Posts tagged: nature projects

Harvesting the Worm Bin

By , August 28, 2009 2:09 pm


About 8 weeks after we began our first attempt at vermicomposting (worm composting) it’s already time for our first harvest!

  • How did I know? The contents of the bin were rich black castings and the newspaper bedding was almost completely decomposed.  Also, the worms were starting to climb the sides of the bin, clearly no longer satisfied with their accommodations.
  • Preparation: Always feeling that I can improve on any instructions (a major character flaw I am afraid), I did not follow my original harvest plan.  Instead I pushed all the bin contents over to one side, and set up a new area on the other side with damp brown paper shreds and food.  I left the bin this way for about a week hoping that the worms would mostly migrate to the fresh, new side.
    • Harvest Day: This is what the bin looked like when I opened it this morning.  See the two sections? Old on the left – ready to go in the garden – and new on the right:

You’ll need newspaper, tub of water, and a bucket for the castings:

(Note: Cats are not a required item, although they felt they were.)

First I tore newspaper into 1 inch strips and tossed them in my tub of water to soak.

Next I began digging out some of the castings from the left side and I noticed that most of the worms had indeed migrated to the fresh section.  It was mostly worm free until I got close to the border, then I had some sorting to do.

NOTE:  I don’t mind worms, so I used my hands (the castings smell and feel rich and damp and clean, like the ground after a cool rain!).  However, if you’d rather not handle the worms, you can try this method.

I spread each handful of castings on some newspaper and picked out the worms and any chunks of not quite composted newspaper or food.  It was truly a glamorous job, but at least I felt fairly sure that most of my worms would end up back in the bin to keep up the good work.  No garden vacations for my guys!

I returned the undigested material and any stray worms to the new side of the bin.

By the time I had finished, I had collected at least a gallon of gorgeous black worm compost:

and my bin looked like this:

    • Redecorating: Finally, I spread out what remained in the bin, squeezed out my newspaper strips (really well so as not to drown the worms) and tossed them on top.  I added a bit of fresh sand for their gizzards and some food for their tummies, assuming worms have tummies.  I placed a fresh piece of damp cardboard on top to help keep things moist (the voracious little devils had completely eaten through their last one!) and put on the lid.

  • The Garden: The hardest part of all this was deciding where to put my precious compost.  I chose a climbing rose that I have had for about 4 years.  It was the very first thing I planted when I moved into this house.

Much to my surprise, there was still plenty left over.  I headed to my dismal back flower bed which grows ugly little stunted flowers due to poor soil, and gave it the rest.  Will it all be 6 feet tall by tomorrow???

LINKS:  How we made our worm bin (quite easy and inexpensive), and the arrival of the worms.

Slippery – Worm Bin (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 17, 2009 10:09 pm


We have just added a new weapon to our arsenal against the heavy clay soil of Northern Arizona: our very own worm bin! In case you wonder what I am talking about, worm poop (more politically correctly known as “worm castings”) makes wonderful compost for the garden.

I didn’t pick the theme slippery with the worm bin in mind, but it occurred to me later that since worms are a bit slippery, this project fit the theme!

One option is to buy a commercially constructed worm bin such as this one, but I opted to go homemade (I guess this could have fit last week’s homemade theme too).  Worm bins can be made out of wood or plastic containers.  They can be one simple box or multilevel.   I followed these online instructions for a two story, Cheap and Easy Worm Bin.

You’ll need two 8 to 10 gallon plastic storage boxes with lids (dark plastic, not transparent), a drill with a 1/4″ and a 1/16″ drill bit, some newspaper and a piece of cardboard.

First drill about 20 large (1/4″) holes in the bottoms of both boxes.  Space them approximately evenly to allow for even airflow and easy worm travel.

Next drill small (1/16″) holes all around the top edge of the boxes, about 1 to 1.5″ apart.  I did two rows for maximum ventilation.

Also drill small holes (about 30) in ONE lid.  The other lid will be the base to collect any draining liquid, so don’t put holes in that one.

Fill a bucket or other plastic container with water.  Tear the newspaper into long strips, approximately 1″ wide and toss them into the water to soak.  This will be your worm bedding and you’ll want about 3 to 4″ of it in the bottom of the box.  For us, it took one whole newspaper.

Take the newspaper strips out one handful at a time and squeeze them out well.  They need to be nicely damp, not sopping (don’t forget that worms breathe through their skin so don’t drown them!).

Toss them in one of the boxes and fluff them up.

Once you have your 3 to 4″ of fluffed up bedding, you’ll need to mix in a bit of dirt.  Since we still have a giant sand pile in the back yard, we put in a bit of sand too.  Worms have gizzards and need to eat some of this rough material (dirt/sand) in order to digest their food (by grinding it in their gizzards – no teeth!).

Finally, soak a piece of cardboard just big enough to cover your bedding and place it on top of the bedding.  The worms will be put underneath this cardboard and it will also become a tasty treat for them.

