Some observatoins on my flow through systems

mr_yanNovember 4, 2012

I run two smallish flow through systems in my basement. One is a worm inn and the other is a wood sided unit with a cross section of about 2 square feet. Somewhere around June I divided a nearly full worm inn in half to create the wooden FT.

Over the summer we moved the kitchen scrap box from the counter to the freezer in attempts to control fruit flies. Now most of the worm feedings are freeze thaw. I also tend to run a knife through the veg scraps before they go into the bin. By no means are the scraps blended but they are chopped fine-ish.

Lately, say since August, I have had more more veg scraps than these two units could easily handle. So I was marginally over feeding the bins each week.

About the same time as I built the new bin I tried switching by typical bedding material from crosscut shredded newspaper to mix of cardboard egg cartons and corrugated cardboard torn up to about 10 cm x 10 cm pieces or slightly smaller. I had been mixing new food scraps with shredded newspaper when adding to the bin but with the card board I would only add a few new pieces.

Over two or so months after switching beddings I started having trouble with the bins and not acting "stable" like the worm inn had been for about a year. They didn't seem evenly wet/moist or hold water well - remember these are flow through systems - and there was a massive mite explosion. I also mix the food / bedding into the first few inches of bin each time I add to it. During this time I also ceased to see worms in the top 6 or 8 inches of the bin.

In the last week I have switched back to shredded newspaper and added at least 10 cm of it to the top of each bin. I also held off on feeding the bins for almost two weeks.

I am starting to wonder about the use of large bits of corrugated as many people preach. Then again I can see how shredded newspaper will mat up quickly especially in a box type bin.

I am also wondering how I will be able to catch up to my food scrap production and frozen back log, let alone the two pumpkins next to the front door.

On a side note I put in two full ears of corn that sat too long in the fridge (uncooked). Well an full ear of corn that has started to sprout is among the most alien things I have seen recently.

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It's odd that the cardboard would cause a problem. I suppose you can try only using cardboard in the one bin and not the other to see if it matters.
+1 on the corn sprouting, it's really strange looking. :)

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 2:49AM
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How much compost do you have in the new system? I found systems get way more stable once it has a good amount compost built up. With the worm inn being so breathable, if it's just cardboard and feedings can dry out very quickly (except for maybe the core). Same with the creature balance, always seem to get waves of creatures until all the population finds a balance.

If I ever start a new system, I'd always now load it with compost I've already harvested to give it a solid base.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 10:50PM
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buckstarchaser(5 MI)

If the worms found their new universe too much of a shock to the system, they may have laid cocoons with their remaining energy and died. The mites may or may not be eating dead, melted worms, but one can imagine that the worms are doing something other than eating the expected quantity of food.

Don't worry about it though. As long as the worms breed in much quantity before they die, you'll have sufficient replacements that were 'born and raised' in that kind of setup and will be well adapted to it.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 9:14AM
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After about a week or two of my return to shredded paper bedding, and having held off on feeding for a while until last Sunday, I checked the worm inn today and the top few inches are a pile of squirm. I am sure that the pumpkins helped the come back too.

When I divided the Inn in half it was rather well broken down and provided about 5 inches of material in the new bin.

I now have 5 gallon bags in the freezer with chopped wastes and a failed loaf of bread. I hope I'll be able to catch up with the kitchen waste stream.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 2:08PM
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Most north american corrugated cardboards take longer to break down except the corr. CB of toilet paper and kitchen tissue. The asian ones are less sturdy and break down faster and higher water retention qualities. The good stuff (IMO) are the ones with double corrugated layers.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 6:17PM
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"I'll be able to catch up with the kitchen waste stream." We are coming into the season of less available food wastes. Winter and spring are always times of less food availability for my bins. The frozen bags will tide you over the sparse season.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 7:58PM
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Otis11 - I'm having trouble understanding the "...take longer to break down except the corr. CB of toilet paper and..."

I agree that corrugated takes longer than cardstock type cardboard but are you getting corrugated TP tubes?

I have started throwing the cardboard tubes from TP in whole thinking they'll provide a nice air pocket. Only time will tell how well it works.

I also do this with egg cartons where I tear the carton into individual egg cups. Again my hope is the shape will aid the aeration of the bin.

EquinoxEquinox - I have been kind of banking on this season as a kitchen waste slowdown. While it is a slowdown in many ways I have a growing family and cook most things from scratch. The bins will also have to ramp up to take in the additional peels and scraps when we start to make baby food again in a few months (mom, dad, 27 mth old, 3 mth old). The soups I make weekly tend to make a bunch of peelings and end cut scraps. On the other hand I keep these bins in the basement here in the US midwest and the basement cools down and slows down the process.

