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Vermi-Fertilization & Watering System

For years now I’ve had a wacky vermicomposting system design rattling around in my head – basically a submerged plastic garbage can (or something similar) with a lid and lots of holes in it. This was actually the “big idea” I had for dealing with all the food waste I was preparing to receive from a popular local restaurant back in the spring of 2008. If you want a synopsis of that backstory, be sure to check out: Vermicomposting Trenches Revisited.

Well, as it turns out, I DIDN’T end up trying this approach out back then. Instead I ended up stumbling (in a state of desperation! haha) on another important idea – the vermicomposting trench – something that has altered my own vermicomposting journey in a very big way!

Obviously, neither of these ideas were confined to my noggin alone – there have certainly been others who have written about composting trenches (as I would later learn), and I came across another cool system (similar to this garbage can system) – the “Worm Tower” – not too long afterwards as well.



Ok – so how did I construct and set up this kooky contraption?


First, I found myself an old plastic garbage bin that was no good for holding water or coffee grounds due to some cracks and holes in the bottom.

I then drilled 4 large holes in the lid. The idea here is that I want rain to get in, but I want it to be somewhat controlled. I MAY add more, but this is good enough for now.

NOTE: All drill holes in this bin are 3/8″

I then drilled some holes in the bottom. As you can see, things can get a little messy when you use a powerful drill, with the “high-torque” setting mistakenly left on! lol

Then some holes all around the upper perimeter. As was the case with the pet waste system, this is primarily intended to increase air flow.

Next, I drilled 4 panels of holes in the sides…and yes, I just happened to be wearing Crocs, and couldn’t resist being a goofball when I saw the picture.
:lol:

I decided to install this system in my small raised bed. As you can see in the image at the top of this post, it is a little on the “overkill” side of things, but given the fact that I was only planning to put 4 tomato plants in this bed anyway, it’s definitely not a big deal (I actually think this will be a great spot to test it out).

The first thing to do once the bin was ready was of course to dig the hole. For the sake of saving a bit of time and effort, I didn’t make it quite as deep as I would have preferred – but it was deep enough for all the worm/root holes to end up buried (once filled back in).


I left some space around the perimeter of the bin and filled it with aged horse manure. I think this should help to encourage worm movement in and out.

I then simply covered the manure layer with soil from the bed.

Now it was time to create the initial worm habitat.

I started with a thick layer of moistened, shredded drink tray cardboard, then added aged horse manure and mixed kitchen wastes.



Then I mixed everything up.

Next I added a lot more shredded cardboard, plus some rock dust, and watered it down really well.



Lastly, for good measure, I added one final layer of aged manure!


I decided not to stock the system with worms yet. For one thing, it’s probably not a bad idea to let things sit for a bit. Also, there are already lots of worms in this bed, so my hunch is that they will start to populate it in the meantime!

NOTE:
1) Obviously you could use a bin like this for something similar to the pet waste vermicomposting system, but again, my recommendation would be to NOT drill holes in the lid or the bottom.
2) As with all these types of subterranean systems, location selection is very important! This certainly wouldn’t be ideal in a location with a high water-table, or sitting in the side of a hill etc. As touched on earlier, I actually think something like a raised bed is a great place to put it. But you might want to find a smaller bin! lol


I’ll keep everyone posted on my progress!

Written by Bentley on June 7th, 2013 with 20 comments.
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20 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Luana Presler
#1. June 7th, 2013, at 4:13 PM.

Great idea. I am going to give it a try. Think I will move some of the worms in my current bins to the new bins in my raised beds and see how it works.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John W
#2. June 7th, 2013, at 4:20 PM.

What is the purpose of a system like this? Why not just have your vemibin system going at full speed and just dumping the compost on top of the bed? That just seems easier to me; and would allow you to sneak in another plant or two in that bed had you wanted more tomatoes.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John W
#3. June 7th, 2013, at 4:21 PM.

and two updates in one day might make for a system overload. :)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Kim from Milwaukee
#4. June 7th, 2013, at 4:59 PM.

Nice crocs…is that a Canadian fashion trend?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Laura
#5. June 7th, 2013, at 5:09 PM.

It what ways do you feel this version is superior to the Ugandan keyhole garden shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykCXfjzfaco ? I am building this Ugandan version now and made the framework of sticks and vines today. Does the garbage can vastly improve the system? Thanks!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Anthony
#6. June 7th, 2013, at 6:26 PM.

I’m also curious as to the benefits of this system, as opposed to a worm tower, which is much thinner and allows more room for planting. Also wonder what happens when the bin becomes full of compost. Presumably it would be too heavy to lift out?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#7. June 7th, 2013, at 6:58 PM.

LUANA – Great! Keep me posted!

JOHN – the purpose of this system is for the worms to convert food wastes into usable nutrients (and water) for the plants – same basic concept as a vermicomposting trench or pit (or the worm tower). I guess our views on what’s “easy” differ (lol), but MY idea of easy is opening up a lid, dumping in food scraps and then not doing anything else. Waiting around for my bin to produce compost, and then harvesting etc etc – that’s more of a hassle for me. That’s why I fell in love with the trenches systems!

