Webinar Resources: Composting with Worms on a Mid to Large-Scale — What, Why, How, and Who

Date: 25 Jan 2019 | posted in: Composting | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Thank you to everyone who registered for and attended our webinar! You can view the recording below. Transcript coming soon.

Vermicomposting (composting with worms) is one of the best sustainable options for recycling organic materials like food scraps into a valuable soil amendment, vermicast (worm compost).

In this webinar, internationally renowned vermicomposting expert, Rhonda Sherman, shared the highlights from her new book, The Worm Farmer’s Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions. This comprehensive guide features how to successfully vermicompost and includes everything you need to know from business planning, system selection, managing and troubleshooting, vermicast harvesting, tips for replication, and lessons learned from model enterprises around the world. Given the importance of healthy soils to healthy food and carbon sequestration, this handbook couldn’t be more timely.

Whether you want to start vermicomposting or are a public official interested in supporting locally based composting, this webinar is for you!

Brenda Platt (facilitator):

Thank you for joining today’s webinar, Composting with Worms on a Mid to Large Scale — What, Why, How, and Who? I’m Brenda Platt, the director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance is composting for community initiative. This webinar is one in a series that we offer to advance composting and share working models and tips for replication. We are particularly interested in supporting a distributed, distributed, and diverse infrastructure for composting and food waste reduction and recovery. Our last webinar featured bike powered food scrap collection with a spotlight on equipment, so check that out. Today. We will be talking about Vermont composting or composting with worms and I can think of no better person than Rhonda Sherman with North Carolina State University to address how to compost with worms on a mid to large scale. Her latest book is shown here, the were farmers handbook, which is a guide to mid and large scale vermicomposting for farms, businesses, municipalities, schools, and institutions.

Given the importance of healthy soils to healthy food and healthy communities, and particularly now increasingly recognized carbon sequestration. Her handbook couldn’t be more timely. So today Rhonda is going to cover the many, many benefits of vermin, compost, some basics who can compost from schools and farms to municipalities and businesses, how to plan for success and what pitfalls to avoid. And then she’s going to end with a showing us a some vermicomposting operations around the world and a wide range of setups, setups and systems. She’s going to talk for about 50 or so minutes and we’re going to try to leave 30 minutes for q and a. So I hope you can all stay on to get all your questions answered. Um, before I introduced Rhonda even more fully, let me just say a few words about the institute for Local Self Reliance. We’re a national organization and we support local economies, which means we don’t accept national advertising.

So please consider making a donation to ILSR are at ilsr.org/donate. Not only does your support underwrite this Webinar, but it also helps us produce the resources and research we make available for free on our website. Any amount is welcome and sincerely appreciate it. That’s Ilsr.org/donate. I’m now, let me just say a few words on a more on Rhonda. She’s an extension specialist with the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University, as I already indicated, that’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a leading authority on vermicomposting and organize the world’s, organizes the world’s only annual conference on large scale commercial vermicomposting. She had our 19th conference last November. She’s also the founder and director of a two acre compost learning lab as part of NC State University. And that feature is 26 different types of composting and vermicomposting bands as well as areas for hands on training activities. She’s taught composting and vermicomposting and Diana, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, and throughout the US.

And she has offered over 65 publications on Vermont composting, composting, recycling, and waste reduction. Um, so we are really pleased to have her today as we’re. Before we hand the reins over to Rhonda, we’re going to do a three polling questions just to get a sense of who’s on the line today. So, uh, my colleague, Virginia. Thank you. Virginia is helping with tech today. Will bring up the, uh, first polling question. So select one or more of the following. Do you represent government, nonprofit, private business, or your community scale? Composter Holler do fall into another category. We usually like to wait till we have about 80 percent of the votes in still votes coming in. All right, let’s see the results. Oh, most you have third and the other category. But one fifth government, one fifth private business. Okay. Next poll is, um, question. Where are you? Are you in the east coast, us, west coast, southwest, Midwest, or are you outside the US? Okay, let’s show the results. Looks like the east coast is winning southwest outside us. Have some international participants. Great. And then the, uh, two more questions. Are you give us an idea of your currently vermicomposting interested in starting to Vermont compost. Do you want to support vermicomposting? Like you’re not actually going to do it, but you’re at your local government. You want to see more of this decentralized diverse composting. So you might want to fund it or support it in some other way or you fall into another category.

Oh, alright. Let’s show the results. Well, I’m surprised by this one, almost two thirds of you are already doing it, but a quarter interest in starting. Okay. Rhonda, you have some seasoned [inaudible] composters on the line. All right, last question for those vermicomposting or interested in starting. So only those two categories. What best represents your location? Uh, you affirm or you another business? School, municipality, other. Okay. I suppose they’re still coming in. Alright. Let’s see. The results. There’s a big mix here. Most are in the other category. Alright. Two fits other, other, but we have one fifth farmer’s, 10 percent schools, 15 percent cities. Okay. Interesting. Alright, we will before we do q and a, we’ll have a few more polling questions at the end, but without further ado, we’re going to hand it over to Rhonda to start. So let’s just let her control the screen and advance your own slides. Bear with us as we do this. Hey Rhonda, say a few things. Are you muted? Sounds good, but I guess she can hear me. Yes, you sound great and you can see the screen. Alright, let’s get started.

Rhonda Sherman (presenter):

I’m very pleased that so many of you have joined us today from all over the United States and other parts of the world. Um, so this is mid to large scale from a composting as we said, and that means I won’t be covering how, um, you know, a beginning for composting, although I do have a slide with a link to one of my publications about that. So take note of my web address there. If you go to that web address, you will find lots of information I’ve written about small scale and large scale vermicomposting and small scale and large scale composting. Okay. So you’ll find lots of information there. So, um, we’re here because I wrote the worm farmers handbook. I was thinking we should have done a poll how many people have already read it, but anyway, um, so in writing this I, you know, there just really wasn’t anything out there.

There are some books on small scale from a composting but not on mid to large scale. And so this is for people who, you know, like you have a farm and you have livestock manure or crop residues and you would like to turn them into a beneficial soil amendment so you can do that through Burma composting or say you’re at a restaurant or a grocery store or I’m a school, as you know, many schools are doing vermicomposting, they’ll, they’ll have like a small worm bin in their classroom. But, um, this book addresses how you can do a school wide firma composting and, um, and then many institutions, they’re doing it. I do have a slide about all this later, but my book is filled with photographs of operations all over the world actually. So I profiled at least 25 different Vermont composting operations, um, including at schools and farms.

So you’ll be able to see all that. Um, so these are the, some of the topics that I cover in the worm farmers handbook that will help you choose what kind of production system works for you. You know, we’re, we’re all in different situations and we have different climates and climate is definitely very important. So, um, later on I will be showing you pictures of different types of vermicomposting systems. A regulatory issues is very important because, um, so anybody who’s wanting to do this on a larger scale, so if you want to do it at a community garden or you want to start a Vermont composting business or do it on site at a hospital or a restaurant or wherever, you really do need to check into, um, state and local regulations to see if it’s okay to do that. And if you do plan to have a business and sell the Burma compost, then I have a whole section that goes into detail about developing business and marketing plans.

