206 Worm Composting Basics

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

Tips for beginning and experienced gardeners. New, 30-minute (or less) episodes arrive every Tuesday and Friday. Fred Hoffman has been a U.C. Certifi...

Show Notes

We’ve told you about the benefits of adding worm castings to your garden soil. And we’ve also told you about the limited lifespan of bagged worm castings. Maybe you ought to become your own worm farmer to harvest the freshest worm castings. It’s called vermicomposting. It’s a great way to recycle your leftover fruits and vegetables while creating a product that will add life to your soil.  It’s worm bin basics, today!
America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower, tackles a question from a listener about a distorted rose flower. Is it due to an insect? A disease? An accidental spray of weed killer? Or, something else?
We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!

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Pictured: Composting Worms

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Book: Worms Eat My Garbage
Sac MG's YouTube: Making a Worm Bin
Sac MG's pdf: Worm Composting
Jumping worms video
Garden Basics 193: A Warning about Bagged Worm Castings
Worm Castings to Support Veterans, Roseburg OR

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Show Transcript

Ep. 206 Worm Bin Basics TRANSCRIPT


Farmer Fred  0:00

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. it's made in the USA. Visit SmartPots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's SmartPots.com/Fred. Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.

Farmer Fred  0:31

We’ve told you about the benefits of adding worm castings to your garden soil. And we’ve also told you about the limited lifespan of bagged worm castings that you can buy. Maybe you ought to become your own worm farmer to harvest the freshest worm castings. It’s called vermicomposting. It’s a great way to recycle your leftover fruits and vegetables while creating a product that will add life to your soil. Oh, and the worms won’t wake you up in the middle of the night, yelling for more kitchen scraps. They’re really quiet. It’s worm bin basics on today’s show.

America’s Favorite Retired College Horticulture Professor, Debbie Flower, tackles a question from a listener about a distorted rose flower. Is it due to an insect? A disease? An accidental spray of weed killer? Or, something else?

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!

Farmer Fred  1:45

You've heard us talk on this program about Vermicomposting, about composting with worms and the benefits of worm castings, which is basically worm poop. Maybe you're not quite convinced. Maybe you think it's a big mystery. Maybe you don't want to get your hands dirty. I'll give you some good reasons to get your hands dirty. Actually, I'm gonna let Susan Muckey tell you why you want to get your hands dirty with worms and worm casting. She's a Sacramento County Master Gardener. We're here at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, standing pretty close to the worm bins. Susan, why do people need to start Vermicomposting?

Susan Muckey  2:21

First of all, it'll get rid of a lot of your produce waste. My husband and I were not vegetarians, but we probably two to three times a week create at least a couple of pounds of broccoli parts and carrot peels and potato peels and apple cores. And so instead of that going into the garbage, it goes into my worm bin, which produces the most fantastic worm compost.

Farmer Fred  2:53

A worm bin is a fairly simple operation. It basically needs a little bit of bedding, a little bit of food, a little bit of worms, and you put your bin in a place where the temperature is fairly moderate, not too hot, not too cold.

Susan Muckey  3:08

That's correct. For bedding, what we like to use is either shredded newspaper, and not the shiny stuff. Also, we put the comics in there because the worms enjoy the jokes. And you can use any other newspaper because they generally are using soy based ink. And the comics are also soy based ink. So that's one type of bedding you can use. Another type is pine shavings or fir shavings, and you do not want to use redwood or cedar because those are natural insecticides and so you don't want to use those. Another thing you can use is cardboard, you all shop at Amazon, I'm sure, so just take the tape off of the Amazon boxes, and you can just tear them up and the worms will be very happy with that. Another thing that you can use as well, is dry leaves, and just kind of moisten that and there'll be very happy to live in those types of environments

Farmer Fred  4:08

Would you moisten the cardboard first?

Susan Muckey  4:10

You can moisten it first or you could put a whole bunch of stuff in a wheelbarrow and kind of let it all soak. In fact, we oftentimes recommend that because your worm bin, which I'm going to talk about in a second, is going to have holes in it and so it's good to wet your bedding in a wheelbarrow so it all gets nice and moist and every part of it gets moist, and then you can put it into your worm bin. So the cardboard you would do that to, you would kind of cut it up or shred it up and then put it in there in your wheelbarrow as well as the leaves or the newspaper shredding or the fir or pine shavings and just kind of get it all moist, and then you can put it into your worm bin.