I have high hopes for next season's veg plantings. For the 2012 season I didn't really have enough VC / media yet to really experiment with it's garden uses.

Maybe over Christmas I'll make another worm inn - assuming I can obtain use of a sewing machine again.

Any thoughts on how adding shredded leafs to the bins will effect the speed of composting? I know to avoid large volumes to prevent heating. I need to go hit the forum archives with this idea.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 9:19PM
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Well my worm inn bounded back and is going through a lot of scraps per week. With each addition of kitchen scraps I am now adding a large handful of crosscut shredded newspaper and mixing it in with the top inch or so. After a week the full freezer zip lock bag is reduced to just onion skins, egg shells, and anything that I didn't chop too well.

The traditional flow though system though is a different story all together. I would term this a collapsed bin and am now rebuilding it. Saturday I filled the bin with bedding - leafs which had been shredded with one of the handheld leaf blower shredder-vacs. The leafs I added had sat in the shredder bag for about two weeks so I suspect any heating action has already taken place. I poured about half a gallon of water over this and added two scoops of worms from my worm inn.

At this point I need to thank the old timers here for convincing me of the need to divide my bin so I have two worm populations.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2012 at 8:08PM
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mr_yan, sorry I missed answering your question.
""corr. CB of toilet paper and kitchen tissue."" I meant the big boxes in the super market in which the packages of toilet paper and kitchen tissue are shipped.
It is easier to rip cardboard when they are damp. So what I do, I cut them roughly with a utility knife in strips of appr. 6". Roll that up and bury it in the VC/food chimney like. After a few days that roll will be damp and full of MO and I can rip them very easily in smaller strips. My observation: these strips processed faster than when I put in dry corr. CB. (or even pre-wetted w. rain water for that matter)

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 9:04PM
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Another fast update.

About two weeks ago I added a lot of shredded leafs to the "dead" bin along with three scoops of worms and composting material from my worm inn. Over three or four days I also poured about a gallon of rain water over this - remember this is a flow through with open mesh bottom not a plastic bin with solid bottom.

The leaf volume has been cut in half, at least. As I poke around with my fork I see lots of worms, far more worms than I could have moved with just three fork scoops. I added a small amount of kitchen scraps almost a week ago - mainly peelings of carrots, onions, potatoes, celery ribs, and sweet potatoes - which were mostly gone when I looked yesterday. I still have a high mite population but the worms look to be thriving so no complaints there.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 9:50AM
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Amazing worms are survivors for sure! As things go bad in a bin (ie: too wet, dry, hot, cold, ect. worms produce many cocoons. I have noticed that when I stress my wormbed that usually soon after there is a "cocoon bloom" with many babies. I had a large compost pile (about 2 cu. yds.) I turned into a wormwery a few years back. I got busy fishing and ignored this system for several months. It dried out and most worms were gone. In the fall I used half this VC to start a new windrow wormbed. By spring I probably had 20-30 lbs of worms in that new bed.

Moral of the story: If your worms die, do not give up and toss out the old VC. It probably contains the next generation!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 11:50AM
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""I still have a high mite population""
Could adding ground egg shell remedy this?

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 11:23PM
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Compared to fruit flies which escape the bin I am wondering if mites are the good guys. Maybe mites are a symbol of a bin in balance? Maybe we should be aiming to have mites? If not then add dry bedding and stop adding food for a bit of time.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 3:13AM
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I can't remember reading anything that reliably said mites are a bad thing. Most of the places I read about mites are newbee wormers who see mites and panic.

... add dry bedding and stop adding food for a bit of time.

The mites were covering the dry areas of shredded leafs too.

I did have one bad experience with mites where I touched something and got them on my hand and arm. It was a weird feeling where you felt movement but had a hard time seeing it. Only the bath tub spigot was strong enough to wash them off. Maybe a lint roller would work too.

I'm not planning on trying to combat the mites and dozens of other types of creatures in the bin. I am sure they help with the system.

I tried adding pill bugs / sow bugs / wood lice a few months ago but the population never took hold. At least I can't see any when poking around.

On a failed bin idea I made a bonnet out of thin fabric with elastic sewing around the edge. This worked well to keep flies trapped in just like the top of a worm inn. I plan on doing the same thing for my rain water barrels this summer to combat mosquitoes.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 1:16PM
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buckstarchaser(5 MI)

The mites will likely not go deep in the bin, nor will much else but the worms.

