October 2011

Parasitic Nematode Update

Hi everyone! I don’t have anything Halloween-themed for ya today – but it IS kinda creeeeeepy!
OR…maybe it’s just me!

I wanted to provide a bit of an update on the Steinernema feltiae (parasitic nematode) front. As mentioned in my last nematode post (see “My Parasitic Nematodes Have Arrived!“), I decided to see if I could use larger maggots as hosts for these guys since each one would have the potential to support a LOT more nematodes, and I figured they could more easily be used as a sort of transportation vessel, helping me transfer the nematodes to new systems.

Well, I THINK the nematodes do in fact attack larger maggots. After adding some to my maggot holding container, I started noticing some change in behavior – for the first time, some maggots ventured out of the container – and just generally, a certain sluggishness. Rather than waiting for conclusive evidence, I ended up adding maggots and their habitat material to one of my little gnat / fruit fly farms (pictured above). By that point, the “farm” was humming along quite nicely with loads of little larvae crawling around in the lower reaches of the container.

Right after adding the maggot mix, I decided to add even MORE nematodes for good measure (wanted to leave no question of there being loads of them in the system) before leaving the bin to sit for a few days. I decided to check on the situation today, and so far it looks the nematodes have got the larvae on the run (quite literally – haha). As shown in the photo, quite a few of the larvae are now crawling up on the sides of the container! There may have been the odd one up on the sides before, but this definitely seems to be new behavior for the most part. I’ve also noticed an increase in adults in the bin – this actually seems to support some observations made the last time I tested these nematodes. After adding them to my fungus-gnat-infested bins, rather than finding lots of dead larvae it seemed like I was finding lots of dead adults looking like they had been invaded by something. It actually does make sense that flying insects would respond to a threat this way – almost like a last ditch effort to help ensure the success of future generations!

Another positive sign is the appearance of countless tiny worms (obviously the nematodes) on the inside walls of the “farm” bin. I have to hold the container up the light in order to really see them – but I can see them wiggling away when I do, so I’m confident they are doing just fine. There are loads of larvae still moving around in this system, so I think this could end up being a fantastic stock system for the nematodes. Now I just need to make sure I have at least one or two more thriving larvae bins set up for future transfers so I won’t run the risk of exhausting my nematode “food” supply! lol

All this larvae and nematode farming aside, I still obviously need to properly test the effectiveness of the nematodes against our tiny flying friends. I am hoping to set up some small fruit fly breeding systems with shredded paper for bedding and banana peels for food, and then add a bunch of the nematodes (still LOADS of them in the original bag I received them in) to some of the containers to see if there is a noticeable decrease in the number of adults etc.

I will certainly keep everyone posted!

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RWC Community Experiments

In the recent survey I came across a REALLY cool suggestion (plenty of other great suggestions too, of course!). Someone suggested that rather than constantly setting up different experiments myself and trying to keep up with them (we ALL know how many of them end up falling off the rails – assuming they even get started! lol), I should think them up, and get others to think them up – and then simply round up volunteers from the RWC community to perform the experiment.

This is a BRILLIANT idea (and the person who suggested it is more than welcome to step forward to take credit)! I know there are plenty of keeners out there who would enjoy getting involved and contributing to the “greater good”. It would certainly take a lot of burden off me – and we’d likely end up with a lot more finished experiments, more reliable results etc etc. Even if not all of them are super serious (perfectly planned out with scientific method etc), I think it would still just generally be a lot of fun to compare notes – results could be shared here and in the newsletter!

For starters – I’d love to get some suggestions for different things to test out. There were a number of cocoon experiments I had been meaning to get started a while back – so perhaps I can get those back on the radar screen (rather than swept under the carpet – haha).