Farmer Fred  4:53

We'll have a link in today's show notes to a very good book about getting started with worm castings and Vermicomposting called “worms eat my garbage” by Mary Appelhof. So we'll have a link to that. There's a lot of good information to about worm composting at the Master Gardener website, as well.

Susan Muckey  5:12

Yes, we have a garden note on how to start and set up your worm bin, the things to put in your worm bin, the types of foods that they like, the types of foods that they do not like. And then we also have the Sacramento County Master Gardener YouTube channel, and there's two worm composting videos, and it shows you exactly what to do, how to set it up, what your bin should look like. So there's a lot of information there.

Farmer Fred  5:40

We'll have links to those too, in today's show notes. So let's talk about some of the foods that they like, and the foods that they don't like. You talked about throwing in broccoli and apple cores, things like that, do you have to chop them up real small or put them in a blender first?

Susan Muckey  5:56

It depends on what kind of a worm parent you are, if you are a helicopter mom or dad, then you might blend it up, it will be more accessible to the worms because worms do not have teeth. They have to have it in in a sort of a liquid form. They do have a gizzard and that kind of grinds up anything that that they've sucked in accidentally and that'll help them, but they have to wait till things get really yucky. The things that they like best or whether in the back of your refrigerator, vegetable drawer, the things that look absolutely disgusting. That's what they can really easily access it. Think of a straw, they're kind of sucking in all this food through a straw. Things that they like are the organic things that you eat, such as peels, tea bags, well you don't need the tea bags, but you drink the tea, I cut off the staples, and I put that in there. coffee grounds are great. Let me talk about what what they don't like. They do not like pineapple. They do not like garlic. They do not like onions, those are a little bit too pungent. Don't put in any kind of citrus peel, because of the rind, it has an oil around it. And that's harmful to the worms. You can put in the actual fruit, but it's the oil around in the rind, those are things that would be harmful to the worms. No meats, no oily foods, none of that, because you're going to attract rats and they won't eat it. You'll have rats in your worm bin.

Farmer Fred  7:37

What's interesting too, is, in some publications, they talk about limiting certain fruits and vegetables. For instance, they do talk about limiting citrus. Now you mentioned about the peels, but even the citrus themselves, I guess should be limited, right?

Susan Muckey  7:53

I never feed my worms anything that is too much. Say you have an orange tree; you're tired of oranges, you got all these oranges all over the place. Don't ever put that in your worm bin. In fact, anything that is a whole lot of. When you're canning tomatoes, all those peels, don't put too much in there. You want variety. The worms actually like things like cantaloupe. They're like children, they like sweet things, they kind of leave broccoli to last. And I've even read where some people don't even put broccoli in there. So one thing about your worm bin is you don't want to put too much in there at one time because you will be creating a hot compost pile and you will kill your worms.

Farmer Fred  8:36

Ah, that's a good point. Now you mentioned that they don't like onions. What about onion greens?

Susan Muckey  8:40

They probably okay, I think they just don't like anything that's real pungent.

Farmer Fred  8:44

All right, that makes sense. And of course, you can spot it right away when you lift the top off and you see things that are uneaten or undigested that sort of a clue that they don't like those.

Susan Muckey  8:56

Exactly. Another thing that I do is when I have a cantaloupe, I take out all the seeds because what happens is you throw the seeds  into your worm bin. Next thing you  get is, you lift up the lid and you've got a cantaloupe farm going. Now it's perfectly okay because what you do is you just pick up all the stuff and then you just put it back in there and they'll eat that but I just avoid it.

Farmer Fred  9:25

What about starches, potatoes and rice, things like that? Should that be limited?

Susan Muckey  9:30

You can put those things in there. If you've seasoned the potatoes or the rice or even your salads. You don't want to put that in there because things that are in there might be harmful. All right, especially oils, especially oils. Yeah. So if you if you're really gung ho about putting every single little scrap of your waste into your worm bin, wash off those salads to get all that salad dressing off.

Farmer Fred  10:01

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Farmer Fred  11:57

All right, now let's talk a little bit about care of this worm bin, there's going to be this wonderful product called leachate that comes out of the spigot that you should have at the bottom or near the bottom of your worm bin, and you need a place to put it.

Susan Muckey  12:14

Now you see, since I'm a master gardener, I have to tell you what the University of California tells us. UC says don't use it. You don't , it hasn't been researched. And so everybody's leachate in every worm bin is going to be different. And there’s absolutely no way to research it. However, and I'm not talking as a master gardener, what I do, if I have a bunch of it, I will dilute it. And I just might put it around some trees but nothing that I would be eating just in case just in case.