Um, I also talked about finding and managing feedstocks. That’s what you’re going to feed the worms and then pre composting, why you would want to do it and how to do it. And then, um, once you get your worm bag going, how to monitor it to make sure that everything’s going well and the worms are healthy. Um, and then how to harvest screen, test package and store from a compost. And you’ll see that. I actually said, vern, my cast, I decided to use the term Burma cast throughout the book because I’m someplace, some businesses will call it castings and others, we’ll call it Vermont compost. And so I kind of combined it to call it Burma cast and then I talked about markets for earthworms and MCAST, um, how it benefits soils and plants and how to avoid common pitfalls to have a successful operation.

And then again, like I said in the last chapter, I really go into detail about different vermicomposting around operations all over the world, so Vermont composting, to put it simply, the microorganisms and earthworms are working together to process food scraps, but some kind of feedstock. So I just have to show a picture of food scraps, but you know, it could be cow manure or something else. Um, and then they process it and turn it into a beneficial soil amendment. So we’ll be talking more about that. Um, first of all, there’s people often interchange the terms Vermont compost and compost. So I receive emails from all over the world and it gets confusing for me because, you know, they may have vermacompost in their subject line and then in the email they might keep saying compost and, you know, so I’m scratching my head going, which are you talking about?

Vermont compost and compost are very different processes, so be very careful with the language so that people understand what you’re talking about. Um, so I listed some of the differences here. Vermont compost is, it’s passed through worms, so worms have consumed it and stable Vermont compost has come out the other end. And so whereas with composting we call it thermophilic composting and it’s just you, the microorganisms, the activity of micro organisms are breaking down in consuming the organic feed stocks and converting it to compost. So you see the difference that, you know, there are um, micro organisms involved with Vermont composting too, but then the feedstock actually passes through the worms and comes out the other end. So big difference there. And we often refer to Vermont. Composting is cold composting because as many of you might know with composting a, you want it to reach, you want your compost pile to reach a certain temperature, you want it to be like above 131.

I’m right around 140 or a maximum of 1:50, you know, so you want your compost pile to heat up. But the Vermont compost, do you want it to stay at a pretty stable temperature? And we’ll talk about that temperature zone in a few minutes, but um, because it stays at this, you know, at a certain temperature, you get a wider variety and greater numbers of microorganisms. So it is a different microbe population involved in the two processes. And then if you’re going to sell compost, it will sell for about up to $35 per cubic yard. Whereas Vermont compost will sell for $200 to $1,800 per cubic yard. Very valuable commodity. So these are some of the many benefits of Vermont compost. You’ll notice that some of them are similar to compost. But, um, again, Vermont compost is a different process and it does have a different qualities from compost, so very fine particulate structure high, I wonder why that is.

It’s passed through worms, so very tiny worms have consumed that feed stocks, they’re coming out the other end, they’re fully stabilized. You could just use them right away. Um, so, so you could, as long as you know that it’s actual worm castings and not the feedstocks, I’m the Ph is going to be near neutral. It has a high water holding capacity, teaming with microorganisms like I already mentioned. And then it, it contains nutrients that are in a form, they can readily be taken up by plants. And then, um, the real crowning achievement of Vermont compost is that it has humic acids in plant growth hormones that have a really profound effect. So here’s just a quick list of the effects that Vermont compost has on plant growth and disease and pest suppression. So you’ll find by adding compost to soil, you’ll get increased rates of germination growth, flowering and crop yields.

So the seeds will germinate more quickly, the plants will, will, um, emerge and grow bigger and stronger and whatever that, um, that flower purdue, that plant produces, whether it be flowers or fruit or vegetables, you’ll have more of them. Um, the root development is, is much greater if you’ve added from a compost and it tolerate stress a lot better. So there’s decreased shock from transplanting plants. Um, there’s reported plant vitality and flip, a flavor profile is enhanced and also there are many, many studies, many scientific studies that show decreased attacks by plant pathogens, parasitic nematodes in insect pass. And so while I was writing the book, I to Google scholar and I just typed in Vermont, compost have effects on plants and within seconds, almost 30,000 scientific article references came up and it was just, you know, just those three words. So imagine if you played around for awhile and, um, you know, use different terminology there.

There are just thousands and thousands of scientific articles from all over the world where scientists are studying the effects of Vermont. Compost unplanned. So check that out. Um, so speaking of, let’s look at this, so this was several years ago that myself and a couple of colleagues over about a year and a half, we planted turnips in the field, actually three different fields, three different seasons, and we’re actually, it was a water quality study, so we weren’t, we weren’t looking at the effect of vermin, compost, unplanned growth, but we couldn’t help notice some differences. So we finally took a quick picture and the, and, and so with this trial we had randomized plots, all of the plots had equal amounts of nitrogen. Okay. So we know nitrogen has a really big impact on plant growth is very much needed for plants. So we made sure that every plant grown had the same amount of nitrogen and you may be scratching your head looking at this picture going, oh, surely that the two other turnips had more nitrogen, but they did not.

They have the exact same amount of nitrogen as the one on the left. So what’s the big difference? It’s those plant growth hormones and humic acids and the microorganisms in the Vermont compost. So, so in our randomized plots we had, we, um, some of the plots had zero Vermont compost and some of the plots, we actually removed all of the soil from the plot six inches deep and we, out of all that soil we took out of the plot, we removed 10 percent of it by volume and we added 10 percent Vermont compost and mixed it thoroughly and put it back in the plot. And then for the other plots, we did 20 percent by volume from a compost. And so these are the results. So the turn up you’re seeing on the left had zero Vermont compost. It’s a regular size turnip. Take look at that root little spin, one spindly route there.

And then the, the one next to it, the turn up in the middle, it had 10 percent by volume from or compost added to the soil. And so look at that root system, compare to the other one and look at the Greens. If you’re in the turnip green business, you have just hit the Jackpot and then next to it is 20 percent by volume from a compost look that just giant turn up. So, um, and you may be wondering, well, you know, my goodness, if you had added a 100 percent Vermont compost, would it just be this gigantic vegetable? But the thing is that Vermont compost a little bit goes a really long way and by adding more, um, can they actually, at least it can be too much for the plant and you can end up looking like the, um, turn up on the left so you could add up to 40 percent by volume, Vermont compost if you wanted to, but once you get 50 or higher percentage than um, you know, you’re just wasting the Vermont compost to actually in really.

I mean, look at these two. Look at the 10 percent and 20 percent. That’s really all you need. So, so whereas vermicomposting taking place. So I mentioned some of these and they were definitely on the cover of my book, but I’m so farms and households, prisons are doing vermicomposting hospitals, community gardens, restaurants, parks, wastewater treatment plants, universities and colleges, office buildings, schools and daycare. And I’m just so excited that nowadays it seems like so many schools have their own gardens and having a compost bin and a worm bin is just a great addition to that. Um, military bases are doing vermicomposting entrepreneurs are, you know, for any of you who perked up when you saw the $200 to $1,800 for Vermont compost, um, you might be seeing dollar signs and more and more people are, um, I mean, it’s not only the motivation for the money, but wanting to take waste products and turn them into something beneficial that can have such a profound effect on soil and plants.

