Back to the worms!!

wildgoatDecember 9, 2009

About 10 years ago the military sent me to South Korea for a year, so I left my worm bin at my parents house, and when I returned, the bin, and all the worms in it, were dead. It eventually ended up getting thrown out.

Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I've been dreaming about starting another bin, but hadn't done it. About two weeks ago I finally set up a new worm bin and on Dec 7th, the worms I ordered from Uncle Jims finally arrived.

I think I probably only received about half of the amount of worms I paid for (paid for 1000 worms/1 pound), but they arrived healthy so I have no complaints (although I would have loved to have received all of them).

The bin is made from two rubbermaid 10 gal storage containers. One on the bottom to catch the water, and one placed partially inside the bottom bin to store the worms. When the current bin is full, I'm going to add one to the top to experiment with the flow through idea, to see if it makes harvesting castings easier.

I check on the worms every day (I just peak in, I don't turn the compost or disturb the worms) to make sure the worms aren't fleeing, and to make sure the bin doesn't sour or dry out. Everything looks ok so far.

I did start out with too much food in the bin I think, and there is a white fuzzy looking mold growing inside the bin that I think is probably harmless. Each time I check the bin there has been between 2 and 12 worms at the top like they are trying to escape, and I've only found 1 worm in the water below, so I think the bin is probably doing fine.

If anyone has any suggestions, or if anyone knows what that white mold is I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Worming!!

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It sounds like you are doing fine.

The white mold is mold. Mold is just one more part of the decomposition process. You will always have mold in your bin. The question is how much. It sounds like you have more than usual. In time it will probably decrease on its own.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 1:58AM
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Thanks for your feedback. I'd really like to use the flow through system so I can not worry about putting too much food in the bin, and the waste in the top bin can compost and heat up the box without fear of the worms overheating, and I think it'll make harvesting much easier because I'll know exactly where the worms are (or aren't).

So when the bin I currently have the worms in is full, I'm going to add a bin to the top and start evolving it into a flow through system.

I keep it in the kitchen in the winter so that it doesn't get too cold because it's freezing in Central California this time of year.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 1:28PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Welcome back to the world of worming. Too bad you didn't get all the worms you paid for. I read a complaint about that same source about a month ago. Ah well, at least the 1/2 lb. you received are healthy...hopefully they'll reproduce like crazy and you'll have a pound in no time.

A little mold is not unusual. Wandering worms is also common. A short string of white LED Christmas lights only uses a few watts and can be left on 24/7 to discourage worms (photophobic) from venturing above the bedding.

Worms escaping through the drain holes can be prevented by putting weed block cloth on the bottom, but it's probably not worth disturbing your squirm to install it now. Just put some shredded paper/cardboard in the catch bin. Leachate will dampen the paper. Any worms that fall down there can munch on damp bedding and you can transfer bedding & worms every few weeks to the main bin.

The link below has excellent descriptions and tips for your bin system.

Andrew from Berkeley

Here is a link that might be useful: rickd's worm bin system

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 1:32PM
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What you are describing is not a flow through system, but a stacking bin system. It is the same thing I do. There will still be a few worms in the lower bin, even after a few months. When you harvest, you will want to do some screening to get the few remaining worms out.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 2:44PM
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Well I'm going to transition to the stacking bin system from the single bin system in order to allow me to hot compost in the top bin, worms feeding in the middle bin, and finished (or nearly finished) compost in the bottom bin, and all the bins will be rotated as needed.

If I begin generating more food waste than the worms can consume, I'll just start add more bins until they match our volume.

Does that sound like a good plan?

How long on average do you think it would take one 10 gallon bin to finish composting and cool down so the worms could move into it and begin feeding?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 8:29PM
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I don't think it will get hot, and the worms will move in within a few days. It depends on what you put in the bin, but a 10 gallon bin won't hold in much heat, even if it does get hot.

If you try this, I think you will find that you are simply over feeding the bin, and it will smell pretty bad. I definitely would not do this if the bin is inside.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 11:23PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

"If I begin generating more food waste than the worms can consume, I'll just start add more bins until they match our volume."

This will only work if you are also adding more worms. 1/2 lb. of worms will probably process 1/2 lb. of pre-rotted food every 3-4 days. You really don't want to overfeed - all sorts of unpleasant things can happen. Better to start a conventional compost bin to process the scraps your worms can't handle. Eventually your squirm will multiply to the point where it can handle most of your scraps. I still throw most citrus, potato & onion peels into the regular compost bin.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 1:29AM
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So it sounds like you're saying that I shouldn't do it because there isn't enough volume in my bins to allow composting to happen.

I've already over fed the bin. It smells a bit when I take the top off, but not bad, and doesn't have much of a smell with the top on.

