Critter Composting – Revisited

I recently wrote about my “Uber-Natural” system, with contents (and organisms) more reminiscent of a forest floor than a typical worm bin.

I’ve also recently been having a super-fascinating discussion with a worm farming friend ALL about the wide range of other “critters” apart from composting worms that are easy and even profitable to raise. This guy makes great money selling various arthropods on the side – likely more than he does selling worms!

I’ve always felt a lot of these other worm bin organisms are very much underappreciated just based on the ways they can assist the worms in a vermicomposting system – but it is pretty clear they have some potential even in being “farmed” independently as well.

All of this kinda came together as a “perfect storm” of sorts in my brain, inspiring me to “play” with a few of these other organisms independently. The three I have selected are: isopods, millipedes and springtails.

I feel like I have explored the topic of “composting” (in some way, shape or form) with each of these in the past – but it’s safe to say I never went too far with it. I’m hopeful this project will prove a bit more fruitful. One bonus this time around is that my friend (mentioned earlier) has been sharing tips about how to effectively raise these other organisms on their own. I always assumed it would be roughly the same idea as raising worms (with somewhat drier conditions), but it seems it might be a bit more nuanced than that.

My “starter culture” of springtails actually came from one of my Urban Worm Bags. When I water the system, lots of them tend to end up down in the plastic catch bin sitting below.

The set-up process for my springtail bin was super basic. First, I laid down some dry newsprint in the bottom of the bin. Then, I added a bit more water to my springtail catch bin and poured the springtail-filled water into the new bin. For “food” I added a few poultry feed pellets, a small amount of apple and some ground up fall leaves. Lastly, I simply put on the lid.

In my Uber-natural bin I seem to have two main kinds of isopods – the armored “rollie pollie” types that roll up into a ball when threatened (pretty sure they Armadillidium sp), and faster moving ones that are flatter with a softer body (Oniscus sp and/or Porcellio sp). I ended up adding about 5 of each to a bin – more info about set-up in a minute.

The dominant millipede I’m finding in my indoor bins is an interesting one – not the more cyllindrical grayish ones I typically find out in the yard – but a brownish, more flattened one that some would likely confuse with a centipede (definitely not – since very slow, and also curl up when threatened). I added 11 mature (darker) individuals to my millipede bin.

The set-up for both the isopod and millipede bins was almost identical – and definitely a little bit “fancier” than the springtail bin. Basically just plenty of old ripped up cardboard and brown paper, fall leaves, some newsprint, a sprinkling of poultry feed and a chunk of apple, along with a modest amount of water so that the lower reaches would be damp and the overall level of humidity will remain high.

Something I’ve noticed with the Uber bin is that adding a lot of kitchen scraps tends to drive lots of isopods and millipedes up to the top layers and underside of the lid. Some literally crawl out the air holes and die on the floor. It’s pretty obvious they don’t thrive in quite the same rich environments as the worms. Likely helps to explain why I tend not to have huge populations of either one in my more typical indoor worm bins.

This lines up with what my friend has been telling me as well. He said that apart from a little bit or fruit (etc) for moisture, he doesn’t really add kitchen scraps to his isopod systems. They can definitely benefit from some calcium though so I will aim to track down my bag of calcium-rich rock dust and add a bit of that at some point. I suspect the poultry feed will have some calcium as well.

One other interesting tidbit I learned is that millipede poop (“millipoo”) is apparently very valuable stuff, so I will be really interested to see if I can produce any sort of accumulation of it!

That being said, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself just yet. Phase I is simply an attempt to see if I can get a decent population of these critters to develop in the bins.

I will keep everyone posted on that front!

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    • Michele
    • March 6, 2021

    How is the millipoo valuable? Is it sold anywhere? Or is it richer in nutrients?

    • Mike
    • March 8, 2021

    Good old bugs: I have a a leaf pile with lots of mass. On the bottom still a few winterized night crawlers that know how to stay warm. I keep it covered until it is safe to unleash new wiggler worms into the newest levels for grazing. I usually get a few harder bodied bugs that show up that seem to co exist well with my wormy favorites. This year the garden is raised and we will reward worms with little pockets of kitchen scraps. The heavy compost will get scraps also on it’s volcano shaped cone with straw on top to help the greens along. I have three aerated 55 gallon barrels almost to heavy to tip over that I selfishly squirreled away from last years compost that is ready for serious soil amending. Got an idea how much a 5 Gallon bag might be worth?

    • Bentley
    • March 18, 2021

    Hi Michele – Millipoo is literally a brand name. My understanding is that millipede manure in general is highly regarded, potentially even more expensive than good castings. This is something I plan to explore with my millpede system. I may actually start up a separate small bin with loads of millipedes in it just for the sake of seeing if I can accelerate the process a bit (i.e. actually produce a bunch of millipede castings).

    • Bentley
    • March 18, 2021

    Hi Mike – not quite sure what sort of compost you are referring to so hard to come up with a pricing estimate. A 5 gallon bag of quality worm castings would likely cost a lot – but my hunch is that’s not what you are referring to here.

    • George
    • March 21, 2021

    I love this stuff! Personally, I’m not so interested in the quality of the poo. I’m more interested in diverting stuff in my house from going to the landfill. As long as the end product isn’t a hazard, I’m good to go!

    • James Spry
    • May 26, 2021

    Hi Bently, I’m really keen to see where this goes. I’ve been trying to figure out an easy, cheap, low stress method to grow bugs to supplement chook food protein.
    Currently the main way is expensive black soldier fly larvae (or occasionally meal worms) systems in a shipping container. But you have to restock them every week or two (because it’s larva not adult stage…)
    Using pill-bugs and such never occurred to me. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration!
    Keep up the good work mate. πŸ™‚

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