June 2008

Reader Questions – 06-29-08

These questions come from Alan, who is wondering about maggots and moisture in his worm bin.

Hey, I just had a question about some maggots I just
recently saw in my worm bin. I just started my bin early this month,
so I’m fairly new at this.

So, I’ve recently noticed maggots in my worm bin, and just before, I
noticed several of them squirming around in some uncomposted food. I’m
not really sure where they came from, since they’re actually fairly
large in size…about an inch in length. I read some other maggot
related instances on this site, but these maggots are much larger than
vinegar fly maggots. I’ve only left my bin open and exposed twice
(indoors) to let some of the moisture evaporate from the bin, so my
guess is they got in then. Also, my bin is in my dirt-floored basement
(on a table), so there seems to be a lot of chances for insects to get
in, but all the air holes have screen over them.

Honestly, the maggots are pretty gross looking and give me the creeps
since they’re so big, and I just was wondering what they could be, and
whether I should remove them.

Another quick question…there seems to be quite a bit of
condensation on the sides and lid of my bin. Sometimes a few water
droplets fall of the lid as I take it off. I’m pretty sure this means
my bin is too wet, but how should I get rid of the moisture?

Thanks,
-Alan

Hi Alan,
Given the size of your maggots, and the fact that they are interested in your worm bin, I would guess that they might be some sort of Soldier Fly Larvae, which are actually excellent composters (like the worms) as well. In fact, some people raise them on purpose (often using animal manure as food stock) and sell them as live food for reptiles, birds and fish.

It’s a bit puzzling that they’ve been able to invade an indoor bin though – must have found a way to get into you basement somehow.

Anyway – while they won’t likely cause your worms harm, they are directly competing with them for food, and are grossing you out (haha) – so no point keeping them around. Simply remove them (perhaps a pair of dish gloves will help) and toss them outside or give them to someone interested in using them as food for other animals.

As for moisture levels in the bin, I definitely wouldn’t worry about condensation and dripping off the lid (I have a large indoor bin that always drips water from the lid when it is opened) – this is not necessarily an indication of too much moisture. I’d definitely be far more interested in the amount of water pooling in the bottom of the bin, if anything.

Hope this helps!

B.

[tags]soldier flies, bsf larvae, maggots, compost, worm bin, worm composting, vermicomposting[/tags]

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Help Your Worms Beat The Heat

Understandably, a topic that seems to come up a LOT this time of year is that of overheating worm bins. It is something I’ve had to deal with myself up here in the ‘Great White North’ (ok, so Southern Ontario isn’t really all that far north), so I can only imagine how much of a challenge it must be in more southerly locations.

Generally, once temps start to creep up towards 90 F (~ 33C) Red Worms start to reach their upper threshold of heat tolerance and can start to die if additional measures are not taken.

I’ve added this post in our ‘Reader Questions’ section since I’ve included a really helpful email from one of our readers (who wishes to remain anonymous). She has provided some great ideas for how to keep a vermicomposting system – specifically a stacking plastic bin – cool in the summer. I will add some additional thoughts as well.

Hi Bentley,
Being a newbie I was totally unprepared for a heat wave last month,
and I unwittingly killed maybe 1,000 worms. I did a lot of web
surfin’ and question askin’ and wanted to share what I’ve learned to
keep my Can O Worms cool(er). Temps have been in the mid 90s in my
area this week and I’ve had no worms die!
This should work for any multi-tray, continuous flow type of system
– make sure your unit is in deep shade
– place lots of damp shredded newspaper in the very bottom of your
unit – this will prevent a mass suicide (this would have saved my
worms last time!)
– lots of damp newspaper on top of your working tray
– If you have any empty trays, put them under your full/working trays
and fill them with damp crumpled newspaper – this will give your lil
worms more places to cool off.
– open the spigot to get a little more airflow
– make sure all the ventilation holes are not plugged or covered.
(The vent holes are small and few in the Can O Worms.)
– remove the lid and drape a wet old white sheet (or burlap or any
light fabric) over the unit. This will draw cooling air into the unit.

Our friend sent in another great suggestion yesterday, which is to place frozen water bottles in the system to help keep things cool. I think this would be a great way to combat heat, and it would be relatively simple to keep a constant rotation of these bottles going.

Here are a couple more suggestions I’ve thought of:

  • Keep the worms in a very well ventilated bin, such as that made from wooden slats – if you add water regularly, the evaporation will really help to cool things off
  • Dig a deep hole in a shady location and lower your bin down into it – be sure to leave some space around the outside for air flow – alternatively, you could simply create a worm pit vermicomposting system directly in the ground

Do you have any strategies for helping your worms beat the heat? If so please write in a share them – I’ll gladly add a second installment on this topic if I get some more ideas.

[tags]worm composting, vermicomposting, composting, worm bin, compost bin, heat wave, summer, red worms, compost worms[/tags]

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Reader Questions – 06-24-08

I’m kinda running out of titles for these ‘Reader Questions’ posts, so I’m going to start using a generic, date-based title for some of them (particularly those that cover multiple topics). Anyway, here are some good ones from Amanda:

Hi! I’ve found the information on this site very useful, and
I’m planning to set up a worm bin very soon.

