Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

House Worms

Composting with worms is both fun and rewarding.  Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be outside in the heat of Central Texas, you can keep your worms in the house.

Done correctly, worm composting is odorless, insect-free, and a great way to compost your kitchen’s vegetable scraps.  Your reward is years of fun, worms for your friends, and most importantly, rich worm castings to add to your plants.

The worms used for home composting are Red Wigglers.  These are a smaller variety than the earthworms in your yard and are better suited for living in shallow soil.  If you can’t find worms locally, you can always mail order them.  I got mine from

There are several great resources for bin plans made from a variety of materials. I opted to make mine out of three 10-gallon heavy-duty, lidded plastic totes.  I chose this size because it will hold about 2,000 worms and it’s not too heavy for me to pick up when filled.  You can use smaller or larger bins depending on your situation.

The bottom bin is to catch excess moisture called “chelate”.  This is the moisture that drips down from the worm bedding and can be used as compost tea.

The next two bins are to hold the worms.  The first sits right on top of the bottom bin.  The third bin isn’t used until your original bin fills and will be used to start a new colony.

Chelate aeration holes
Start by drilling ¼” holes in the first bin about 2 ½” to 4” apart and 2 ½” from the bottom.  These holes are to provide aeration for the chelate and keeps away odor.  You may never generate excess moisture, but if you do, you can drain it out and use it directly on your plants.  It should smell very earthy.  If it stinks like rotting garbage, throw it away because that means that you have bacteria instead of healthy microbes.  Rinse out the bottom bin before placing your second worm bin back on top.

Drill holes bottom of 2nd bin
The second bin will be your first home for the worms.  Using a ¼” bit, drill holes on the bottom about 2 ½” apart to allow excess moisture to escape.  Drill another line of holes at the very top of the bin along each side.  These holes are important for aeration.  Repeat this pattern on the third bin.

Bin 1 and 2 with holes.
Place shredded paper into one of the bins with holes on the bottom.  Moisten with water then add your worms.
Moisten the paper

Add worms.
Top them with vegetable matter and more shredded newspaper.  Now stack this bin on the first one you made and put on the lid.  Done!
Add scraps and more paper to top it off.

Once this bin get’s about 6” of finished castings and compost, you’ll want to move your worms to a new container.  Add shredded paper and vegetable scraps to the third bin that you made.  Stack this bin on top of the other two.
Worm bin with all 3 stacks.
The worms will migrate to the third bin on their own in search of the fresh food, thus eliminating the need to screen or dig around to move them manually.

Here is what I have learned to be a successful worm farmer.
1. Place the bin in a cool area away from sunlight.  Under the sink or against an interior wall are examples.  I have mine in the dining room against the wall.
2. Refrain from adding new scraps until they have consumed the previous meal.  Excess feeding will cause the vegetable scraps to rot and smell.
3. Only use raw vegetable scraps.  Do not add oils, meat or dairy.  Try not to add too many citrus peels as the acid makes it hard for the worms to digest and could cause a harmful build-up.  I only add them occasionally and only if all other citrus has been digested.  I also don’t add eggshells because they also don’t break down fast enough.
4. When adding scraps, cover them with newspaper to prevent odors and fruit fly development.  If you find that you still get fruit flies, freeze your vegetable and fruit scraps to kill the fly eggs.  No need to thaw it before adding to your bin.  We eat a lot of fruit and I got so frustrated the first time I raised worms in the house I evicted them to my outside compost bin.  Freezing the peels restored harmony.
5. Worms usually only live for a year but lay eggs to replace themselves.  You can keep a worm bin going for years and rear generations of progeny.  Just think of it, your own worm dynasty!

I use the castings directly on my vegetable beds, container plants, and roses.  It’s great stuff and quite the conversation piece.  You will give a whole new meaning to “I have worms.”  Happy vermicomposting!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fish Recovery Shock Treatment

This is the second part of my post on the Calapooia river restoration and a visit to Thompson's Mills state historic site. 

