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DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Posted by alabamanicole 7 (My Page) on
Thu, Jun 3, 10 at 12:27

Currently, I am having a problem with my new DIY FT -- the compost is falling out of the bottom, often with the worms, too.

I spaced the bars well apart because of issues others have reported. In retrospect, I would recommend a design which enables you to remove bars in the future. Something else which might work is using cardboard to line the bottom initially. As soon as my newspaper was mostly gone, that's when I started having issues.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

That tends to happen when FT's are new. Once they fill up a bit most of the worm activity will be higher up - less disturbance, and the pressure on the castings will help hold it in place. For now, just collect the droppings and worms once or twice a week, it probably doesn't matter that much, and put them back in on top.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Collect them and put them back on top. They are not lost. You will see them again. In the mean time they will do double duty by covering new additions to the bin and getting them off to a good start.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

That's what I'm doing, just pushing them back up top. But it's some manual work that could have been avoided by using either of the two solutions above.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Cardboard would have made a difference, or more paper. I used 4 layers and it was falling through that in a couple of days. I am not so sure about the spacing though, as initially it's all a bit loose and has a lot of worm activity to disturb it, so I think you did it right by designing for when it is more operational.

I did find that putting a fairly bright light in the catchment hole helped a bit, but then it was a bit risky - electricity and wet castings and leachate. I then used a dustpan and brush to clean up, being a bit too fastidious though.

Now I just use a spade which gets most of it with a lot less bending, kneeling and various other acrobatics!

It probably should be recognised that FTs have a startup period, they aren't perfect right away.

Wasn't someone about to start a new FT with just one sheet of newspaper? Might be another forum, but I remember thinking that it would probably last about 30 minutes before it started to drop through. :)


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One sheet of paper

I think I suggested the one sheet of paper. Instead of waiting for 4 sheets to break through. 30 minutes is about how long I can wait until I want to see the flow thru working :-)

Even if the method of adding more cardboard to the bottom was used, that material would maybe have to be put through the bin again to finish working.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

The newspaper is mostly gone... it seems that a fungus ate it and the worms ate the fungus. I would think cardboard would have been the same, it would just last longer.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I started mine with a layer of cardboard. How long has it been? I don't remember. The cardboard is starting to rot away, and chunks of it are falling down with the VC. We'll see what happens as things continue to get established. I just fed my FT, which brought the depth up from 10 inches to 12 inches. If I were to do it again, I would do the same, laying down 1 layer of cardboard to hold up the bedding.


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cardboard

sbryce, you have above human patience. Or you have a life other than worms. Not sure which. Are we talking corrigated cardboard?


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I used a single layer of newspaper when I made my kitty litter bucket FT's and it has worked well. Part of the reason is I used PVC bars with screws at 2 inch intervals along the rods. The screws are staggered so they do not hit the screw on the next bar when they are turned.

I had a very small amount of stuff fall through. I used the smaller vermicompost from the original bins for the first flowthru. By smaller I mean stuff that sifted through a 1/2 inch screen. Then i filled in the rest of the vc from that bin.

I was in a hurry when I filled the second FT. Same single sheet of newpaper but I just held back the top few inches unused bedding and filled the bin. Then put the unused bedding back on top.

I am not going to try to harvest either for a couple a couple weeks then plan to return anything I get back on top. I have plenty of castings stored for the time being.

F


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

equinoxequinox: Yes, corrugated cardboard. No, I have very little of either.

pjames: My bars are spaced far enough apart that the screws don't touch. Part of the reason I have VC falling out is that I started the bin with 3 inches of finished VC that had gone through a 1/4 screen. The idea was to prevent the worms from crawling out the bottom by providing a less desirable habitat at the bottom of the bedding. It has not entirely worked.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Update:

Worms are going well in the new bin. I have never seen so many fat clitellums and cocoons before -- HUGE cocoons. I am still having a little difficultly keeping the bin moist enough. Also, the worms don't seem to work the compost as thoroughly, since they don't like the bottom of the bin (too dry).

And stuff is still falling through. A lot. The other day I pulled out the ~6" worth of half-finished compost and laid down another thick layer of newspaper on the bottom and a layer of wet newspaper on the top. I'm going to let the worms really work what's in there for a while before feeding more. Maybe a nice dense layer will stop the rain of semi-finished compost.

