Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Worm Bin at 2+ Months: How To Kill Most of Your Worms

This is the second post in a series about life with a worm bin.

Read the first post, How To Set Up a Worm Bin, here.

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Worm bin set up in kitchen

This article could have the alternate title of How to Screw Your Karma Approximately 3,000 Times.

We assembled the worm bin in May, and they were doing great. So many new worms and lots of worm eggs. The booklet they came with said that after two months in ideal conditions that they multiply to around 3,000.

Only minor problems so far…

Problem #1: I think the cup of compost we brought in from our outdoor composter had fly eggs in it. Two days after setting up the worm bin, we noticed several slow flies buzzing around the house. So slow that I could catch them in mid-air. We’d kill them, and the next day there would be four or five more. This went on for about a week.

Problem #2: And this is a common problem, my friend Joy assures me: After about a month, the worms had eaten through the soggy newspaper lining the bottom of their tray and were falling through into the liquid collection tray. Every week or so I’d have to get a big spoon and scoop them up and dump them back in the processing tray. Apparently when you add a new collection tray, they begin migrating upward and stop falling through (as much).

Not many problems at all!

Near the end of June it was time to add a new processing tray. I followed pretty much the same procedure as with the first tray. Only I didn’t have to lay the bottom layer of newspaper down because I wanted the worms to migrate upward.

About two weeks later I prepared the worms for our long trip to Maine by giving them lots of food. Many of them had moved into the top tray and were munching happily. And then we drove to Maine.

While we were in Maine, the day we left, actually, until the very day we returned (all 9 days), temperatures outside reached 98 degrees or above with no rain and almost no clouds at all.

Our kitchen is uninsulated. And on the second floor.

The kitchen roof is almost flat and faces southwest. And there’s a wall of windows facing west in the sunporch attached to that kitchen.

We arrived home on July 8 at 12:30am to 78 degrees outside and 98 degrees inside our kitchen. We had shut and locked every window before we left, so there was no ventilation for that heat to escape.

WARNING: If you can’t handle the death of innocent creatures, here’s a recipe for Harvest Soup. It’s much easier to digest than what happens next.

So as we’re sweating, frantically opening windows and strategically placing fans on barely working legs fresh from an 18-hours-in-one-day road trip, all while trying to keep two little kids as asleep as possible, I saw something that made me sick. Little black lines radiating out from the worm bin under the kitchen table.

I didn’t say a word, but kept at the task of cooling the house so the incredibly upset kids would go back to sleep. And at 2:30am, when my head finally hit the pillow, I shoved those lines as far out of my mind as I could.

The next morning, I went in for the inspection. And I found nothing alive. Those squiggly lines were worms that were trying to escape and ended up baked onto our kitchen floor.

The only time worms will try to leave the bin (they don’t like light, after all) is if the bin becomes uninhabitable. I’m guessing a steady temperature of 100 degrees meant uninhabitable.

I took the black bin to the backyard and left it by the compost bin, lid on, for two days. It was hot, sunny, and around 86-89 degrees. I just couldn’t face cleaning it out. I felt so horrible, so guilty, for not thinking to take the worm bin to the basement before we left town. I called Joy, my personal worm bin guru who taught me everything I needed to know when I was deciding whether or not to take the plunge, and cried in her ear. I moped. I made many sad faces and left the crispy worms stuck on the floor, a memorial to my once thriving community of eating and crapping worms. I made Jason a little crazy.

Finally, on the third day during nap time, I tackled the very smelly job of cleaning out the worm bin. Smelly because it was full of 3,000 or so decomposing worms. Cleaned it out while moping and feeling guilty, I’ll have you know.

And what do you know, what do you think I found? Right in the bottom tray, the first processing tray, right in the very middle of the tray was a group of live, wiggling worms in an area about the size of a baseball. They were all small worms, but they were packed pretty tightly together. My theory is that they had hatched fairly recently and their location in the middle of the bottom bin meant that they were the most well-insulated from the heat.

I celebrated! I called Jason, my mom, and I may have called Joy, but at the very least I emailed her. I smacked myself for leaving the worm bin out in the direct sun for another two days. And then I celebrated some more!

How To Set Up A Worm Bin

Worm bin vermicomposter in kitchen

The worm bin’s cozy home under the kitchen table.

Under our kitchen table in a black box live worms. Many, possibly thousands, of worms.

In April of this year, I ordered a vermicompost bin and worms from Gardens Alive, an online and mail order garden supply retailer. They offer coupons every so often for $25 off of $100 purchase or $50 off of $150 purchase that made the worms free, so once I made my decision, I waited for another coupon to come out. Three days later, there it was in my inbox.