That’s why so many entrepreneurs are getting into this. Um, food banks, Vermont, compost, some paper mills. Um, I added sports stadium there because I visited the Seattle King Dome back in Nineteen Ninety five and they had worm bins, um, because they were serving salads during their games there. And so that’s been done. And then grocery stores too. So, um, so if I saw, we saw that almost two thirds of you are vermicomposting already and you might end, so um, you may want to improve the technique of the small wormed in because for, for many people they do start a worm bin and then they don’t quite understand how to do it correctly. And then the worms die. And so you can see that link at the bottom of this that shows the, the link to my publication called worms can recycle your garbage. It’s only like four and a half pages long.

I keep it short and concise. So it tells you how to set up a worm bin and be successful about it. And I recommend for anybody who, if you have not Burma composted, and you’re thinking about doing a really a much larger scale Verma composting project, do not just go out and buy 10 pounds of worms or more because that may end up being wasted money because you really need to learn how to take care of worms before you endeavor to do a larger operation. So you want to just start small with one pound of worms and be successful with them and then start scaling up. Okay? And so you want to use the correct earthworm species, which, um, I emphasize this throughout the book I sent you, is basically the best vermicomposting worm that even people in other countries throughout the world, so many of them use, I Sandia Fetida.

It just adapts much more easily to vermicomposting and you’ll be very successful with them. They’re less temperamental and tolerate a wider range of environmental conditions than many other earthworms. So make sure you get the right earthworm species and you want to buy it from a worm grower. And so to buy it from a worm grower, um, you could ask your local cooperative extension office if they know somebody who’s selling worms. Sometimes people who are raising rabbits will also, they’ll use earthworms to process the rabbit manure. And so they might have worms to sell. Um, there are worm farmers all over the place, but um, you know, just because like if you google I’m worms, don’t go for the first one that comes up. Okay. I mean, I’m just saying that look around because the prices vary. And so you want to get a good price and you want a good reputation from.

So check that out too because you don’t always, you know, sometimes, um, it depends on the grower. You might not get the best worms to be successful. So I sent a Fetida it has many common names. I’m the one that’s most used is probably red wigler. But anyway, that’s what you’re looking for. I sending us data. So what they need is they operate best at a temperature between 60 and 80 degrees. Okay. So, um, that doesn’t mean, I mean many of us are sitting here shivering throughout the country and so that does not necessarily mean that you can’t do it if it’s below 60 degrees. Um, my poor worms are in my worm barn today at the compost learning lab and um, he got down to like 17 degrees last night, so I’m sure they weren’t happy about that. But I think with the right earthworm husbandry skills, you can keep them alive.

And so I talk about that in the book, how to deal with temperature swings. But if you’re getting, get into this commercially and you’re depending on this, a steady income from vermicomposting, then you’re going to want to keep it in that range. Okay? But lots of people do it outdoors and you know, they, you can, um, keep the worms comfortable outside of that range, but the worms do need moisture. They breathe through their skin and so they need 80 percent moisture in the zone of the worm bin where they live and they tend to live in the top four inches of the worm bin. So in that area, you’re going to want your bin to be about 80 percent moisture and we’ll talk more about that.

Sorry to interrupt, but you were breaking up a little bit for me. I don’t know for others. Can you just repeat your last sentence? Sure. Okay, sorry about that. Okay. So moisture, um, needs to be 80 percent in the top four inches of the worm bin. So they need air to breathe through their skin. So moisture is very important. Next we’ll talk about Ph and the you’re aiming for about neutral ph in the worm. Then I sent a, a Fetida will tolerate a wider range of Ph, but they do best if it’s around neutral. And of course, since they are living beings, they do need oxygen, but don’t, you don’t have to be so concerned about oxygen that you’re getting a lot of, um, evaporation and losing your moisture. So I really go into that in the blog as well. And then keep in mind that the, um, the ice nef Pheta is sensitive to ammonia and salts and so, um, ammonia, that would be chicken manure.

So do not try to feed straight chicken manure to worms because it’s just too high in ammonia. And then, um, for salts, if you had super salty institutional food or something, that could be an issue with the worm. So you just keep that in mind as well. So what will the worms eat? ‘Em they love livestock manure. So, you know, we’re talking from cows and pigs and goats, sheep llamas, alpacas rabbits, and all sorts of manures, um, food residuals, spoiled drain yard debris, cardboard, scrap paper, agricultural crop residues, coffee grounds, brewery waste. Um, depending on, okay, you really, I always add, um, as far as brewery waste goes, if that’s high in ammonia, um, that can be a problem. So you really want to test anything. You’re going to feed to the worms and it’s very easy to do. You just have a small container.

You put that type of food into the container, you add a handful of worms and see how they respond to it because they will either start eating it or they will leave. Or if you know it was really high pneumonia, they might immediately die. But it’s really important to test these things out and then you have to keep in mind that whatever the worm eats affects what comes up the other end for the Vermont compost. Okay. And so all of these things you see on the page are going to have, you know, the worms will eat all of these things, but then there, um, you know, worms that are consuming cardboard are going to have different Vermont compost from those that are eating manure. And so, um, and then food waste. And so it’s just something to keep in mind because it will affect the quality of the castings.

Okay. So I just wanted to talk about these things too. Um, they, they each have a go into detail in the book, but particle size, very important because you only know, you have microorganisms that are so tiny. We can’t see them with our, um, with just looking for them. We have to look through a microscope and then you have these tiny worms. And so the smaller the particle size, the faster it will be broken down and consumed by these small creatures. So that’s something to keep in mind. I added a homogeneity because anybody who’s had a small worm then has noticed that worms are what we would call picky eaters. So, so for example, if you have watermelon, melons tend to be kind of a premier preferred food, so they would be lying for, for melons and avoid the onions, you know, but if you pre compost it, then it’s, then you have a homogeneous feedstock to feed to the worms.

Okay? Because you’re feeding them compost. So instead of raw onions and raw melon, you have your, they don’t have those choices. It’s all blended together. And compost. I’m persistent herbicides. I’m going to show you a couple of slides about that because it’s a very important consideration to make. Um, the other thing is that the food could heat up. And remember we said that we want the, the wormed in to remain at a fairly low temperature. So say you’ve got the right conditions, you’re like, hey, right in the middle here, I’ve got my worm bin in a 70 degree environment and now I’m going to pile on some raw, whatever. I’m very thick. And the thing is, it can heat up, so you really want to have very, um, uh, so you want to make sure that the food is either pre composted or in very thin layer by layer, so it will not heat up.