One of our community members, Jonathan B., wrote in with an interesting experiment suggestion recently. Given the often-soggy nature of the lower reaches of a typical plastic enclosed tub worm bin, he was wondering if Euros could thrive down there – creating a better quality vermicompost – while Reds thrive in the upper zone. A big part of WHY this one really interests me is the fact that I get asked all the time if you can have both of these worms in the same bin. In MY experience this doesn’t tend to work out all that well over the long-haul – seems as though the Reds really do kinda take over. I would however be very interested to see if there was anyone interested in trying this out?
I myself am hoping to start up (fairly soon) a “head to head challenge” sort of experiment with these worms to see how they compare in terms of growth and reproduction rates (and overall vermicomposting).

Oh BTW, for the person on the survey who said they “know” I’ve never used Euros – LOL – please be assured that I actually have – just not nearly as much as Red Worms. Some may recall that I ended up having to dump a bunch of them in my big backyard bin after adding bokashi to my indoor Euro bin…long story (see posts below)! lol

Symptoms of a ‘Sour’ Worm Bin
Sour Worm Bin Saga Continues
From Bad to Worse – Sour Worm Bin Decline
Sour Worm Bin Follow-up

Anyway – that’s basically that! I hope people are as excited about this idea as I am! Thanks very much to the mystery person who suggested the idea – would be great if you decided to add your input here as well (but no pressure! lol).

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7 “Fun” Ways to Make Money with Worms

Yet another topic I touched on in the recent newsletter…I just wanted to make sure all my entrepreneurial followers are aware of my new e-mail mini-series, called “7 Fun Ways to Make Money with Worms”. It’s an article series (delivered via email) I’ve been putting together as a way to kickstart my fall promotion for the Worm Farming Alliance membership.

If you would like to read a quick and dirty summary of these “fun” approaches, and learn more about the series in general, be sure to check out my blog post over on the WFA site:
7 Fun Ways to Make Money With Worms

There are sign-up links in the post, but if you know already you want to sign up (100% free by the way), you can do so via this link:
Worm Business Ideas Email List


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Worm Factory 360 – My New Toy

As I wrote recently in the newsletter, a short time ago I was contacted by Kate Alldredge from Nature’s Footprint – makers of the “Worm Factory” series of worm bins (among other products). Her initial contact was innocent enough – she simply wanted to know more about my use of the parasitic nematodes, Steinernema feltiae (how effective they were against gnats and fruit flies etc). Well, as you might imagine (based on the title of this post), one thing led to the next, and Kate ended up asking me if I’d like to test out one of their Worm Factory bins.

(NOTE: We can also thank Kate for getting me thinking about – and then ordering – parasitic nematodes again!)

In all honesty, I’ve had a pretty long-standing mini-grudge (haha) towards stacking worm bins. I own a wooden model, and found that it fell short of expectations, and I’ve received a LOT of emails from vermicomposters encountering issues with their own plastic stacking systems. As such, the opportunity to ACTUALLY test out one of these bins myself could serve as a very valuable experience. I’m hopeful it will help me change my tune about stacking bins, and I DO think it will definitely help in terms of providing people with educated feedback regarding how to effectively use these things.

As is usually the case with “free stuff” – I was pretty excited about the arrival of my WF-360. My (almost) one year old even decided to get in on the action (he was so excited, in fact, that he spilled his drink – yeah, yeah, that’s it! lol)

Right off the bat, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of “stuff” that came with the bin. Here’s a list of the included items:

– manual
– instructional video DVD
– mini compost thermometer
– a bag of pumice (gravel basically – intended to help keep things well aerated)
– plastic hand rake
– plastic scraper thing (lol)
– a block of coir (coconut fiber – like peat moss)
– some sort of black plastic container – called a “sprinkler tray”
– even a bag of shredded paper/cardboard

It really does seem as though Nature’s Footprint wants to see new users get up and running effectively. I also must admit to being somewhat surprised by the size of the bin (see how it “stacks up” against a one year old above! lol). Already I can see how this one might work a fair bit better than the bin I tried previously (which has very shallow trays). Just generally, I really like to “look and feel” of the bin – almost seems like something my wife might tolerate being in plain view (haha) – not that I plan on pushing my luck! It seems very sturdy as well.