So for less than $100, I was the proud owner of one vermicompost bin and 1,000 worms. The bin was delivered very quickly. I of course paid no attention the instructions telling me to set up the bin completely now, before my worms arrive. Because I was going camping with two young kids and in the middle of packing hell.

Worm bin and worms arrive in the mail

The bin, worms in their little box, and the directions.

Unfortunately, it was a warm weekend and when we arrived home on Monday afternoon in 92 degree heat, we found this box wedged between our storm and main doors.

Box containing worms

This is the box in which the worms were delivered.

Because it was a holiday weekend, that meant they had been there since Saturday–through two and a half very hot and humid days, and touching a metal and glass door. I was a little concerned they would all be dead. I quickly checked them and it looked like everybody was alive. Yay for thorough packaging!

Step #1: Lay the Foundation

The first thing I needed to do (after assembling the bin) was wet several pieces of newspaper and lay them on the bottom of the tray. This keeps the worms from falling through into the drain tray below.

There are no pictures of the wet newspaper step because Jason, despite his serious aversion to all things that slither and wiggle, ran to get the camera, change its batteries, etc. at about this time in order to document the process (thank you, Jason!)

Step #2: Go To Bed

Next came the bedding layer. I took a cup or so of compost from our outdoor composter and put that in a large bowl. To it I added half of a block of coir that was included with the instructions and several handfuls of shredded newspaper. Then I moved it all into a much larger bowl. And then I stirred and moistened it all slightly.

Worm bin set up

The silver bowl is so huge that we could easily bathe a six month-old in it. Go ahead, ask me how I know.

I then added this mix to the bin, spread out on top of the wet newspaper. It looked a little thin, so I shredded some more newspaper and mixed it in. the picture below shows me throwing it on, before the paper is mixed in.

Worm bin second layer

This is the bedding layer. Exciting, right?

Step #3: Keep It Dry

Then I layered dry, shredded newspaper on top of the bedding layer. I actually moistened this at some point, forgetting that I was supposed to leave it dry. Don’t do what I did.

Worm Bin shredded newspaper

Third layer of shredded newspaper, just barely moistened.

Step #4: Last Layer

Finally I prepared a fairly thick layer of wet newspaper  to lay on top of the shredded newspaper. This helps keep the light out, keeps the humidity up, and encourages the worms to remain in the bin. Not that they’ll try to escape except in extreme circumstances–they don’t like light, so they want to stay in the bin where it’s dark.

Last worm bin layer

Applying the final layer of wet newspaper on top of the bedding.

Step #5: Welcome Home

Finally, I was ready to add the worms. Inside the mailing box was lots of shredded paper packed tightly. Inside of that was a paper bag, slightly moist, and inside of that, this white bag.

Opening the worm bag

They’re in there!

I tried to dump them gently into their new home, hoping that most had survived the heat of the weekend.

Adding worms to the vermicomposter

I’m concentrating super hard.

I realized later that I should have added the worms on top of the bedding layer, then topped with the dry, shredded newspaper layer. Oh well. Again, don’t do what I did.

Adding worms to the worm bin

So exciting!

Jason moved pretty close to the big pile of 1,000 worms for the photo below. At this point, because they were stressed, they were massed together pretty tightly.

Red Wiggler vermicompost worms

Do they look happy to you?

Step #6: Settling In

Not pictured, for some reason. Add a handful of food to one corner of the bin below the bedding layer. Chop it as finely as possible, and even cook it a little to make vegetables softer and more palatable. Did I just say palatable in relation to worm food? Yup, I did.

Pop the lid on and put them somewhere a little dark and a little quiet.

Set up of worm bin

Putting the lid on our new pets.

We completed this project after the kids went to bed, so in the morning, I introduced J and P to their new pets. They both are enjoying the worms.

Our worm bin lives under our kitchen table. In another post, I’ll post a longer update on how the worms are doing, and mostly it’s positive. I can’t forget about them since I see them every day, and they seem to be pretty comfortable most of the time.

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If you compost, do you have your composter outside, inside, or both? 

How to: Buy on Craigslist

To many of you, Craigslist is old hat. But you’d be surprised how many questions I receive about Craigslist. This post isn’t just how to buy an item on Craigslist, but how to be a responsible buyer.

A little background: I don’t remember when exactly I started buying and selling things on Craigslist, but I can tell you that almost every month we sell a few things that we just don’t need any more. In July, we sold a jogging stroller, a double stroller, a baby carrier, and a rototiller, making $330 on stuff we no longer use. Can you tell we cleaned out the garage? When there’s something we need–a lamp breaks, a toy for the kids I’ve had my eye on, less wobbly dining chairs that won’t fall over on our children–the first place we look is Craigslist.