You also want to think about pathogens and I believe I have a slide on that. And then I also discuss pre composting on a slide that we’re coming to. Okay. So I’m going to move on to persistent herbicides. Okay. This is what any composter or Vermont compost or should know about because there are a certain class of herbicides that don’t break down like other herbicides. Okay? They need sunlight and mostly sunlight will help activate them to help them break down. And so they can remain active in Hay and grass clippings and piles of manure and piles of compost or Vermont compost for years. Okay? And so this is very alarming. And so we have to make sure that this doesn’t happen. You know, the, the, it doesn’t make it into our compost or Vermont compost. So, um, the effect is that it can cause poor seed germination, death of young plants, twisted copter, elongated leaves, misshapen fruit and reduced to yields for some people, no plants will grow.

Um, for some people, they’re wherever they have used compost that is contaminated with these types of herbicides that are persistent. It can be years that before you could use that soil again, that plot of land. So it’s, it’s very alarming, you know, so you just want to make sure and keeping in mind that, um, okay, so we listed, I’m like, hey. So for example, if you’re getting horse manure or common or they could, those animals could have consumed, hey, that was sprayed with one of these persistent herbicides. And so it’s on the hay, it goes inside the animal where there’s no sunlight inside the animal, right? So it comes out the other end and gets put into a pile of manure. Well, the pile, the outer edges will be exposed to sunlight, but most of the pile will not have sunlight. So it’s not. The herbicide site is not breaking down there.

And then the, the manure and may be used to create compost and you can see it’s so raw hay, grass clippings, manure, all of these things could go into a compost pile and if they have, um, they do have residues of persistent herbicides, then you can end up with, you know, you think the compost or vermin compost is just fine, but it could be active with that. So I’m just giving you that alert and encouraging you to read this publication that I’ve highlighted in green. So this is the title of a publication that was written by a couple of colleagues of mine. And so here’s the link to the publication. And then the US composting council also has information about persistent herbicides. And so there’s the US ccs link as well. Okay. So I’m pretty composting. So what we mean by that is that you go through the thermophilic composting process, but you.

And so the temperatures go up and then once the temperatures have stayed at that high temperature for, for a while and the, and the feedstock is getting consumed than the temperature starts to drop. And at that point we would call that pre compost and we would remove it and begin feeding the worms. So the difference between pre composting and composting is that with composting it’s really important to give time for the pile to cool down. We’re talking months for the pool, for the pile to cool down and mature. And so with the pre composting, the compost is still active with, um, with plenty of nutrients and food for the earthworms. So, um, so a lot of people do pre composting and certainly in the book I encouraged it and talked about it quite a bit. Um, these are some of the advantages of pre composting.

It’s going to reduce the volume. So whatever feedstocks you have, you can reduce the volume by, you know, half or up to a third of what you started out with, which is really important because if you have really huge volumes and you’re just feeding thin layers to the worms, then it’s an advantage to have less volume that it’s gone through pre composting. The next is destroying pathogens. And if you’ll remember, that was on my list of considerations. So this is rico required by the federal government and any states that have composting laws that, um, and, and this is really important to kill pathogens. Okay. So, um, that means reaching a temperature of at least a hundred and 31 degrees Fahrenheit or 55 Celsius. And, um, the requirements are for a, depending on if you’re doing static aerated piles, which on the, the photo on the left shows doing that, um, and then, or if you’re doing windrows, so it’s, it’s a time temperature requirement, but the important thing of destroying pathogens, you may think, oh, you know, I’m only using food waste there.

There aren’t any pathogens in food ways. Well, think again, think about how we, um, we find out that coli or salmonella or some other pathogen has been detected in spinach, strawberries, all sorts of things. Romaine lettuce, all sorts of things make the headlines. So those foods happen contaminated with pathogens. If you’re using, um, you know, anything that sat in a pile outside, you could have bird bird waste, you know, bird droppings, um, if you’re feeding, say grass, it could have dog poop on it. You know, so these are all pathogens and it’s important to kill them by reaching high temperatures and also seeds, think about if you’re collecting the food waste and so you’ve got seeds from melons and tomatoes and all sorts of things and then I’m think about weed seeds that have blown up and gotten into, you know, maneuvers and other crop residuals.

So by reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius, it can kill off the seeds and then it can also reduce the heat in the feedstock. So anybody who’s been around a, a steaming pile of manure, for example, if you pre compost it, then you’ve taken the heat out of it and so it’s less likely to heat up your worm bed. So different types of composting systems, pits, trenches, beds, bins, trays, wind rows, wedges and continuous flow. The worm bins, these are all different options you can take. And so there is no right or wrong. It depends on your situation, what you can afford, what works best for what you have. Okay? So, and some people start with one system and then they might build their, their operation larger and, and go with a different type of system. So I’m going to show you pictures of from a lot of choices you can make.

And so, um, some people do it outdoors and then some people do it indoors, either in a permanent building or a quonset hut or some kind of polyethylene structure or pole barn. That’s what I have my worm, my worms are in a pole barn that unfortunately have some open a sides. So that’s why the temperature can be controlled, but you can do it on soil or asphalt or concrete depending on your situation and what works best for you. So the space needed, keep in mind you’ll need some place to put feedstock that you’re going to feed the worms. And then I’m wormed ins should be, um, no wider than eight feet. Okay? Um, and, and that’s because you need to be able to check on your livestock, your livestock or worms and you need to eyeball each other. Not well each part of your bins so you can make sure or bed to make sure that I’m the earthworms are thriving. And so if it’s over eight feet wide, it’s going to be very difficult for you to be able to see what’s going on in the middle of your worm bed. Um, you may need an area to chopper grind the food, and then if you are going to do pre composting, then you would need an area for that as well.

So these are the basics for Vermont composting. Okay, this is the money slide. So you want to start with six inches of bedding. My next slide gives you options for bedding, but so start off with six inches, um, or you know, 15 point two, four centimeters. All right? And then you’re going in and the spending needs to be moist. Remember I said 80 percent moisture? So whatever kind of bedding you’re going to use, it needs to soak in water for a certain amount of time. And before you add the worms. So you want it to be moist but not sopping wet. So then you’re gonna. Add your ice Sannia fender, the earthworms at a rate of one pound or two pounds of you want to do I, but you know, starting out with one pound is probably the best way per square foot of surface area.

Okay? So we’re not talking about cubic feet here. We’re talking square feet of surface area and that’s because the worms come to the top to eat. And so that’s all we’re dealing with there. Okay? So then when you apply feedstock, you only put about an inch thick. Okay? Make sure it’s less than two inches thick, but, and again, because if it’s too thick, then it’s um, it has the possibility of heating up and harming the worms are killing them. So only about an inch of feedstock. And then wait until the feedstock is eaten before adding more. So. And you may say, well wait a minute, I read that so-and-so worm farm feeds so many pounds per day of feedstock. And the thing is they don’t. Okay, they, they’re either taking a weekly or a monthly rate and dividing it, people do not feed the worms and daily because the worms are not machines. And they’re not going to listen to you, even if you try to say, Hey, I want you to eat all of this in 24 hours, they’re going to eat as much as they, they want for the circumstances that they’re in too.