As for the double update – I hear you man! This must be a record for the past 6 months. I just happened to have the photos, the time, and the inspiration to get them both done the same day.

Now I won’t post until next Friday! haha (kidding…hopefully)

KIM – People in US wear Cros, no? Only hospital staff?? lol
I’m never one to care about fashion, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are long out of fashion by now (everyone USED to wear them! haha). I’m all about function over form – and I love em!

LAURA – I don’t feel anything I come up with is “superior” to anything else. I just have these ideas, get excited about them, implement them, and write about them! LOL
I always appreciate learning about these other systems (so thanks for sharing). I will have to check it out!

ANTHONY – As mentioned, this particular one is definitely “overkill” for the small raised bed (although no biggie since I wasn’t planning on crowding my tomatoes anyway) – but in general, a larger version like this could offer some advantages in terms of the amount of nutrients and water it could provide surrounding plants.
Not sure about the end of season – I’ll let you know!
I will also be writing about tubular versions as well (and will perhaps try to expand on the advantages of this version for particular situations).
Thanks for chiming in!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John W
#8. June 7th, 2013, at 9:15 PM.

also our end goals are different. I don’t have any kind of garden in my yard. I am simply vermicomposting to fill potholes in our yard and cause its fascinating to me. So for me it is much easier to do it in the worm inn and then dump it. Where as if I went with this idea i would have to dig it out of the ground and then dump it.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Vermicultore
#9. June 7th, 2013, at 10:43 PM.

Bentley,
I had a system like this in place for almost 2 years.. like you I rescued a trash headed to garbage land, didn’t need much drilling at the bottom since there were plenty of holes but I did drill a few all around…. I did not place it in a raised bed (and did not populate it with worms either).. just in a really shady place in my back yard, I enjoyed the throw the scrap and forget about it approach but harvesting was a royal pain in the you know what….. and toward the end the can was falling apart in 20 months I probably harvested 50 + pounds of red wigglers but again the job was back breaking !!!
Enjoy

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Sharon K
#10. June 8th, 2013, at 12:46 AM.

My husband and I have raised beds and on harvesting (castings) recently we just added about a thousand worms each in two of our raised beds. They are about a third well aged horse manure so I figure they will have plenty to munch on for a while

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Al B
#11. June 8th, 2013, at 10:28 AM.

Unintended Consequences
I have several square foot gardens. They used to have worm tubes in them but the worms spread out across the garden so I removed the tubes so I could grown in that space. I now have robins tearing up the garden to eat the worms.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com oneman
#12. June 10th, 2013, at 1:05 PM.

Hi Again Bentley.

After trying out the new ” super duper ” Down grade. The attachment i have found had mixed results. As you know ( from images ) i have tried many hand blenders, with varied success from 2 mins to 7 month before the motor blew out.
So after your idea i thought i would try a power drill with a hand blender attachment. As you can see i had to cut the plastic attachment down to fit in the drill chuck ( 2 mins job ).

I did not get the same result, but it blitzes wet cardboard into paper pulp in seconds and reduces the kitchen scraps to a decent size ( see photos i hope. ( slop or the others before)) The other thing was. I tried a half filled bucket, with rain water and cardboard and about 1lbs of old flour that i was chucking out.
The worms went mad and devoured the lot in less than 2 days, I have never seen so many worms on top. They loved it. I have a out side bin, in a yard ( that is the thing at the bottom left on the photos and it is filled with leaf fall and any scraps i can get together with a small family for 2 years now.

I also have a inside (cold garage ) stacking bin system ( rubber maid too you, It never gets over 2 bins). That is going great now the weather has changed. I try to age the stuff in the box and let any water drain out for about a 1 week

The odd part was i had loads of mold in the aging bin and the water had drained off but when i put this stuff in, the pot worm, ( small white worm ) tried to leave. They looked like wet bandage just above the compost level, on the sides, millions of them. ( the red worm, seam to love it )
I will never get over this VC thing as it never stops to amaze me and my young son.
Hope you get the photos and can show them.

King regards.

Oneman.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Chris
#13. June 11th, 2013, at 7:16 PM.

I’m wondering how a system like this handles heat?
I’m not sure how hot summers get where you are, but a dark plastic bin in what looks like a sunny location, I’m guessing it would get fairly hot in the upper portion?

I look forward to hearing how this goes.

I know I have at least one spot I would love to have something like this, however my main concern has been heat (and having enough food). It’s in an area which gets hot afternoon sun.
I made another pit system elsewhere in the garden, in a fairly shaded location, with a lid made from wire and sugar cain mulch which has been working well (stiff mesh bottom, and chicken wire over the top). Mulch is thick enough to stop most rain, and provides some insulation.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#14. June 13th, 2013, at 10:26 AM.

