Next step for pocket feeding when you like to mess w/bin

wonderpets(7 TN)August 11, 2010

I don't remember the current dimensions on my bin -- somewhere around 2'x 4' x 10" deep, I think. Herd started from approx 50 worms two years ago. I've gone through several kinds of DIY setups to find this one that I'm 90% satisfied with.

Bin is divided into 6 areas, sectioned off like an old-time metal ice tray. The "walls" are that plastic square mesh found in the crafts section, zipped tied together -- twine doesn't last.

Worms ate most everything in slot one, slot two is slightly more rough, and slot three is half vermipost half paper. The herd is centered in the fourth section, where I am currently feeding.

I know that I want to let each section finish up -- let the wormies move out, let the babies move out, etc. And I realize that I know have a herd large enough that I don't have to sweat each and every worm.

Here's the question(s): Do I feed in one section until it's full, then start the next one on the bottom? Do I work my way around the bin multiple times, going back after time to a section that is mostly vacant?

I have two main concerns.

1. I'm operating on the drier side and don't want to end up with a very wet section, so I'm afraid of depth. I plan to keep one section full at all times with just my shredded paper bedding supply. Convenient, absorbs excess moisture, etc.

2.And the age-old question from bin-diggers, how will I know when a section is "done?" I divided the bin so that I won't be continuosly mixing the entire thing back together. And I'm working very hard to not consolidate the mostly done bits together, leaving a vacant section between what is mostly done and what is obviously still working. Sectioning the bits by how much is vermipoo vs bedding, etc.

Thoughts? Advice?

The best I can come up with on my own is to feed in a section until it is 2/3 full, then let it "rest" and intend to leave the whole box alone for a few months after I've cycled through the sections maybe twice....

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I don't think you have enough space for what you are trying too do, though you seem too be doing well in spite of that limitation. Do you keep a lid on the bin? Is the bin made of wood? What kind of worms are you using? Where do you keep the bin? Do you have much trouble with escapees?

Dave Nelson

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 10:04AM
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wonderpets(7 TN)

The bin is like a rubbermaid but a different brand. Opaque. Lives in bathroom closet. Lid stays on. There are about 4 air holes just in the the handle -- the bin came that way.

Never had an escapee. And I haven't had any fruit flies this season, which I kind of expected with the open holes. On a previous attempt with drilled holes, I covered them with multiple layers of cheese cloth. Which the mites loved, because the moisture was always trapped there. (On the sides of bin.)

As for the kind of worms, I haven't tried pinning down the species. They aren't the huge earthworms that live in my outdoor compost pile and garden. They were handouts via freecycle. Small, normal worms -- what I think of as every day worms.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 12:12PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

My first thought is 50 composting worms should have grown into a swarm of thousands in 2 yrs...ideally over 10k, but at the very least 5-6k. (click link below) In a shallow bin like yours only 2/3 full, that would mean that every handful you grab should have quite a lot of worms. If that is not the case, then either you did not start with composting worms (regular earthworms need to burrow into dirt) or other conditions are not ideal.

Worms like it pretty wet. I know it's messy for us sometimes, but my red wigglers like it very wet. If there's a choice between damp and sopping wet, the worms are partying in sopping wet. It's good you have tons of bedding so you don't get standing water, but it can be pretty wet without having standing water.

My bins are all outdoors and I have plenty of fruit flies. I plan to start an indoor bin soon and by most accounts the best method of FF prevention is to freeze the food scraps first. It's not that the flies have to find the food, the food sometimes comes with fly eggs in them (fruit skins mostly).

I've never had a sideward migration bin, but the concept is the same as an upward migration bin. You feed one section until it's nearly full, then start feeding the next, etc. In theory the worms will leave the older section as food runs out, but in reality the worms don't pay attention to theories. There's still food in section 1 even when you start feeding section 4. And sometimes they just like to go back to the old neighborhood to see what's going on. Who knows what goes on in their pinhead brains?

Basically a section is almost never going to be worm & cocoon free. You have to harvest the worms out and let the cocoons hatch, then you have to harvest the babies. After a certain point many of us have so many worms that we don't fuss over cocoons anymore. Besides, if your garden soil has some mulch or other organic matter, the cocoons will hatch and the babies will do ok out there. Worms are tough. They did well for millennium before the first person decided to keep them as working pets.

Here is a link that might be useful: 75 worms 6 months later

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 6:18PM
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wonderpets(7 TN)

I'm sorry that my first too posts were not helpful to getting answers to my concerns.