And just like yesterday, you might have really picked out and today you’re not so hungry while they are living beings too. And so they’re not robots, they’re not going to consume a certain amount every day. So you wait until the feedstock is gone. Before you add more, if you just say add more feedstock on top of what’s already there, then the feedstock that they haven’t eaten, we’ll probably go anaerobic and it’ll mess up your whole system. So wait until it’s gone. So if you do decide to feed your worms raw food scraps, then you should cover those food scraps. Okay? So that you’re not attracting different types of flies. So, um, cover them either with shredded paper or cardboard or put cloth or plastic or tarp over the bed just to try to keep out flies. Alright? So betting choices, um, so you’ve got it stable.

Compost. That’s what I usually use. Okay, so it’s compost that has gone through the heating cycle and it has cured so it’s stable. And so that’s what I usually use. So I’ll take ’em compost and, and, uh, apply six inches deep and make sure it’s moist. Some people have, a lot of people use aged horse manure. Again, you want to make sure it’s greatly aged so you know, at least a few months so that it’s not going to heat up. It’s very important that bedding does not heat up. Betting is the safe zone for the worms. So it gives them an organic environment to live in. And so if, if things are not suitable for them, say if you apply too much food or the food is not appropriate for them or the food is too hot, they can retreat into the bedding and survive.

So the bedding is very important. So some people use aged leaf mold or shredded brown, you know, dead leaves. Some people use shredded paper though, you know, shredded paper is fine for a small worm bins, but if you’re going to do a larger system than um, you know, paper gets mushy so I wouldn’t recommend it for a large system. And then some people use coconut core and you know, again, if it’s got a big footprint, carbon footprint, so I wouldn’t recommend using it. That’s not what I use. And since we mentioned, um, since we were meant since I was talking about small and large scale, if you want to do a medium to large scale Vermont composting operation, then do that. Don’t, don’t do a bunch of small scale things, don’t take a bunch of buckets or some small been and just, you know, say, Oh, I’m going to have 50 of these because that’s more work for you.

It’s harder to manage the moisture. It’s just a different environment. And so you’ll notice that when you, you’ll notice the difference between managing a small bin and a larger been in, in the larger been, it can be much more forgiving for the environmental situation. Okay. So watering the worm beds, again, 80 percent moisture, right? So when you’re putting your bedding in there, it is 80 percent moisture, but then, um, you will get some evaporation so you need to keep an eye on it. And so if it looks and feels on the dry side, then you want to use light applications of water and do that frequently in. When I say frequent, what I mean is avoid heavy, infrequent watering. So don’t let the bad go for a whole week and then go, oh my gosh, it’s so dry and then you flooded. Had, is not the way to go.

So depending on your environment, your climate, your humidity level in the area where you live, um, will determine how often you need to add water to your worm bed. Okay. My, what I, the setup that I have, um, we rarely had any moisture to it. Um, other people, they might be applying moisture three times a day, but in the photo you can see misting. And so that’s what you would want to do is have some kind of misting system and you never ever pour water into the worm bed, even if you’ve seen it on youtube. Okay? That is not the way to go. So, okay, so healthy worm bin traits as that, um, the worm bed will smell earthy like the forest. So within, even if you use hog manure, which is Super Stinky within 24 to 48 hours, there are so many micro organisms, there’s so much microbial activity taking place in the bin that the, those stinky odors will dissipate.

And so, you know, I give classes in my, um, in barn and people are right next to these big macro bins that are filled with that have cow manure in them. And uh, people don’t realize there are worms and cow manure right next to them because it doesn’t smell. Um, you should not see earthworms if they’re busy eating way, they should be, you know, maybe you’ll see them on top consuming some of the feed stocks, but you shouldn’t see them on the sides or lid of the bin. Because that could mean there’s a problem and I do have a troubleshooting guide in my, um, worms can recycle your garbage publication that I talked about at the beginning of this webinar. So the bedding fluffy, but you’re not fluffing it up. Um, it’s just, you know, when you put it in there, um, that it’s kind of fluffy.

So you wanted the contents to be damp, but not soggy. You should actually see glistening skin on your earthworms. If they look dry, then your bins to dry, you will see other types of, I call them critters. Um, what, what I mean by that is arthropod. So you’ll see other insects in the worm bin and they are just decomposers that are supposed to be there. So usually so. And again, I talk about that in the book. I talked about different types and then your Vermont compost will accumulate on the bottom. So, um, I want to show you different types of systems. So if you’re outdoors, they have here in California or somewhere where there’s some mild climate. Now the picture on the top left that was actually taken in Texas. And you can see the worm wind rows, they, they are less than three feet high.

Okay? So again, you don’t want a tall windrose I showed, I compared that to composting showing, um, some Lindros that are 10 or 12 feet high. And again, with the composting, you want it to heat up. So you want that mass that will help heat up with. But with vermicomposting, it needs to remain a shallow system. Okay? This was at a prison. And so these were some outdoor insulated bins and they were installing a, some screen on the bottom to keep out moles. Okay? Um, this is obviously outdoors in the shade. Very simple materials. They put white, they painted it white on top to reflect the sun. So you’re not heat into the worm beds. Um, this is inside a barn and many, many people throughout the world will use concrete blocks to make worm duds. And that works out really well. So you can see the shallow worm beds there and they were covering them up with pieces void.

Um, this is what I was in Chile. There were different types of, um, worm bins. And so this shows an example, you know, this is easy to make, this is also in Chile, you can see they just use some boards and then you know, that some sticks and then they had shade cloth and that was very successful. Um, this is also in Chile. It’s gorgeous piece of artwork that is. I’m a worm dad and I’ll talk about that some more later. This is in the Dominican Republic. Again, they were using the concrete blocks to make worm beds and I’m in a very simple structure with materials that they gathered how doors. This is also in the Dominican Republic. So I’m a little bit fancier there, you know, but they have again, the concrete blocks, they have screens to keep out bigger creditors, you know, like mammals and um, and then they have a to keep off the sun and rain.

This is also in the Dominican Republic. So a different type of really nice looking worm bin that was in a botanical garden there. And then, um, this is in I believe, India, India or the Philippines. And this shows how you’ve got your shallow beds. And so the problem with shallow is that it’s a horizontal process, you know, and so for this, they’ve turned it into, um, they’ve stacked them to become, to take advantage of the vertical space. Only problem is, you know, it looks like somebody has to Shimmy up and down these, um, you know, the wood to be able to get a look at the worm beds. Okay. This is also, I think this is in the Philippines and I was just showing again the concrete blocks and then, um, they’ve got a simple roof structure to keep off rain and sunlight. This was in the city of Middleton in Connecticut.

And so they were picking up food waste from a variety of locations throughout the city and they had the stacking them so you can see it. It’s like pallet racking. And then they had wooden, shallow worm beds so that they could take advantage of the vertical space in this greenhouse. And then this was, um, paper shavings.com, which doesn’t exist anymore, but they were, um, they were making paper shavings I think for, for bedding or something. And so they had, you know, you can only recycle paper so long and the fibers get shorter each time and so finally you can’t utilize them to make more paper. And so anyway, they were feeding these short paper fibers to worms. So I just wanted to give an example of worm beds that other worm beds you could have. Um, this was being used at several schools in Sonoma County, California.