Now it’s time to set up your worm hotel.  Place the solid lid upside down on the ground as a tray to catch any draining liquid from the decomposition process (known as “worm tea,” your garden will love this!).  Place some bricks or blocks on the upside down lid as a base for the boxes (this allows for drainage).  Next goes the empty box on top of the blocks, with the full box nested inside it.  The lid with the air holes goes on top.  Keep in a cool dark place.

When the worms move in, place their food in a corner and bury it under the newspaper to avoid odors and fruit flies.  Bury new food in a different part of the bin each time you feed them.  They will follow it around the bin.

Voilà!  The finished worm bin!  Now all we need are the residents.  I ordered a 2 lb bag of Red Wigglers online and they should be arriving soon.  At least their new home will be ready for them.

NOTE: Worms like:  vegetables, fruit, tea bags, coffee filters and grounds, eggshells, bread, cereal, grains.  Do NOT feed:  meat, dairy, oil, fat, feces.

For more complete feeding information, as well as how to harvest your worm castings, please be sure to read the Cheap and Easy Worm Bin article!


Cheap and Easy Worm Bin

Worm Anatomy

Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) How-To



FOLLOW-UP: Be sure to check out the arrival of the resident worms in this post: Worm Bin Update – NO VACANCY

ALSO: Read about our first harvest (only 8 weeks later)


Albatross Studies

By , January 30, 2009 8:38 pm

Perhaps my favorite place in the whole world is the South Island of New Zealand.  If you live there, I SO envy you!  What a beautiful place filled with nice people…I can’t say enough wonderful things about it.  The only drawback is that, for most of us in the world, it is a little out of the way.  No, make that VERY MUCH out of the way!  Upon further thought however, perhaps that is what keeps it so lovely and friendly?

Anyhow, I was once fortunate enough to be able to visit New Zealand’s South Island.  I believe it was in May and the leaves were turning color.  There was a fall chill in the air…strange, since we had just left tree buds exploding with flowers and greenery emerging from the sun’s warmth – a promise of lazy summer days was near.

We had many remarkable adventures in southern New Zealand as we explored the glacial and fjord-laden, yet lush, west coast; viewed spectacular snowy mountainscapes of the central region; and enjoyed sheep (many, many, MANY sheep) grazing on peaceful green hills in the eastern portion.

One of the most interesting places that we visited was the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin. Before the visit, I really new very little about these amazing birds, except that according to old sailing lore, it was considered bad luck to see one. Wasn’t an albatross involved in Edgar Allan Poe‘s novel,  The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym?

  • WEBCAM – I was quite excited to discover a live webcam from Dunedin’s Royal Albatross Center.  I found this quite some time ago and have been meaning to write about it.  At the moment, it seems to be showing just a general view of the colony since eggs are still incubating.  However when there are chicks, it is a nest cam!  Remember, that since it is live, you might find it is dark when you go to check it out due to the time difference.  Keep going back, it is worth it.
  • TRACKING – There are quite a few sites out there that show tracking results for albatross that have been fitted with satellite trackers: (2004 data)

2008 Black-Footed Albatross “race”: Check out these amazing results for “the 2008 winner” named Oski.  In the 64 days (s)he was tracked, (s)he traveled a curved path totaling 19,571 km (a straight line distance of 4,943 km) at an average rate of 305 km/day!

The Hawaii Study:  Has a good teaching/classroom component.

  • ADOPTION – If your family or class has the means (or wants to do a few fundraisers), you can even adopt your own albatross.  The cost ($2,500 in 2008) covers the tracking tag and three months of data.  You can choose the name of your bird and follow him/her in real time through online maps.  Cool!  The non-profit sponsor, Oikonos, will also send you a framed photo of your actual bird as well as a map of the completed three month journey.
  • TEACHING – Good classroom tools here.

Oikonos also offers free, downloadable classroom tools about the effects of trash and debris on marine birds.

The Albatross Project

If you do nothing else, watch (and show your kids) this gorgeous video of albatrosses soaring over the ocean, and “playing” in the wind. It is such a beautiful sight that it actually made me cry! Please watch it!

OK, now that you have been moved to tears by these beautiful birds, how about trying to save them? Here are some organizations that would like some help (fundraiser anyone?):

  • GIVING – Organizations that aim to protect the albatross from long-line fishing and ocean trash:


Save the Albatross

Birds Australia

I don’t homeschool, but if I did, I would somehow work in an albatross unit despite the fact that I live in Arizona!  I hope that these resources will inspire somebody somewhere.


PHOTO CREDITS:  Thank you Wikimedia Commons!  For photo credits and licensing information, click on these links:  Squabbling Albatrosses and Soaring Albatross.


Soft – Moth & Butterfly Feeders (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 7, 2008 6:34 pm


The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was soft.

I guess we could also have done this one last week for insect, but this week for our soft Unplugged Project, we made moth and butterfly feeders out of soft cotton balls and soft sponges.

I was inspired by our second visit this past summer to the Strong Museum of Play’s Butterfly Garden (in Rochester, NY).  By the way, if anyone lives near Rochester, NY, or is visiting the area, that museum is well worth a visit, and don’t miss the butterflies! (For photos, please see my post from our first visit in 2007).