Too wet? not a problem. Worms are happy as is. Just don't want to make a section that ends up so full and so wet that it is compacted.

Two years to grow to a bunch of worms, considering that I had a baby in the meantime, along with two set backs (one with pillburgs and one with a bin too big and too stirred up for progress while the herd was small -- not concerned with that for now.

I realize that all the worms won't move.

As usual, I provided too much info in the original -- enough for tangents.

To simplify my questions:

Would you move the second to oldest section to the first, then bring #3 over to where #2 was, and so on, until the oldest section was the fullest?

Or would you never mix the sections?

What I am envisioning is something like what some compost-pile folks do, which turns one pile over into another space.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 10:46PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

I'm sorry if my first post sounded critical or unsympathetic. That was not my intent. I was simply offering "thoughts" that you had initially asked for. So, just answers to your questions.

I would not shift compost from one section to another. I would move any unfinished food or bedding (the paper you have in section #3) into the active feeding section. Bedding is food if kept damp enough. I would also make sure that each section is touching the sections beside it.

Visually, your lateral migration bin appears to be similar to the compost pile turning system. But in your case you would not need to "turn" a section until it was either ready to harvest or it was needed because the final section was full. Ideally section #1 would be ready to harvest just as #6 was getting full.

In your original post you describe each of the 4 sections. It sounds like it's working exactly as it should. The majority of the worms are in the newest section where the prime food is. Just continue the progression and harvest #1 when #6 is almost full.

I'm sure you've noticed that a section compresses (reduces in volume) as the worms process it. For that reason, I would fill each section to the brim (instead of 2/3 full) before starting to feed the next section. If you look at the height of material in each section from the side, you would see something like a cross-section of stairs. It won't be this clean cut, but imagine #1 = 4" depth, #2 = 6", #3 = 8" and #4 = 10".

Since you are using one of the sections to store bedding, you really have 5 working sections. Harvest #1 when you fill #5. I would not "...leave the whole box alone for a few months after I've cycled through the sections maybe twice". Based on the dimensions you cited, each section holds ~8 gal. of material. With the volume reduction you will end up with 5-6 gal. of material to harvest. I personally would do a quick light/pile harvest to remove the larger worms and use the VC as-is. If you want the coffee grind look, then you'll need to screen with 1/8" or 1/4" hardware cloth and dump the chunky remains into #2 to process a little more.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 11:56PM
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A little off-topic, but population growth was mentioned above. I have a bin of ENC's that I just harvested- mainly to see what the population was. The bedding felt pretty dense when I stuck my hand in. I was a little disappointed that I had nowhere near the population I expected. Only about 100 adults a few juveniles and a pile of cocoons. I had removed cocoons before for other bins but the worms obviously never read the book where they are supposed to be breeding like wildfire or the bin would have been full.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 5:59PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

I think ENCs don't reproduce at the same rate as reds. Of course all the other conditions still play an important part. The commonly reported rule of thumb is a doubling of worm (E. fetida) mass every 3 mos. "UNDER IDEAL CONDITIONS". Perfect temps, moisture, population density, food stock & feed rate. Ideal temps, moisture levels & pop. density for reds & ENCs are slightly different. The rule of thumb may also be different...I've just never heard what it is for ENCs.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 1:56AM
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I operate my 4X3X2 deep box on a horizontal counter-clockwise feeding schedule, as opposed to a side-to-side method. Food is added progressively around the box (layered- paper first, then VC, then food, then VC, from the bottom up) and the worms follow when they are ready. As the food catches up to the worms, I light-pile sort the finished VC and add any unfinished material and worms back into the box. This means a small harvest once a week, but I am not overwhelmed with an all-day marathon of harvesting as with a 3 month old tote. I donÂt use any dividers between the feedings, but have added a board in the center of the box so the worms canÂt take a short cut. Photos here:

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 5:55AM
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wonderpets(7 TN)

Andrew: thanks for responding again, especially since my last post was a bit critical. I was letting my expectations get the upperhand. Your answer about feeding to the top of the section is what I was hoping for.

Sizing my tote against an 18 g reminded me that mine is 10 g.

Steamyb: do you rotate your divider as the worms move around the circle?

    Bookmark   August 20, 2010 at 7:04AM
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No, it just sits in the middle. Before the divider, it seemed like the worms would cut across the box to get to food they preferred. No proof of that, it was just a feeling I had, and some times the food was not eaten in spots.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2010 at 9:05PM
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