Posts Tagged ‘compost’

Winter’s Harvest

Last fall’s leaves have stewed all winter. They didn’t get “hot” this year. I don’t know why. Maybe the pile got too wet. It steamed for the first week and then cooled — no matter how much I turned it. Still it shrank in size and I can only assume composted to some degree.

When I harvested it I was surprised the discover HUGE worms throughout. There were plenty of the regular red worms, but also these enormous paler worms with flattened spatula tails. Wikipedia has an excellent article of earthworms in general. The bigger ones I found are Lumbricus terrestris. The wetter cooler compost may have been more attractive to them.

Here’s my lousy picture (I didn’t want to touch it and it was squirming rapidly into the soil.)

These worms are not well suited to an indoors compost bin. They burrow deep in the earth and it’s believed they surface to mate when it rains — and it’s been raining.

There was a recent article about the Giant Palouse worm in eastern Washington and Idaho. For a minute there, I thought I had one of my own!


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The Miracle of Leaves

Okay, maybe worms are something only a mother can love. But we all love leaves. They make AWESOME compost — especially when they’re shredded first. For one thing shredding reduces the volume some 12 – 20 fold.

When finished, this compost pile measured 4’x4’x3′ — representing leaves from six trees. The original volume was that of a large  SUV. (It’s only 2/3 full at the time of this photo.)

The above photo was taken after the first day’s work. When I went to add another batch a few days later … this pile was already steaming! It’s important to give compost piles a lot of air. When I forked through this pile steam came up. I could feel the heat on my hand. It’s MAGIC!!!

If shredded leaf compost is used with passion, the garden becomes a place of deep and powerful emotions.

I couldn’t agree more. It just feels so right to make use of this bounty from nature to further nourish the health of my garden.

First,  I collected leaves (and a neighbor’s) for several weeks and piled them on a large tarp in the garage. We were having drippy weather and I wanted to keep the leaves relatively dry. That pile was about the size of a car and 3 feet high (and that was only about half the leaves used … and there are still LOTS more leaves out there).


I bought the shredder off of Craig’s List last year for $200. It’s been a workhorse. It handled wet leaves just fine.

I just barely had the strength to start the darn motor. The other problem is that the shredded leaves are blasted out of the shoot. I don’t use a bag. I just lay out tarps to catch most of the leaves. Eventually they pile up on each other. I drag the tarps to the compost pile and rake up the rest. It’s definitely messy.

But oh, that compost is so sweet! I learned in my Master Gardening class that leaves have the 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio that’s optimal for composting. A hot pile in 2 days is proof enough for me!

*Note: yes, I’d love to have a homemade wood bin. I’m a little chicken when it comes to carpentry. In the mean time,  I’m getting by with plastic webbing (?) and stakes. I cover it with a tarp and weigh it down with hunks of wood. On the up side, it’s portable.

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An email conversation prompted me to make this post. It turns out keeping a thriving worm bin is a bit tricky. I’m learning as I go. This is only what I know so far.

I got my setup from BWCN Farms (I have no idea what the initials stand for). My first batch of African night crawlers died in a freeze last October. I bought a new batch of worms — this time red wigglers — this April. John at BWCN was very patient with my hand-wringing and insecurity.

Here’s how I start a new tray. First off, I mix equal parts (1 scant shovel full each) of dirt and leaf compost. To this I add shredded newspaper and a crumbled egg carton (or other cardboard source). I put the paper goods in a gallon bin and add about a pint of water and slosh it around to make sure the paper soaks up the water.

I stir it all up in the wheel barrel. I add water if it’s needed.

I keep on pulling the newspaper apart and mushing it up with the leaf/dirt mix. I need to provide a source of roughage (sand or egg shells) in the mix. The worms ingest this and use it to grind up what they eat.

I save my egg shells in a custard cup until it’s full.

When I have enough I pulverize the shells on a breadboard using the bottom of the cup to grind them up. Some of these pieces are too big, but most will do.

Since I’m adding a new tray to an existing setup I need to remove the top layers of solid newsprint so the worms can crawl between the old bin and the new one that will go on top. (These bins have mesh bottoms to allow for drainage and worm transit.) I’ll put the solid newspaper back on top of the new ‘top’ tray. This keeps flies out.


Here’s a look at happy worms in their ‘old’ tray (only 1 month old). Bits of the green can be seen where food was placed. It’s a good sign that worms are in the green stuff. I just sit the new tray right on top of this.


I only put in about a pint of chopped veggies about every 5 days or so. Usually I freeze the veggies overnight to help break down their cell structure. My worms just aren’t big eaters. Either that or they’re busy “eating” the newspaper and cardboard.

I was told that the most common mistake folks make is putting too much food in the bins. So I check to see that they’ve eaten what I gave them previously before I add more food. Clearly most of my kitchen scraps get composted outdoors.

My worm bin has never smelled and if the top tray is properly covered with solid wet newspaper and the bin lid it won’t get flies either. Last summer when the temps were in the high 90’s I actually brought the worm bin indoors.

I don’t have a picture, but finished worm casings have an unmistakable “coffee grounds” texture. (You can already detect that texture developing in the last photo.) Now that my worms have multiplied, I harvest the worm casings about every 3 – 4 months. It’s in constant flux as the population and seasons change.

So why do this at all? Good question! I guess mostly it’s very fast. The worm casings can be put directly into potting soil (whereas compost has to cure first). I guess another reason is the worms themselves. If you need to add some “biological action” to your soil these guys will do it.

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