October 2008

Storing Vermicompost

Here is a great question from Susan, and something I haven’t really talked about:

What’s the best way to store harvested compost that you
won’t be using for several months? Should it be kept in an airtight

Hi Susan,
Good compost is absolutely loaded with aerobic organisms (mostly microbes, but certainly also some invertebrates as well), so it is vitally important that you don’t completely seal it in a bag or container. If you do this the oxygen will be consumed very quickly and conditions will become anaerobic, potentially leading to the production of various compounds that can be harmful to plants (not to mention the death of your beneficial aerobic organisms).

It is best to store compost in a cool, dry place, providing air flow while not letting the material completely dry out. If it is really moist or wet, you should spread out the material and let it dry for awhile. It should be nice a crumbly and not feel damp when you hold it in your hands.

If you want to put it in plastic bags just make sure to add lots of holes in the plastic to allow for gas exchange. Any sort of bin/tub used to hold compost should also allow some air flow – generally, Rubbermaid type bins have loose fitting lids and some holes near the handles, so you won’t like need to actually drill any (as long as the moisture content is as described above).

Needless to say, compost should never be stored unprotected outside for any length of time. Rain will wash away a lot of the beneficial compounds (nutrients etc), and the sun can dry out the material too much as well. If properly prepared material is allowed to freeze this shouldn’t create too much of a problem – many microbes will die, but plenty of them will simply go dormant, ready to repopulate the material once it thaws out again.

Hope this helps!

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Insecticides and Worms

This question comes from Christine:

I keep my worm bins in the basement and need to spray for spiders and
other creepy crawlies in the basement. I put it off this year, but my
son moved down to the spare room in the basement and has been asking
me to spray. How will spraying affect the worms in the bins? I can
avoid spraying in the small room the worms are in, but is this enough?
Should I move the bins upstairs while I spray? Is it okay to move them
back down once I spray? I don’t want to harm the worms, but also don’t
want a basement full of spiders.

Hi Christine,
Here’s my take on this. Being an ‘ecosystem’ kinda guy, I tend to view all organisms as having an important role, regardless of how ‘creepy’ or ‘crawly’ they happen to be.

Spiders and other creepies will only appear and remain in a given location if there is enough food to sustain them. Remove that food source and they will disappear – it’s as simple as that. In the case of the spiders, that food source will be other critters, like flies and moths etc. So, it is likely the food sources of these organisms that will be the root of your problem.

In my household, while my wife would definitely subscribe to your line of thinking, I actually welcome spiders, since they help to trap annoying pests like fruit flies and fungus gnats (among others).

Please don’t take this the wrong way, Christine – this is not meant as a reprimand by any means. And it’s not only a discussion about killing spiders in the basement either. I see a very close parallel between this topic and the topic of ‘critters’ in a worm bin. Many beginner vermicomposters become alarmed when they notice other creatures (aside from worms) appearing in their vermicomposting systems.

The first reaction tends to be one of alarm, paired with the desire to get rid of the ‘invaders’. Again, my advice is to assess the situation from a full ecosystem perspective. Organisms appear in a given habitat to take advantage of some resource that has become available. In the case of a new worm bin, one of the most common problems is overfeeding. When there is too much food in there for the worms, it only makes sense that other creatures (like mites, springtails, fruitflies) are going to take advantage of this abundant resource. On a related noted – one of the interesting things I’ve seen in my high density worm systems is that there seems to be relatively little in the way of competition from other worm bin regulars. There are so many worms and they consume the food material so quickly that it becomes difficult for anyone else to get a foothold.

Anyway, back to the actual topic at hand (sorry about that, Christine)…

If you are determined to spray for spiders, I would definitely remove your worm bin for a little while. Worms are highly sensitive to chemicals, and you may end up harming them. Their worm bin habitat certainly provides a protective buffer zone, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution.

Hope this helps!

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