JOHN – this sort of system would work well in a variety of situations – it would actually be a much better pet waste system than the small one I set up. At least for those who had a steady supply of the stuff. But of course you wouldn’t likely be putting it in a veg garden in that case.
Not sure how long it will be before I need to dump this system. Wouldn’t be surprised if – like the trenches – it could go multiple seasons before needing to be cleaned out. Im sure my curiosity alone will make me want to dig it out at the end of this season though! haha
——-
ONEMAN – thanks for the update! I think blended food wastes would be fantastic for this particular system. Reminds me I need to get a better blending attachment for my drill.
——-
CHRIS – Good question! In the upper zone, early in the plant growing cycle, it will definitely get hot. I’m pretty sure it will still remain nice and cool down near the bottom though. As the tomatoes grow they will gradually shade it completely.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#15. June 13th, 2013, at 10:46 AM.

Hey Al – sorry I missed you there (forgot to approve the comment until just now)! Thanks for sharing your experience. Very interesting. I like the idea of keeping these systems in the garden, even if they do take up some space. Should help to protect the worms and offer the plants more nutrients and water (the plastic will help to conserve moisture inside the bin).

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#16. June 13th, 2013, at 10:53 AM.

KNEW I should have gone through unapproved comments before posting! LOL
Apologies also to Vermicultore and Sharon K (surprised you are not already approved for comments, Sharon!)

VERMICULTORE – Thanks for sharing! Very interesting. I have no plans to harvest anything from this bin – it is in place for the benefit of the plants. As mentioned above, I’m sure my curiosity will make me want to dig it out at end of season, but that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge once the plants are out. I like a little back-breaking labor every now and again! LoL
———
SHARON – Your K.I.S.S. approach should work well too! That’s basically how my bed has operated since it was first set up, and the composting worms have remained. I’m really excited to try out this new approach though – think it will take things to a whole new level of vermi-cool!
;-)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com David
#17. June 14th, 2013, at 10:10 AM.

I put in a couple worm bins like this last summer in my garden and learned a lot from it. A few differences: I used 5 gallon buckets so the capacity was less but the compost was closer to the surface. I put these in my regular vegetable garden (not a raised bed) which has fairly heavy clay soil. I put in about an inch of regular compost surrounding these buckets to encourage the worms to migrate in and out a little. I made sure that the air holes above ground were small enough to not let mice get in (we have open fields next door with plenty of these little guys).

The bin that was at the edge of the garden tended to dry out in the sun and didn’t break down like it should. When I checked a the end of the summer, there was little moisture and most of the worms had died. Luckily I put in more than one of these bins to see a contrast.

A second bin was towards the middle of the garden. It was closer to a sprinkler so as the water was saturated, the bin was frequently full of water. Remember, this garden soil has heavy clay so it didn’t drain well. Despite having the bottom portion of the bin water logged frequently, the worms did very well. At the end of th summer the materials were well composted with a healthy ecosystem of spiders and other native insects. Unfortunately the benefits of the compost didn’t seem to extend very far beyond the edge of the bin. I was hoping for lush growth of vegetables. Again this may have something to do with my heavy soil. The red wigglers are not going to travel into heavier soils without a food source, but I would suppose that native soil worms with cross over and bring those composted nutrients across eventually. For me, I benefit more from standard worm bins in my garage and spreading the vermicompost with other soil amendments in the spring.

I really liked being able to drop off food scraps with needing to process the vermicompost before the garden could benefit. Soil density around the bin is important to consider. I was surprised that the red wigglers could handle such wet conditions during regular watering, so as long as it drains eventually, I won’t be so concerned about a wet bin in the future. (If it stays wet, it will go anaerobic and start stinking)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com oneman
#18. June 24th, 2013, at 6:48 PM.

Hi Bentle.

I have a apologize to you to make to you. Regarding your super duper blender!!! The drill (motor) attachment was fine, the bit was too big,
What you did was too big. I used the same drill, but attached a hand blender attachment to fit the bin with the chuck.

I sent the photos to you, for your use. I did say that i did not get the same result as the hand held blender , and i have just just under stud Why!!!

I have been blending things in ( reverse ) for the last five weeks, with the drill!!!!!!!!

Please find here with my new photos

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Keith
#19. July 25th, 2013, at 8:00 AM.

Hi,

Great idea.
Inspiring, in fact… If I can say that without soundings over-dramatic.

Do you think the nutrients get to the corners of the bed?
Perhaps a much smaller version can be placed at each corner, to assure a more even distribution?

Now, if I can just convince my wife that we should do this…

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#20. July 25th, 2013, at 8:10 AM.

Keith – I can’t say for sure that nutrients are making it to every corner of the bed. But I’m not sure that would be vitally important.
Smaller versions are definitely an option. Here is a link to a post I wrote about “Worm Towers”:
http://www.redwormcomposting.com/gardening/worm-towers-2013/
(hoping to post an update very soon)

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