One thing I read was that if you are really upset about non-worm visible lifeforms in the bin you can do one of several things... One (which I prefer) is to put your bins outside where they belong if you don't like living with extra lifeforms and micromanaging a bin that is taking up the most expensive area of your property. Another time proven technique is to ignore your boxed dirtfarm so that less hours of your week are dedicated to worrying about something that is taking care of its self.

If plan A and B there don't work... You can take advantage of the fact that worms will dive for cover if you dump extra water in the bin, and all these mites, ants, pillbugs, and whatever else, will surface... Where you will be waiting with a grin and a blowtorch.

I've found the blowtorch method to be highly effective at reducing the populations of insects that gravitate to one location. A reduced population of insects will quickly breed back up to swarming strength in the protected shelter of a house though, and since I understand that my ancestors differentiated indoors from outdoors by what one expects to encounter there, I keep my bin in the chicken coop (unheated, Zone 5).

Beyond that, the larger your bin, the less things that can possibly go wrong with it. If it's deep, it can't overheat or freeze. If it has high volume, it can hold more worms than can be preyed upon and excess can be taken for whatever you want. If it has much room, the worms can separate into their personal favorite locations and run away or toward hot composting locations. If your bin is large enough, you can't over or underfeed it simply because the worms can express their natural survivability, which they can't do when you keep them in a little test-tube bin indoors.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 1:52PM
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+1 on the blowtorch method. I use a hand held butane burner like this one.

Here is a link that might be useful: Butane Micro Torch

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 9:18PM
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Got to agree with buckstarchaser, "can't do when you keep them in a little test-tube bin indoors" Keeping the bin in a chicken coop would have the added advantage of escapes get put to good use. That vermicompost litter that falls like cup cake crumbs while working around my bin would not need to be swept up. Even the volume of material in the bin would be temperature stabilizing for the coop.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 9:22PM
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Some day I'll have an outdoor building for garden experiments / chickens / rabbits but that will have to wait until at least the next house. As for now an unfinished basement acts as my lab.

I'll need a lot of compost for next year. With the cold weather I'll not be able to keep a compost pile going so I think I have a new idea. I'm building some new planter boxes which have about 7 cubic feet of capacity each. I am thinking I'll assemble one of these in my basement next week and fill it with the cold compost bin. Once the bin warms up in a day or two I'll add a few scoops of worms to it and let them carry on for a few months in there. I won't use it for kitchen scraps but will be able to add more to it from outside over the winter - it may take a few shovels and a pickax though.

I'm starting to think I'll do about anything to eek out another 75 to 100 pounds of produce from my garden. I just don't have the ability to expand it horizontally anymore as we have reached a livable garden real estate detente in the Yan household

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 10:41PM
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buckstarchaser(5 MI)

Anything, you say? :P

...I'm contemplating building an attached greenhouse with an aquaponics setup just to get year-round produce and fish without being overly concerned with where I'm going to find my next scrap of garbage to feed the garden... Still thinking about it though but the concept of no more hoeing or guessing what's the matter with the soil does sound appealing. Plus you can grow worms in the gravel of a flood and drain style bed.

I've read that it's a good idea to bake things in the oven if bringing them from outside to an inside bin, to kill off insects and their eggs before putting them in your indoors bin.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 6:25AM
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At this point my worm inn is about full. While it needs more bedding I was hard pressed to add more than a handful of shredded leafs today.

I topped off my wooden bin with shredded leafs.

The shredded leafs I added to the wooden bin a few weeks ago really got broken down fast. I have 1.5 lawn bags full in the garage that I will continue to use for the winter.

I am playing with two ideas right now.
1) Take some finished material out of the worm inn and place it in the wooden bin when the new leafs settle some.
2) Start a third bin or worm inn. I saw a couch cushion being thrown out and think the outer cover will make a worm inn substitute - I may pilfer that after dark today.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 5:50PM
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Yep, time to start another system. Good re-use of the cushion cover. You must prefer the "worm inn" style because you are going to make another. How long do you think it will take to rot-out?

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 7:41PM
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I like the sealed nature of the worm inn when inside. Also I like that I don't have the horrid over watered problems I keep reading about with the plastic bins.

I don't have the cushion cover yet so I don't even know if it has holes in it or not let alone what fiber it is made of. Being upholstery my bet is either an animal fiber or synthetic both of which will last much longer than similar weight cotton.

I still need to think this one through but I don't think I will hang it as with worm inns. Perhaps I'll just have it sitting on a mesh structure.

It should only need to last until summer this time around. Hopes are to start an outdoor bin for garden waste.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 9:27PM
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