Addicted to digging around in my (stinky) bin

wonderpets(7 TN)February 3, 2009

Hi, my name is Gena and I'm addicted to seeing just what my worms are up to. And it's keeping my bin stinky, I think.

I'm coming up on my one month anniversary with my new pets. I've expanded their digs to the entire 31 qt (approx 8 gal?) rubbermaid tote. It has quarter-inch air holes drilled all around and another tote sitting on top with about 20 holes for the worms to eventually migrate through -- I'm going for a home-made stacking system -- and a ventilated lid on top of that.

My husband asked if the bin will "ever stop stinking and smelling like garbage." Obviously, I'm doing something wrong. I had hoped that by going ahead and putting dry newspaper bedding between the bins and some extra in the top bin, that I could absorb some of the humidity and odor.

I have some theories, but if I don't get the stink to stop, he's going to relegate my bin to the basement closet where the hot water heater and cat litter live. That'll certainly stop my digging around in the bin -- it's colder downstairs and who wants to sit and play next to a litter box?

Current theories:

1. I dig around too much. I like seeing the worms. They are peaceful to watch.

2. Humidity is high -- running about 95% -- but I still have fluffy bedding and no standing water. Little bit of condensation on the sides of the bin, but the worms seem to like those pockets. And there is plenty of newsprint that hasn't been wetted on top, so they could get away from it if needed.

3. I like to dig a lot. :) See what foodstuffs have disappeared.

4. There are a few onion ends in there that have a strong scent. I'm not going to put onion in any more for that reason -- it will go to my regular bin.

5. Maybe there is too much gap between the bins because of how full the bottom bin is.

I don't want to move the bin to the basement -- I like having it in the bathroom closet. I can monitor the temp and go play in the evenings. But, I've got to get rid of the stink before my PIL come to stay when I go to the hospital to deliver.

I thought about bringing the setup to work, but then I'd be checking on the worms instead of checking on the worm forum. :)


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1) I have had my bin for 4 months, and I still poke around too much. I am having problems right now, so I like to see if things are stabilizing, and if I still have healthy worms.

2) Some foods have a strong odor while they decompose. Cutting down on the onions might help.

3) Your bin might be too moist. It is hard to say without seeing it.

4) covering the food does help keep the smells down.

5) You are probably feeding too much. If you are, the best way to control the smell is simply to stop feeding for a few days. Let the worms catch up.

6) Moving the bin to a colder place may just make the problem worse. It will slow everything down, which will take longer for the smell to go away.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2009 at 12:17PM
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folly_grows(10 SF by the Bay)

Gena, Sounds like you are seriously into your "nesting" stage of your pregnancy. ;-)

First of all, you have your bins backwards. The bottom one is the catch bin: no holes because it is supposed to catch any leachate that drips from above. The top bin, *with holes* in bottom, sides and top, is filled with bedding, food and worms. This is where the work is done. The food needs the air to decompose. Once that bin is really going, you can put a third bin (with holes for ventilation and migration) on top of that.

Also, it takes a few months for the system to really get going, so you probably have fallen into the classic mistake of overfeeding and overwatering.

You've got bedding in the top bin (the one with holes), so dump the contents of the bottom bin on top of that. Remove any food that is still visible. There will be enough microbial life in the bedding and compost to keep the worms feeding for weeks. Top with fresh, dry, shredded paper. When you are digging around, make sure that you always leave a layer of shredded paper on top of the food. This will help keep down the smell of decomposing food. Wash and dry the bottom bin. Layer some torn up cardboard sprinkled with kitty litter in the bottom. Put the worm-compost-bedding bin on top of this catch bin. Put on the lid. Walk away.

You can still check on them, but remember that a lot of movement does stress them. (I know because I have to stop myself all the time.) AND do not feed again until the bin begins to smell like damp morning earth. Mmmmmm. Then feed *moderately* in small pieces. Stay away from onion, cabbage, broccoli until your bins are well on their way and the population teeming.

And don't worry, once the baby and you PILs arrive you will be so busy, you will fall into the pattern of benign neglect that the worms thrive on.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2009 at 12:26PM
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wonderpets(7 TN)

To follow up on some of the points made in the responses:

Oh yeah! The nesting is driving me crazy. I want to go out and play in the dirt whenever we have a sunny day, but I'm having to make do w/the worm bin. Yesterday, we had some snow, but people were outside over the past weekend in short sleeves. Tennessee weather can be fickle.

Both bins have holes and I doubt I have any leachate -- the bins are see-thru and there is no standing liquid. I have a battery operated temp/humidity gauge in the bin. Temp is running around 73 and humidity is between 85 and 95%. Also, when I transfered them into the bin, there wasn't any liquid in the other setup.

Can the bedding be too moist if the top layer is shredded newpaper that is still dry? I haven't added any water to the bin since my humidity readings have stayed above 70.