Let’s start with the moths.  I found the instructions here:  How Stuff Works: Moth Feeder.

You need cotton balls, string, apple juice and sugar:

Measure 1/2 cup apple juice and pour it into a bowl:

Stir 1 tablespoon sugar into the apple juice until dissolved:

Next, soak the cotton balls in the mixture until saturated, then squeeze out to reduce drips.  My two year-old really enjoyed this step.  All the children were licking their fingers when done!

Tie the sugary cotton balls onto a string.  We tied several on each string.

Hang the strings near outside lights or in front of a window where a light will be on inside, anywhere that might attract moths at night.


For the butterfly feeder we used the leftover apple juice-sugar mixture from the moth project.  We also needed a kitchen sponge, and a plate or dish – preferably red since butterflies are supposed to be attracted to the color red.

The formula for attracting butterflies (or certain moths) seems to be quite varied.  Apparently sugar water works fine, but there are all kinds of other ingredients that can enhance the attraction.  I even read that human urine has been used successfully to attract them!   Generally though, they apparently like fermented bananas or other fruit, sugar water, brown sugar and rum.

We decided to get fancier than plain old sugar water, but we gave the urine idea a miss.

We didn’t have rotten banana on hand, but we did have some over ripe nectarines that I left out in the sun all day to hopefully ferment a bit:

We concocted our own formula of the leftover apple juice and sugar mixture, additional brown sugar, the nectarines, and even a bit of rum that I found in the pantry (although you could certainly leave that out, I think it probably just gives a more fermented odor to the blend).

Soak the sponge in the liquid mixture until saturated, then put it on the plate and add any rotten fruit:

Place the dish outside in a sunny spot. Try to pick someplace near flowers that butterflies enjoy, and put the plate a bit higher than the blooms if you can. We put ours on top of an empty birdbath in the middle of our rather neglected butterfly garden.


So, how did we do??

Well, we had one moth customer as of bedtime last night:


We hung three feeders up and (not surprisingly really) he was at the one near the brightest light. Keep that in mind if you try this.

The butterflies were more elusive.  We didn’t sit and watch all day, but none came while we were checking.  We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

(RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS IN COMMENTS: I expected the plate to attract lots of wasps, ants and other bugs, but not yet for some reason. I suspect that that might happen more readily in some “buggier” parts of the world. Once the ants do find it though, they’ll probably carry the whole thing off!)


A few links:

Bird and Other Wildlife Feeders

How to: The Butterfly and Moth Cookbook (cooking FOR them, not cooking them…)

Why are Moths Attracted to Light?

Moth or Butterfly?

The Children’s Garden (an old Unplug Your Kids post about gardening with children, includes information on creating a butterfly garden)


If you joined in the soft Unplugged Project this week, then please put a link to your post (preferably your actual post, rather than your blog) in Mr. Linky.  If you didn’t join us but want to know more about how to join in, then please read more here.


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!


Insect – Cricket Chirping/Musical Sticks (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , August 31, 2008 9:08 pm

My stepmother, who always enjoys our projects, recently sent my children a subscription to Family Fun magazine because she thought they might find some fun ideas there. Well, we did find an idea that sounded pretty cool for this week’s insect Unplugged Project: Cricket Chirpers.

Supplies:  1/2″ wooden beads, wooden skewers, and glue (the article called for “tacky glue” but not being crafty enough to know what that was, I used carpenter’s wood glue):

First, as suggested by the magazine, I cut the pointy ends off the skewers to reduce the chance of injury.

Next, the children threaded 15 beads onto the skewers in any pattern they wished.

My 2 year-old had fun threading beads too.  For her, I stuck a lump of playdough onto one end of the skewer so she wouldn’t get frustrated by beads falling off:

She eventually tired of threading and unthreading beads and branched out into sticking the beads onto the lump of playdough:

This turned into an all-out playdough session (one of her favorite things):

After each child had made two sticks, I glued the two end beads with the carpenter’s glue.  It turned out to be a bit fiddly and messy, so I think it was a good thing that I decided to do this step myself.

We let the glue dry for several hours, and this was the result:

When rubbed together, the sticks are supposed to sound like crickets. Well, they didn’t sound much like crickets to me. My husband agreed. I thought maybe they sounded more like cicadas on a night full of general, random insect noises. I asked my husband…he closed his eyes, concentrated, and said…”No.”

They do however make cool instruments to add to any musical instrument collection. Sorry about the crickets though.

Why don’t you try it (very easy project) and let me know what you think!


What did you do this week for the Unplugged Project theme of insect?  If you did an insect project this week, then please put a link to your project in Mr. Linky.

A few linking pointers:

  • It is best if you link to the actual project post, not just your blog in general, that way people will always be able to find your specific project easily.
  • Also, if you did not do the project, please don’t link.  Mr. Linky is for project participants only, not for general links to blogs or stores, etc.
  • Finally, I have decided that I will leave a Mr. Linky open for only two weeks.  After two weeks I will disable it so that no new links can be added, but all the existing links can still be followed.  This will give everyone two weeks to add their link, but will guard against spam links being added to old Linkys that I no longer monitor.


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!

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