If I continue to have trouble with it falling down, I will just have to add more bars.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

How do you put more paper at the bottom? Dig it all out first?


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I accept full responsiblity for probably being the person saying do not put your bars so close together. If things change please give me full credit. :-) Despite negative results I still like the adivice.

If the poster had dry compost it is possible they could of dug out a few inches of compost and reset a base of newspaper etc.

Maybe we have a rule of thumb here. Wet composters need bars set apart wider than dry composters.

I am surprised compost can get dry at the bottom. Water flows down. How does the bottom get dry while the top is wet enough?

The goal is dry at the bottom. Not sure if that should be the goal but it is. Apparently that is possible because many posters post about dry at the bottom. Hard to imagine.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

"How do you put more paper at the bottom? Dig it all out first?"

Yep.

"I am surprised compost can get dry at the bottom. Water flows down. How does the bottom get dry while the top is wet enough? "

Easy -- because there is air at the bottom and the water evaporates out the access hole. The bin has a lid, so water that evaporates from the top tends to drip back down.

"The goal is dry at the bottom. Not sure if that should be the goal but it is."

This may be a self-correcting issue with time. When I have 18" or so of compost, and the bottom of the compost is fully finished, it will be easier to deal with because it's dry. But right now I don't have fully finished compost and my worms aren't finishing it because it's too dry.

So I'll be micromanaging for a few more months, I guess. If I had realized this ahead of time, I would have saved maybe 10" of finished compost from the old bin to line the bottom to give the system a jump-start.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Alabamanichole: Each person has his or her own idea of how to manage a worm bin. I don't want to insult you but I want to give you my own philosophy of a flow-thru and how they differ from a regular bin.

With a regular bin you start with a little bedding and some worms then add food and bedding as you go along. You let the worms do their thing and when the bin fills up, you dump it out and harvest as much castings &/or compost as you can and then start all over using some of the un-converted bedding. You get a fairly large amount of castings to use at one time.

With a flowthru you get smaller amounts of compost and castings out the bottom but on a more frequent interval. Instead of starting with a small amount of bedding and then adding, I believe you should fill an FT. As you add small amounts of bedding to the top, you take away what falls out the bottom.

If you looked at the bin in transection (layer by layer) ideally you would have fresh uneaten, non-decomposed food and bedding on top. As you moved further down, you would have progressively more processed material until at the bottom you would have pure castings. Unfortunately, there is no ideal so alot of material comes out the bottom incompletely processed. You can either use it as is or return it to the top of the bin. (I do this.)

What I would suggest for you to do is prepare a bunch of cardboard/paper for bedding. Use a handful of your compost (without worms) into a bucket of water, stir and then add some cardboard. This will innoculate your new bedding. Let it sit for a few hours then squeeze out excess water and add it to your bin. Repeat until you have almost filled your FT. This cardboard can be considered FOOD as it is innoculated and is decomposing. The microherd is going wild before you even get it into the bin.

For several days after you set up the FT this way you will find stuff falling out the bottom, probably decreasing as time goes on. You can sift castings as you desire or return whatever falls to the top- your choice.

You will also observe a settling the first few days, witth the level falling significantly. Just add more bedding and whatever food/kitchen scraps you have. If you aren't adding too much 'people food' or greens as they term it in composting, then the system should not heat too much.

I try to keep my FT's full. I add bedding/kitchen scraps as I go. If I have excess scraps they go into my outside compost bins. But that is because I do not freeze nor even collect anything for more than two days at most.

Hope this gives you an idea how I manage my own systems. That being said I have recently encountered a problem that I will report later in another post.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I have been getting a consistent amount of stuff from the bottom of my FT. I have 'harvesting rods"-PVC pipes with screws that when turned will actually pull the bottom layers off the bedding.

A week or so ago I noticed a decrease in the amount of material i could pull off the bottom. I added a little water and that helped, but not like before. When I reached up inside I found that somehow my bedding had bottlenecked about 1/2 way thru my system . The bottom 1/2 was empty and what i was getting was what was falling from above.

I'm not sure yet if I let the bedding get too dry or if the configuration of the FT allows it to hold up. Because I was getting consistent but less material flowing thru I do not know how long the problem has been going on. basically I was getting about 12 inches of working depth instead of the 2 feet or so the system was designed for.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Thanks, pjames, I appreciate the input. Right now I think your solution would actually make my "problem" worse, which is something you don't see as a problem. I want finished compost at the bottom, not constant maintenance sifting and sorting what falls out.

