Worms, Worms, Worms….for my Composter! Part 2
I’ll be perfectly honest here. I wasn’t going to do another post on worm composting after my first one (you can find my first worm composting post here, if you’d like).
But, it’s been several months and it’s time to harvest my compost and move the worms. Since I had NOOO idea how to go about it, I figured you might not either. I did some research and discovered it’s really not that hard, so let’s get started.
When Should You Harvest Your Compost?
It’s pretty simple. You should harvest when you find that the bin is full to the top OR it looks like everything has been broken down into compost, ie., you’re not seeing big chunks of anything in the bin. Not too difficult!
Now let’s chat about the harvesting methods.
The Instant Method of Harvesting Compost
Basically, you take your composter out to the garden and dump it, worms and all. Yup, that’s it. I know, I know, that’s not really what you had in mind.
Ok, but it is an option. If you’re moving into summer like we are and you don’t want to deal with your composter in the heat, this is a possibility. Although red wigglers (the kind of worms you should be using in your composter) aren’t ideal garden worms, they also won’t hurt anything.
I wouldn’t suggest doing this in the fall though, red wigglers most likely won’t survive the winter very well where the weather gets below freezing.
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The Fast Method of Harvesting Compost
This is the method I used this time. I read up on how to do this at the Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm website. Check them out if you need info or to order composters or worms. They’re awesome!
By the way, DON’T order worms from Amazon! Although you can find them and they say they come from Uncle Jim’s, they’re significantly more expensive than ordering directly from Uncle Jim’s. Go right to the source, you’ll be much better off.
I carried my worm farm down the stairs and out to my back patio. The whole thing is a bit of a messy process, so doing it outside is definitely recommended.
NOTE: If your composter is full (as mine was), it will be VERY heavy. I think it probably weighed upwards of 25-30 lbs. Don’t be surprised and don’t hurt yourself!
And some happy news just because I have to share! As I was working on the patio, I heard, and then saw, the first hummingbird of the season. Then, a few minutes later, I heard the unmistakable frantic tweeting of a nest of baby birds begging momma for food! I found the bush where they’re living, although I didn’t get close because I didn’t want to upset anyone. I love spring!!!!
I spread a garbage bag (a tarp works too, but I didn’t have one handy) out on the patio and dumped the entire thing onto the bag. Uncle Jim’s suggested arranging the compost into piles and leaving it for a few minutes, then gradually skimming the compost off the top. This works because the worms don’t like light and will keep burying themselves farther and farther into the compost to escape it.
Wellllll, this would have been great, except for two things. One, it was threatening rain and I didn’t want to wait too long and two, I discovered when I dumped it out that my compost was WAY too wet and I wasn’t really going to be able to skim it off the top of the piles.
Yup, keepin’ it real here. I’m surprised the worms were still alive, as wet as things were underneath. I’m going to have to do some research and figure out what to do about that.
It is suggested that you open the drain at the bottom of the farm every couple of weeks and drain it, which I’ve been doing. You’re also supposed to add dry newspaper at times as well, which I’ve also done.
I think I may have waited too long to harvest my compost and it got so compressed that it couldn’t drain.
There was also the small problem of a couple of kittens who thought the worm composter was a handy dandy place to take a nap, and they may have compressed it a bit too! If you could see it now, you’d laugh, I have a portable ironing board laying over it so they can’t lay on the top anymore, plus stuff piled around it so they can’t knock the ironing board off.
Ok, so what I ended up doing…..Since I couldn’t really skim any compost off the top, I just started taking handfuls of it and digging through to get the worms. No, not terribly efficient, and very, very messy, but it worked.
And don’t forget, your compost at this point is pretty broken down, so with the exception of a few eggshells and some newspaper, it was really just like digging in the soil in the garden. It wasn’t gross or anything, unless you don’t happen to like worms. In that case, you should probably have your kids do this. They’ll love it!
I had already set up the new bin with coir, newspaper and food for the worms (again, if you need the primer on how to do that, check out my other post here). I just put them in as I found them. A little bit of their bedding went with them, but as you’re supposed to inoculate the bin with a little bit of active compost, this wasn’t a bad thing.
All told, it took me a total of about an hour from the time I brought the bin down until everything was done, including setting up their new digs and cleanup. Not too bad.
I’ll leave them on the screened-in deck today with the lid off (as it never did rain) so they burrow down into the new bedding, and then bring them in tonight before it gets too chilly
Don’t forget! You MUST leave a light shining on the top of the bin or otherwise get light into the top of the bin for the first day so your worms burrow down and don’t escape and start crawling across your floor.
The Slow Method of Harvesting Compost
Most composting farms are designed to stack. For instance, the one I have (you can see a picture below) has several levels so you can add one on top of another (much like you add levels to beehives as they fill the lower levels).
Because of this, you can add a second level to the composter and begin putting all the worms’ food into that level. Over the course of a couple of weeks, they will naturally gravitate up to the top where the food is. Then, you’ll be able to remove the bottom level and use the compost in it.
This is, obviously, the less work-intensive of the options when you want to keep your worms, but it does take a couple of weeks to be sure all your worms have moved.
I decided against this option because, 1. I’m not that patient, and 2. Keepin’ it real here again, I noticed the composter was starting to smell kind of “off”. Now, having seen how wet it is, I think that’s why, but I didn’t know that at the time and wanted to get into it and see what was going on.
Your composter should never smell bad. It should have an earthy odor, like, well, compost, but should never smell unpleasant. The only thing I’ve found that smells unpleasant is the liquid you drain out of the bottom. It has a rather strong, somewhat icky odor.
By the way, I’ve been told you shouldn’t use that liquid on your plants. I assumed that was “compost tea”, but nope, it’s not. Compost tea is made by soaking compost in water for a certain amount of time, then straining out the compost.
Apparently, the stuff that comes out of the bottom of the composter may have bacteria you don’t want your plants to get, so you really shouldn’t use it. Too bad, actually, as you’ll find that you get quite a bit of it.
I guess that’s it for today. I hope my post has been helpful as you continue your worm composting efforts. If you haven’t tried worm composting, why not give it a whirl? It’s fun (the kids will LOVE it!) and it’s a great way to get rid of kitchen scraps and enrich your garden soil at the same time.
There are a few pinnable images below that you can pin so you can find me again. As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!