For now, I'll stop feeding. That's easier than neglecting them. :) I put in 8 ounces of food last night -- no more until the banana peel and avocado mush is gone.

I'll agree that overfeeding is probably part of the problem -- trying to increase the number of worms before the bin was ready was probably where the whole experiment went crazy. That and trying to start super-small.

Think I should just remove the visible food chunks for a few days and see what happens?

    Bookmark   February 3, 2009 at 3:32PM
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leearnold(z5 In.)

Wonderpets, It sounds to me that your main problem is overfeeding. You said you have had the bin a month but didn't say how many worms you started with. Although you DID say you started "super-small." As long as you don't have leacheate coming from the bottom of the bins, they are NOT to wet. But remember - you don't WANT leacheate; a well run bin shouldn't have any. Your temp/humidity readings sound really good. I would take out the onion and any other large pieces you can see, and give the worms time to settle in, get adjusted, and begin mating.
However, I must say, all that digging around does not help the situation. And neither does having transparent bins. Although, since you have them in a closet, they should be ok.
I'm not sure what your bedding mixture is, but you did say that there is newspaper in the bin. Don't worry, the worms won't starve. They can digest the newspaper for quite a while. Wait until the bin starts smelling like compost and you start seeing babies before you feed again.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2009 at 6:50PM
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wonderpets(7 TN)

I started with a gallon jug of bedding + worms from a local freecycle member, which makes for a fairly small start and no real way to quantify how many worms. In moving them from the jug to my baskets and now to this bin, I haven't seen any cocoons but I have seen lots of little pink immature worms about an inch in length.

I know there are at least 50 worms old enough or almost old enough to breed -- that's the number at which I realized the futility of trying to count them one by one. There seems to be quite a nice start going. They are spread out throughout the whole 8 gallon container now, even on the side that was just fresh bedding + coffee grounds.

The bins aren't totally transparent -- they are that smokey gray color, clear enough that I can see the worms crawling on the side of the bin from outside. Most of the time (when I leave them alone) they are shut up inside a closet without any light.

I knew it wouldn't happen this winter, but my long term goal is to be able to have enough worms/bins next winter to process all of our veggie and fruit scraps when the weather keeps me from playing in the big compost pile. And maybe make it so I can let one of the outdoor piles finish completely before I decide to sift out the finished bits....

Even though it'll slow them down, maybe moving them to the downstairs wouldn't be a bad idea. It would certainly increase the amount of neglect.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2009 at 9:50PM
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You appear to have a very small worm population for your bin size. Typically for a bin your size, one would start with one pound of worms, which is about 1000 worms of various sizes, or 500 to 600 adults. You probably could have kept the worms in your gallon jug for a few months before moving them to the big bin. If you started with only 50 worms (You don't say how many you didn't bother to count) it could take a year or more for the worm population to get well established in a bin the size of yours.

For now that means that you are off to a slow start. Even with a larger worm population, worms eat slowly at first. You can probably stop feeding for a week or two, then feed small amounts until you get a feel for how much your worms actually eat.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 12:10PM
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wonderpets(7 TN)

Well, last night I de-stinked the bin. I dug through and removed almost every piece of recognizable food and any truly stinky mushy bits. I pulled out the avocado mush from Monday and some onion skins and some onion ends -- all in all, what came out fit inside a paper towel when I wrapped it up to throw away.

I left Monday's banana peel, a few small bits of orange peel from last week, and some things that looked like they used to be cucumber peels from last week. They've already eaten everything else that I'd added over the last three weeks, except for the coffee grounds.

Most of the sour smell came from the avocado mush -- I don't eat avocado myself, so I can't blame them for leaving it alone -- and the rest of the smell was just pure rotting red onion. I'll have my husband give it a sniff test this evening, but I think all the stinky is out.

This morning, I had a temp in the bin of 77 degrees with humidity at 90%.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 12:59PM
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Hi Gena I have a friend (not me of course) with a similar addiction. My friend, (I'll call him h for husband) started out on the light stuff first, gardening then composting. Soon that was'nt enough. H works in construction, like myself, and things are slow so he and his wife (w for the rest of this tale) decided to start renovating their small house during his off days. Then w ordered him some worms for x-mas.

H was careful not to schedule any work so he'd be home when they arrived (careless mailman could leave them in the sun). First sign of trouble: h calls w at work (which he never does) to state they arrived. He then calls again to say he called the company that sent the worms with a problem (they had sent more worms than were ordered and he thought the bin they sent was too small) oh and he had talked to the worm guy himself!! the same famous guy from the web site!! w was happy her gift was appreciated.