And so I profiled some of these schools in my book and I just wanted to show you the pictures that they were taking. Um, you know, those are the pipes that you would use for underground and they cut them and then they made wooden lids. And then, um, since raccoons could lift up the wood and lives, then they put these covers over the lids, but they were taking all of the cafeteria waste and feeding them to worms. I’m ECO city farms, which works with ils are. And so Benny Erez has designed these continuous flow, warren batts that work really well. And so he has these in urban farm settings and in, um, different community settings and schools in the Maryland, DC area. And then this is up and Ontario, these are insulated worm barns bins, and you know, in Ontario, I mean they probably have six feet of snow right now, right.

But they were doing vermicomposting outdoors. I’m speaking of snow, so works. Speaking of snow. So this is in Colorado. So they made a worm bed that uses solar to help heat it up. This is in somebody’s basement. So these are worm farmers who sell worms and Vermont compost at farmer’s markets and other locations. But they came up with these taking 55 gallon drums and turning them into worm beds. So that’s a cool thing. And then this is, um, you can buy purchase designs for this. So these are called Oscar beds bins. This is in the basement of a restaurant in Boise, Idaho that I profiled. And so they have a continuous flow system in the basement of the restaurant and these are trenches on a hog farm. And so, um, the trenches are 21 inches deep. So the dark trenches that you see, that’s where I’m hog manure is applied to the worm bed and then the lighter, um, what you see is light.

That’s where the, um, a tractor can drive up and down and straddled the worm bed and apply the hog manure. So, um, so flow through raised bed systems. A lot of people want them and use them. So lower left is, that’s in my worm barn. It’s a modular system that’s eight feet by five feet. And so, um, I’ll show you what the bottom of it looks like. So that’s the actual worm bed there. It’s two inches by four inches in this great. And then what you’re seeing here with a cable is where you could see at the end here, there’s a motor and the other end has motor too. And so when it’s time to harvest the berm, compost posts you, you activate the motor and it will pull the breaker bar across the bottom and about an inch of compost will be shaved off and ended up on the floor.

So I’m so harvesting, like I said, the worms are in the top four inches of the worm beds, so you can get them out with a pitchfork and set it on, set the worms on a new bed, and then use a shovel to remove from a compost from the bed. So that’s what I do with my, um, with the macro bins in my worm barn. The other is sideways separation. Remember I showed you the, um, you know, the worm bed in Chile and so you can see he’s lifting up the, um, the cover for one section of this worm bin. So you feed that, that section for a certain amount of time and asset fills up. Then you start feeding the section next to it in the worms. Will Moe move over into that section so they kind of do self harvesting so you can see the worms just keep moving to the next section.

And then you’ll just be harvesting the castings left behind from the section you’re not feeding. So, um, and then trommel screens, a lot of people use those. So that’s another option, um, markets for vermicompost. So you can, if you want to get into selling it, you could sell it to home improvement centers and nurseries, landscapers like it, greenhouses, garden supply, grocery chains, flower shops, discount stores, golf courses, vineyards, it’s used on athletic turf fields. And um, and also farmers will use Vermont compost. So, um, it’s important to give products tested. So, um, there are certified labs. I talk about this in the book and I give you links to how to access these certified labs throughout the United States. Um, and so check out your State Agriculture Department, so it will be, you know, um, department of Agriculture. So like for North Carolina as NCDA. Okay. If you’re in Missouri, it’s Missouri, um, DA.

But anyhow, they’ll have, they’ll talk about how detest compost and compost and then the US Composting Council. They have a list of labs as well. And I encourage people, if you’re selling compost, not compost that you get, you become a member of their STA program, clf testing assurance. Um, you can’t register vermicompost for that yet, but I wanted to make you aware of it and then testing your product. I’m plants can also, um, then you’ll see, you know, if the plants are responding well. So, um, and then Brenda had mentioned that for the past 20 years I’ve held an annual vermaculture conference. Here’s the link to it, the right now, the link contains information from my last conference that was held in November, but you’ll be able to see the speakers and topics and get a feel for it. But I mean it’s just a great way for people to come together and share information about vermicomposting on a mid to large scale. So there we unwrapping it up just a little bit after three, but there you go.

Brenda Platt:

Thank you Rhonda. That was terrific. So we have a lot of questions that have come in and before we get to that question is we have a few, uh, closing polls we want to do before people a hang up because I know not everybody can stay to the very end. So we will, um, take control back from you. And, um, one thing I want to say since you were just talking about your conference, which is amazing and terrific, is that we, uh, ils are, is also holding a national cultivating community composting forums and our next one is coming up in New York City, which is a hotbed of community composting, including some examples of worm composting on a community scale. So, um, uh, if you’re interested in attending that conference or getting learn more, here’s the link to learn more and let us know if you’re interested by, you don’t have to write down that, that a long google form a link, but you can go on the website and get to it. So we hope that you’re interested in joining us folks. And so, uh, just do a few, can you type in your questions in the go to Webinar control panel and we’ll get to as many as we can and the next 20 minutes. But let’s just do a few closing polls. Um, and we did add one on whether people have read your report, uh, uh, Rhonda. So, um, first one here is now that you’ve heard this Webinar, how I know a lot of you have already started vermicomposting, but learn more about or reach out to others.

So, um, and again, support vermicomposting means like funding, making it easier for policies, especially if you’re with local government and you can select one or more of the, of these options. We have almost 70 percent of you voted some more votes coming in. All right, let’s show the results. Alright, so learn more. Three quarters support more than half. Thank you. Okay, next question. As an introduction to medium and large scale vermicomposting options, let us know if this Webinar had just the right amount of information. Too much. Not Enough. We’re clearly not too much information, Rhonda. So let’s share the results. Most people thought it had the right amount, but people looks like there’s at least one third that want more, always more with those people. Then the next question we just added at your prompt at the beginning, how many of you have read a Rhonda, his book? I will just tell you that it is almost 250 pages and it’s under $30. So, um, it looks like a only four percent have read it. 90 six percent. No. So for those of you wanted more information, uh, order the book and on the next slide we’ll just put up, but we have one more polling question. It’s not the next slide. We just like to hear how you heard about the Webinar. So if you could just let us know which of these have you heard about the webinar through that would help us out. So the guest speaker out, which is through Rhonda, if you heard about it through her network. Okay, let’s show the results.

Okay. Mostly through email. That’s what you usually find out. I’d be curious for the other to know more about that at some point. If any of you are inclined, let us know because that was actually a higher percentage than normal by the way. This webinar had more people signed up than any other Webinar Isr has ever hosted. So thank you. Um, so, uh, the closing flight here that we have while we’re gonna take questions. I’m go one more Virginia to the last one. I’m just about the book. I put some of the links on the slide, Virginia and I on how you can order the report. You can order it directly through the publisher, Chelsea Green publishing, or we encourage you to do it through indie bound books, um, um, which is here ww inbound.org and that will link you to your local independent bookstores. Of course the book is available on big box stores and other big corporations, but since we have a, an Amazon campaign here at Ilsr, we really encourage you to support your local bookstore, so ordered through there or directly from the publisher.