Part of the reason I’ve wanted to test out the “360” model was due to the fact that I was told it had improved aeration over other Worm Factories and other plastic stacking bins in general. For some reason I thought there were actually air vents in the corners of the trays, which in fact there are not. I guess if there was ONE potential “disappointment”, it might be the lack of any OBVIOUS major improvements in ventilation (I would still love to see one of these manufacturers actually put air vents in the trays and lid. That being said, one thing I DID notice was that the walls of each tray seem to curve inwards slightly, thus leaving an air space – there also may be a space at the corners as well. Hard to say for sure before actually getting this thing up and running!

I am going to resist the temptation to drill holes in the bin (haha) for the sake of properly testing it out as it is sold. I definitely look forward to getting the ball rolling!!

One of the things that came up on the recent survey was an interest in seeing more how-to stuff using different systems. Obviously doing a bit of a follow-along with the WF-360 is a great start. To make it even MORE interesting, I plan to also get my Worm Inn set up as well. NO, this is not intended as some sort of “head to head challenge” (lol) – it will be an educational look and how to use both of these bins, and to demonstrate how the care/maintenance might differ somewhat. I KNOW already that the Worm Inn works – and works well – and I’m quite optimistic that the WF-360 won’t disappoint either.

Now, for some serious stuff…


I want my community to be 100% clear on the terms of this arrangement with Nature’s Footprint. For starters, be assured that I told Kate I would only be interested in testing out the bin (or at least writing about it) if I was able to express my honest opinions. Also be assured that I am receiving NO financial compensation for this testing – my compensation is as follows:
A) I get a free WF-360 bin (whoohoo!)
B) Nature’s Footprint has agreed to give away one free WF-360 per month IF I can get 100+ readers to complete their survey (thereby entering themselves in a draw) – NOTE: I forgot to mention the 100+ entry minimum in the recent newsletter (sorry!)
c) Nature’s Footprint has also agreed to provide a 10% purchase discount for any RWC reader who orders from the special RWC page on the NF site (I can’t remember if one needs to fill out the survey for the 10% discount).

All I need to do in return is write about my use of the system periodically – as I told Kate, this is pretty much a given anyway, since I like sharing my vermicomposting activities here on the blog

With that heavy stuff out of the way – let’s NOW have a look at what my children did with the WF-360 box (funny how little kids can get more fun out of the boxes the “fun stuff” comes it – probably a lesson in there somewhere for us adults!):

Will write more soon – hoping to get the bin set up this week (along with the Worm Inn)

Stay tuned!

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My Parasitic Nematodes Have Arrived!

Two exciting packages arrived in the mail towards the end of this week – one of them contained my new batch of parasitic nematodes – Steinernema feltiae! As I wrote recently (see “Getting Rid of Fruit Flies and Fungus Gnats“), I will testing these guys out (once again) too see how effective they are against gnats and fruit flies.

I am also aiming to see how long I can keep a culture of these nematodes going. Best case scenario, it would be fantastic if I was able to always have a supply of them available to put to use since what I found last time was that their effectiveness declined over time. For starters, I’m also going to ignore the warning in the instructions claiming that the nematodes will last 2 weeks in the fridge – I have a sneaking suspicion they will be just fine for a fair bit longer than that. Last time around I used all of them fairly quickly simply because I didn’t want to waste them.

I haven’t done much with them yet. I mixed up a small batch of nematode water and added it to my two fly farms as well as my particle-size-experiment bins (all seem to have a population of fungus gnats) just to get the ball rolling, but I will testing them out a lot more this coming week. One thing I’ve been doing is collecting other, larger maggots that sometimes occur in my bins (pretty sure they are stable fly larvae) – they are very few and far between, but I’ve been able to find 5 or 6 of them in the past couple of days during some harvesting sessions (getting orders ready for local customers).

