Yunniy Yummy, if you’re a worm, that is!

The combination of Vermiponics with Aquaponics test run produced very satisfactory results. It wasn’t without challenges soon into the trial bucket garden some problems became evident.

Challenge #1:
I had jumped the gun on planting prior to setting up the water distribution system. It seemed like other more important things kept getting in the way of setting it up, so I hand watered once or twice a day. Being aware of the possible problem, but always in a hurry I did not correct the angle of the drain tubing from the buckets to the PVC drain line. I should have elevated the buckets to insure that there was a slope from the bucket to the drain line. There wasn’t; so the  leachate settled in the flat and low spots of the tubing. As it sat there for hours between hand watering it became anaerobic. Now leachate is considered toxic to plants and animals, that is up for discussion, but what I found out was anaerobic leachate kills goldfish. After each hand watering I would loose at least one and as many as a half dozen goldfish.

Solution #1:
I flush the planted worm buckets into empty buckets, installed multi-valve drip heads, elevate the buckets by placing 2′ x 4’s laying flat under them. The valves would get clogged every couple of days requiring taking them apart. I opened the valves at least half way where the drip became a steady stream of water from the Bio-pond. The water ran through the buckets 24/7, no more dead gold fish!

Challenge #2:
Being in a hurry, or out of ignorance or both I did not wait for the system to mature, so it also became apparent there were nutrient deficiencies; there was a lot of yellowing or paling of leaves with dark veins and the tomatoes and squash had developed end rot. Interestingly the large Aquaponic grow beds in the green house, which had matured, did not exemplify these symptoms.

Solution #2 Usually calcium will stop the end rot and I added iron and phosphates to the \buckets. I used  organic fertilizer  with calcium, iron and phosphates, the problems went away.

Challenge #3:
The design of the drainage of the buckets. I don’t know what I was thinking when I put just a single strainer on the tubing bulkhead fitting. I should and probably did know in the back of my mind that the potential for roots clogging up the strainer was very real. After two months I had my first flooded
bucket. Once the drip line was turned off, it took two days for the bucket to completely drain. Surprisingly only 3 buckets have clogged up.

Solution #3:
So the  new design will have a  ¾ drain loop attached to the bulkhead drain fitting. Lava will fill the bottom 1 or so, then a layer of weed cloth and then the bedding material.   Today I tore down the first of 27 buckets. The rose cutting’s leaves had turned yellow and were falling off indicating an anaerobic
condition. I was pleasantly surprise to see several hundred red wigglers from egg capsules to adults squirming around. I found it interesting that the largest worms were in the anaerobic soil at the bottom of the buckets. The smell is a dead giveaway. I was thrilled to see how many red wigglers remained in the bucket, because I have seen small clumps of adult worms fall out of the drain
into the Bio-pond. Which takes me to:

Challenge #4:
How to stop loosing worms to the gold fish.

Solution #4:
A section of the large drain pipe connecting the bucket garden to the Bio-pond will be cut out. A plastic rectangular bin will be partially buried in the middle of the two sections. Bulkheads will be attached to each hole drilled in the two ends of the bin for the two separated sections of the drain pipe. The bin will be filled with lava and the worms will hopefully be filtered out by the lava where they can be harvested and the water will continue to the Bio-pond. I would estimate that there are close to  ½ # of red wigglers in the contents of the 5-gal bucket. If the quantity holds true for the other 26 buckets I could have somewhere in the neighborhood of a ten pounds of worms collectively. These worms will be released with their bedding into 2′ x 4′ x 2 ‘ wood Flow Through worm bins.

Bucket trial
Garden #2

Challenge #5:
In the last chapter I wrote about how uncontrolled this experiment was and how little exacting information I could extract from the results. There were no controls in place, just a trial garden to see if it would even work. And after the losses of goldfish I almost separated the two systems.

