Kid’s Camp Vermicomposting

Back at the end of April I received an email from Robert Bishop, the property manager for YMCA Camp Greenville, a “resident camp” (open year round – for summer camps and various educational programs) in Greenville County, South Carolina. He was assigned the task of taking care of the camp’s rather neglected 3-compartment worm composting system, and was hoping to get some advice on how he might get it up and running again.

Seeing how enthusiastic Robert was about the project, and how cool the camp vermicomposting system is I decided to ask if he might be interested with sharing the project with us here. He was more than happy to do so, and it’s only been due to my busy schedule that I’ve taken so long to get the ball rolling here on the blog. I’ve started with his first installment, and one additional update (from May 8th) below. I hope to get a current status report from him fairly soon and will post that once it becomes available.

The bins: We have an outdoor 3-bay wooden composting setup. Each bay (bed) is approx. 4ft x 3ft x 4 feet deep. Each bay is separated by a removable frame that has 1/8″ hardware cloth, which allows for migration between each bay. The bin has removable fronts for cleaning/emptying, and each top is a hinged wooden frame with metal roofing attached. The back side of the compost bins are vented with 1/8″ hardware cloth at the top, middle, and bottom. The entire frame is set approx. 4″ into the earth, and has an open bottom for drainage. The bins are not insulated in any way, and are exposed to heat and cold extremes.

Current conditions: These beds have not been very well cared for, yet the worms I have found inside seem to be doing well despite their living conditions. I am going to assume that these are newer hatchlings (I hope that is the proper term) that have emerged this spring. They appear to be around 1/2 to 1 inch long, and by rough estimate there are 600 – 700 worms in each of 2 active beds.

Bed #1 contains sticks, wood chips, pine needles, leaves, and a little bit of food that has been mostly composted. The bin is approx. 2/3 composted.

Bed #2 is filled with completed compost and a mixture of unprocessed wood chips. I have managed to screen out a medium sized wheelbarrow full of finished compost, and it appears to be very nice, clean, and rich with a wonderful, earthy aroma.

Bed #3 contains wood chips, sawdust, leaves, sticks, and some decomposing veggies. It appears that the bedding is approx. 1/3 composted.

My short-term goals: I feel that the best way to ensure success with these beds is to clean one side out, screen the finished compost and remove worms, and start over with fresh bedding and food. Once the new bedding has aged, I plan to screen out the other beds and transfer all of the worms into the new bed. Then I can begin to monitor the worms and get their environment under control, and eventually introduce new worms into the mix and get the composting under way. I have access to our dining hall scraps daily, and have a lot of cardboard and leaves/grass clippings to process. I will also have horse manure to add into the mix once our summer programming starts in late May.

~ May 8th Update ~
Been a busy couple of weeks for the camp, but I have managed to put in some hours cleaning out the compost bins and re-doing the bedding. I have lined 2 of the beds with cardboard on the sides and bottom, and I used hand-shredded cardboard and grey egg crates mixed with decomposing leaves and pine needles,plus I mixed in some partially composted woodchips and plenty of water, and added in approx. 5 lbs of fresh vegetable scraps and crushed egg shells. I let this sit for about 6 days before adding in the worms and composted material they were in. Waited 3 days and then checked the beds…..the worms are thriving! I now have a very large colony of worms growing and eating, and have been adding 2-3 lbs of fresh vegetable and fruit scraps per day, alternating between 2 of the beds.

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    • Steve L.
    • May 26, 2011

    That is so cool! Sounds like these bins will be teeming with worms just in time for the busy camper season. I hope the camp can take advantage of the bins and share vermicomposting with the camp residents and visitors. Very appropriate that such large worm bins are part of a camp named “Greenville”. You can’t get much greener than vermicomposting!

    • Steve from St Louis
    • May 26, 2011

    This looks great. This will certainly compost up 2-3 lbs of food per day when the worm numbers get larger. Who of us would throw away 2-3 lbs of veggies and fruit in the trash. This looks like a wormers heaven.

    • Robert
    • May 27, 2011

    Thanks for the compliments, and a great big thanks to Bentley for letting me share this with everyone!!!!!

    We do environmental education throughout the year, and the vermicomposting bins are a part of the curriculum. We have a small garden, and our naturalist uses the compost for both planting and potting, plus we use it in our landscaping beds throughout camp. Most of the camp soil is rocky clay, so having vermicompost is really starting to pay off for us!
    Right now I am dumping a 30 gallon can of food waste twice a week into the bins. I’ve not had too many problems with odor or anaerobic conditions so far, but the amount of food waste will definitely increase as we start summer camp. I have been contacted by a local worm farm, and they are donating worms to help us with the increase in waste. I will keep you all updated as to our progress!!!!!!!!

    • Patrick
    • May 28, 2011

    This is a pretty interesting setup – side migration beds. I’m betting it will handle quite a bit of waste before long.

  1. I would put some sheet foam below the galv. lids in between the wood.Being in your location,that steel can get hot enough to drive all the worms deep.It is like a convection oven.If nothing else i would paint them white.

    • Robert
    • May 30, 2011

    Just wanted to share a couple of quick updates about the compost bins.

    First off, a great big THANK YOU to Mike and Jack Taylor from Appalachian Organics in Travelers Rest, SC for their donation of mature worms! These new comers dug right in and have made themselves right at home in the beds. I am now feeling way better about the increase in food waste amounts with these energetic guys at work!

