Thursday, June 25, 2015


One of the local cities has a composting facility where they compost locally generated agricultural residues, landscape waste and untreated lumber.  It's a pretty cool place with piles and piles of compost in various stages of decomposition.

The only real downside is that the compost isn't finished and doesn't have any structure.  It's low in moisture, so it's dusty and flies everywhere and gets all over everything.  I do what I can to get it home and into a bin as quickly as possible, watering it as I go, to reduce airborne particles and to keep it from sticking to everything and getting all over my home, body and yard.

There's a lot of carbon in it and the nitrogen isn't fully decomposed, so it requires some finishing.  There's also a lot of acidic material included in the feedstock that they use, so it requires some softening, via oyster shell.  In order to finish the decomposition, we also add some nutrients, to ensure that the bacteria have all the resources necessary to do their job.  This is also the point where we add the mineral rock powder, since the bacteria utilize different trace elements which may not be present in the original feedstock to form different parts of their biological networks.  We also inoculate with lactic bacteria at this point for several different reasons.

Once the moisture levels are stabilized and all the nutrients are mixed in, it immediately begins to heat up.  It only takes a week or so to start settling down so that it can be used in the worm farm. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lactic acid bacteria

Lactic Acid Bacteria, or LAB are gram-positive and are used in many food preparation fermentation systems.  Our interest in these bacteria is mainly related to the controlling of the fermentation/decomposition of protein sources used as feedstock for the worms.  Some of the features related to control of the fermentation are as follows:
  • Acidity after fermentation is around 4, which can be adjusted chemically, or it will naturally readjust itself during the aerobic decomposition phase
  • Anaerobic decomposition doesn't release large quantities of heat, meaning less energy is lost
  • A tiny quantity of CO2 gas is released, instead of methane etc.
  • Produces enzymes, which assist in sustained steady decomposition
There are some other beneficial side effects of utilizing an anaerobic LAB fermentation process for material which contains simple starches and sugars:
  • Deleterious bio-organic compounds are partially decomposed/diluted
  • Speed of decomposition is greatly increased
  • Negative odors are almost completely eliminated
  • Nutrients are made more bio-available after fermentation
  • Many types of non-acceptable bio-materials are made acceptable
  • Insects and other pathogenic organisms are reduced/eliminated
  • Generally safer for the worms
The system which we are developing here has proven effective so far at quickly and safely converting many different types of bio-matter into a suitable feedstock for the rapid growth and consumption by composting worms.  We are continuing to experiment with different feedstock materials and the fermentation process to learn more about the complexity of the nitrogen cycle related to the availability of nutrients and minerals in the network of mechanisms that these bacteria use to generate an environment which is safe for them exclusively. 

As an added benefit, the substances which Lactic Bacteria use to deter growth of potentially competitive organisms are reported to have some potential benefits for humans and livestock.  Meaning that the air and the soil are packed with beneficial bacteria rather then potentially negative bacteria, such as exist in soil with uncontrolled bacterial activity.

The feedstock has a pleasant, fermentatious odor, which reminds me of a farm that I lived on as a child and is comforting to me. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

So much to do

Built my first true worm bin.  Prior to this, I only had compost piles that were occasionally visited by an unknown species of little epigeic worms.  Filled it with cardboard and added some fermented vegetable matter, mixed with landscape waste and a little something I call worm maximizer.  It's an experimental mix of oyster shell flour and some other stuff that should help to balance the pH of the bin, increase reproduction of the worms, reduce insect activity and eventually improve the quality of the castings.  I'm pretty excited about it.

Preparing to build a second box.  The population of worms that I am working with is fairly small, so it could take a few weeks before they are really rolling, but they seem healthy and active and it gives me some time to learn about agricultural residues that may be available in this area.

There are many sources around here for near rotting produce.  It really only costs fuel and time to drive around and find the stuff.  Most business owners are happy to give you their wet garbage, probably because they usually have to pay to get rid of it.

I need to get my truck running.  The timing is really messed up and I am not sure why.  It may be that the timing sprockets are misaligned.  If that's the case, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that I need to take apart the engine, which takes a lot of time for an idiot like me.  I have to put every little screw, nut and bolt into a separate place in an egg carton, and take constant pictures, so I can remember exactly where everything belongs.  It's tedious and time consuming and its the only way to get it done right.  It's a good thing that I enjoy working on my truck.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth and Worm Farming

When used properly, Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (or FGDE) is an effective tool in the arsenal against insect activities.  We have had great success at eliminating many different kinds of pests related to worm farming including millipedes, flies and mites.  FGDE is composed of fossilized algae and is a microscopic crystalline powder with very specific modes of effectiveness against many different pests.