Farmer Fred  12:47

All right. So there  is that liquid that you do have to empty now and then. And I would think, too, that maybe there might be a pest problem every now and then.

Susan Muckey  12:57

yes. So if your worm bin gets dry, you will see a whole lot of ants. If you see ants, you know, you need to check the moisture level of your worm bin. The other thing is if your worm bin gets too dry, then you need to check to make sure you haven't killed all your worms there because they will dry out. they need moisture further because their skin is kind of a liquidy kind of thing. If you've ever touched a worm and they're not dry, they're kind of moist. And so those are things that can happen if you're bin gets too dry. If it gets too wet, it's possible that the worms will drown. And so you don't want that to happen.

Farmer Fred  13:40

Let's talk about the variety of worms that are best for Vermicomposting . And let's talk about another worm that's in the news. The jumping worm, sometimes called the Alabama jumping worm, that is spreading and it's a worm that literally jumps. We will have a link to a  video where you can see how squirmy and jumpy these jumping worms are. But they're not good for anything, because they eat too much.

Susan Muckey  14:07

Probably yes, I think I've read a little bit about him, but I'm not too sure. But I will tell you what kind of worms we like, the Sacramento County Master Gardeners. We go for the red wigglers and they're also called manure worms. And the reason that these are really good is they survive very well in Sacramento. They like our climate. They're very successful between 40 degrees and 80 degrees. And so that's pretty much what we can count on here in Sacramento. If it gets too hot, you might want to bring your worm bin in or put it in a cooler area. If it starts raining a lot. You may want to cover it so that the worms don’t get too wet.

Farmer Fred  14:51

There are some people who do have their worm bins right there in the kitchen with them.

Susan Muckey  14:54

Exactly. We knew a lot of state workers that had them under their desks and as long as you maintain it, well, you don't have fruit flies, you'll be in good shape. One thing I wanted to mention is, when you're setting up a worm bin, you can use just about anything. We have a wooden one here at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. And most of the time, if you go online, you'll see plastic bins. But if you don't want to spend a lot of money, you can just get any kind of storage bin. Just make sure that the sides are not clear. They have to be dark because the worms like a dark environment, and you just put a bunch of holes in the bottom and the sides. And that's to let out the extra moisture. Usually quarter inch is the size that I use. And I might drill maybe 50-60 holes, and the worms don't crawl out. If they like it. Think of the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. and so that's kind of what it is. I shouldn't say they will come, but  they will stay in your worm bin. It's like paradise for them if you maintain it well. Now there is a difference between earthworms and compost worms. Earthworms are in the soil. Think of them as traveling vertically, they go up and down. They aerate the soil. They bring stuff that the roots of the plants like to them. And so you don't ever want to put those worms in your worm bin because they won't like it. Think of the worms that you might see in leaf litter in the fall when it rains and the leaves have fallen you might see, you might lift up some leaves and you'll see a whole bunch of worms, those are probably the red wigglers. And think of those as being horizontal worms as opposed to vertical worms. They are garbage eaters, they eat at the top of the soil, they're not interested in the dirt.

Farmer Fred  16:54

There are worms available commercially. And one word of warning: if you think you're gonna go to a fishing supply store to buy your red wigglers, make sure they are red wigglers because some of these places have been selling the jumping worms.

Susan Muckey  17:09

Yes, yeah, make sure because a lot of times we've also seen some people buying worms and you know, to a fishing supply store, a worm might be a worm might be a worm, they might not know what they are. And so they might be selling you earthworms.

Farmer Fred  17:25

Right. I guess another term for fishing supply store would be bait shop.

Susan Muckey  17:31

Every time somebody says oh, you grow worms. And I say yes. And they say, Oh, I'm a fisherman. And I close my ears.

Farmer Fred  17:39

Compost worms are a little bit small and aren’t easy to get on a hook.

Susan Muckey  17:43

They are, they ar,e but  they're great. They're also  called manure worms. And iif you ever go on a really fun field trip to a worm farm, what they do is they bring in all of the cow manure, and when once it cools down in the beds, that's where they put these red wigglers. And the red wigglers eat this manure and they produce the castings, and that's why they're called manure worms.