These larger larvae should be great hosts from the nematodes, hopefully allowing me to produce a lot more of them, and also providing me with handy “vessels” for transferring them into a new system. I’ve also noticed some mid size maggots of some sort in my outdoor beds of coffee grounds (pretty funny little guys – they actually jump!) so I’m aiming to collect a lot of those before the weather gets too cold.
(man, I sure hope there is no bad karma for being mean to insect larvae! yikes!)

Anyway – I will certainly keep everyone posted!

OH…and as far as that other exciting package (that came in the mail) goes. Sit tight, you’ll be finding out ALL about that one very soon!

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Pseudoscorpion Eggs

It’s always fun when I come across something interesting and “new” in my vermicomposting systems – and this is definitely a first! The other day I noticed a strange white object moving across a piece of shredded cardboard in one of my bins. Upon closer inspection I realized it was a pseudoscorpion with a big cluster of eggs! I immediately transferred the cardboard over to a bucket and dashed upstairs to grab the camera (with a brief interlude of eye-rolling from my wife when I explained why I was in such a hurry! lol). Luckily I was able to still find it when I got back downstairs!

Not the sharpest photos, but these things are really tiny so I’ll take what I can get! You can see in the first image how pseudoscorpions compare in size to springtails (and that was a small springtail) – although I’m sure they have zero qualms about eating them! I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys help us get rid of gnat and fruit fly larvae as well.

Anyway – just thought it was way too cool not to share here!

Other Pseudoscorpion Posts
When Pseudoscorpions Attack!
Scorpions In My Worm Bin – Yikes!

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Getting Rid of Fruit Flies and Fungus Gnats

There is no doubt that one of the MOST frustrating things about vermicomposting (and the thing I’m convinced is one of the real limiting factors preventing much more widespread interest in this field) is the other “critters” that can take over our vermicomposting systems. A couple of the worst offenders are undoubtedly fruit flies and fungus gnats.

I am definitely an advocate for “ecosystem rights” in a lot of ways (haha) – and really try to hammer home the point that a vermicomposting system is NOT just about the worms – BUT, I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the plight of these pesky flying varmints. Unlike with many of the other organisms that can pop up, such as mites, springtails, and white worms, it’s easy (for me) to think of fruit flies and gnats as “invaders” – we certainly DON’T need them involved in the process, and I certainly don’t need clouds of them up my nose!

Well, it just so happens that I have a fairly healthy population of both of these guys at the moment, so I’ve decided to have some fun (at their expense – MOOOHOOOHAHAHAHAHA!!). I placed an order for some parasitic nematodes (Steinernema feltiae), and set up a couple of fruit fly & gnat farms (pictured above) I hope to turn into nematode rearing cultures. As some of you will recall, I have tested S. feltiae before (see “Steinernema feltiae – Fungus Gnat Killer“) and I actually found them to be quite effective – at least initially. The issue is that the effectiveness seems to decline over time – undoubtedly due to the fact that the nematodes end up getting killed. For one thing, I discovered that scientific research has shown that the passage of these nematodes through an earthworm’s digestive system kills them (see “Steinernema feltiae and Red Worms“). I’m sure there’s also a fair bit of competition/antagonism due to the wide assortment of other organisms that can live in the rich composting environment.

Aside from wanting to work a bit harder at creating ongoing cultures of these nematodes (thus meaning I can apply them over and over again), I’m also VERY interested in once again testing to see if these nematodes will attack fruit fly larvae as well. I did set up an experiment to test this out last time around (see “Steinernema feltiae VS The Fruit Flies“), but I’m pretty sure conditions (outside during the summer) were too warm for proper testing.

Anyway…I will certainly keep everyone posted on my fun nematode experiments, but if I might shift gears a bit here, I think it’s not a bad idea to spend more time on this “Getting Rid of Fruit Flies and Fungus Gnats” topic in general (especially since a lot of you likely assumed that’s what this post was going to be mainly focused on).