  • Caterpillars - As a foliar spray, FGDE reduces their ability to feed and move
  • Ants - When sprayed on surfaces, ants have trouble moving around above ground.  FGDE damages the exoskeletons of ants.
  • Mites - As a dessicant, FGDE reduces tiny insects' ability to maintain internal moisture levels
  • Spiders - FGDE reduces ambient insects that they use as food
  • Flies - Although not normally effective against adults, FGDE breaks the reproductive cycle.  Flies lay their eggs, fly off, and that's the end of the story.
FGDE is food-safe and remains effective against sub-soil insect activities even after being mixed into castings.

Possible downsides are that beneficial insects and nematodes are also reduced when FGDE is utilized and that newly hatched worms may have trouble with FGDE until they grow larger.  Usually FGDE and beneficial organisms are utilized for similar purposes, so this is generally not a concern.  Additional testing is required to determine the exact effect of FGDE on infant worms, but research on forums has not provided any indication that it has any negative effects on composting worms at all.  Until testing is completed, I do not recommend saturating your bins or bedding with FGDE, but it is safe to use around composting worms and generally has no effect on them provided it isn't applied directly, in a dry form to the worms themselves.

Other points to consider:
  • A little goes a long way - Too much is rarely any more effective then just enough.
  • It is a microcrystaline dust and not something that should be breathed into your lungs on a regular basis (use less, apply with water)
  • It often doesn't eliminate all insects, but it can significantly reduce populations and activities to a negligible level
  • Insects are incapable of adapting to it
  • Only use Food-Grade
  • It is high in Silica (%89)
  • It is water soluble, but it does have trouble remaining suspended in water (We just keep it shaking while applying)
  • It doesn't break down.  It will remain persistent wherever you apply it.
Some of the articles that I have come across researching FGDE in worm farming have recommended a light dusting with it and some have even gone as far as to say that it loses effectiveness when it gets wet.  I disagree.  From my experience, it is best applied by mixing with water and spraying.  It remains effective when wet unless washed completely off.  Perhaps the problem is a lack of patience because insects don't respond immediately to it's application in any way, but over time, usually within a day or so, you will see a difference if applied properly.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Anaerobic fermenting

For over a thousand years, in China, farmers have used a process of composting called, "oufei" or water-logged composting.  They gathered debris from their canals,  added some other organic wastes and allowed it to sit in a puddle for a year before adding it to their rice paddies.  Apparently this worked extremely well until commercial fertilizers became widely available and the manual labor involved became comparatively expensive.

Currently, there is much activity in rural areas of China involving anaerobic composting of sewage, both from animals and humans, to produce methane gas for energy usage in homes. 

My interest is primarily in the safe processing of food wastes for feeding to worms, still it is very interesting to see how much sewage is being used in China to produce energy.  I'm wondering how much energy could be produced if similar, larger types of facilities were making use of the same types of waste here in America.

After reading several articles on anaerobic composting, it sounds like there is very little information in common usage related to inoculating compost with specific bacterias to facilitate more precise decomposition during the anaerobic process, unless you take into account the research and life work of Dr. Teruo Higa, the originator of the EM1 line of products and the effective microorganisms philosophy.

He promotes a process called bokashi composting, which is essentially anaerobic composting using a dry inoculant of lactic bacteria and some other microorganisms.  My interest began when I noticed how similar bokashi is to the process of producing silage for livestock, which has used lactic bacterias for centuries to increase digestibility and reduce spoilage and other pathogenic types of bacterial activity.

As far as fermenting worm food, prior to feeding, someone is already doing it with some success, mixing the fermented mush with grass clippings and composting aerobically for two weeks before feeding.  We will try doing it that way as well as adjusting the ph with oyster shell, draining and then feeding directly.

Fermenting softens the food wastes, making it easier for worms to eat everything, including rinds, peels and seeds.  It also eliminates unwanted bacteria, mold and fungus, which often cause unpleasant odors.  In the oxygen starved environment of the fermenter, insects and their eggs are also killed, leaving only delicious food stuffs for the worms.  Some fruits and plants also contain organic compounds which can have a negative effect on worms and which are diluted and broken down during fermenting.  It is our belief that all those types of organic wastes which you're "not supposed to feed worms", are all acceptable in moderation with just a little anaerobic fermenting (two weeks).


Lactic Bacteria - Bokashi Composting

Lactic bacteria has been used commonly in agriculture for centuries.  I obtained a lactic bacteria culture some years ago from the internet, after reading about how effective it was at cutting down agricultural odors.  Since then, I have cultivated many gallons of the stuff and used it for all kinds of things including cutting down on the stench of raw sewage when my sewer line backed up in my home.  It worked like a charm and left the bathroom smelling like a brewery instead of like an outhouse at a construction site.  It's a shame that more industries don't use lactic bacteria like this to reduce agricultural odors.

I have since learned how to ferment my own lactobacillus bacteria cultures from environmentally present lactic bacteria.  Some of the bacteria that may be present in these cultures are:

Lactic bacteria are generally beneficial and they actively fight against negative bacteria and other micro-biological activities by consuming exposed food sources (sugars), and producing lactic acid.

