November 2009

Controlling Mites in a Worm Bin

I recently came across this video over on YouTube and was VERY impressed – the creator, Christy Ruffner (from ‘Worm Bin Composting‘) summarized very effectively a piece of advice I have actually been giving people as of late, relating to the often asked question “How do I get rid of worm bin mites?”. I know I tend to be ‘Mr Mellow’ about this stuff – but I have come to realize that there are indeed situations where some sort of mite intervention needs to take place in order to optimize conditions once again for vermicomposting.

Apart from the awesome info and effective visuals (now THATS what I call a mite infestation – YIKES!), I appreciated the fact that Christy took the time to inform people that the “spider mites” are not the same ones considered to be plant pests (as some people mistakenly assume), and moreover that they won’t really do all that well even if they do start crawling out of your bin!

One other thing to mention – while melons/cantaloupes are almost certainly the most effective materials for attracting mites, really any of the cucumber family (cucumbers, squash, pumpkins etc) should work quite well. Oh – and definitely make sure you don’t leave the chunks in there for too long. If you happen to forget about them, you may end up with the ‘mother of ALL mite infestations’! haha

By the way – I will definitely add a link to this post to the “Worm Bin Mites” section of the “Hot Topics” page for future reference. I have little doubt that this video is going to help a lot of stressed-out vermicomposters!

Thanks to Christy for putting it together (and be sure to drop by her site – linked above – to say hello!)

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A ‘Wormy Gifts’ Update

Earlier in the month I wrote a post called “Interesting Gift Ideas for Worm Fanatics” that talked about some cool worm-related products created by two talented Dutch artists (although as mentioned, one of them lives in Norway now).

Well, I recently received an email from one of our readers, Jillian, pointing me in the direction of some interesting wormy gift ideas from US-based artists.

I thought I would post this follow-up just in case people are trying to find worm-related gifts for those hard-to-shop-for creative vermicomposting types!

Joking aside, these are definitely pretty cool! (Thanks again, Jillian)

Copulating Earthworm Necklace

Bhumi Shakti Queen of the Earthworm

Jingle Bells WORRY WORM Set

The Mongolian Death worm (my personal fav – haha!)

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Some Worm Composting Photos

Hi Everyone,
I just thought I would share some recent photos!

Gob of Red Worms
Picture from a few months ago. I think their air got cut off and it was time to leave and I don’t think they had any food left.

What the OSCR bin looks like today.

Fat Red Worm
This is Marvin (Letty says he is the leader) 🙂

Vermicompost Grown Onion
The small one is a store bought green onion. The bigger one is from Letty’s garden, grown with Vermicompost.

Lady Bugs in OSCR Bin
Some lady bugs stopped by for a snack! (not sure what those lines are)

‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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Mark’s OSCR Videos – Part III

Here is the final installment in Mark’s OSCR video series. This one is REALLY interesting so be sure to check it out. Mark shows the upper zone of his worm composting bed and explains how he feeds and waters the system. Speaking of which, I LOVE the water sprayer – that is an awesome idea. I think I’m going to get me one of those. (obviously it goes without saying that you should buy one of these NOT reuse one used for spraying other stuff!)

This is another long one (19:57), but I think a lot of people will enjoy the content.

You’ll likely notice that I’ve used a slightly different video player this time around – this one includes links to the other two videos (which show up once the video ends) – so if you happened to miss those ones you can easily check them out as well.

You will ALSO likely have noticed that I added a box in the sidebar to show Mark’s waste tally. I think it will be a lot of fun for us all to follow along as Mark continues his journey towards 2000 lb (and beyond). I’m amazed that he’s already added ~250 lb (as of the time of this writing)! Pretty cool.

Thanks again to Mark for putting together this video series! I am certainly looking forward to all his future OSCR (and other) updates!

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Winter Worm Garden

A long (but really interesting) email question from Michael:

Hey there, I started my own worm garden for an experiment
back in march of this year … wanted to see if i could do it and see
if it was viable so i could sell the extra worms { have a few paylakes
waiting on me to produce enough to sell to them} i started with a
dozen worms just to try .. they are in a 2 ft by 2 ft box .. give or
take a few inches and its about 8 inches deep .. they have reproduced
but it doesnt seem alot .. probably up to 20 or 30 worms now .. wish
there were more but its only been 7 months.. anyway .. im interested
in knowing if they will survive the winter here in ohio .. i live in
the cincinnati area. so weather is iffy … either rainy and 30ish or
sunny and teens to twenties in winter..gets really cold in late jan.
and feb 0-10 ish is this box big enough for them or do i need to get
a bigger box .. they are outdoors and i dont want them to die .. have
quite a few worm eggs in there now too..and would it help getting a
pound or two more worms .. i have access to as large of boxes that i
need .. just not sure what to but in a large box for bedding .. i have
5 acres off wooded land and plenty of grass,twigs,and leaves ..if they
can eat that? plenty of left over food scraps … .. but when it gets
could will this stuff freeze up or will decomposition keep it warm
enough for the worms, i can also get hay or straw if this would help
and im looking at bringing home a 4 ft tall three foot wide box with
lid from work .. how many worms should i put in something this large
to get them to reproduce ..and is now a good time to buy so the have
time to reproduce some before spring? want to try and have some for
sale by march{ will have this experiment goin on for 1 year lol …
would love to sell something for an anniversary present.{ i am using
redworms} thank you very much ..

