August 2008

Looking For DIY BSFL System Plans

I haven’t really talked about Black Soldier Fly Larvae as composting organisms here on the blog yet – although I do get the odd email from people who are frustrated when they pop up in their worm composting systems. They are in fact really effective at breaking down wastes, and are also an excellent food source for fish, birds, lizards etc. One of the cool things about them that some university researchers discovered is that they can ‘self-harvest’ (if ONLY worms could do this – haha!) – thus making them even more appealing.

Anyway, I will definitely write more about them some other time. The purpose of this post (on my new “Share Board”) is to help Arthur track down some plans for a DIY Black Soldier Fly Larvae self-harvesting system. There are of course complete systems on the market, such as the ‘BioPod’, but these can be out of a lot of people’s price range.

If you have designed your own system or know someone who as, please fire me an email and I will pass along the info to Arthur.


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Reader Questions – 08-27-08

Heather has some questions about fruit flies, mites and small worm bins

I recently “adopted” two bins of red wigglers from a friend who
didn’t want the worms anymore and both bins seem to have a fruit fly
infestation. I have tried to remove some of the bedding as well as try
to squish the fruit flies . My own bin doesn’t seem to have any fruit
flies but does have the mites. I thought those white mites broke down
the food for the worms or that the worms ate the mites.
What can i do to get rid of the fruit flies (i’d rather not touch the
worms if possible) and should i be concerned about the mites in my own
Also, the bins that i have are mini starter kits (ice cream
containers) that my children received from school. Should i be
combining all three little bins into one big bin/worm chalet? I’m
just afraid i may harm them in the process.
Thanks for your help! Your site is THE BEST one that i’ve been to
for information on vermicomposting.
cheers, heather

Hi Heather – thanks for the kind words.
Fruit flies are the most annoying worm bin pest for sure. I still get bad infestations from time to time myself (actually just coming to the end of a bad invasion in my basement). Your best bet is to 1) Eliminate the food source – remove all decaying fruit/vegetables etc from the tubs; 2) Make some traps using apple cider vinegar. Simply pour the vinegar in a glass, add a drop of dish detergent (decreases surface tension causing the flies to sink), put Saran wrap over top, then puncture with a fork.
3) Vacuum up as many adults as you can. This really helps to reduce the number of ‘breeders’, thus leading to a population crash more quickly.

To be totally honest, it often takes some time to get rid of a bad infestation, but these steps should definitely get you on the right track.

White mites are very common in worm bins – especially plastic bins with very high moisture. I have quite a few open systems that get lots of air flow and I don’t see them at all. Any Rubbermaid bins I set up and add food waste to invariably seem to end up with mites at some time or another. Bottom-line, you don’t really need to worry about them. They may be an indication of too much food building up in the bin, but all in all they are pretty harmless.

As for combining the little bins into a bigger one – that’s probably not a bad idea if you want to boost your population and compost more material. On the other hand if the small tubs are working really well, there is no reason not to continue with them. Once they get pretty full and have lots of castings (dark soil-like material) you should harvest the compost and start them again – or simply start up a new bin. Check out my ‘Getting Started‘ page for more info about that.

Hope this helps!

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Aged Manure – Ultimate Food For Red Worms

Manure Worm
A manure Red Worm as compared to one of my normal Reds, raised on food scraps and cardboard

Back in April I wrote about the ‘wild’ Red Wigglers I got from the manure pile sitting at a friend’s horse stable. Looking back, and remembering the size of those worms (comparable to the ones in my own systems), I’d have to say they must have been quite young.

I had the opportunity to visit my friend’s horse stable this past weekend, and of course I headed straight for the manure pile as soon as I arrived. With a little bit of digging I quickly found a lot of seriously jumbo Red Worms – and they certainly lived up to their ‘wiggler’ name too!

Needless to say, I was pretty excited, and I made sure to take a bunch of the material (with worms) home with me.

These Reds are actually fairly close in size to some of the Euros I have, although certainly not as fat. It’s funny – I’ve recently been amazed by the size of the Red Worms in my food waste trenches out in the garden. They have been among the biggest worms I’ve personally grown – yet they are still not as big as these manure worms (we’ll see how big they are by the end of the season though – likely still some growth left in them).

I suspect that based on their size and their vigorous wiggling action, these Reds (an my trench worms for that matter) would be excellent bait worms or live food for larger fish, reptiles, birds etc.

Manure Worms
These Red Worms are long, but not as fat as European or Canadian Nightcrawlers.