I have a large, square (good surface area) planter box on my condo
deck that I was intending to use for my worm bin. I don’t know the
exact dimensions, but it’s big enough to plant a tree in. It’s about
half filled with soil, and I had this brilliant idea of adding worms
and some kitchen waste and everything would just be wonderful.
However, after reading though many of the posts on this site, I have
some concerns:

1. I don’t have a lid for the planter. Most of what I’ve read here
describes plastic tubs with lids. Will my woms all jump ship? I had no
idea worms could crawl up a slippery plastic surface. The planter is
in a very shady area of the deck so direct light should not be a
problem.
2. There is soil in the planter. I keep reading about bedding (I
didn’t even know worms needed bedding!) Would it be ok to introduce a
pound of worms into the planter if I mix the soil with lots of
shredded paper/cardboard, kitchen scraps, and water?
3. Do I need to drill holes in the sides of the planters if I don’t
cover it?
4. Can redworms go directly into my planters of fruit and vegetable
plants, or will they die?

Thanks so much for any advice…I want to make sure I know as much as
possible before I order my worms, so I can make them a cozy home.

Hi Amanda

1) You definitely don’t need a lid for your worm bin. While they can certainly help to keep things moist inside, lids aren’t vitally important. What I WOULD however suggest is making sure you have a really thick layer of bedding material over top – straw or shredded newspapers etc will work great. The only concern might be rain flooding the bin, so you might want to use some sort of temporary lid on rainy days (assuming there is no drainage). You mentioned it being in a shady location, which is great – but if it did happen to be in a spot that received sunlight, in my opinion it would actually be better without a lid. Tightly enclosed bins, especially those made of plastic, can turn into little ovens if sitting exposed with a lid on. Any temporary worm tubs I keep outside are left without lids so as to prevent the worms from getting baked. If it is made of wood slats (with spaces between), a lid is totally fine (and helpful) since there is good air flow.

2) Soil is ok in a worm bin, but yeah it definitely helps if you have a fair amount of ‘bedding’ types of materials – these tend to be carbon-rich and absorbent, so they help to keep things balanced. In my experience, soil just tends to get compacted and mucky – and it does nothing to keep C:N ratio balanced, so things can get a little nasty if you are not careful. Definitely mix in a LOT of the bedding materials you mentioned, along with some water (be careful with it if you planter has no drainage) and food scraps. Corrugated cardboard (shredded) should really help if you have it, since it is quite rigid and bulky, thus allowing air in. The worms also really love it once it gets nice and wet.

3) You should be ok without air holes if it is open at the top – hopefully it has a reasonable surface-area-to-depth ratio (the higher the better). In other words a shallow tub is much better than a tall bucket. A standard square or rectangular planter would work very well. You mentioned that it is “big enough to plant a tree in”, so that sounds pretty good to me.

4) Red Worms can survive in soil in close proximity to plants, just as long as there is ample rich organic matter there as well. I’ve been experimenting with Red Worms in my garden this year and they seem happy to stick around as long as they have a food source. In regular soil they will either leave or die.

Hope this helps!
8)

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The Pants Come Off!

I’ve had a number of requests for a ‘Creepy Pants Vermicomposter‘ update in the last few weeks, and it just so happens that I needed to take them down anyway.

My mother-in-law is coming to stay with us for a few weeks – and while she is truly a wonderful woman – I just don’t know how much she’ll appreciate the moldy, creepy pants hanging in the basement whenever she heads down to do laundry. Aside from that, they’ve actually been getting in my way and attracting fungus gnats, so I figured it was a good time to pull the plug on the experiment.

Unfortunately, like my ‘Four Worm Experiment‘, the pants suffered from some neglect, so the contents were quite dry. Nevertheless, I still managed to find a lot of worms and some fairly well-processed materials in the pant legs.

I still really like the pant-leg-vermicomposter concept, and think it offers a really inexpensive way to create your own flow-through bin. Finding a good location for it is definitely an important consideration however.

Down in my cramped basement office, I ended up finding them really annoying since they constantly seemed to be in the way. Aside from that, it wasn’t exactly the most eye-pleasing worm bin I’ve ever owned. The staining and mold on the pants were pretty unappealing to say the least.

If I lived out in the country and had a few trees on my property, I’d definitely try this again – I think this would be a fun outdoor project. I may also try a smaller funnel vermicomposter indoors again – perhaps with the leg from a synthetic pair of pants.

Now that my creepy pants experiment is over I will definitely focus on getting the video finished as well – hopefully it will provide a decent overview of the concept, and inspire others to give it a try.

Here are the previous posts in this series, in case you haven’t been following along:

The Creepy Pants Vermicomposter
Creepy Pants Update
Moldy, Creepy Pants

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Citrus, Paper, Castings

Gary has several really good questions.

