Harvesting compost

sk290August 1, 2010

Is there an easy way to harvest compost from my worm bin? I started it in November of last year so it's ready to go but I just haven't found a good way to do that.

Sometimes when I repot some of my plants into a bigger pot that has been sitting in the ground I find that earth worms have crawled into the pot. Not sure why they do that but I was wondering if I could use the same method for harvesting out of my bins. Maybe place the 10 gal bin on top of the larger one and just feed that. Would they migrate to it? Could I then just remove the smaller one out and harvest out of the larger one to reduce the work? Any other suggestions?

This is the first time I do this so I wanted to hear from you pros out there. Please help!


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For what it's worth, here is what I do. I use the factory produced "Can O Worms" (COW).I have 4 complete units of 3 trays each. 3 units are in full use and I keep the 4th in reserve for convenience. When I am ready to harvest a tray I prepare an empty tray by creating a bedding layer in it and put it on the spare base unit then put the tray to be harvested on top of that. I put this under a light to drive the worms down and proceed to carefully remove compost from the top. The remaining worms that I encounter I toss into what appears to be the least active working tray. As the layer being harvested gets thinner the worms I don't catch will drop into the new layer beneath. When I get to the end I put the new tray in the stack from which I removed the tray I just harvested. I hope this helps. Keep on wormin.

Dave Nelson

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 8:58AM
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If you do a google search on key words "harvesting vermicompost" you'll see several videos that may be helpful. The one below is slow and easy ... "capturing" worms with melon rinds over a period of days.

Since I keep my worms in an outdoor 'pit', the harvest method is just place several fork-fulls on a tarp and scrape away the VC as the sun drives the worms down into the come-shaped pile. Not very time-effective, but suits my purposes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Harvesting video

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 11:50AM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

I tend to be in a hurry, so I sift mine out. I use a dollar store colander for small bins, and just dump a cup or two at a time into it, hold it over a finished compost collection bin (a small plastic garbage can I keep in the garage) and shake. If a worm slips by, I just throw it back. Anything left in the colander I save to start the bin over with- the beneficial microbes on it will jumpstart the bin again.
If the whole bin is well processed, I still leave about a quarter of it or maybe a little less, in the bin for the worms, to make them feel at home. I have less wanderers that way when starting over.

But there are LOTS of ways to harvest a bin, so whatever works for you is a good way.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 12:11PM
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I harvest fairly often so I have more uncomposted material to contend with. Also I seem to have alot of clumps so when i harvest I do a 2 step procedure. I made a frame of wood a little over a foot square and stapled 1/2 inch hardware cloth to it. This gives me a preliminary seiving. Then I follow with a cheap collander I bought at Target (plastic with small 1/4 holes.) For the most part I get just castings and cocoons as a result. Anything else gets returned to the bin.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 2:32PM
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Material can be put on cardboard for an hour. This drys the compost a lot so you can work with it easier. The damp cardboard then is good to go on top of the bin.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 6:21PM
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I use a system that I developed. I start with a large plastic bowl and fill it with damp shredded cardboard. I then take a plastic flower-pot base (which collects run-off water from the flower pot) and set it on top. In the flower pot base I have drilled many 1/4" holes. I fill the base with the castings (and worms) to about 1" high and set it out in the sun. The worms immediately begin to move down through the holes into the damp shredded cardboard below, leaving the castings 95% clean of worms.
What's left are usually the little guys plus lots of cocoons. I dump this into a large holding bin for further processing and start again.
How much material you can harvest in one day depends only on how many bases you have to work with. At present I have 15.
Sure, drilling out 15 bases was a lot of work, but it only needs to be done once.
At the end, it's fairly easy to separate the worms out from the wet cardboard in the plastic bowl and the cardboard can then be used as bedding in a new bin.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 4:44PM
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Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I guess I just have to do it to figure out what would work out for me. I prefer the 'leave it to the worms to get it done' approach. lol I really like shaul's approach. I'll have to figure out something on those lines and will post back and let you know how it turned out.

Thanks again and hope to hear more from others. Keep on wormng!!!

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 12:22AM
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While there is tons to be said for having the worms self transporting to the new bed most of the time, there is also something fun about once in a while seeing the whole herd sans bedding. Good time to weigh them, too.

Especially so if one is from Missouri.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 12:59AM
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denno(z7 NC)

I have my worms in a 2 ft square box, by 8 inches thick. And because I keep it in a shed,(outside) I usually do my harvest in the Spring only. This way they can build up the castings again before the winter. I believe it helps the insulation. Anyway, when I feed, it's either in the front or back. So a couple weeks before harvesting, I'll start feeding in the opposite area to give them time to move. Then I'll just start scooping small amounts by hand, and pick out any worms still there, putting them back in the bin. I don't bother looking for the cocoons, and just get it done. I haven't noticed any setbacks in a few years now. So it works for me. And it's ready then for my Spring planting, especially my tomatoes and peppers, which always start off strong.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 7:16AM
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my bin was overheating back when we had a heatwave a month ago (90-100). i put in a freezer pack in the morning, and by the time i got back from work, all the worms had congregated under the pack (looked very cool to see them all together). so, a high risk strategy for harvesting could be to leave it in the sun for a bit to heat things up, but with a freezer pack on one end to lure the worms underneath.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 11:08AM
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Here are the pictures of my first harvest. I ended up just scraping the top of the bin to fluff things up and dry it a bit. I noticed that the worms were burrowing down so I just scooped the top layer and minimized the number of worms I needed to sort out. There were lots of large worms as well as tiny little baby ones and tons of cocoons.

This is the work area with my bin, some harvesting tools and a harvesting container.

I split the bin in two areas using a cut up plastic tray. On one side I added new bedding and only feed there in hopes that the wormies will find their way there by themselves. The opposite side has the processed VC that I am working on harvesting. I figure it would take me a few days to get it all done.

This is my bin after a few hours of harvest. Can you tell how much the new bedding area has increased in size?

Can you see all the cocoons in the VC? I couldn't believe how small they were. I picked every single one of them as well as every tiny baby worm with a pair of chopsticks.

This is sure a lot of work! I was planning on putting a couple more bins together since I have so many worms and way too much wormy food but how would you harvest multiple bins? Btw, I started this bin last Nov so this exercise was well overdue.

Thanks everyone for all your suggestions and for checking out my pics! That was sure a lot of fun. :)


    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 1:37AM
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"Can you see all the cocoons in the VC? I couldn't believe how small they were. I picked every single one of them as well as every tiny baby worm with a pair of chopsticks. "

I found an easier way to retrieve cocoons was a plastic spoon and a wooden tongue depressor. I flip the cocoons into the spoon. Less risk to the cocoons IMO.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 7:33AM
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I use a square colander type box I bought for $1 and a 18 qt. dish washing tub. Put a couple of handfuls in the colander box, shake and toss everything (including worms) back into the bin where I've added fresh bedding. It takes about 20 minutes per bin and not much work or materials. I credit pjames and others for the colander idea. It made it so much faster and easier to harvest. There are a lot of postings in the search on harvesting as well.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 5:42PM
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I just came inside from doing a little harvest. (What fell out the bottom of my flow-throughs in the past 24 hours.) I was getting alot of bedding coming out and then I hit an area where there was alot of of castings. I probably harvested about a gallon or so of good castings. I have not measured as I left it in the pan until I can retrieve some cocoons.

Harvesting the castings took minutes. I have built a small trommel to help me process. What took a LONG time was catching all the small worms.

I tend to do frequent harvests rather than wait and harvest a large amount at once.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 6:11PM
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