Finding these big worms the other day certainly served as a reminder of the fact that manure is pretty well the ultimate food for Red Wigglers (and likely other composting worms as well). As I’ve mentioned before, my very first experience with Red Worms (at the ripe old age of 14) involved finding unbelievable quantities of them in a huge pile of old manure out behind a horse barn.

If anyone reading this happens to have horses or other livestock (or can get a hold of large amounts of manure) I would highly recommend creating your own aged manure vermicomposting heap. If the manure isn’t already mixed with straw or some other type of bedding I would highly recommend that you mix some in. It will help to aerate the heap and will shift the Carbon/Nitrogen ratio more in favour of the worms. If the pile is big enough, you likely won’t even need to worry about cooler winter temperatures since it will stay above freezing (maybe even a lot warmer) in the middle of the pile. Once the manure no longer has a strong manure smell it will probably be ok to add the worms. Just to be safe, you may want to add a fair amount of neutral bedding material – such as moistened straw, newspaper etc, or even the entire contents of a worm bin – on the surface of the heap to provide the worms with a safe zone if the manure still isn’t quite ready to inhabit.

What’s interesting is that another friend of mine (who I actually buy worms from sometimes) has loads of Red Worms in his manure piles yet they are quite small in comparison to the ones I found, and seem to also look a fair bit different – this would be totally normal if they came from different habitats, but is a little puzzling given the fact that they live in a very similar material. This has me even more convinced that either there are in fact subspecies of Eisenia fetida, or one of the two are Eisenia andrei (a very close relative). I guess we’ll see how they both look as they grow in my systems – if they end up looking exactly the same over time then my theory will likely get tossed out the window.

Given the great nutritional value of manure and the nice uniform consistency (in comparison to food waste) – not to mention the lack of issues with fungus gnats and fruit flies – I think I’m going to start feeding my worms more of this material. I think manure and cardboard combined would provide the ultimate in breeding a growth potential.

Anyway – I’ll keep you posted!

[tags]red worms, red wigglers, manure worms, eisenia fetida, european nightcrawlers, eisenia hortensis, canadian nightcrawlers, lumbricus terrestris[/tags]

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Have Something You’d Like to Share?

I often get emails from people trying to track down worm suppliers or other vermicomposting related stuff in their area. I have set up the Worm Composting Business Directory to help worm suppliers get found, but alas there still have not been many who have signed up, nor is it as user-friendly and effective as the blog. I also get a lot of great tips and suggestions from readers relating to vermicomposting, but have never had a good place to post them.

As such, I’ve decided to try a new idea out – basically I am creating what I’m referring to as “The Share Board” (new category of the blog). This is essentially where readers can give a ‘shout out’ to everyone else who reads to blog if they have something to share, or are desperately looking for something.

I should mention right off the bat that this is NOT intended to be used for commercial purposes – i.e. I am not going to post people’s ads for products they are selling. It is simply a means of sharing any interesting worm news/events occurring in your area, or anything else worm related that you want to share. You can also use it to give away worm-related items – ie. if you have completely given up on vermicomposting (and I can’t do anything to talk you out of it – haha) for whatever reason, you could let people know that you have a free vermicomposting system or worms to give away. Lastly, it might be a good way for you to track down any information/products you happen to be looking for.

I will only use your first name in the post, or will keep it completely anonymous if you request that I do so. Just send me the text of your “share”, and if I feel it is appropriate I will post it directly.

Here are the first two listings to kick things off (kept anonymous and written by me simply because these people don’t know I am making their requests public yet):

1) Someone is looking for a composting worm supplier near Johannesburg, South Africa. If you happen to know of any, or are one yourself please send me an email.

2) Similarly, someone else is looking for worm supplier in Romania. Again, please let me know if you happen to know of any.

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What To Do With Worms While On Vacation

Sheesh – with the amount I’ve been posting lately, you’d think that I was on vacation!

Anyway – great question from Peter!

I am going out of town for three weeks. What is the best way
to provide enough food for the time when I will be gone? I don’t want
them to starve.

Hi Peter,
Here is a very important rule to remember when it comes to vermicomposting:

It is MUCH MUCH easier to kill your worms by overfeeding than it is to starve them to death.

I have literally left vermicomposting systems to sit for months at a time with hardly any attention, let alone feeding, and the worms have been fine. In extreme cases you might see smaller worms and less of them, but generally you’ll still have a good number of worms and cocoons left. If your system has good air flow you will definitely run a greater risk of having your system dry out completely on you than actually starving your worms.