Farmer Fred  18:13

By the way, Harvest Day here at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park in Sacramento County is coming up the first Saturday in August. It's a free event. You come out here you can talk to Susan more about worms and Vermicomposting and composting in general and just enjoy everything that's out here at the fair oaks Horticulture Center. There's vegetables, there's fruit trees, there's perennials, there's herbs, there's vineyards, there's a little bit of everything. If you do anything in the garden, you're gonna find a sample of it here at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. And again, it’s a big free event. Saturday, the first Saturday in August, it's harvest day here. We haven't talked about the payoff yet when it comes to why we need a worm bin, and that's worm castings.

Susan Muckey  18:56

Okay, well, it makes the most incredible compost. Now we can't really call it fertilizer because it doesn't have enough percentage of the nutrients the N-P-K that you're going to see on regular fertilizer. But the reason we like it as a compost is because it's never hot. Sometimes if you go and get compost from a yard somewhere, you have to be really careful because it could not be fully decomposed and it might get really  hot and it could burn your plants and you don't want that. So I use it mostly as a soil enhancement. It breaks up the soil, especially if you've got clay soil. Of course nobody in Sacramento has clay soil, right?

Farmer Fred  19:44

Yeah, nobody has clay soil. (joke)

Susan Muckey  19:47

It really improves your soil. What it does is it it helps the microbes. it actually helps the nutrients to become more accessible to the plant roots.

Farmer Fred  19:59

Now What a lot of people have taken to doing: the worm castings, when they come out of the bin, are rather wet. But if you just sprinkle it, if you can get a half inch layer on your garden, that's excellent. But then cover it with some sort of mulch, ike a leaf mulch, to help keep it moist.

Susan Muckey  20:15

Exactly. And one thing, let's go into something else, too, that we just found out. If you go and you buy worm castings in a store, you're going to pay a lot for them. And you're not going to know how long have those worm castings been in that bag. How long did it take to get to the store? How long has it been in a warehouse? Now how alive is it?

Farmer Fred  20:39

We'll have a link to the show in which we discussed that very study. And the answer is, you got 60 days to use it before it goes bad.

Susan Muckey  20:48

Right. And how many times have you seen a date on a bag of worm compost?

Farmer Fred  20:53

Well, we don't know if there was a date, if that was the sell by date, the manufacturing date. It's  from when they harvested those worm castings to shipping it to the store. How long is that period?

Susan Muckey  21:08

Who knows? Who knows? I always think of that old commercial where that older fellow sells oatmeal. “It's the right thing to do.” Well, that's what I think about with worm composting. It's the right thing to do. First of all, you're taking your waste and you're putting it to good use. You're putting it back into the soil and it's the right thing to do.

Farmer Fred  21:32

Wilford Brimley Fan Club president right here, Susan Muckey, also Sacramento County Master Gardener and you know she loves worms, because she described a visit to a worm farm as “exciting”.

Susan Muckey  21:43

Exactly. Actually, I've been to a couple of them.

Farmer Fred  21:49

Actually, they are kind of neat.

Susan Muckey  21:51

Oh, they are. they're really exciting. And, and one thing, this is sort of an aside, Farmer Fred didn't know I was going to talk about this, but up in Oregon, I went to the glide transfer station. I guess it's kind of a recycling type plant, I don't know. But anyway, what they're doing is they're gathering organic materials probably from the restaurants and the veterans are actually having a worm composting business. What they're doing is making worm compost out of all this produce scraps, and then there's they're turning around and selling it to benefit the veterans and this is up  in Roseburg, Oregon. I wish most of the the recycling plants around here would do something like that.

Farmer Fred  22:37

Susan Muckey, Sacramento County Master Gardener. She has the lowdown on worms. If you come out to Harvest Day, you can pick her brain about the best worms and more about worm castings and compost as well. Susan, thanks so much.

Susan Muckey  22:50

You're very welcome.

Farmer Fred  22:54

You may have listened to our chat with Master Gardener Susan Muckey about how to start a worm bin. She brought up one issue about an intruder to your worm bin, or your compost pile. They’re called soldier flies, and when you first see them milling about in the worm food or your compost pile, you might recoil a bit. Adult soldier flies are rather large, almost an inch long, and they look more like a wasp than a fly.  And don’t confuse soldier flies with the beneficial insect, the soldier beetle. So, what are those soldier flies doing in your worm bin or compost pile?  Are they good or bad? And should you remove them? You might be surprised at the answer. In fact, the entrepreneurial among you might even want to start raising soldier flies, for profit. It’s all about Soldier flies, in the next Beyond the Basics newsletter and podcast.

