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Hello all,

 

I have heard so many opposing opinions about worm leachate in AP or VP systems – I don’t know what to think. I have read, and seen videos of people using leachate that just rave about the results.  Yet others say this is the worst thing you can put in your system.  I would like to get input from anyone using leachate in an AP/VP system.  I read about “worm towers” being used as well, which I know are allowing leachate to drain into the system.  Is this a no-no, or are there things going on in an AP system (such as aeration) that makes leachate a non-issue?  Are the people using leachate just lucky that they don’t develop  a serious problem with their system?

 

Another thought is:  why not have a worm bed in which the bedding has been pre-washed to remove the dirt, silt, and any small material.  Feed the worms as you would in any worm bed.  When the bed gets near the end of it’s cycle, let the last of their food be consumed or mulched.  Then simply flood the entire worm bed (steeping it), maybe 15 minute floods, and 5 minute drains for a few days or as long as it takes to dissolve castings and mulch, using aerated water to keep the worms happy.  Wouldn’t this dissolve the castings and mulch into the AP/VP system without having to physically separate the castings?  After flushing the bed, let it drain, add new food, and repeat the cycle.  This seems to be a very efficient way to use the castings and mulch in a tea, while also cleaning out the worm bed for a new cycle.  I would assume castings introduced by any means into any hydro growing system would become tea in a short time anyways.  I know the worms wouldn’t have any problem with the floods.

 

Thanks

Dan

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Greetings,

  Approaching things “outside the box” is often the way things end up improved.  Congratulations  for this.  I can answer your questions and address your idea.  This way you may be able to approach your idea with more knowledge and maybe be able to re-think this.  Who knows, you may come up with a fabulous break-through for AP!

   By no means am I the fount of all knowledge concerning vermiculture, vermicomposting and such.  I do however operate a large redworm farm, and do education on these subjects for groups, schools and gov’t agencies.  I make it my business to go beyond my higher education background and keep up on the latest research on these subjects from respected sources of research  around the world. And of course, I am an AP enthusiast, and have redworms as an integral part of my AP system.

   First let’s be sure you are firm on the difference between “Leachate” and what you are calling “worm tea” (which is not made from worms, for you first-time readers. It is actually ‘worm casting tea’ and is made from worm castings).  “Leachate” is what leached out, or drains out, from the redworm composting bed or bin.  It is the result of too much moisture for the matter in the bed to hold. In a vermicomposting set-up there is a combination of matter that is food for the redworms which has not yet gone through the gut of the redworms, and then there is matter which has gone through the gut of the redworms (which comes out as worm castings – worm poop).   Redworms are actually secondary decomposers, they do not have teeth.  They rely on beneficial microbes working with them to “attack” the food in the bin first.  It gets mushy, sometimes moldy, and generally disgusting.  This is when the redworms can move in. During this time there may be moisture leaching/dripping from the container that the vermicomposting is happening in.  This is NOT the stuff you want to use.  This is because it potentially contains a lot of bacteria.  Some good and some possibly really not good.  Yes, many use this “leachate” on their gardens with impunity.  But this is playing with fire.   Leachate that collects and sits, in many ways is a petri dish bomb.  This is NOT something you want to introduce to an AP system that you spent a lot of time, care and $$ getting up and running.    Once all the food mater in your vermicomposting set-up has gone through the gut of the redworm, it is turned into worm castings, which are safe.

        Aerating the leachate will not make it a non-issue. Yes, people who use leachate in their system are simply lucky.  It is only a matter of time before something goes wrong.  With all the care that goes in an AP system, and the fact that handling worm castings correctly is so EASY, it makes sense to just separate the castings and use those, and keep the system safe.

      To address your ‘after thought’:  Redworms cannot live in a concentration of their own poop – the castings.  This is why we vermiculturists separate the redworms from the castings in the first place.  If you do not, your redworms will attempt to leave, or die. So if you keep redworms in a bin to the point it is all castings, you will be killing some and all will be stressed, possibly to the point they will not eat or reproduce. Prior to this point many will have attempted to leave or will have left your bin.  Worm castings look like fine coffee grounds, and basically have no noticeable odor.  When a bin looks like it contains mostly castings it is time to separate the worm castings. It must be at this point you are considering flooding the bin.   If you did it prior to this point, as far as conversion of the matter in your bin goes, you would be  back to introducing bad bacteria and such since you are creating leachate, not worm casting tea.   But if you waited for the bin to be converted completely to castings, you have just done your redworms a huge disservice.