W began to notice behavioral changes in my friend, small at first, a little dirt by the worm box, box moved to different parts of the house ect. Then the changes became more pronounced, work around the house had slowed, but h had finally taken his starter plants out of her empty aquarium so she was excited to get some fish and so she let it slide. Then the weather turned cold, (my friends h and w have an agreement that h has custody of the thermostat during the cold months and w during the hot, saves on electric and arguments as h likes it colder than his wife). Imagine her horror as she sat under her electric blanket and saw the worm bin in the fish tank with the heating pad at a comfortable 75 degrees.

More trouble: work at my friends house has slowed to a crawl. W, while using the computer found the browser history had many worm related sites on it. Turns out when not messing with his worms h was reading about them. Like a true addict h explained this by saying he was just a concerned newbie. Begging forgiveness he moved the bin to the garage.

h had a few busy weeks at work so all was good, then he had an entire week off and much to do at home, small house, 1 room at a time, lots of stuff to move to tile, paint ect. W notices this is taking a long time! H, who like me has 20+ years of construction experience has several thousand plausible excuses for this. It's a necessary skill to explain delays. Still there is more web proof that he's reading about worms, turns out he's not smart enough to erase his web history. w mentions the web use but rather than repent h considers using the library computers.

Other personality changes: h agrees to accompany his wife to petsmart (which he never does) w finds him asking about redwigglers, turns out he read they sold them as exotic pet food. W is now concerned this is spiraling out of control, he has too many for his bin yet wants more. W takes hubbies atm rendering him helpless to buy worm related products without leaving a traceable paper trail. One day while shopping wife notices husband in fishing (bait) department at wal-mart(like me he does'nt fish) h now must show receipt if he shops alone. h is left with homedepot, lowes, and gas card only, none sell worms.

Another cold wave in florida: H is worried about his worms so he closes the garage door all the way, usually he locks it slightly ajar so any of w's cats who did'nt come in at bedtime can sleep in relative warmth. w is awakened by screaming cat at bedroom window. worms in back yard now. h blames heating pad autoshutoff not himself and considers rewiring it.

h repents and starts to get some stuff done; he totally reorganizes all of their large storage bins in the garage, he does such a good job one is totally empty! He also finds the paper shredder that was stored during the office renovation (w had been asking for a month) lets hope his motives are pure.

unfortunately like all addicts h was thinking only of himself soon the storage box was drilled, and that sunday while looking for the sunday paper w found him shredding it.
H explained that he needed to move his worms (the box was full, not his fault they sent so many and things would get better when they were moved. w then returned home on monday to find h filling the storage box with water. I need to make sure there is nothing to harm the worms he explained. w mentioned he uses the same paper for the rabbit and never worried but he did'nt hear her. after a week of filling and letting box drain w came home and found the box in driveway drying in the florida sun. H is in the house, he has gotten the juicer out and is juicing some apples (w's favorite) Alas the juice is to hydrate the worms bedding so they'll eat more.

h apoligizes and starts sorting his worms to their new bin. things will be better he tells her and himself when they're moved. several hours later he is done and ready to start his new worm ignoring life. all he needs to do is put his harvested castings in his pots outside in the morning.

Trouble: H starts to put his castings on top of his veggies, oh oh found an egg. well h thinks that's only about 4 worms but i should really sort this better. three hours later w comes out and asks whats going on. I found 20 or so eggs and some babies he replies and then explains how this represents a gazillion worms over time, w doubts his math and his sanity so h does his normal chores instead. He is still trying.

H sleeps poorly worried about the neglected worms. The next day he begs off going to a superbowl party. Too much to do around here he says. wife attends party but leaves early to surprise h with some company and some takeout (she knows he loves football and is proud he missed the party to get things done). She arrives home, no tv on in living room, truck is in driveway, no sign of h. w goes outback and follows extention cord to shed where h is sorting castings and listening to the game on radio. As h stands in his now dark shed he hopes this is what they mean by rockbottom.

Sorry this post was so long but i want my friends story to warn others of the dangers of this hobby.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 4:22PM
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wonderpets(7 TN) don't say.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 4:31PM
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Yes petsmart and if you go and get extra i could use some you know just to take the edge off. i don't need them but........

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 5:01PM
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You mean, your friend (yeah sure) is now sleeping in the shed? I sympathize with him.
Interesting story though and very well told/written.

But ultimately it is W who started it. She should have known better.
I am not familiar with the aerea where "your friend" lives but if he can find a stable with an aged manure pile, he can start digging around in there and find oodles of worms. How about his own CP? No worms in there jeff?

How about growing beautiful flowers for W and stress the result of the beauty on the WORMcompost. She "might" mellow.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 5:28PM
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jeff-npr that was an amazing story, I read it aloud to my family and though they agreed it was well written and interesting they didn't quite laugh as much as I did(as I see myself doing all those things H does)

Once again thanks

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 9:16PM
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Substitute WI for FL and thats me and the wife!-)
except I compost and Vermicompost in my basement

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 9:40AM
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