground processes can be opened and we can try to comprehend the intricate equation that the symbiotic relationships between plants and micro-organisms creates.

Dr. Elaine Ingham is widely accepted as an expert in soil biology. Ingham's message has been summed up by one author in this way:

  • "Life on earth is sustained by a complex underground ecological system - the soil food web."
  • "Through ignorance, we've disrupted the food web, in particular with ill-advised farming and gardening methods."
  • "We can return the food web to health by restoring the soil biology." - Bart Anderson

______Here's a view of the soil the way Dr. Ingham sees it______

The Soil Food Web: Eat and be eaten.

The following information is taken from an excellent article at:

Soil food web in brief:

  • Soil food web - basis for life on the land.
    ~Breaks down dead plants and animals and recycles nutrients.
    ~Numbers and varieties of organisms are staggering.
    ~Reproduction rates are high (especially bacteria), and populations tend to boom and bust with different levels of oxygen, nutrients, heat, pH and water.
    ~Complex ecological relationships.
  • Soil food web is composed of several classes of organisms.
    ~Plants - roots and organic matter from plants.
    ~Bacteria and fungi - many varieties and functions. Most are decomposers, while many others are mutualists.
    ~Other members of the food web - protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms and higher predators.
    ~Predators eat other organisms and make nutrients available.
  • Soil food web is important for plant growth:
    ~Builds soil structure.
    ~Stores nutrients and releases them in forms plants can use.
    ~Protects plants against diseases and pests.
    ~Can tie up salts and harmful chemicals.
    ~Provides resilience and adaptation to changing conditions.
  • Some bacteria and fungi form mutualistic associations with plant roots. Both plants and micro-organisms benefit.
    ~Plant roots exude proteins, sugars and carbohydrates ("cakes and cookies") which attract beneficial micro-organisms.
    ~Nitrogen-fixing bacteria inhabit the roots of leguminous plants.
    ~About 80% of world's plants have symbiotic relationships with fungi (mycorrhizae).
  • Ratio of bacteria to fungi is different for different plant communities.
    ~Bacteria-dominated in early succession communities (bare earth, weeds, vegetables).
    ~Fungal-dominated in late succession communities (shrubs, trees, old growth).
    ~Equal balance of bacteria and fungi for most row crops and garden flowers.
    ~Bacteria/fungal ratio can be changed to favor different kinds of plants.
  • Soil food web is degraded in disturbed land.
    ~Enemies of the soil food web: compaction, tilling (turning), pollution, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers.
    ~Degraded food web invites pests, disease and nutrient problems.
    ~Chemical solutions aggravate the problem.
    ~Need to restore and enhance the soil biology.
  • Monitoring soil biology.
    ~Ingham advocates a "direct count" method, in which individual organisms in a sample are counted under a microscope.
    ~The result is a report on the numbers/biomass of different classes of organisms estimated to be in the sample.
    ~These numbers give indication about the health or problems with the soil. For example, a high number of ciliates (a group of protozoa) indicates anaerobic conditions.
    ~Many problems can be solved or alleviated by applying compost or compost tea, according to Dr. Ingham.
  • Compost
    ~Aerobic good, anaerobic bad. It should not stink (stink=anaerobic).
    ~Three methods discussed: thermal (hot), worm, and static (backyard).
    ~The balance between fungi and bacteria can be controlled by different feedstocks and methods.
    ~Monitoring compost quality is important - all composts are not created equal.
  • Compost tea is a convenient way to apply compost.
    ~Actively aerated compost tea (AACT) is what Ingham studies and recommends.
    ~Other compost teas and liquid amendments exist (some anaerobic).
    >Good compost.
    >Good (potable) water without chlorine or chloramine.
    >Good brewing machine, easy to clean. Ask manufacturer for data.
    >Appropriate temperatures
    >Appropriate food for desired organisms
    >Brewing times variable (about 24 hours)
    >Prompt application.

I invite you to read more about it at the link below. The article is extensive and full of excellent information.

See VermiCulture Northwest for the Tea Brewer I recommend.

What's important to remember is that no one factor is going to be a cure-all for whatever your problems might be. And like fine wine and intimate relationships, all good things take time.

Dr. Ingham advises there are limitations to compost tea:

Compost tea is not the end all "silver bullet" for all the problems that have developed in your yard over the years. Other practices, such as organic fertilizing, soil amending, mulching, aeration, etc., are also important to build and sustain a healthy yard and garden. The reality of it is that the soil, environmental and prior chemical condition of your yard all effect the overall health.

Take the time to read the above article and take the next step in taking care of your world.

Happy Worming,