Little Tykes Car Craigslist

Things bought on Craigslist: a Little Tykes car modeled by P on her first birthday, exactly one year ago.

In fact, we’re starting to look for a replacement vehicle for The Blue Car (J named the cars. We also have The Green Car, which will be driven into the ground) and it’s the first place we went when wanting to see what the models we’re considering cost.

Tip #1: Search Frequently.

A couple of months ago I decided I’d like to buy a juicer. I knew I’d use it often and likely travel with it, so I wanted something very sturdy with a minimum number of parts to break. Once I identified the ideal juicer, I searched Craigslist every evening before I shut down the computer. On the Craigslist homepage for my city, I typed in “Breville” on one search and “Juicer” on another. I was looking for the Breville Juice Fountain Elite, specifically, and also wanted to see all juicers listed.

 

Stroller on Craigslist

Wonderful folding stroller we keep in the car, also from Craigslist. This picture cracks me up.

Tip #2: Traveling soon? Search at (or near) your destination!

I found the exact juicer I was looking for about a 45 minute drive from where I live, but it was missing one (replaceable) part and had been well used. They wanted $270 for it. I know that it used to retail for $399, but the price has dropped to $299 on a brand new juicer, so this was definitely not a good deal.

When I was in West Virginia recently, I searched Craigslist and found exactly what I was looking for brand new, in the box. Never used. Not once. But the asking price was $250.

And when we were traveling to my in-laws house two months ago, we found the exact kid’s bike trailer we’d been looking for about two hours from (and on the way to) their house. It was much less expensive than they run used here, and nicer than any I’d seen listed near Pittsburgh. And it meant that we could use it as a double stroller AND take the kids on bike rides while visiting. We drove all night, picked it up at about 8:30am, played at a playground, ate breakfast, and continued on our way.

 

Stove from Craigslist

Our black and stainless gas stove? Yep, that’s from Craigslist, too. It’s a little covered in this picture, as I was prepping for a bulk cooking session.

Tip #3: ALWAYS Negotiate. Kindly, of course. And by email, not in person. 

This doesn’t come naturally to me and can sometimes feel very awkward, but the more I do it, the more comfortable it becomes.

Unless you arrive to find the item is in much worse shape than the pictures showed, conclude your negotiations BEFORE you show up to buy. Ask any questions you have via email, ask for extra photos, serial numbers, anything you need before you offer a price. In the email when I ask my questions, I’ll often ask if the price is negotiable or offer an amount then if I know I have a set amount to spend.

And negotiate a little lower than you would normally if it’s been listed for over a month. I had set aside $150 to buy a juicer. I wasn’t going to pay any more for a kitchen appliance that is definitely not a need. This juicer had been listed back on June 6 and it was mid-July. So I emailed, simply stating that my budget was exactly $150 to spend on a juicer. He counter offered, so I let him know that I honestly was giving him the maximum I could afford to spend, and that I’d be paying in cash and was available at any time over the next three days. And he accepted $150!

Tip #4: Be Prompt

Not just showing up to pick up your item when you say you will, but also checking your email when you are in the middle of a negotiation or still hashing out logistics. Now is not the time to decide you are going to have a media-free day!

Tip #5: Offer a phone number, and ask for one in return.

Although the GoogleMaps directions may look straightforward, I have been lost more times than I care to count. And a couple of times I’ve actually been *gasp* running early. Once I was running late and forgot to call (actually, I think I left their phone number at home), and the seller was able to call me. It’s good to have a phone number in cases like these. It also provides both you and your buyer with a little peace of mind that neither of you have anything to hide, and that’s helpful when you need to trust someone you’ve never met.

Tip #6: Bring exactly the agreed-upon amount. In cash.

We pay in cash, exclusively. I don’t accept checks, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to try to pay with one. I’ve not bought anything like a car from Craigslist, but I have bought my high-efficiency washer and dryer, Jason bought a very nice commuting bike, and there have been other large purchases we’ve made. And we’ve paid for those large purchases in cash.

Remember that your bank card usually has a maximum daily withdrawal amount. Jason and I typically subvert this by withdrawing using both of our cards, because we can never seem to make it to the bank before it closes.

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I generally find people selling things on Craigslist to be kind, honest, and fair. And I get to buy something I need or want at a steep discount without stepping into a big box store. Win!

Do you have any additional tips that I’ve left out? What has been your experience as a buyer on Craigslist? Mostly good or mostly sub-par?