Let me start by saying that both of these guys are a ROYAL pain once they become well-established, but of the two it’s the fungus gnats that are actually the most frustrating (in my experience). Unlike fruit flies, it can be very challenging to remove their “food source” since the larvae will feed happily on a very wide assortment of decomposing materials. You’ll likely need to be a lot more patient and thorough with your eradication efforts. On the plus side, really bad gnat infestations don’t seem to be nearly as common as is the case with fruit flies.

In both cases, PREVENTION should definitely be a very high priority! There are lots of different ways to lessen your chances of getting invaded. Here are some things to consider:

1) Observation – simply keeping your eyes open for any signs of small flying insects in your house is certainly an important part of the process! Fruit flies will likely first make their presence known in the kitchen – especially if you happen to keep fruit out in open bowls etc. Be especially wary of fruit from warmer regions – bananas, pineapples, melons are all regular fruit fly sources, especially if they have any sort of injury/lesion/disease. With fungus gnats you will want to be most careful with any potted plants and soil that you bring into the house since it’s not uncommon for them to already contain larvae and/or eggs. A good rule of thumb with your indoor potted plants is to let them dry out a fair bit between waterings. Constantly moist soil can become a prime gnat breeding ground. Generally, I’d also recommend keeping your worm bins a good distance away from any of your houseplants.

2) Careful Food preparation – This one applies more to fruit flies than fungus gnats. One thing I really recommend, if at all possible, is to freeze all your food scraps prior to adding them to your worm bins – especially in the case of uncooked fruit/veggie waste, and extra-especially (haha) with these materials that have also been sitting out for a period of time (in fruit bowls, scrap holders etc etc). Freezing these wastes will actually have a two-fold advantage. The obvious benefit will be the killing of any fruit fly eggs/larvae that happen to be in the material. Secondly, freezing can be a valuable way to start the break-down process (water expands when it freezes so this tends to rupture cell walls etc) thus making it easier for microbes to invade. You might want to let the materials thaw before adding them to your system though, since a lot of water can be released plus you don’t want to shock the system with a rapid temperature drop (could be helpful if your system is overheating though). Apart from freezing wastes, I also recommend chopping up (or even blending) materials before adding them since this will make them a lot more microbe- and worm-friendly, lessening the chances of other organisms gaining a strong foot-hold. On a related note, just generally feeding in moderation can go a long way towards avoiding any critter population explosions.

3) Physical barriers – I highly recommend always keeping a really nice thick layer of bedding materials up above your main composting zone. While this certainly won’t completely stop fruit flies and gnats from getting down below to lay their eggs, it CAN at least be a deterrent. It can also help to mask any odors that can attract these insects. Of course, having lots of bedding in your bin can also just generally be a great way to maintain a healthy environment, since it soaks up excess moisture, provides more worm habitat, increases air flow, and helps to balance the rich food wastes being added. You also may want to cover up your air holes with some sort of fine screening material, or even enclose the entire system in a big mesh (think mosquito netting) bag – perhaps a little extreme, but at least your chances of ending up with an invasion will be greatly reduced.

I think it’s safe to say that you should expect to be invaded by one or the other of these flying varmints at some point during your vermicomposting journey (or more realistically, BOTH of them – many times over! haha), so let’s now talk about different ways to deal with them once they become established!