Solution #5:
The contents of all the buckets will be the same, an improved bottom drain, a layer of lava, a membrane of weed cloth, a 2 layer of course coir, a 2 layer of medium coir, and a small amount of worm castings with no juvies or egg capsules only with 100 young adult red wigglers. Around this and up to 3 inches from the top of the buckets I will place more mixed bedding and food, and then to top it off shredded newspaper and finally a bucket lid with a central hole for air and adding food and the drip emitter. The buckets will be left alone for 2 months, except for feeding and drip system, by then there will be 150-200 worms and then a plant will be planted in the middle of the bucket protruding through the hole in the lid.

Red wigglers will eat between  ½ their weight to their total weight in a day, so the buckets will all have to be fed. I have started adding Purina Worm Chow along with produce, cardboard, compost, and shredded newspaper, it is clean, easy to monitor the quantity, and provides excellent results.   This test
will answer a couple of questions left unanswered by the first trial bucket garden.

I know! I know! this is an Aquaponics magazine about Aquaponics, well with a little more effort two things will be accomplished. First the plants will grow much better then with Aquaponics alone and unless you live in the land of hot, like the tropics or sub tropics or want to eat the most expensive tilapia in the world after paying your utility bill, you can consider trout, blue gill, perch, bass, or a number of other species of food fish. Of course most of these are carnivorous or at best omnivorous.

Red wigglers multiply very rapidly, they can not only supplement the nutrients for the plants, but the excess worms can provide an excellent food source for your fish. For a little extra work, of course, but a lot easier then raising fish, a more complete system.

What could be better, even if you raise ornamental fish in you’re Aquaponics system, like I do, the added plus of some  free live food couldn’t hurt. In addition to that most of your table scraps, leaf clippings, shredded newspapers, hate mail, and cardboard become free food for the worms. Remember go  Green! Oh, and if you own an oil company the government will send you a check!

You raise veggies, flowers for that special person in your life (roses do marvelously in this system and if you want the best red rose for a bouquet you have to have Black Magic! (a few points never hurt any relationship you know)), live food for the great tasting food fish that don’t taste like mud, and in exchange for some good healthy fulfilling work and exercise! Or how about a beautiful display tank in your home piped to the grow beds outdoors or in a green house. It just doesn’t get much better then this.

Happy Growing!

Footnote #1
In all fairness to this combined system; it had not matured and I was pushing too hard. It would probably have produced different results if I had not only allowed the worm bin bucket garden to mature, but also the Aquaponic system to mature. I made up the worm buckets and planted them in a day with seedlings. Sure there was enough worm castings in the bucket to jump start the young plants, but not provide all the plants needed.   It has been very obvious as the system matured, that the plants including the rose bushes have corrected their problems and bloom regularly. The roses are doing very well in the buckets with constant watering.

Footnote #2:
MARIGOLDS DO NOT KEEP BUGS AWAY!!! I have marigold plants more then two feet tall loaded  with large beautiful orange and yellow pom pom blooms surrounded by some of the healthiest swarms of little bugs you ever saw! However, I forgive the marigolds because they are so beautiful. (you would think as much as they stink nothing living would want to be around). And second only to the tomato plants all of the Swiss chard, spinach, strawberries, herbs and a half dozen other plants haven’t had a chance to see much of the sun! NOTE TO SELF: marigolds and tomatoes go in own grow beds.

Footnote #3:
I gotta’ say that the lettuce growing in the raft is very sweet and delicious, the tomatoes are wonderful, and the green beans that I never got around to putting up a trellis for are now 14′ up in the neighbors trees are producing the best green beans up to 6 long that I have ever tasted. They are best uncooked with salt. Oh, and the asparagus is up to 17 plants out of 20 poor starts in that one grow bed and doing well. (I am going to transfer them to worm bin buckets this fall, I may have double the amount of buckets in my system. Why not?) I need to add one more 2’x8’x1′ raft to the system. When is it going to end?

Forgot to mention that the feeder goldfish are now 4 body size now! I am still working on the new filter design. I need drugs, I’m running out of energy.

OK, a B12 shot would helpful! 🙂

Gotta stop writing, this article is over.


Leave a Reply