       Redworms can live a long time underwater as long as there is oxygen for them to absorb.  They live for months at the bottom of ponds. Worm castings have a thin calcium coating on each granule (which is why it is recommended when making worm casting tea that castings be in the water for at least 12 hours).  So  your flooding and draining idea really is not a necessary thing.  Why not simply and quickly separate the redworms from the matter in the bin, running the matter over a screen, and keep the castings that fall through?  Then make worm casting tea. You won’t end up killing your redworm population, you’ll keep the cocoons, so you have repod for a healthy growing redworm population, and you’ll have the nutrient rich castings there in a neat pile waiting for you to use.  No playing Russian Roulette with your AP system.

    Once you are done with the flooding you suggest, you will have to dry out the matter in the bin to the proper moisture content creating the environment the redworms will eat and reproduce in and for the cocoons to hatch.  A sopping wet vermicomposting environment will stay on the dangerous anaerobic side. You suggest dissolving the castings and mulch into the AP system.  You do not want this dissolved “mulch” in your AP system .

      Having redworms in an AP media bed is completely different than having them in a vermicomposting bin.  First off, the redworms are working with the beneficial bacteria that have developed in the media bed, and they are consuming the fish wastes. There is no slimey broccoli stalks, and built up pocket of coffee grounds/bread crusts/carrot peels and apple cores as you’d have in a vermicomposting bin.  The beneficial microbes and the redworms in AP media beds are keeping up with the fish wastes present.   Redworms in media beds, and vermicomposting bins both are good things and can be beneficial to AP.  But the traditional vermicomposting bin needs to be kept out of the AP system….unless you are a gambler. 

    This is not to discourage you from thinking outside the box.  If anything I put here needs clarification, or if you have more questions, please let me know.  Hopefully with this information you can re-think the matter, and maybe come up with a workable way to streamline the process.   It seems that was your goal in the first place.  So keep up the creative thinking.  The world needs more people like you!

WOW - Converse thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge. 

 

Is it possable in these "worm towers" to simple keep the moisture content at such a level that there is never any leachate being produced, or at least not getting to the bottom of the unit?  I would assume the worms go after that leachate and it would be possable to keep the moisture level at the lower end.

I always try to develop as efficient of a system as possable, I will spend 40 hours building something that will save me 20 minutes a week - call it gluttony??

Would the castings naturally fall thru a screen in the worm bin to the bottom if it was shaken occasionally? Again using a very course bedding material.

So maybe a worm tower set at a 45 degree angle, so that the leachate runs down the lower side and out a drain to be disposed of. It seems it would possable to divert the liquid out of the tower and still let the castings drop into the AP media bed. It just seems like physically seperating the castings could be avoided somehow.

 

You have already given me a lot to think about here and Thanks again

Dan

Converse,

In your reply you said "Having redworms in an AP media bed is completely different than having them in a vermicomposting bin".  And to expand on that for those who don't make the connection:  Worms in the AP system are REMOVING the anaroebic material and bad bacteria, whereas in a composting bin, we are ADDING it.  I think that makes the difference simple and clear.

 

Thanks again

Dan

Converse,

When you said that worms don't like their own castings, does that apply to AP media beds? Do the castings build up in the media bed or do they get digested through some other process?

Converse is the guru - but I would assume the castings disolve as fast as the wroms make them, and the plants consume the (very diluted) tea and keep the casting build up to almost nil, just like the system does with fish ammonia.

Jonathan Kadish said:

Converse,

When you said that worms don't like their own castings, does that apply to AP media beds? Do the castings build up in the media bed or do they get digested through some other process?

I am thankful for all the information you have given here.

Yea thanks guys. I almost just unknowingly put leachate into my system thinking it was worm tea until reading this. Now I know the difference. Still just a rookie composter and gardener.