The mill was built in 1858 and in order to power it, water was diverted from the original course of the Calapooia river via a series of dams and ditches to create a mill race.  Thompson's Mills began as a grist mill then was converted to a hydro plant in the seventies.  
Here is the master plan for the area that provides even more history:

The day that we visited the parks department was just about to open the site to the public. One of the very last items to be completed was the redesign of the millrace.  The plan was to erect a dam and essentially create a pond that could be enlisted for demonstrations.  They used an inflatable dam to block the stream and then pumped out the water.  

As they pumped out water, they had to recover the fish that lived there and move them upstream.  Of special consideration were the lamprey fish who spend the part of their freshwater life in Oregon's tributaries and rivers
Catching the fish unharmed can be a tricky business.  These fish & wildlife guys were shocking the fish in the remaining puddles and then gathering them in buckets.  
The "shocker" had this power pack on his back that sent electricity into this wand.  The electricity jolt is very mild so as just to stun the fish temporarily.  

Here are some of the fish that they had gathered.  They were really neat and quite colorful.  Lampreys are also called eels and are a relative of hag fish.  These guys can be parasites on salmon, but are an important game fish for Native American tribes on the river - the Columbia in particular.  The fish were placed in this plastic receptacle to measure their length before returning them to the river upstream.

Not just fish were recovered.  This really old bottle was discovered in the muddy bottom.  It will be sent to the Oregon Historical Society.

Some local waterfowl were taking advantage of the water removal too.  We couldn't see if they were eating anything in particular, but there was lots of mud to sift through.

It was great to be out tromping around and to have the opportunity to chat with both Parks and Fish&Wildlife employees and get all my questions answered.  Hopefully all this work will help restore the steelhead run.  They are hoping it will naturally occur - since there are fish in the Willamette, and will wait a few years before resorting to planting fish.  What an amazing sight that will be - seeing those gigantic trout swimming up the Calapooia and right under I-5.  It's enough to make me want to start shopping for a new steelhead rod.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Playing in Mud With Friends

Last fall I went back to Oregon for a visit and was able to spend time with my friend Mark.  We went to college together and have been great buddies ever since.

Mark is involved in the Calapooia Watershed Council and took me on a tour of one of their projects.  It was one of those typical fall days in Oregon - a little rain, a little sun, and a lot of mud.  But it was well worth it because the project really highlights why I love Oregon.

The watershed was involved in restoring the run of the Calapooia River.  In the late 1800s a ditch was built to divert water from the Calapooia River to Thompson's Mills.  The Sodom ditch and dam were greatly effective, and actually began to grab nearly all of the water from the Calapooia.  The Mills became the oldest water-powered grain mill in the state and was operational until the 1970's.  It was then converted to a small hydro plant that produced and sold electricity.

In 1998 the winter steelhead, which is a magnificent gigantic trout that spends part of it's life in the ocean, was listed as a threatened species.  This was a huge deal in Oregon because the steelhead is one of the state's most important game fish.  The perfect steelhead rod is passed down through generations of fishing folk and much debated.  Unfortunately the rod my grandfather gave me broke during the move to Austin.  Dang it.  Once listed, every fish run was scrutinized for viability and improvement.  The Calapooia was reviewed because it branches directly off the Willamette - a main artery through the heart of Western Oregon.  The Sodom dam was a fish barrier on this important habitat.

The state ended up purchasing property and water rights which enabled the removal of the Sodom dam and now allows the Calapooia, and the ditch, to run free, completing over 60 miles of mainstream and tributaries for the steelhead restoration.  Here is a link to their website for more information.

Mark and I walked through the area where the dam once stood.

I couldn't tell where it was until Mark pointed it out.  You can see where some of the bank used to be and where they restored the river.

Whole logs were pile-driven into the bank to help build structure and to prevent the channel from eroding during floods.  Large rocks were also added.

Willows, pines, grasses, and woody shrubs - mostly natives - were planted on top of the restored embankments and were absolutely thriving.

We then jumped in the car and went downstream to visit the actual mill.  It is now a state historic site and was getting ready to be opened to the public.  While we were there the State Parks and Fish & Wildlife were doing a fish recovery.  More on that in my next post.