Sunday, July 21, 2013

Heap o Worms - Update

Stick a fork in it; it's done. (Guardian caiman at left.)

Earlier this year, I wrote about how I abandoned the bin, and experimented with freestyle vermiposting. Having had a wooden bin that succumbed to rat raids or some unknown catastrophe, I just started tossing kitchen scraps and the neighbor's juice-machine pulp in a heap, aiming for an old-school compost, but thwarted by the cool wet NW winter. Then I noticed that worms migrated in, and the compost was just not heating up, so I took to tossing on dirt from molehills to aid the vermiferous digestive process, and turning it all with a fork from time to time.

Even in January, it seemed to be working just fine. I never added worms, but there they were. No idea whether they were heeding the dinner bell and crawling in from elsewhere, or if I had a breeding population, but each time I turned over the heap, scads of red wriggling worms appeared. The color and activity makes me think they are "red wigglers," the favored variety for composting, but again, I have no idea if that's true; my curiosity tends to take a nap when things are working fine (unlike those missing scapes, what the hell?).

On the initial worm heap, I would put fresh material on one side, followed with some brown matter (dead leaves and twigs, mostly, the idea being to get some partially decomposed material with it's microbiota to balance the fresh "green" stuff), finally dusted with some soil (I mostly used backdirt from molehills, which around here is the glacially deposited, mostly inorganic, sandy clay substrate). Then I'd flip the other side on top. Back and forth.

That worked fine. Yielding this:

Heap #1, cross section.

So yeah. Update: It worked. A few months turned all my kitchen waste and the neigbor's juice pulp into fine black loam. Because of the addition of sandy soil, it actually has more structure than typical worm castings, although it may not be quite so potent. Better yet, the soil for a couple of feet around the heap is spongy-soft; even after I harvest the good stuff, the network of worm-tunnels full o castings will make this a good spot to garden.

Hell yeah, I'll take that.
In May, I stopped adding material to Worm Heap #1, figuring I'd let the worms work their way through the last of the fresh scraps and make for a harvest that had only the good stuff (and presumably, fewer worms, wh would have moved on in search of food.

The new heap took shape about 10 yards away, beginning with a layer of dead leaves, poplar and spruce buds (thank you, windfall), and whatever. By now, my juice-fiend neighbor was keeping his pulp to himself, but it being Spring now, there was a supply of garden thinnings.

Heap # 2, cross section.

To augment the thinnings, I also tossed on weeds, unless they were the kind that would take root too easily, or were full of seed.

As if haphazard weed-tossing is not lazy enough, I decided this time to forego the periodic turning with a pitchfork. Not having giant clumps of carrot-pulp that need aerating to prevent slimy non-decomposition, it didn't seem so crucial, and an experiment in the name of finding an easier way is one gamble I'll usually take.

So far, so good. With drier weather, I pay a bit more attention to watering the heap, but no turning. After adding a decent amount of green material, I'll rake the garden paths toward the heap to give it an influx of brown matter, or shovel on some molehill dirt. Not quite so systematic, but still there is a good mix of green, brown, and grit. Maybe not as pretty as Heap #1, and to the untrained eye it may appear haphazard, but if it works, it's a refinement of technique from the standpoint of energy input (according to my back). More to the point, the worms are there in droves, and the green and brown stuff is turning into dirt.

Toss it, and they will come.

Maybe I'll do another update, but if not, just assume this is working. At this point, I cannot see the sense in trying real composting again. Or even making another worm bin. I have yet to sort Heap #1 (I'll sift it through 1/2-inch mesh to remove the sticks and avocado pits, which are apparently indestructable), but there must be at least 20 gallons of black gold there, and I should be able to do this twice a year. The sandy glacial soil in this yard should improve.

Ex Scape

Weird, but this 5th year of growing garlic in the Northwest, and for the first time it did not put out scapes. Planted in October, and we probably had the most normal year of the past few, but May and June rolled by with almost no scapes.

I thought at first it might have been a nutrition issue--these were in an abandoned garden plot from the previous renters, and I didn't amend the soil heavily (although I do think the garlic got the same dusting of blood and bone meal as the taters)--but an afterthought planting near the house in poorer soil did send out a few scapes.

The garlic itself seems fine, if not particularly large. I saw some other patches that produced scapes, and farmers at the market were selling them, so it's not some Olympia-wide scape famine.

It's a mystery to me. A little sad, because I like chopped scapes (the Garlic Calendar makes a big deal of watching for and making use of them), but more of a teasing enigma than a disaster.

Anybody else have this problem?