Glad to help out! I am always learning something new on this AquaponicGardening Community forum too! Just glad I have something to offer, helping others out.   

      About the question regarding the castings in the media beds.  Redworms cannot survive in  concentration of their castings.  In a vermicomposting bin/bed situation this is noticable.  If you have redworms in your media beds in your aquaponics systems, the build up will take a much longer time than it would in the same size vermicomposting container.  This is due to a few reasons: one being the obvious that they break down with the constant flow of water. It does take time due to the calcuim coating on each casting, if left undisturbed. Some people have posted on this forum that it takes years before anything needs to be done to "clean" their media when redworms are present.  Hope this is helpful.

Converse,

If you use redworms in the growing beds, is it possible to use a smaller gravel than 3/4 inch.  I have about 15 tons of washed river rock, but it is 1/2 inch or less?

Converse...we just ordered last week 2000"RED WIGGLERS" for our 6   4'x3 1/2'clay pebble beds.  We have the bell and siphon system.  It takes about 10-12 minutes to fill and then to drain.  Each one drains down to about 1" from bottom of bed. We have planned on dividing the wigglers up between the beds.  Do we just lay the worms on the top of the bed and they work their way down in the clay pebbles or do we move the clay pebbles so many inches down and put them in and then cover very gently?  We are excited about the worms eating the fish waste and creating new beneficial bacteria in our beds for both worms and plants.  Any advice on monitoring the worms progress or potential problems they are having.  You said that as long as they have oxygen they will thrive etc.  Thanks for your help we have been in aquaponics now for about7-8 months.  Trial and error but great fun.  Mary

Converse said:

Greetings,

  Approaching things “outside the box” is often the way things end up improved.  Congratulations  for this.  I can answer your questions and address your idea.  This way you may be able to approach your idea with more knowledge and maybe be able to re-think this.  Who knows, you may come up with a fabulous break-through for AP!

   By no means am I the fount of all knowledge concerning vermiculture, vermicomposting and such.  I do however operate a large redworm farm, and do education on these subjects for groups, schools and gov’t agencies.  I make it my business to go beyond my higher education background and keep up on the latest research on these subjects from respected sources of research  around the world. And of course, I am an AP enthusiast, and have redworms as an integral part of my AP system.

   First let’s be sure you are firm on the difference between “Leachate” and what you are calling “worm tea” (which is not made from worms, for you first-time readers. It is actually ‘worm casting tea’ and is made from worm castings).  “Leachate” is what leached out, or drains out, from the redworm composting bed or bin.  It is the result of too much moisture for the matter in the bed to hold. In a vermicomposting set-up there is a combination of matter that is food for the redworms which has not yet gone through the gut of the redworms, and then there is matter which has gone through the gut of the redworms (which comes out as worm castings – worm poop).   Redworms are actually secondary decomposers, they do not have teeth.  They rely on beneficial microbes working with them to “attack” the food in the bin first.  It gets mushy, sometimes moldy, and generally disgusting.  This is when the redworms can move in. During this time there may be moisture leaching/dripping from the container that the vermicomposting is happening in.  This is NOT the stuff you want to use.  This is because it potentially contains a lot of bacteria.  Some good and some possibly really not good.  Yes, many use this “leachate” on their gardens with impunity.  But this is playing with fire.   Leachate that collects and sits, in many ways is a petri dish bomb.  This is NOT something you want to introduce to an AP system that you spent a lot of time, care and $$ getting up and running.    Once all the food mater in your vermicomposting set-up has gone through the gut of the redworm, it is turned into worm castings, which are safe.

        Aerating the leachate will not make it a non-issue. Yes, people who use leachate in their system are simply lucky.  It is only a matter of time before something goes wrong.  With all the care that goes in an AP system, and the fact that handling worm castings correctly is so EASY, it makes sense to just separate the castings and use those, and keep the system safe.