My worms are cherry picking what they want to eat. If I stack the bin full of goodies I don't see how it'll ever get nice and finished at the bottom.

Once I have a system going, filling the bin up with paper and cardboard might make sense then.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Hi All; In order to get nearly pure castings from a flowthru type of bin you have to harvest and then put the harvested back in the top and send it thru again for several trips harvesting daily and reintroducing in the top with a thin layer 1-2 inches fresh food to 5-6 inches of reintroduced will after about 40 days give some fairly pure castings that will be crumbly and have a nice consistancy. When you start getting some less processed material while harvesting stop put in thin layer of fresh food.Then cover with more harvested vermicompost. When the system is working corectly you will get some almost pure castings every 40 days or so. In that time the harvested stuff will make 5-6 trips thru the system. If you want a constant supply of castings weekly you need 7-8 flowthru systems at verious stages of processing all the time. I have three systems going but I am processing much slower and am only sending the material thru at present 3 to 4 times. I am experimenting to see how close to pure castings one can get with these types of systems. At present I only am feeding when the worms start to work down in the upper layer of food and bedding when they go down i introduce fresh food and harvest the layer for the top


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Hi All heres a link to a large scale operation. It was on the History Channel. It can give some info contained in the above post.

Here is a link that might be useful: Large Scale Vermicomposting


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I can say with certainty that I absolutely will not be messing with a worm bin daily and putting castings through 5 or 6 times. That seems to be needlessly complicating a normal biological process and is terribly inefficient from a labor standpoint. I'd like to putter around the house and play with my little hobbies all day, but, alas, I don't have that lifestyle yet.

I think I can make it work without so much manual labor and intervention, but if not, I'll label the FT bin a failed experiment and move on.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Hi alabamanicole The information is to get as pure castings as possible not vermicompost persay with a once thru fast to harvest type of operation. The more broke down the organic material the more plant ready it is.

If you watch the video you will see and hear that the material makes several passes thru the system until the material is fine enough to fall thru a small mesh screen to the final harvesting conveyer. It is then packaged. The system is some what automated and the labor intensive part is automated that leaves the people to do the monitoring. Small home systems are labor intensive if you want a flow thru type of system. Most people are leaning for the fill with organic bedding and throw in some veggie and fruit waste and let be until xmas or several months. The way you run your systems is related to time you have material wanted in the end and do you want to produce worms or castings. I think most home folks want to grow the squirm and get a few castings to do gardening.

I am experimenting in (playing with) all types of home small size bins and operating them and taking notes as to food, bedding, water, and number of worms being produced in each system. takes lots of time but I have it to learn what are myths and what are facts.

So far I find my worms like it on the moist side and a constant supply of more or less fresh to them food and darkness and as little disturbance as can be done. It took me some time to realize that they really do migrate up and down in the bins andwhy I do not know perhaps the breaking down of fresh food on their skin erritates them and they go down to wipe off the material and get a resupply of moisture. All I know is it is hard to get pure castings and grow the squirm in the same bin. If you want to harvest a large squirm then the vermicompost will not be as finished ait could be and if yuo want pure castings then the squirm biomass will suffer. You must choose between these two extreams in a small home type of bin. I am trying to find the best compromise for me.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

pjames: See! The stuff just does not fall. It is hard to believe. I feel so much better now that I'm not the only one reporting this. In order to get the vermicompost to fall to the level of the grate it has to be too wet? When the vermicompost is wet it has too many worms in it for harvest.

alabamanicole: "My worms are cherry picking what they want to eat." Yes, yes, yes. The worms just don't get the concept of eat the stuff at the bottom first. Eat your vegetables, so to speak.

lkittle: we can just imagine a "and equinoxequinox said Amen to that" after everything you write.

We seem to all be posting about the same elusive thing. Like there is a magical component to vermicompost we are not quite sure what it is yet. Like we are all on the verge of Aha!


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Hi All; Yes we are all on the path but each has his/her own challenges so we post and hope that it will help give our fellow wormers a little info to use for their challenges while on their path to happy wormdom. It seems to give us purpose while we are here.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Hi, my name is steamyb, and my purpose is to serve worms.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Does this mean we were at the back of the line when purposes were given out?