Okay. So, um, let’s now move into questions and, um, one question I’ll just answer, I think I did it through the chat window, but, uh, somebody asked if we’ll be getting copies of the powerpoint slides. We post our webinars with the recording and the slides on our website, so you’ll be able to link to that, but we will not be sending out a pdf of the actual presentation. Um, and some of these, Rhonda, you may have addressed somewhat in your remarks already because they came in while you were talking, but I think it would be worth it just to talk a little bit more. So there’s a question about is it possible to Vermont compost outdoors during the cold winter, such as in Massachusetts and what composting setup would be the best strategy to keep the worms worm and thriving outdoors during the winter.

Rhonda Sherman:

Okay. Yes, you could do it. Um, okay. So if I were going to process a large amount of feedstock or depend on my income being a Vermont composting, I would make sure that I had the conditions to make the bed itself the between 60 and 80 degrees. Okay. So yes, it can be done outside, but the worms are going to slow down. The colder it gets. So it depends on what you can do to help keep those worms worm. And so I, you know, in, for any of these things, I’d be happy to talk with you. Anybody wants to email me, we can discuss this further, but, and it is in the book and I do have free resources on my website so you might find the answers there too. But yes, it’s possible to do that. And I noticed that somebody asked if this book, The Worm Farmers Handbook, if it’s different from Vermiculture Technology and it’s a lot different.

So Vermiculture Technology was a, it’s a 600 page book that I co edited, so I’m, you know, listed as one of the Co editors on the, um, on the front of book and this book costs over a $100 and it’s the first book on First Scientific Book and vermicomposting. So it’s got a terrific amount of information from 13 different countries, 35 chapters. Um, so, but you know, it’s reports by scientists and you know, and others. But um, so it’s scientifically how to do, you know, I don’t know how to say it is, it’s got a lot of great information. But the worm farmers handbook that I put together, I wanted this to be, it’s in simple language that everybody could understand and whether you want to do it on a mid scale or a large scale and whether you want to make a profit or if you just want to handle some kind of organic waste. And I insisted to the publisher that it’d be a low price so that it’s accessible to people because those 600 page book is very expensive. So. So they are different books.

Brenda Platt:

Good. Um, we have a number of questions about along the lines of feedstocks and I’m going to ask them kind of together, um, uh, there was one about Ken dog waste be accomplished with worms and another one about special considerations for composting with biosolids. So why don’t you take those two together because they might deal with pathogen issues. Yeah. Okay. So with both of those types of feedstocks, they, they do contain pathogens. And so, um, you, you just said to be very careful in managing them. So the answer is yes, you can. Burma, my compost dog manure and I’m human, new human, newer. But it just has to be on a very careful basis, you know, where you’re, you’re just making sure that your not getting exposed to the pathogens and you certainly wouldn’t want to sell it, um, because it could still contain pathogens. Now there are studies that show that worms as they eat the feed stock containing pathogens that what comes out the other end has very low levels of pathogens. So that’s really good news. But you know, again, you just have to be careful. Okay. Um, along the same lines, just feedstocks. Can Large scale systems take meat and cooked food, especially if this is pre composted.

Rhonda Sherman:

Oh yeah. If it’s pre composted, then then you know, it’s just looking like compost. So. So that’s fine. Yes. You can definitely feed, feed any type of compost to the worms.

Brenda Platt:

Okay. What do you know about composting spent mushroom substrate?

Rhonda Sherman:

People are doing it now. I know somebody here in North Carolina who’s doing it. So, so that is a, that’s another feed stock. I didn’t mention that, but it can be vermicomposted.

Brenda Platt:

Okay. There’s a couple of questions on can the worms be invasive? If they escape, have you ever had any push back from local environmentalist about red wigglers being invasive species?

Rhonda Sherman:

People do ask me about it. And um, so the good news is that he offended a, is not invasive. It will not harm the environment. Okay. Now they, they originated in Europe. They landed in North America when the first Europeans planted. Okay. So they’ve been here for hundreds of years and they don’t, they won’t live through winter, so they’re not gonna, they’re not gonna, they don’t cause problems there. They’re very small and they’re sensitive to temperatures. And so, um, right before winter they, um, they made because they know they’re not going to survive the winter and they want their offspring to be able to, to survive. So in Wisconsin, Minnesota, I’m in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, there are reports of invasive earthworms that are harming the forest floor. Um, and I sent a every earthworm scientist who has studied this, confirms that I sent a feather. Fetida is not one of those worms. Okay. It’s not harming the environment. So, and that’s a big reason why I only focused on Isoniazid Fetida in my book because I used to tell people that there are seven earthworm species that have been identified that are suitable for Burma composting, but two or three on the list have been identified as being harmful to the environment. So I don’t mention them anymore, I just, I tell people don’t use them, but I sent any other dose. Fine.

Brenda Platt:

Okay. So a couple of questions on asking you about some methods to create a homogeneous feedstock on a large scale and I’m realistic and economically viable methods to break down large pieces of food into manageable size for worms to feed on.

Rhonda Sherman:

Okay. So, so you just chop it up. Okay. You can chop up food by hand or you know, you with many different things, you know, I mean, you know, put it in a blender, put it in some type of blender or, or a mix, you know, a big industrial chopper, mixer. Um, you can use a shovel to chop it up. So, you know, there are all kinds of ways because with composting you need smaller particles too. So. So it’s really important for composting and vermicomposting to have small pieces and that’s why you can get a, an automated chopper grinder or do it by hand when I visit developing countries and teach, there are a lot of people walk around with machetes and so, you know, and they’re very quick. It just chopping things up very quickly with machetes. So, you know, there are many ways to develop small particle sizes.

Brenda Platt:

There was a few questions on testing. So when doing lab testing of cast, what specifically are you testing for E. coli?

Rhonda Sherman:

Oh No, no, that’s an extra test. So, um, with testing you’re testing the nutrient levels. So it will say, you know, what the NPK and other macro in some micro nutrients are in the Vermont compost, it’ll also tell you the carbon to nitrogen ratio, which is very important that it’ll tell you the Ph, the moisture level, different things like that. So that’s where you can tell, it can be very revealing what you know, what’s good about your Vermont compost and what could be bad about it. And so I do have a special section in the book where I talk about that and I give what parameters you should be looking for, you know, what are the good parameters for a good from a compost. But afternoons for testing pathogens, that’s a many labs won’t do that many state labs or they might charge extra. They always charge extra for that.

Brenda Platt:

So here’s, here’s another question related to testing somebody who tests there from a compost and they have good bacteria, protozoa and Nema toad levels, but low fungal numbers. How do I get a more Fungal Vermont compost? Are there specific feedstocks I should use?

Rhonda Sherman:

Um, I, I don’t really deal with that. Um, I feel like there’s, there’s a lot of emphasis on, on micro organism levels in compost and compost. And um, I think, you know, people are sending in samples that you’re getting a snapshot in time. So say you live on the east coast and you’re sending it to the west coast and you know, a week later or so they’re analyzing it. In the meantime, you could be storing your Vermont compost incorrectly and your whole population could have crashed.