It’s  the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Beyond the Basics newsletter. It’s out Friday, July 1st. Find it via the link in today’s show notes, or visit our website, Garden Basics dot net. There, you can find a link to the newsletter in the tabs on the top of the page. Also, you can listen to any of our previous editions of the podcast, as well as read an enhanced transcript of the podcast episode you are now listening to. That’s at Garden Basics dot net, where you can also link to the Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And it’s free. Look for it on Friday, July 1st. Take a deeper dive into gardening, with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter. Find it at garden basics dot net.

Farmer Fred  24:28

Here on the garden basics podcast we'd like to answer your garden questions. Recently Holly wrote in with a picture to the get growing with farmer Fred Facebook page and left this for Debbie. So I guess Debbie will be answering the question, Debbie Flower retired college horticultural professor is with us. And Holly asks, “Debbie, any idea what's causing this mutation?” By the way, it just occurred to me that you might be referring to Master Rosarian Debbie Arrington .But yeah, I feel you're qualified to to answer this as well, Debbie flower.

Debbie Flower  25:03

Debbie Arrington definitely knows her roses. Yes,

Farmer Fred  25:05

any idea what's causing this mutation? The picture is of a very distorted red rose flower.

Debbie Flower  25:14

It's a red rose flower. And then in the center, there are some green parts. And I suspect what's happening is something called proliferation or bull heading. And it is a mutation. It happens typically just to the first roses that appear on a plant in spring. It's cause is not well known, not understood. But once that is, you deadhead it, meaning you remove the spent flower of the rose. The next set of roses that come up on that plant will probably not have the problem. Some cultivars, or types of roses are more prone to this problem than others, it typically only happens in spring. Now, one thing to maybe understand is that flowers are modified leaves, and they've been modified in nature to attract the pollinator. And sometimes we'll see green come up in the middle of a flower. And that's just one of those petals that didn't get modified, it just came out as a leaf. But in bullheading and proliferation, it’s the cells, they're called the apical cells, the apex is the tip. So the cells at the tip of the branch or the tip of the flower, continue to divide and make more petals and more petals and more petals, and you can end up with actually multiple flowers within the same flower, it's usually two, sometimes you end up with three flowers. And each flower has around it, what's called the sepals, or the other modified leaves, that protect it when it's in bud. And so you get this mishmash of colorful petals, and then green petals, and then colorful petals, green petals if you have a third flower in the same head. So don't panic, it's not a big deal. If you don't like the look of it, cut that flower off, you don't need to cut the branch, the branch should produce regular looking roses after that one has been removed. And the cause is, as I said, the cause is unknown. Some people think it's physical damage, possibly by an insect, or it's due to temperature, which is the one I would favor , or a virus. If it happens over and over and over and over again, on that plant, it's more likely to be a virus, but realize that roses live very happily with viruses in their system. And it isn't something to worry about.

Farmer Fred  27:39

And as far as temperature goes, I imagine a late frost after the flower started forming might be a possibility too.

Debbie Flower  27:48

Yes, flower buds are parts of the plant that are most sensitive to cold. And so if you do get a late frost, and we had some very cold nights there  in March while that flower is forming in the bud, then that can cause the problem.

Farmer Fred  28:07

Yes. How would you differentiate what you have been describing from glyphosate damage, from roundup damage, if somebody was using a weed killer around their roses, and some of the drift caught on to one of those buds , would that damage look different?

Debbie Flower  28:23

The times I have seen glyphosate damage on plants, it causes parts to become thinner and more strappy it would not just be on the flower it would be on the leaves as well. So you wouldn't just have a distorted flower you'd have distorted leaves, and if it blew in from a Spring application while the plant was actively growing, it would be on one side whatever side that received the glyphosate through the wind, and so it would be flowers and leaves. If the glyphosate came into the plant while the plant was in flower, then the petals would likely be very thin and long. If it came while the plant was already had leaves and flowers on it, they would become distorted, twisted, and the leaves would be as well.

Farmer Fred  29:07

Basically don't worry too much about it. And I guess if you don't like it, just cut off the flower head. Yes. All right. Debbie Flower, thanks so much for your help answering questions here on Garden Basics.

Debbie Flower  29:17

You're welcome Fred.

Farmer Fred  29:21

Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening.

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