I don't pre-rot any of the food... I just chuck our scraps in the bin and let the worms take care of it. I really can't tell if they are eating as I haven't noticed a decrease in the amount of food in the bin. They've only been in there about 4 days and I think they are probably still getting used to the new bedding and food. They are probably still not eating much yet.

Maybe I should order another pound of worms, this time from monsterworms to make sure that I have a good number of worms to start my bin with....

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 12:48PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

I know pre-rotting sounds like a pain. It's obviously an extra step, but it really adds very little time to the whole feeding routine. The main advantage is the worms get something they can immediately consume. They don't "eat" the scraps, rather they slurp the microorganisms that are on the scraps. (Exceptions are melons, softish cucumbers, etc.) So when you throw in fresh scraps into the bin, the worms can't do anything with it until some microorganisms start to work on it. There's nothing wrong with that - chop & drop. Worms aren't in a hurry, so they'll just munch on bedding until the scraps break down a bit. You just don't want to pile up so much fresh scraps that weird things like protein poisoning become an issue.

Another pound of worms will definitely increase the squirm's ability to process food. It may also increase the rate of reproduction. 1/2-1 lbs. of worms per sq. ft. is supposed to be best for raising worms. Push it to 2-3 lbs./sq. ft. and you get faster compost production at the expense of lower worm reproduction.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 8:02PM
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composting will happen if you have organic matter, and the conditions are right. Composting can be hot or cold. What happens in a worm bin is cold composting.

Composting, either hot or cold, requires oxygen. If you pile up a lot of wet organic matter, which kitchen scraps tend to be, oxygen will not be able to reach the center of the pile, and what you have will not be composting.

As for purchasing more worms, the worms have their own way of adding another pound to the total worm biomass. Is it worth the price of another pound of worms not to have to wait 5 months for the worms to increase on their own?

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 9:24PM
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I like your ideas wildgoat. Why not give it a try just how you reckon it should be, and see how it goes?

I'm trying an idea of mine by starting 5 bins, each of 10 gallons or so. 100 worms in each to start, shredded newspaper, cardboard and food )kitchen scrapes once every 2 weeks. No holes. No drains. No aeration. I manage moisture by adding dry shredded newspaper at each feeding. Also, I started with translucent bins, run a strip of tape up on side, then sprayed them flat black. Peeled the tape to leave a clear strip. This gives you a depth guage to manage moisture (I set my bins up on a block of wood at one end, so excess moisture if any drains to the guage end.)

Two months in, and bin 1 (started a few weeks earlier than bins 2 and 3), now has so many cocoons I can't count, and babies are well established, and should be mature in a few more weeks. Then, the population should really explode (based on my worm breeding calculator).

Good luck!

PS As sbryce said, and is supported by my calculations, if you start with 500 adults (no cocoons), you'll only wait 5 months (20-21 weeks) before the population will reach 1 pound. Of course, you'll probably have cocoons in there already, so it should be even sooner. Cheers!

PPS If you want a copy of my calculator (excel spreadsheet) just to get a rough idea of the potential population growth, I can email it to you of you like.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 11:01PM
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Actually, I was estimating 5 months until the worm population increases by one pound, IOW, the total population should be 1 1/2 pounds. That is based on the worm population doubling every 3 months.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 11:45PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Quote from Manual of On-Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture By Glenn Munroe

"Epigeic worms such as E. fetida do reproduce very quickly, given good to ideal conditions. Compost worm populations can be expected to double every 60 to 90 days, but only if the following conditions are met:

 Adequate food (must be continuous supply of nutritious food, such as those listed in Table 2);
 Well aerated bedding with moisture content between 70 and 90%;
 Temperatures maintained between 15 and 30C;
 Initial stocking densities greater than 2.5 kg/m2 (0.5 lb/ft2) but not more than 5 kg/m2 (1.0 lb/ft2).

Stocking density refers to the initial weight of worm biomass per unit area of bedding. For instance, if you started with 5 kg of worms and put them in a bin with a surface area of 2 m2, then your initial stocking density would be 2.5 kg/m2. Starting with a population density less than this will delay the onset of rapid reproduction and, at very low densities, may even stop it completely. It seems that worms need a certain density in order to have a reasonable chance of running into each other and reproducing frequently. At lower densities, they just donÂt find each other as often as the typical worm grower would like."

Here is a link that might be useful: Manual of On-Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture

    Bookmark   December 12, 2009 at 12:15AM
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Very interesting plumiebear, nice stuff.

I'll try a trial with a starting population of 100 in a 10 gallon, and 100 in a 5 gallon, and see if the rate of reproduction is effected by the sparse-ness of mates. Nothing like you're own trials.


PS Sbryce, my calcs came up with 1.4 lbs approx total population after 20 weeks too. :-) cheers!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2009 at 1:09AM
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