      To address your ‘after thought’:  Redworms cannot live in a concentration of their own poop – the castings.  This is why we vermiculturists separate the redworms from the castings in the first place.  If you do not, your redworms will attempt to leave, or die. So if you keep redworms in a bin to the point it is all castings, you will be killing some and all will be stressed, possibly to the point they will not eat or reproduce. Prior to this point many will have attempted to leave or will have left your bin.  Worm castings look like fine coffee grounds, and basically have no noticeable odor.  When a bin looks like it contains mostly castings it is time to separate the worm castings. It must be at this point you are considering flooding the bin.   If you did it prior to this point, as far as conversion of the matter in your bin goes, you would be  back to introducing bad bacteria and such since you are creating leachate, not worm casting tea.   But if you waited for the bin to be converted completely to castings, you have just done your redworms a huge disservice.

       Redworms can live a long time underwater as long as there is oxygen for them to absorb.  They live for months at the bottom of ponds. Worm castings have a thin calcium coating on each granule (which is why it is recommended when making worm casting tea that castings be in the water for at least 12 hours).  So  your flooding and draining idea really is not a necessary thing.  Why not simply and quickly separate the redworms from the matter in the bin, running the matter over a screen, and keep the castings that fall through?  Then make worm casting tea. You won’t end up killing your redworm population, you’ll keep the cocoons, so you have repod for a healthy growing redworm population, and you’ll have the nutrient rich castings there in a neat pile waiting for you to use.  No playing Russian Roulette with your AP system.

    Once you are done with the flooding you suggest, you will have to dry out the matter in the bin to the proper moisture content creating the environment the redworms will eat and reproduce in and for the cocoons to hatch.  A sopping wet vermicomposting environment will stay on the dangerous anaerobic side. You suggest dissolving the castings and mulch into the AP system.  You do not want this dissolved “mulch” in your AP system .

      Having redworms in an AP media bed is completely different than having them in a vermicomposting bin.  First off, the redworms are working with the beneficial bacteria that have developed in the media bed, and they are consuming the fish wastes. There is no slimey broccoli stalks, and built up pocket of coffee grounds/bread crusts/carrot peels and apple cores as you’d have in a vermicomposting bin.  The beneficial microbes and the redworms in AP media beds are keeping up with the fish wastes present.   Redworms in media beds, and vermicomposting bins both are good things and can be beneficial to AP.  But the traditional vermicomposting bin needs to be kept out of the AP system….unless you are a gambler. 

    This is not to discourage you from thinking outside the box.  If anything I put here needs clarification, or if you have more questions, please let me know.  Hopefully with this information you can re-think the matter, and maybe come up with a workable way to streamline the process.   It seems that was your goal in the first place.  So keep up the creative thinking.  The world needs more people like you!

I know TDS is really not a relevent thing to monitor in AP, But has anyone noticed an increase in TDS when adding worm castings/tea?  My TDS was staying around 300ppm, and now 4 days after adding castings (about 2lb in 200 gal) I checked and I read about 720ppm. - I guess I could check some straight tea here and see if it reads real high....  I may have answered my own question, but hey I'll post it anyway.....  

Thanks

Dan

    First off, for those of you new to all this, TDS is Total Dissolved Solids (another thing to add to our growing  glossary I suppose).  

    Hopefully I have not given the impression that we need to add worm casting tea to our AP systems where we already have redworms living in the media.  Personally, I would not add any worm casting tea into the water or the media...

.What you would make worm casting tea for would be the following:

    - To spray seeds before planting (the naturally occurring auxins and gibberellins (natural plant growth hormones) hormones will in crease germination success and lower germination time.   This works great when starting seeds in little pots or plugs, or in regular soil gardening.

   - For foliar feeding of your plants

   - To control pest insects.  Gets rid of aphids, spider mites, tomatoe horn worms and a whole host of hard bodied insects

   - To stop and prevent black spot, podwery mildew, damping off, tomato blight and more plant maladies..

   The tea needs to be brewed ( if you need directions lt me know) rather than just soaked if you want to use it for other than just the fabulous nutrietn boost worm castings will give plants.

 

    The reason you do not need to add worm casting tea to the media (if you have redworms there) is that the redworms are down in the media already "feeding" the roots of your plants with the castings (yes, it is worm poop) they leave behind; a

redundant effort if you add worm casting tea. 

 

   As far as TDS goes with worm castings, if this is a factor in your system, you need to adjust things.  The solids from the castings should stay put in the media.  ...let me know if you need clarification on that.

   

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