When I’m not my usual mellow, laid back self (or otherwise engaged in various experimental pest breeding programs – haha), I like to employ a multi-pronged approach when attempting to get rid of gnats and fruit flies. Here are some of my suggestions:

1) Traps – various types of traps can serve as reasonably effective passive methods for capturing flying adults. They can also serve as valuable early warning indicators if you set them up before you get invaded. A very easy fruit fly trap can be made by putting a small amount of apple cider vinegar (or wine vinegar etc) in a jar with a tiny drop of dish detergent (reduces surface tension) and then covering the opening with plastic wrap before punching some small holes. Fruit flies will crawl through the holes and drown in the vinegar. Interestingly enough, I’ve discovered that these traps can also catch a fair number of fungus gnats as well – so I highly recommend setting some up either way.
Another type of trap that seems to work well for gnats is a sticky trap – especially one that’s positioned close to a light source. I’m not sure why, but gnats seem to be much more attracted to light than fruit flies, and even brightly colored sticky traps seem to draw them in. Some of you may recall my experiment with fly paper (hanging near a light bulb), and just how effective it ended up being for attracting gnats and bigger biting flies (see “Fly Paper – A Must-Have Vermicomposting Tool“).

2) Vacuum Cleaner – I’m sure this one will cause some snickering among those uninitiated in the ways of the the fly ninja assassin! (haha)
Joking aside, this is a phenomenal way to rapidly reduce the population of adult “breeders”, and thus greatly reduce the number of eggs being laid in your system. I highly recommend doing this at least once a day for best results. Aside from literally opening up your bin with vacuum nozzle in hand, also make an effort to round up as many of the roamers (those flying around your house) as possible. Again, a nearby light source will likely be a good place to start when hunting fungus gnats, and you may find a herd of fruit flies gathered around your fruit bowl or food scrap holder (speaking of which, you may want to throw scraps straight into the freezer once you have fruit flies in the house, since they will quickly make these containers a prime-time breeding ground if you don’t). It’s also pretty easy to make a powerful fruit fly attracting system (similar to the fruit fly farm shown above). Simply add a bunch of fruit scraps to a large plastic water/juice/pop bottle, along with some bedding materials (so it doesn’t get too sloppy and foul in there), then create a LOT of tiny holes using a pin or something similar. The idea is to allow odors out, while preventing fruit flies from getting in (although, it’s unlikely they’ll get back out even if they DO manage to squeeze in somehow). Fruit flies will congregate on or near this system and you should be able to vacuum up a lot more of them all at once as a result.

3) Remove Excess Food | Stop Feeding – As mentioned earlier, this is going to be a much more effective strategy for fruit flies than for fungus gnats, since gnat larvae don’t rely upon food wastes for their sustenance to the extent that fruit fly larvae do. Nevertheless, this is still a recommended approach for gnat invasions as well since every little bit helps. Feel free to continue adding bedding materials though – this can help to keep your worms alive without helping out the gnats and flies.

4) Let the system dry out a fair bit – This one will be especially helpful with fungus gnats, but should also help with fruit flies as well. The larvae of these pests thrive in wet waste materials and tend to be a fair amount more sensitive to drying than even the worms themselves. Not everyone will likely want to go this route, however, since it will more than likely require that you leave the lid off of your system for quite awhile (obviously resulting in more gnats and fruit flies being able to escape into your home) – but you might use it as a final step in the process, once the population of adults is clearly on the decline.

Ok – well, that basically covers some of my primary ways of dealing with these pests. Obviously various forms of biological control could be included in that list as well, but really the only promising option I’ve come across thus far is the use of parasitic nematodes – and again, I still need to test out this approach a lot more before I can provide a solid assessment (stay tuned)!

One last important thing to mention – most of what I’m suggesting here is intended for those with indoor systems. Unfortunately with outdoor systems there really isn’t a whole lot you can do to prevent either of them (well ok – you won’t likely end up with fruit flies if you aren’t using any sort of fruit/veggie waste), or get rid of them once they are established. I don’t personally find them nearly as frustrating in outdoor systems (not quite so “in your face” I guess), so perhaps this isn’t really a big deal anyway – but figured it was worth pointing out.

I am VERY interested to learn what approaches others have found to be successful for preventing and/or getting rid of fruit flies and fungus gnats – I’m sure there are plenty of effective methods not mentioned here. It would be really cool if we could turn this post into a sort of “ultimate” resource for dealing with these annoying pests.

Please share your ideas and methods below!

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