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New bin help

Posted by machinist17 none (My Page) on
Tue, Sep 11, 12 at 12:40

I created a plastic tub based worm bin on Sunday. I did a little research and went for it. I have 6 inches of moist cardboard, then 1.5 inches of crumbled dead leaves, and 2 inches of soil from my yard. It's moist to the touch but doesn't stick to my fingers. Does this sound like it will work? I am thinking I might need to add more cardboard on top... should I?

I also added some diced squash on Sunday but it's still just sitting there. I assume it just needs to decompose a little bit.... should I bury it or leave it sitting on top?

Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: New bin help

Oops 3 inches of cardboard not 6


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RE: New bin help

Can you tell us more about the type of bin you're using (size and material) and the type of worms? Do you have your worms yet? Right off the cuff, I'd say you don't need two inches of soil, but more info is needed. Oh and by the way, welcome.


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RE: New bin help

Thanks for the welcome. I have 300 red wigglers that I added 2 days ago. The bin is a grey plastic rubber maid container. Not sure on the volume but it's roughly 4 square feet of bedding surface area. I drilled half inch holes around the bottom and lower sides which are covered with a small wire mesh. I've kept the lid off for now to let it breathe so to speak and also (mainly) because I'm scared of over watering it.


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RE: New bin help

seems like an okay bin.

you can leave it at the top many people leave it at the top but you shouldn't over feed the worms. many people over feed and just cause problems.

also leaving it at the top can cause problems such as flies. i would use a lid and cover it up and open the lid once in a while like once per day for some fresh air or simply drill holes in the lid. otherwise use some burlap to cover the fruit. you can also bury it if you want i don't see a problem with that.


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RE: New bin help

Just following up on how the bin's going. You're right about worms not really eating stuff until it has begun breaking down. One way to speed up the breakdown is to freeze food first and then thaw it before feeding. If you store thawed stuff at room temp. for a while until it, how should I say this--stinks, they'll go for it quickly. I do this in a tupperware bowl, rinsing between uses. The leftover bacteria gives the new stuff a head start. You may not be at this stage yet, but when your worm population starts growing, you may be hard pressed to keep up with their food requirements. Downside to worm food left out is fruitflies. If you see even one, get on top of it quickly or you'll have an infestation. Best wishes.


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RE: New bin help

They're not really eating the food yet. There's a tomato and banana peel that have been in there for a few days. I pulled them out today and they don't look like they've been touched, though they're getting really mushy. Are they still adjusting to their home, or is the food not quite decomposed enough?


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RE: New bin help

I am pretty sure there are not going to be tiny bite marks in the kitchen scraps. I think it works more like the food molds, rots and desolves into the bedding. The bedding becomes a bacteria and slime haven. Oxygen is easily available to encourage this process. The worms squeeze in and slurp up the yummy soup. Then they poop out a nice bit the size of cigarette tobacco which holds its shape due to a bit of calcium. Unless the food is watermellon. Then the worms grow special fangs and devour the watermellons whole.

The problem with a traditional worm bin is the top drys out and the bottom gets too wet and muck like which prevents the oxygen from getting in. The worms can live under water if the water has enough desolved oxygen in it. But at the bottom of a bin there is no access to water. Some vermicomposters after experiencing mucky bottoms, give their bins false bottoms of dry airy material such as cardboard tubes, unsquished egg cartons, anything they can find, or drill holes in the bottom of the bin, or in the case of flow throughs, get rid of the bottom entirely. In dry areas or when the vermicomposter can not check on the bin regularly a plastic bin would work well because it holds in moisture so the bin does not dry totally out.


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RE: New bin help

It takes a while to get the bin going nicely. The less attention you give it, the quicker it will start going. My friend said that kind of thing to me many times until finally I got tired of seeing nothing happen each time I looked and decided to mostly just leave it alone. Then the next time I peeled back the top to add another bag of lawn clippings that never ever seem to break down, I found that the bin was looking awesome! Just under the surface it looked like the grass had turned into peat moss and there were several sizes of worm (from breeding I presume).

I have no idea why worms are so darn interesting, but they do take a significant amount of time to get revved up initially. If you have a bin that you just started a couple weeks ago with 4 square feet of surface and 300 worms... It's going to take several months before anything really interesting happens, and most of that will be just the stuff composting its self without the worm's intervention. That's fine though. Worms love eating compost even more than humans do.

For the technical aspects of it: If you have drilled holes in the bottom, and you have something to catch whatever liquid comes out, then you don't have to worry much about overwatering as long as you give some time for it to dry back out. By your measurements it would seem that you only have about 6" of material in your bin though. That has got to take way more maintenance than it's worth and after a short amount of time this is likely to shrink down to 2". At that thickness it's unlikely that worms will be able to find an agreeable zone to live in. In my opinion, a static bin should kept nearly full.