    Second, the existing worm population has really exploded over the past 3 weeks. I have been checking the beds every 2-3 days, and have been seeing so many more worms in the beds than I previously found. The level of material in the beds has really been dropping down in recent days, and after digging around some, I can see why……the population has really grown! Plus, after 6 weeks of feeding and caring for the worm beds, I will soon be ready to start processing out the new compost! I had no idea just how quickly these little workers could produce compost once the beds were “balanced” out and the worms were happy.

    I should have some pictures and more updates to share in the next week or two…..this is SOOO great!!!!!!

    • Robert
    • May 30, 2011

    Larry D.,
    Thanks for the advice….I have been worried about that, given that these bins are not shaded in any way. I have several sheets of foam insulation in the maintenance shop, and had thought about adding them to the tops…..with the summer coming on, I guess I’d better do it quickly!!!!!

    • Robert
    • May 30, 2011

    Thanks for the advice, Larry D……..I think I should do something to keep the underside if the tin cool… gets pretty hot here in summer, and the bins are completely exposed to sunlight most of the day. Don’t want to overheat these guys!!!!!

  2. Yeah,you are in the same boat i am in! It’s hot enough in the shade.Luckily my worm tent is shaded by a couple of trees.I’m still going to have to redo the structure and foam below the material i roof it with though.Look forward to more updates on your progress!

    • Robert
    • June 4, 2011

    Hi Guys,
    Wanted to update the progress on our camp bins…..
    The new additions are playing well with the others…..seems that the increase in waste has not had any adverse effects so far… fact, the worms are hard at work, and the bin levels are dropping slowly, meaning that I will have a whole new batch of compost to screen next week!

    Temps here are rising fast…we’ve already had some 90 degree days, but the worms are doing good with the heat….I am seeing more and more signs of new hatchlings and cocoons, so apparently everyone is VERY happy with one another!!!!

    Will be getting some pics together this coming week, and will see if I can share a few…….talk with you all soon!!!!!!

    • Valerie
    • June 21, 2011

    I’ve only been vermicomposting for about a month now, but I’m so inspired by the success (so far — knock on Rubbermaid!) of my indoor bins that I’d like to start an outdoor bin and involve my neighbors — a “Community Compost.” Maybe pick up and leave an Eco-Bag on doorsteps once or twice a week, and re-distribute finished compost to the contributors every couple of months. Your bin setup looks just about ideal for something like that.

    So, I was wondering…

    I’m in Southern California and it regularly gets up to 100 degrees (and over) here during the summer, and down close to freezing in the winter — similar to South Carolina, minus the humidity, I would imagine — how has your bin been faring in the heat/cold so far? What poundage of food can it handle? Any tips or suggestions? Any changes you would make to the design?

    Your input is welcome — I’m so glad to have found this site — makes me feel less like the lone wormhead out here in the So Cal desert!

    • Robert
    • June 23, 2011

    Hi Valerie,
    The bins have done great so far…we’ve had a few 90 degree days and no adverse effects. The worms seem to tolerate the heat well, but I do keep them moist and keep the beds turned regularly.
    I have been putting 2-3 lbs of green a day in the beds, and adding the same amount of browns (leaves and cardboard).
    The worms are thriving….I have only run into one minor problem with one of the bins turning anaerobic, but once I equalized the brown/green content, I’ve had no further problems. I think I was adding too much green too fast without adding equal amounts of brown.
    I think the best advice I would offer is to start slowly and build the amount of waste you process….see what your worms can handle (process) in a week and work from there. Plenty of moisture (your bedding should be around the consistency of a damp sponge) and be sure that your bins receive adequate air flow. The camp bins have strips of 1/8 screen on 3 sides to allow for proper air flow. Watch your temps closely, if it gets too hot inside, turn the contents to cool them.
    As far as changing the design, I believe that I would have done the lids differently, to allow for better airflow and made from something other than metal….the noon sun gets pretty hot, and without shade the inside temps can get pretty hot.

    Good luck to you…….keep us updted on your progress!!!!!!

    • Valerie
    • June 23, 2011

    Thanks for the advice, Robert! My husband thinks our neighbors won’t go for it (we live practically on top of each other, but nobody really is acquainted with anybody else on our block — such is the way of the Californian), but I’ve made up fliers offering a free composting service — now I just have to get up the gumption to distribute them! I think people want to compost, but either don’t know how to get started or don’t have the time, so maybe this will appeal to them since they can be green without much effort. Who knows, maybe this will even help build some community morale. :o)

    Thanks again for the tips — and Bentley, thanks for all the great advice on the site — I’m off to spread the red worm fever!

    • John
    • May 28, 2012

    Just wondering how the bins are doing now?

    • Bennett
    • October 1, 2014


    I am a student at Sacramento State University and we have three worm composters as a part of our aquaponics system and overall goal to create a closed system on campus. I have been charged with the task of designed insulation for the bins for the winter. Because Sacramento is fairly moderate temperatures and does not get to be freezing, I would like to build something that can be easily removed and replaced. The bins are not covered so this structure would also serve as cover for the rainy winter season. I was wondering if you had any experience with this and any advice you could give me on construction and materials?

    Thank you!

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