Us and Darwin.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I have been thinking about the failures of my Ft (and myself working it) . It was much drier than the worms appear to like when they are in a RM bin. And in a bin, I tend to be able to get them to finish the compost better, because they can hang out in the damp and eat more thoroughly through things. But, in my FT, there was the "golden middle" where there was a core of almost pure castings, where the bin was quite moist, but, because I fed around the edges and not the middle there were no half-composted bits of matter.

So I have been discussing with my husband about what an adaptation to a flow through would look like that would allow for a better moisture level.

I know that one of the reasons a FT is considered optimal is the flow of air from both the top and the bottom, but that is also the downfall, since the bottom dries out and the worms migrate up and don't finish the bottom. They have not read the manual that says that they are supposed to stay a consistent 6 to 8 inches from the surface, and instead hang out wherever they darn well like- usually the dampest place that they can find that is still slightly aerobic.
As that is the case, I am not sure that oxygen flow is so terribly important in a FT. Of course, I would not want it to have NO air flow, but many people don't ventilate their RM bins very well, and the worms do fine.

So, a DIY FT in the standard garbage can form could work with the addition of a plate, or pan, just above the grating. If this pan could be removed and put back in at will, so that the worm owner could adjust the humidity at the bottom better, the worms could be encouraged ( by leaving the plate in, and letting the bottom be damper) to finish at the bottom, then the plate removed, the bottom would dry, the worms would migrate up, the VC would fall through the bars, the owner could re-insert the plate, and the process start again.

Would this work?


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It Should Work

My dream is to have rabbits living above chickens living above the worms. (Toss in a few BSFL.) The worm bin is like a breadbox tilted. The back is gone and is where stuff falls into the bin. The door of the bread box opens when needed and the vermicastings fall like gold towards you so you do not have to reach under the bin to grab them.

This could be made out of plastic or metal. I would love to test this. I do not have rabbits or chickens. Or BSFL.

It would be so cool to be able to purchase an asemble yourself micro farm that holds maybe 4 rabbits, 4 chickens, worm bin in a 6 foot by (well lets put another micro farm on the other side of the shed) 8 foot shed.

I like your direction. Let's go that way.

I hope the worms have read this instruction manual.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

"I know that one of the reasons a FT is considered optimal is the flow of air from both the top and the bottom, but that is also the downfall, since the bottom dries out and the worms migrate up and don't finish the bottom. They have not read the manual that says that they are supposed to stay a consistent 6 to 8 inches from the surface, and instead hang out wherever they darn well like- usually the dampest place that they can find that is still slightly aerobic."

As I see it, hopefully the castings are well processed by the time it gets to the bottom, then the drying would remove the worms and make the castings better. Damp sticky castings full of worms are not much fun to sort.

I suspect that often people are expecting the worms to work faster then they can just because they have a FT bin.

Wait a bit longer and slow the feeding, the worms have more time to finish then need to go up for food and moisture.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I am finding that I need to make my FT's much wetter than I normally would to make sure the material drops.

To me, 'flowthrough' does not refer to the flow of air but rather the flow of material...fresh stuff in the top, processed at the bottom. However I have never seen this accomplished nor do I think it is possible.

I have harvesting rods to actually pull the bottom inch or so off the bedding and drop it into my collection tray. Because I have planned to harvest whatever castings may have been excreted, I started my 'harvest' yesterday, I turned my rods and emptied the contents into a tub. I repeated that this morning and again when I got home from work. I now have probably 2 or 3 gallons of material to sieve. If I get 1/2 gallon of actual castings I will be happy. The remainder will be returned to the top of the bin for another go.

Once I return that material to the bin, I will add some food and wet cardboard to fill the bin.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

Hi All and pjames. What you are describing is exactly how the system is suppoesed to work after it has had time to establish iuts operation. Sifting the vermicast out of the bedding and returning the unfinished material into the top for more processing time is what makes the system work so well. That does take more time than just putting food material in the top and taking vermicastings out the bottem. I am still passing some really old (2 years now) corn cob material thru. I no longer put them in whole I cut them into about 1.5" length chunks.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I have good ol' Rubbermaid totes going, with an overpopulation of worms, and I thought, instead of a new work=intensive, separate-mostly-by-hand bin, why not a flow-through? So I read all your posts. And here's what I'm thinking:

A lot of people are worrying that they aren't getting completely finished castings at the bottom of the flow-thru. Now, if it's still big pieces of cardboard, I'd worry that in the garden, the decomp would suck away nitrogen. But if it's in quarter-sized bits or smaller, I am not sure there's a problem.

