The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Preparing for the worm bin: Weighing scraps

Composting food scraps with wood chips

We got our first delivery of food scraps from the local school!  As Mark suspected, once the bulky milk cartons were separated out, the scraps were much smaller than anticipated.  Since we're working the kinks out of our system, small is good...for now.

Weighing food scrapsAlthough we're excited to get started, we have to get an idea of how much food we'll get each week before we build the worm bin.  We had originally planned to give the initial round of food scraps to the chickens after weighing them, but learned just in time that health department policy says no food scraps from public facilities can be given to livestock.

That put us in a bit of a bind, since the only outside area that Lucy knows is off-limits is the chicken pasture (which is where we usually build our compost piles.)  Luckily, Mark's friend had found a stock tank with a hole in it at the dump a few months ago and my mom had given us a few pieces of scrap plywood.  Add on some cinderblocks and we had a dog-proof container with a handy drainage hole at the bottom. 

We laid down a layer of wood chips, dumped the food scraps on top, and topped them off with another layer of wood chips.  So far, we don't have enough data to make a real estimate, but if we continue to get the same amount of food, we'll only need a small worm bin --- roughly three feet by four feet by one foot.  I wonder if this will be big enough to get all of the benefits of mid-scale worm bins?  Would we be better off building a slightly larger bin?  Plenty to ponder before we make decisions.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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If it's too small you'll have more trouble than if it's a bit big. You can always put a partition in one that is a bit big but if it's too small any overages can be a big smelly problem. The saying "Go big or stay home" comes to mind and avoid a smelly situation OR, go small and do as the pessimist said "When in trouble, or in doubt, run about scream and shout"

Comment by vester Sat Feb 5 18:32:08 2011
That's my gut feeling too. I might even make the size bins Binet Payne used, which are over twice the recommended size for this amount of waste. I figure I can either partition off part like you suggested or just use some of the less-rotted horse manure to keep worms busy in the unused section.
Comment by anna Sat Feb 5 19:01:40 2011

I haven't seen a metal bin before -- won't it be colder in the cold weather and hotter in warmer weather -- leading to slowed reproduction in the first case, and possibly anaerobic conditions in the second?

Also, because the red worms are surface eaters, I think you want to keep initial bedding and food not so deep -- giving them time to eat through that (while still having access to O2 on the surface) before being buried under more food?

Comment by J Sat Feb 5 19:55:30 2011
It just occured to me that maybe the straw bales in the picture are to insulate the bins in cold weather?
Comment by J Sat Feb 5 19:58:37 2011
I should have been clearer --- this isn't the worm bin. This is a compost bin so that we don't have to throw away the food scraps while getting an idea of the volume of waste we'll be getting (which we need to know before we can make a bin the right size for the worms.) We don't mind if this compost bin goes slow --- the main goal is to keep Lucy from eating the scraps! Our actual worm bin will definitely be shallow (a foot deep seems to be the optimal depth) and will have plenty of holes to keep air moving. The strawbales in the picture are a red herring --- leftover garden mulch!
Comment by anna Sat Feb 5 20:21:35 2011

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