With that said, I should mention that there are different stages of maturity in a vermicomposting system, and if your system is almost ready to be harvested (much of the bedding is gone – lots of vermicompost present) the expected lifespan of your system, and thus your worms, will be less. On the other end of the scale, if your system is brand new and you’ve set it up the way I recommend – with lots of ‘food’ and bedding left to age before the worms are added – your worms would be totally fine for a long time. Once the regular food is gone, the bedding actually becomes an important food source and will be consumed completely.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad idea to add some food pockets and some fresh bedding to your bin before you go away, but don’t overdue it. The last thing you want is a bin meltdown while you are gone!

If it is a stackable system (with lots of air flow) it will be really important to make sure it is very moist before you leave. You may even want to get someone to check on it while you are away, just to make sure it doesn’t dry up on you.

I should also mention that highly optimized (professional) systems with very high densities of worms shouldn’t just be left without food for extended periods, but most home vermicomposting systems don’t fall into this category. One way to accuratly gauge their need for food is to see how long it takes them to process the wastes you are adding. Is it always completely gone within a day or two? If so, you may need to provide a bit more food before your go. If on the other hand it takes a little while for food to completely disappear, your worms will almost certainly be fine!

Try adding some food wastes that take longer to break down – aside from carbon-rich bedding materials, wastes like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots can be quite slow to break down – thus offering a food source for longer periods of time.

Anyway – hope this helps!

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Let Sleeping Worms Lie

Interesting question from Mike:

I was wondering, do the worms sleep? It really seems durning
the day and early hours when I get up I can open the bin and see now
worms unless I dig around. At night (after 9 or 10pm) If I open the
lid to show company the worms, they will be up on the edges of the tub
and on top and moving around and very active. I read it is normal for
them to climb the tub and go back down. But I was just wondering why
do they only seem to do this at night? How do they even know the
different between night and day? These worms are just getting more and
more interesting everyday.

That’s a good question Mike, and unfortunately not one I feel confident enough to give you an authoritative answer for. I suspect that worms have periods of decreased activity like most organisms, but I’m pretty sure they don’t ‘sleep’ the way we do. Their nervous system, while probably pretty extensive for an invertebrate, is actually quite basic by our standards.

I think I can shed some light (no pun intended) on the fact that your worms are more active at night though. Most (if not all) earthworms are highly sensitive to light due to an array of photo receptor organs found in their skin. You’ll notice that if you shine light on your worms they will move down into the bedding fairly quickly. Natural light is especially strong, so even if your house lights are on in the evening, it’s probably darker in your bin than it would be during the day (assuming your house lets in a fair amount of natural light).

Worms are also sensitive to vibration (easily created by all range of human activities), so they are also more likely to venture out from hiding when there is less activity outside the bin in the evening and at night.

Just my 2 cents worth, Mike!

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Pre-Composting Then Vermicomposting

Here is a really good question from Bobby:

I really enjoy your website and have learned a lot. I have
2 old weber bar b que grills with attached tables and wheels works
great. I am thinking of putting all “food” in a compost pile for a
week or two and then feed that to my red worms. It seems it would be
easier to control quality and quantity of food. What would be the
advantages and or disadvantages of this method?

Hi Bobby,
Not 100% sure I follow how you are using those grills for a vermicomposting system – but it sounds interesting nevertheless!

You are absolutely right – composting food waste for a short period of time (often referred to as ‘pre-composting’) before feeding it to your worms is an excellent strategy, but of course there are a few disadvantages as well. Anyway, as per your request, here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of this approach:

    Advantages of Pre-Composting

  • Partially breaks down materials, so faster vermicomposting
  • Microbial colonization of wastes, so lots of food for worms (and less lag time before worms start processing it)
  • Allows you to deal with excess amounts of waste and control amount given to worms
  • Helps to avoid overheating in vermicomposting system
  • Can kill weed seeds and pathogens (when present in your waste materials) if large enough volumes are composted
  • Lets you create the ‘ultimate’ worm food mix before it goes in the worm bin
    Disadvantages of Pre-Composting

  • Requires that you have a yard and space for composting
  • Can lead to infestations of outdoor pests (house flies, fruit flies etc etc) in your bin if enough there isn’t enough heat generated during the composting stage
  • If not properly handled, materials can go anaerobic and be unpalatable for your worms
  • Takes extra effort

As you can see, if you have the space and are willing to put in the effort needed to compost the materials properly, pre-composting can be a great strategy.

Hope this helps, Bobby!

[tags]composting, pre-composting, hot composting, vermicomposting, thermophilic, worm composting[/tags]

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