Worm Silage

In livestock farming, silage processes are used to preserve forage crops and to partially covert simple sugars for several different purposes.  In worm farming, we use our lactic culture to ferment fruit and vegetable scraps in order to reduce insect and other pathogenic organism populations and to increase digestibility by the worms.  Additionally, It reduces possibility of odors since it is a fermented in a controlled environment, with controlled biological inputs.  The fermentation process also allows us to include some citrus, meat, dairy and fats in the worm's diet, not that we would go out and purchase these items to feed them, but it is good to be able to process these kinds of waste as well. 

Fermenting these items also allows us to more accurately control the moisture content and nutrient concentrations in the worm beds by breaking down cell walls and separating nutrient containing liquids prior to introduction into the worm's environment.

Worm Bedding Treatment

We also use a lactic bacteria spray to pre-treat bedding in order to increase digestibility and to stabilize aerobic decomposition.  Providing an environment for them which remains at a stable level of pH should increase their productivity.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Every day is Friday

Throwing away some lemon and apple tree seedlings.  Clearing space.  More santolina in the ground.  Using less water all the time. Took apart one of 3 compost bins and discovered whip-tail worms.  These are a local epigeic worm species and incredibly efficient at breaking down organic matter into castings, which is premium plant fertilizer.  Pretty sure that since they are naturalized in this area that we can use them as much as we want to without fear that they might negatively impact the local ecosystems.  Also, none of the local wild-lands have any kind of litter dependent growth systems, so not really an issue anyways.

Worm bin cost (cost for 8'x4'x4' wooden bin)($43.50):
  • posts - 2"x2"x8' - 5ea - $7.50
  • sides - 8'x8" - 18ea - $36.00
  • hinges
  • plastic
  • screws
  • paint

Additional notes regarding worm bins

Thirty-two square feet of surface area.  128 lbs of worms, 64# processing capacity per container,  aeration, temperature control, humidity, nutritional minimums.

plant-based lipids, micro and macronutrients, bacterial innoculation

favorite foods for worms:
  • melon
  • avocado
  • squash

possible products:
  • worm grit
  • bacterial inoculant
  • bedding?
  • chow type feed
  • FGDE
  • castings
These kinds of worms are incredibly active and shouldn't be utilized anywhere near any kind of wild space that accumulates litter on the forest floor.  Litter is rotting leaves and plant material and is fluffy and light and is the perfect place for ferns and other soft understory plants to reproduce.  Whip-tails invade the litter and consume it, rapidly making the nutrients available to the roots of plants, and removing it's capacity for fostering understory growth.  Redwood forests and other ecosystems which evolved without worms depend on the slow decay of rotting material to maintain consistent moisture levels and a slower release of nutrients in the soil.

Local businesses produce tons of bio-organic waste, so there is no shortage of feedstock.  What is required is an intelligent understanding of the worm's needs vs. available feedstock and maybe additional marketing to establish commercial markets for product.

It may be possible to eliminate all wet garbage from landfills.  By concentrating biodegradable wet-garbage separately from other refuse, it can be decomposed in a controlled environment.  There is much research being done with bacterial mitigation to reduce and overpopulate negative biological activities in wet-garbage.

Overpopulating in this instance is used to describe flooding a system with beneficial, well-understood, controlled bacterial activity, which is generally complimentary and well-behaved, flooding out negative activity, which exists in our environments, not controlled, not well-understood, and is comprised of primarily opportunistic organisms.  In this way, pathogenic populations are miniscule in comparison and are consumed and overpopulated by the beneficial organisms, and then by worms, leaving only castings which are beneficial for plant growth.

Paulownia leaves

Additional concerns are related to heavy metal contamination or other compounds which may have a negative impact on plant or human health.  By separating wet-garbage into two categories, castings are produced at two levels of quality:
  • Food grade - Produced from food garbage, manure, safe landscape waste and most paper products - Castings at this level would require regular testing, but would normally be free from contamination at any significant levels and would be safe for all farming/plant growing needs.
  • Industrial grade - Produced from shredded waste lumber (possibly treated), treated paper products, raw sewage, certain kinds of industrial effluent etc.  Efforts to reduce contamination of these kinds of wet waste and to track and identify contaminants present in the castings would require constant testing, and castings produced in these kinds of systems could be used for industrial crops, producing biomass fuel stocks, lumber etc, provided there is clear understanding of possible impacts on environments.
My primary areas of interest are agricultural residues including landscaping waste and in the utilization of paper wastes.  Bacterial mitigation is readily available and capable of reducing these odors by converting ammonia producing systems to systems which produce less-odiferous kinds of nitrogenic compounds.  Basically, instead of smelling rotting poop and festering urine, people working in and around these systems could be smelling an odor that smells mildly of fermenting beer.

The title of this post, "Every day is Friday" is related to the feeling that a person has as they approach actualization.  Buena suerte, salud y dinero para usted.