Pure castings are not a grand necessity in your garden. In fact, some of my gardening guru books suggest putting not-completely-finished compost (from an ordinary outdoor heap) into the garden, to attract worms OUT THERE to turn, aerate and nourish the soil where the plants are. This can tie up your nitrogen a little, so do it a couple weeks before planting, or use it as mulch on top that will quell weeds by starving them of nitro.

So anyhow, I'm going to go ahead and try making an FT bin, using the ideas and advice here (thank you!), but I'm going to put the mostly done stuff into the garden. What the hey.

I'll let you know how it comes out. Oh, and Hi, Steamyb! Glad to see yah over here! (He's a friend on vermicomposting.com)


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I enjoyed rereading this whole thing to see where we have been and where we were headed last July. For the most part I have spent the time since working on exactly what this thread talks about. These are still the issues I think about every day with the flow through. Is too much falling out? Is the material stuck in the bin and not falling out? Is it too wet or as I see now happens is the bottom too dry? And what about this sweet spot in the middle where the worms are perfectly damp and yet airy. I imagine we are all attempting to make this sweet spot as large as possible.

I have moved to a two step system. The first step with no bottom at all and a second step with 4X4 inch wide screen holes. I do not know if I have made any progress towards answering the issues we are all working on but I have had a great time. It is also relaxing or zen what ever that is to be thinking about how the system works.

I also have a theory of how ever deep the system or long the process - bananna peels or material put in the top should be fruit fly free by the time it comes out of the bottom of the first step.

The bottom of the flowthorough should not be a secondary fruit fly growth zone. :-)

You are all really smart people. I enjoy reading how everyone is working things out in their systems with inventive thinking.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

What I have learned from this trip back in time is how well worms can process waste and break it down. Last June I reported that I had fed my flow through and brought the depth up from 10 inches to 12 inches. Right now the depth is 14 inches, and I have yet to harvest.


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

WOW. This is an amazing thread. How do things stand now, for those of you still here? I've been wanting a flow-through since I restarted and returned from the mid-2000's...but now I think my trays suit my style best. But this stuff is enthralling! Thanks for taking me along on the ride. :D

Paula


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RE: DIY Flow-Through: Lessons Learned

I am rethinking everything. Maybe with a tiny system like mine 8 gallons I need to process the food or freeze instead of putting everything in whole. Maybe I need a bigger system. Still working on the flow through part. It just does not seem to understand gravity. The cloth flow throughs certainly sound nice because of no hard plastic sides air can get in easy. Because of soft sides they can be moved to let castings flow through. The certainly sound tempting and almost fool proof.

Solid structual support and plenty of bedding are still good foundations.


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equinoxequinox

Flow throughs sound neat. But I don't think that with a new place to make livable, an old house to clear and sell, and a new garden, that I can be playing with my worms as much as I like.

I know that you don't like pre-processing, and boy, do I get it. But I've been thinking: since your setup is small, and knowing that you built it from gathered worms, which I imagine took a lot of time to get to a good number, that you probably DO need to pre-process.

Or, of COURSE bigger is nice, if it can be done!

What I learned when I went crazy several years ago and filled up my whole laundry room with worms (and made my house unlivable) is that anything that makes it go faster is pretty much worth it IF compost is your goal.

I hate to use the electricity (and the time washing the machine, whatever it might be, AND the energy to do that too) to process it. But I found sticking baggies that I use and reuse and reuse into the freezer does a really good job of breaking things down. Or any container that you might have. I like baggies because I can mold them to fit whatever space there is.

If your bin is too moist, you can even drain the liquid from the baggies on the yard or flowers so as not to waste it. I freeze all mine now, except yard stuff. It's worth the guilt about power for the time savings.

Because, well, I'm gettin' up there! I don't have all the years left that I used to! I had lots of patience back when. But now, if I'm growing black gold, dammit, I want it sooner rather than later. :D


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