Hi Bentley,

I’m a huge fan of your blog – it’s helped me understand worm
composting a lot.

I still have a few questions that I was hoping you could help me out
with.

1) I go through a lot of citrus each week, and probably have over 5
pounds of citrus peel waste each week. I realize for a small
composting system (right now I have just 1lb of worms) that’s probably
too much to just throw in there without upsetting the balance.
However, if I put all the citrus waste in a Bokashi bucket to ferment
first and then added it, would it be okay? Is there another item that
I should add with citrus to help maintain balance, or should I just
try to keep the citrus to a minimum when adding scraps to my bin?

2) I’ve seen some places online claim that you can use your worms to
compost your office paper and junk mail, and I’ve seen other places
say that the ink on those will harm your worms. Is it safe for me to
be adding shredded paper from my home office or am I risking harming
my worms?

3) When making potting soil with worm castings, what else do you use
(I’ve heard coconut coir) in the mix? And what ratio do you mix the
two together? (I’m trying to grow wheatgrass, if that helps.)

Sorry for asking so many questions, but you seemed like the guy to
ask.

Thank you,

Gary

Hi Gary,

1) Yeah, 5 lbs of citrus is definitely a fair bit, and you are right – probably too much for a standard indoor worm bin. Putting it in a bokashi first might help – definitely worth testing out. Since it is the peels we are talking about, I’m not really sure what to suggest as far as something to mix with it, apart from the usual recommendation of shredded cardboard. I don’t know of anything that will help to balance or neutralize the potent oils in the peels. My recommendation is to start on a small scale and see what happens. If it looks like the peels are breaking down in the bin fairly quickly then you can add more. You may find that you are able to increase the quantity added over time.

2) Worms will indeed compost pretty much any sort of paper product. I personally don’t like using a lot of the white office paper. I suspect that the bleach used to make it white can irritate the worms – I remember setting up a bin using only shredded computer paper and the worms seems pretty keen to leave. In small to moderate amounts, or if using unbleached paper you should be totally fine (I still add some white paper to my bins). I stay away from glossy coloured paper (glossy paper in general, really) – I’ve read that there are heavy metals in some of the inks used. While these won’t necessarily harm your worms, they tend to accumulate in their tissues, and thus in your bin in general over time. I’m a little more easy going about the flat finish colour stuff, but still prefer black and white. I have read that black ink generally isn’t something to worry about. I like newsprint types of paper – like that used for newspapers (obviously), phone books etc. It seems to hold water well and gets consumed quite readily. I also love corrugated cardboard and the pulp cardboard used to make egg cartons and drink holder trays.

3) I generally don’t mix up my own potting soil, but as far as the amount of castings to add to your mix goes, I would suggest anywhere between 10 and 30% proportion. I’ve read a number of academic research articles (i.e. based on university research) that have shown that relatively little vermicompost/castings goes a long way. As little as 2-5% can have a significant impact on your plants – 10-20% is probably closer to the ideal. It’s important to remember that high quality castings are not the same thing as “compost”, and it is not really a “fertilizer” – compared to some amendments, the nutritional value of it is pretty low. I like to think of it as a growth promoter. If you take two potted plants and give both enough inorganic fertilizer to provide all their requirements, but also add some vermicompost to one of them, you will very likely see significant increased growth in the vermicompost treatment, thus demonstrating that the material has growth promoting properties above and beyond the nutrients present.

Coconut coir is a good option since it is apparently more sustainable than peat moss – it’s a waste product of the coconut industry, rather than something that is harvested (like peat). It is also neutral in acidity, unlike peat which is acidic. I’ve started using coir quite a bit this year (for worm bedding) and have been really impressed with it. To be honest, I don’t know what it’s like as part of a potting mix though – guess there’s only one way to find out.
🙂

Hope this helps!

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When Pseudoscorpions Attack!


Image courtesy of Tom Herlihy (Worm Power)


After reading my post about pseudoscorpions, my friend Shawn from Worm Power sent in a very cool image showing multiple pseudoscorpions teaming up to attack a fly. Totally wild!

All I know is that I would HATE be be that fly.
😯
Yikes!

Thanks again for sending that in, Shawn.

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Scorpions In My Worm Bin – Yikes!

Just kidding!
🙂

As menacing as that creature looks (up close), the tiny ‘Pseudoscorpion’ is a totally harmless worm bin inhabitant. In fact they can be beneficial, feeding actively on various other tiny organisms we often think of as pests.

I’ve only encountered a handful of these invertebrates over the years – not sure whether it’s because they are somewhat rare, or because they are so small (generally only a few millimetres). Likely a combination of the two.

They seem to be more common in mature systems, especially those located outside. This particular specimen was found in some finished castings I recently harvest from the bottom of my bin outdoor worm bin (more about that in another post).

Anyway – just thought it would be fun to share that picture!

[tags]pseudoscorpions, scorpions, worm bins, worm castings, vermicompost, compost, invertebrates, arthropods[/tags]

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