My Audio Response

My Written Response

Hi Michael,
Thanks for writing in – lots of interesting tidbits there!
Based on the fact that you bought “a dozen” worms, I get the feeling you purchased them from a bait shop, and suspect you may have Canadian Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) – a large soil worm commonly used for fishing. If your system was indoors and you ended up with 20-30 worms I might think differently (since Canadians won’t breed readily in smaller indoor beds – the worms, that is! haha), but the fact that the system IS outside and likely in contact with the soil (you’ve referred to it as a ‘garden’), so that would seem plausible.

Just so you know, even the slowest of composting worms would produce a MUCH larger population than that in 7 months! Quite some time ago I started up an experiment called “Four Worm Reproduction Experiment” that basically involved starting a worm bin with 4 Red Worms and seeing how quickly they reproduced. I totally neglected the system, yet after 5 months or so (when I did a tally of the worms) there had been a 25-fold increase in numbers! Imagine if I had actually taken good care of them?

Bottom-line, the good news is that you definitely will be able to raise worms a LOT more quickly than that – but you really do need to get a hold of one of the composting species (Red Worms or European Nightcrawlers are both a good choice for cooler climates, but the Reds will most likely breed more quickly for you). If you are planning to raise these worms for sale as fishing bait, you may want to go with Euros since they are larger (although, as I have written previously, Red Worms can be a great fishing worm as well).

Moving on to the topic of winter worm composting…

You live in Cincinnati, so perhaps you already know that Red Wigglers are “the Cadillac of Worms”! (rather obscure joke – sorry! That was a radio jingle on the show “WKRP in Cincinnati”).

Seriously though, you are certainly well south of me (in Southern Ontario, Canada) so your winter won’t be as severe – and yes, you certainly can keep worms alive over the winter. Keeping a totally active worm composting system is a different matter altogether, although that could certainly be done as well (been there, done that – bought the T-shirt! haha).

Not sure if I will be too late in telling you this, but one of the best ways to protect your worm bed will be be piling up a lot of fall leaves over it – sounds like you are in a prime location to collect them (hopefully you haven’t bagged them all up and sent them away). You mentioned being able to get straw/hay as well – fantastic! These are excellent insulation/food materials. The hay in particular would serve a double function of food and insulation since it is richer in nitrogen – it will be especially important in the spring as the bed warms up and the worms start to get active again.

If you want to insulate a bed with elevated sides (such as the bin with 4 ft walls you mention), I would highly recommend stacking straw bales all around the outside. If you have a bed that is low-lying, this won’t really be necessary – just heap everything up over top.

Using some sort of a tarp over top will provide a great final layer of insulation (especially if it is a huge tarp that can be folded multiple times) and will act as an important wind break. If you also get lots of snow, piling it over top of the tarp will provide you with one final layer of insulation.

I suspect that you would be ok setting up the system now, but do so ASAP and prepare the bed before adding the worms. Again, we are talking about composting worms here, so you will want to set this up like a giant vermicomposting system (bedding mixed with food). If you have access to any aged manure, this would work really well mixed with shredded cardboard and leaves/straw, along with the food waste you mentioned. Fill your bed with this then let it sit for a week or two before adding the worms. Make sure you get yourself some sort of a compost thermometer as well – you definitely don’t want to end up cooking your worms! Speaking of which, to answer your question – yes, microbial heating can be enough to keep the worms warm BUT you will need a “critical mass” and really good insulation if you have any hopes of sustaining the warm conditions.

If you really DO want to create an active winter worm bed, you will probably want a system somewhat larger than the one you mentioned, and again, using bales of straw to create walls can work really well. Be sure to check out my Winter Worm Composting posts on the ‘Hot Topics‘ page. The posts about my big winter worm bed should help to provide you with some ideas.

Anyway – I hope this helps, Michael.
Good luck!

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Mark’s OSCR Videos – Part II

Here is ‘Part II’ of Mark’s OSCR video series, which features a short tour of Mark’s harvesting chamber.
It is only 3:32, but it’s really interesting to see the system from below. I appreciated the fact that Mark didn’t mind getting crawling around and getting dirty for our benefit!

Tomorrow, as mentioned, Mark is going to take us on a tour of the upper zone of his OSCR bin, and show us how he feeds the system.

Stay tuned!

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Mark’s OSCR Videos – Part I

As a follow-up to the hugely popular post “Mark and his OSCR Worm Bin“, our roving Red Worm reporter, ‘Mark from Kansas’, has been kind enough to put together a three part video series featuring his OSCR worm bin. A couple of these videos are close to 20 minutes each so I’ve decided to bring them to you one at a time (Part II will be tomorrow, and Part III on Thursday).

This first video (which runs 18:26) features Mark talking about his OSCR system. He brings up some of the topics of discussion from the comments section of the post mentioned above, and also runs through his journal entries written since the post was published.