Brenda Platt:

Yeah, there’s a few questions on paper only for my cast about does it diminish in value and somebody else who’s heard not to use shredded office paper due to possible dioxins or other poisonous bleaching. True. And they would go on to say, and I assume, want to add thermophilic compost once it’s pretty close to ambient temperature?

Rhonda Sherman:

Oh, okay. All right. Those are two different questions. Yeah, I was gonna say I’ll address the paper and then I wasn’t, you were saying about the composting, but um, so paper, uh, things have changed just like inks used to be contained heavy metals and now they’re made out of vegetables and legumes and so inks generally are pretty safe in paper instead of having dioxins, they’re using different ways to make the paper so that, um, they’re using, um, you know, like oxygen and other things to bleach it unlike what they used to do. So, so yeah, you don’t have to worry about paper being fed to earthworms. And um, as far as the quality, um, so Ohio State University, they no longer have a Vermont composting program. Okay. But they used to study the effects of Vermont compost on plants and they had four different types of Vermont compost.

And so one type was produced from food waste, one was produced from dairy manure, one was produced from a hog manure and the other was produced from cardboard. And so, um, all of the Vermont compost’s were very good and they had different effects on plants. So some plants preferred the paper for Macom Post, um, especially because it, the cardboard had glue no glue in it glue residues, so that was good nitrogen for the worms. So, but worms are used to remediate contaminated soils. And so, you know, that’s why I’m things that are contaminated. If you feed them to earthworms, then they generally what’s coming out the other end is very low in that contaminant, whether it be heavy metals are pathogens.

Brenda Platt:

Okay. We have a lot of questions that we’re not going to be able to get to. Uh, Rhonda, if you do short answers on these weekend. So what qualifies quantifies as mid or large scale that is amount of feedstock processed or an army camp, cast output, square footage of processing space.

Rhonda Sherman:

Oh, good question. So, so there is no, uh, you know, formal definition of those things because there is no trade association for vermicomposting. So I just came up with it on my own and so, you know, it’s just small scale. If you’re doing just your kitchen waste and, and just using it, you know it on site then that small scale and then midscale might be if you have a small farm or community garden or that type of thing, then that’s more of a midscale and then large scale would just be really super big, you know, where you’re dealing with really huge volumes. For example, I talk about in the book about in Mexico, a dentist in Mexico has over 70 vermicomposting operations or a combination of composting and vermicomposting and their smallest one is larger than pretty much anything we have in the United States. So, you know, there’s no limit, but you can tell, you know, if it’s a really large operation. Um, so I hope that answered it.

Brenda Platt:

Yep. How much time would you allow for eggs to hatch?

Rhonda Sherman:

Well, it depends on the environmental conditions, so the eggs will hatch when it’s appropriate for them to hatch. Okay. It’s usually, I mean at a minimum it would be three or four weeks after the, the eggs are created, but if the conditions are too cold or too dry or too hot, then the cocoon, the, the worms will stay in that cocoon for months. They’ll stay for a very long time. If the condition, if the environmental conditions are not correct for them.

Brenda Platt:

Great. This might be just a yes or no answer. Do can worms consume digestate from anaerobic digesters? I’d say no. Okay. Um, all right. Uh, can you, what about central and south Florida too humid, not enough organic matter.

Rhonda Sherman:

What kind of a question is that not enough organic matter? The answer is yes, you can do it. Livestock, you know, I’m sure there’s plenty of organic matter there and it’s humid and humidity is important. So for um, humidity does affect temperature. So a worm farmer in northern California once told me that 95 degrees Fahrenheit was the sweet spot for his earthworms and my jaw dropped because at 95 percent, I’m sorry, 95 degrees here in North Carolina with our typical 95 percent humidity, it’s killed my worms. So humidity is a huge factor.

Brenda Platt:

I’m like, I’m going to squeeze in one last question at the risk of going over time, but I thought this was an important one. So, uh, somebody asked, how can I convince management to invest in starting a worm composting venture? And I’d like you to just expand on that a Vonda to what is the biggest obstacle to really doing more of this kind of vermicomposting at farms, hospital community gardens, schools, you know, all those places you mentioned. What do, what do we need to do to, um, at all levels to be able to encourage more of this?

Rhonda Sherman:

Well, it’s really important that people realize that it’s a shallow, horizontal process. So I do have municipal people call me and say, Hey, I heard your webinar and I really want to. I think our city is right for doing vermicomposting and I often end up talking them out of it and I talked them into doing thermophilic composting instead and I’m giving a, um, a half day workshop on Monday in Glendale, Arizona this coming Monday. And so I’ll be talking about how to, how composters people make thermophilic composting can boost their, their product by feeding it to worms and so Vermont composting and also making vermin compost tea from it. So, um, yeah, so I’d say it’s just really important to understand what you’re getting into and be able to. So there are some limitations on large volumes. Doesn’t have to be. I mean there used to be a very large scale operation in upstate New York where I used to kid them that they’re covered with snow. I’m three feet of snow nine months of the year, you know, but they had a very successful from a composting operation. So, you know, it just, it’s a matter of getting the right environmental conditions to keep the worms alive and help them to thrive. And it’s important for people to understand that.

Brenda Platt:

Yeah. And I’ll just add, um, you know, beyond kind of how you answered this, Rhonda, that I think to expand from a composting at this kind of decentralized distributed onsite scale, we need grants, need training, we need the networking, you know, the conference that Rhonda is providing. We need exemptions from permitting and we need local government to understand that this is a viable option that could be in every school, you know, under the right circumstances. Um, and so we do need institutional support at state and local levels to, to move this and expand it, but look at all the benefits that Rhonda has articulated. So I really, at this point, probably need to end the Webinar. Thank you for all your excellent questions. Thank you for staying on to the end. Thank you, Rhonda. Thank you to my colleague, Virginia for all her support and, uh, we will let everybody know when it’s posted on our website with a recorded link. So thank you all for joining us. And that concludes our webinar today. Have a good week everybody. Thank you.

This webinar is one in a series we offer to share working models and tips for replication. View our webinar resources here.

To learn more about ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative, click here.


Rhonda Sherman 

North Carolina State University
Extension Specialist, Department of Horticultural Science
Raleigh, N.C.

Rhonda Sherman is a leading authority on vermicomposting and organizes the world’s only annual conference on large‐scale commercial vermicomposting (her 19th Vermiculture Conference took place November 10-11, 2018). Rhonda is the founder and director of a two‐acre Compost Learning Lab (CL2) at NC State’s 1,500-acre Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory. The CL2 has a 40‐ft by 30‐ft Worm Barn, an equipment shed, and a covered teaching shelter. There are 26 types of composting and vermicomposting bins and areas for hands‐on training activities. She has taught composting and vermicomposting in Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, and throughout the United States. She has authored over 65 publications on vermicomposting, composting, recycling and waste reduction. Her new book is The Worm Farmer’s Handbook: Mid- to Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions. Read more here.


 

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Virginia Streeter
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Virginia Streeter

Virginia Streeter is a Research Associate for the Composting for Community Project.