By my estimates, your ratio of starting worms to bin surface area is roughly the same as mine. It took me about 4 months before I saw anything that looked like it could be confused with progress, and even then it was only encouraging, not a carnival of joyous worm poop and party hats.

It's still great fun to work with worms though. I have some rabbit cages on order to suspend above the bin and pre-process my lawn clippings... and I'm drawing up some plans for an automated bin tester/waterer/ash-waterer linked to a local webserver so I can watch the incredibly slow process in real time and make graphs!


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RE: New bin help

I've added another few inches of cardboard, as I thought my bin was too shallow. I should probably add more to get it up around 10-12 inches then? Also, if there's plenty of cardboard for them to work on should I even bother feeding them scraps?


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RE: New bin help

Composting worms generally don't like to go much below 6 inches. I would leave the bedding around 6 inches, and add more very week or so. If you go to 12 inches, the bottom is likely to go anaerobic.


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RE: New bin help

Eventually, the bottom will contain material that is closer to completion than the top. A good many worms will prefer to live in this area while some big fat ones live near the rich food layers near the surface. The very surface could contain dry material or material that is blocking the light for the worms and may not even count towards worm habitat. Still some other worms will scoot around in the middle depths grabbing whatever oozes down from the top. These are also keeping the bin loose enough that some air can move through if you don't disturb the bin often and wreck the structure.

If your bin has 6" of material then you have a surface that is likely too dry or bright and a bottom film of liquid that hasn't drained yet, but not enough in between.

If your bedding is 12" deep or more, then it becomes a chore to keep it fresh smelling while it rots down, but the layers are still too close together to really build up a thick layer of finished VC for harvesting. If your bin is too shallow, you'll end up harvesting it too often and storing it until you get enough or you find the perfect spot to invest your sample of black gold.

If you have a large thick bin, then you can stop throwing away junk mail, newspapers, boxes, magazines, fliers, grass clippings, leaves, saw dust, spent garden plants, weeds, and on and on. Unless you have tons of food waste or manure to rot those carbon ingredients quickly, the worms will take a long time to break it down. This doesn't matter though because you probably only need one big batch of compost per year anyway.

My bin is about 24" deep, and I think it's too shallow. I want 36" of depth so that I can feed them in larger bursts and build up a useful quantity of VC without having to disturb them often. When the level drops down below half the height of the bin I top it up until I have a pile that extends well above the bin its self. This will generally cause enough odor that it would not be wanted indoors. It also leads to some anaerobic activity, which does not matter as much with a larger bin that has good drainage. I use some chicken manure to get the pile hot and start breaking down and this causes some ammonia smell, which also does not seem to bother the worms in a large, deep bin because they have a big 3 dimensional space that they can traverse to find the spot they like.

I also have found that a 5 gallon bucket with some wood or BBQ ashes (without black briquets remaining) and topped up with water, is great for improving the smell of an anaerobic bin when sprinkled on top with a watering can. The dissolved carbon dioxide in anaerobic conditions is technically an acid, so I suspect that the alkaline water with ash minerals makes the oxygen poor areas more suitable for aerobic germs to move back in once the initial wet rot has let up.

So yeah... You asked if 12" was better than 6" and I would have to say yes. If this is an indoor bin, I would make sure that it has a lot of cardboard and paper in it, as well as good drainage, and perhaps some twigs or straw tossed in throughout the layers to create resilient air spaces. Avoid disturbing the structure of the contents except to lift out a chunk of surface bedding to put a piece of food under it. If it starts to smell indoors, try removing the excessive food, consider gently raising the PH to make it more alkaline, and cut back on the water for a while. The surface does not need to be moist, and worms will travel into drier areas from wet ones to get food and then return.


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RE: New bin help

buckstarchaser: That is a totally new observation I have never heard or read about anywhere before. You said it so confidently that I believe every word. When a bin goes bad this will be an option other than going through the material and adding in lots more bedding or tossing the stinky bin out the door.

"I also have found that a 5 gallon bucket with some wood or BBQ ashes (without black briquets remaining) and topped up with water, is great for improving the smell of an anaerobic bin when sprinkled on top with a watering can. The dissolved carbon dioxide in anaerobic conditions is technically an acid, so I suspect that the alkaline water with ash minerals makes the oxygen poor areas more suitable for aerobic germs to move back in once the initial wet rot has let up."

I too try to preserve airspaces created by egg cartons, etc. in the bedding and create paths for the air to travel to all of the air chambers and not squish the air out of the bin by adding contents that are too heavy.

"and perhaps some twigs or straw tossed in throughout the layers to create resilient air spaces. Avoid disturbing the structure of the contents except to lift out a chunk of surface bedding to put a piece of food under it."


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