I have included these journal entries here so you can refer to them as well.


I notice a fair amount of moisture in the harvest chamber. I don’t think it is leach* because the water is clear, like condensation. A lot of worms have settled in the coffee layer and I found some cocoons on the top surface. I added 17 pounds of trash and covered the top with 1 lb. of leaves.

*[EDITORS NOTE]: What Mark refers to as ‘leach’ is what I refer to here on the site (and in newsletters) as ‘leachate’ – basically, the dark liquid that drains out of the bottom of a worm bin (some people refer to this as ‘worm tea’, but that is a bit of a misnomer).


I installed a 4” fan on the outside of the harvest chamber and closed the door to force air upwards. The condensation went away but the bin temp climbed to 90 degrees. I reopened the chamber door.


I turned off the harvest chamber fan.


Found 6 lost souls in the harvest chamber and the condensation was back. I turned the fan back on. The temp in the bin is and has been a constant 80 degrees. The temp in the garage is 59 degrees. I watered down the top with a ½ gallon of water.

The heater cable uses 42 watts of power and if used 24 hours a day for 30 days, it will cost me 10 cents a month based on the cost calculator:


I closed the harvest chamber door and turned on the fan. Now the harvest chamber is “pressurized” to force air upwards. Some worms are finding their way into the harvest chamber.


I layered the inside perimeter of the bin with all the coffee filters. I keep finding lost souls on the edges of the perimeter in the harvest chamber. Hopefully as the bin processes, the decomposing filters will push the bin contents and worms toward the middle. Added 12 pounds of food.


Added 5 pounds of food


The harvest chamber remains to be dry. Yesterday I added 2 gallons of water to the top. Today the HC is still dry. I poked around the top to look for worms. They are very active and react very quickly to light. The worms on top look FAT. I am hoping the bottom layer of newspaper above the HC will breach in 2 weeks. I also sprinkled 5 pulverized egg shells to the top.


I added some pumpkin guts to the bin. I decided I would only leave the pressure fan on during the day. The top 1 inch has been a little dry. Other than that, the worms look fat and alert. They dart back real fast when they get in the light. Added 13 pounds of food.


Added 8 lbs. of food topped with some leaves. I am risking overfeeding but I’ll watch carefully.


I added some more coffee filter paper around the perimeter. I put a plastic tarp over the top and left a small opening on the side a couple of days ago. I am leaving the fan on for only an hour, seems like all I do is water the thing, 2 gallons last night.

Forget about the overfeeding, the worms are over the new stuff. No bugs and the bin smells like wet leaves. Putting the tarp on created a warm and humid environment in the bin, condensation is running down the sides. The temp of the bin at a 4 inch depth has been 80 degrees F for at least a week. The worms still look fat and are very reactive to light.

So far I have added 385 lbs*. of trash to this bin. I was concerned about overfeeding.

Now, I just don’t know. I am still going to be on the conservative side when it comes to feeding. The bottom of the bin where the newspaper is has not breached yet. The very bottom layer is the finished compost and cocoons. My hope is that they hatch before the newspaper rots. The newspaper is showing signs of decay and won’t be able to hold the weight of the contents for much longer. Added 1 pound of food. When I say 385 pounds of food, I am also adding the weight of the worms and unfinished VC from the other bins. I really don’t know how many worms are in the OSCR. Stuff that I know is actually food weighs 230 pounds.

*[EDITORS NOTE]: I asked Mark for clarification on this “385 lb” number (since he had reported 249 lb of food waste added as of the time of this posting). Here is what he said: “The 385 pound includes the unfinished VC and worms. That is the total weight of the contents at that time. Remember I don’t want that newspaper to rupture too soon. So, the 385 pounds in the force downwards on the suspension cables.”


The newspaper is starting to breach. I put some containers under the ruptured spots to catch what has fallen. The stuff that had fallen had some worms in it that I tossed back in. I am hoping the bottom of the bin will be on the dry side so the worms will migrate up.


A major breach of the news paper. Finished VC and worms. I rescued 20 worms.

I also added 27 lbs. of pumpkin. I feel the bin is way overfed. I added 12 lbs of food yesterday. I turned on the fan and put tubs of water soaked manure in the harvest chamber. The tubs will catch the worms so they won’t dry out and die.

I was digging around the perimeter and found gobs of worms. I dug them out and put them on top. I then shoved cardboard down the sides to push the worms and food towards the middle.


I seem to have one spot 12 inches by 12 inches that is pushing 90 degrees F. I noticed this yesterday. I have trying the forced air to cool it off but, I want to go to bed so I just poured a quart of water on that spot. The newspaper has significant breaches in several spots, I am not rescuing as many worms as I have done before.

Just so you know, I will be creating a page on the site dedicated to Mark’s OSCR project where you will find links to his blog posts and other related information. Mark also suggested that I add some sort of running tally of the amount of food he has added – I thought this was a really cool idea, and will be adding something in the sidebar.

The next two videos feature tours of Mark’s system – first he shows us the view from the harvesting chamber, then he shows us the view from above, and takes us through a typical feeding session.

Stay tuned – very interesting stuff!

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