Mark’s OSCR – 01-13-10

Hi again,

Well it’s like this; you see I’m one of those guys that can’t leave my bin alone. I was looking at my trash weight and was thinking “how deep is the worm bed?” 10 inches if you were wondering, yep, 40 inches by 48 inches and 10 inches deep.

I had a small hole in the middle, it was like a chimney, I noticed warm air would rise and I thought “cool what a great way to keep the surface warm”, so, I made the hole a little bigger and it worked perfectly.

Now here is the funny part, when I was measuring the depth I pushed my level through the chimney to get a measure and it got stuck. (Like this)

Then I tapped it down harder with my rubber mallet. (Like this)

Wouldn’t you know it, the level was hung up on the heater cable; I snapped it right in half!

Plan B

I have a lot of time and money invested in this bin, not to mention how many worms that are thriving in my garage. I have sweat equity in this bin, I can’t let them freeze, and I would lose too much money.

I had to put a space heater in the harvest chamber (it has a thermostat) to keep it warm. It has been doing well and I haven’t lost bin heat. The addition of the space heater is a major change from the way my OSCR was set up from the beginning and what I have been writing about. I installed a cover over top of it so no moisture would drip into the heater (the blue thing).

My bin is 40 inches by 48 inches and 10 inches deep.

These pictures show what red worms can do to garbage under optimum conditions. 581 pounds of trash reduced to how many cubic feet in 13 weeks?

This stuff would still be in the landfill today if not for the worms being kept warm. I only intend to use the space heater for another 8 weeks and then turn it off till next winter.

There are those who are opposed to artificial heat. My feeling is that this is MY herd and I am not breaking any rules about vermicomposting, this is my research and future business.

‘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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50 Cocoon Challenge – 01-14-10

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Winter Worm Windrow – 01-13-10


  1. You did what you had to do, Mark. What are you going to do with all that VC Mark?

    • Eve
    • January 14, 2010

    Ah, Mark I feel for you! That sounds like something i would do. I hope you will be able to install a new heater cable in the bin when the compost is hanging up after a harvest.

    Oh i couldn’t help it. Approximately 11 Cubic feet or 83 gallons.

  2. Heather,
    That is a riddle, there isn’t that much besides the original 100 pounds.
    Where did it all go? and is my reduction rate more than 90%?

  3. Thanks Eve.
    I don’t want to dig around to much. I may have to come up with plan “c”.

    • Jean Kruse
    • January 14, 2010

    Mark, just to get a better picture of the shrinkage – how deep was the stuff in your OSCR at its fullest? Will you go back to the heating cable next winter or try something else? Jean

    • Erick
    • January 14, 2010

    Always enjoy your updates! Sometimes you just have to adapt, better a heater then the deep freeze.

  4. Hi Jean,
    I don’t think it ever got over 12 inches deep. I have fluffed a time or two so the bed is not packed tight.
    Next winter I will try something else. I saw a heating heating system from a young fellow in the Carolinas that looks promising.

    • Kuan
    • January 14, 2010

    Hi Mark,
    Sorry to hear that your heat cable broke. But the 10″ is impressive!! I have a plan B just like yours, a space heater. When we had that arctic cold front last week, the FT bin temp dropped down to 57F. I didn’t really do much but last nite, the bin temp went back up to 82F. Worms were having a feast with more pumpkins and stale breads. I also saw quite a bit of the annoying red mites… oh well.

    I’m wondering how the space heater will affect your heating bill. Do you plan on having it on 24/7 for the next 8 weeks?


  5. Erick
    Thank you. Can you imagine thawing out all those dead worms? UGH!

  6. Kuan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    The space heater has a thermostat. I am willing to take a hit in the wallet for a little while, if not, I go to my secret plan “c”. It is so secret I don’t even know what it is.

  7. I definitely wouldn’t worry too much about a small energy input. How far away is your nearest landfill? And how much energy would it take to transport 583 lbs of waste there?

    (Seriously if anyone can remember their school physics- I’d love to know)

  8. Thank You Catherine,
    Our landfill is on the edge of the county. I have been there. To find it you just follow the trail of litter that has fallen from the trash trucks.
    Not only is it disgusting to look at, it smells like …a mega anerobic bin!
    Oh man! Somebody put some air holes in that thing, more worms, more bedding, anything PLEASE!!!

  9. Kuan,
    I never tried stale bread. Do you add a lot? What is your pratice on using bread?

  10. Hey Mark,

    you might take a page from Bentley’s Winter Worm Windrow, also what I did for my outdoor trenches…create a heat composting space in your bin–just in one corner, so the worms can go elsewhere if needed.

    Next time you cook something in water (pasta, veggies, etc), save the water and let it cool to warm–add some molasses, maybe some coffee grounds, stale bread, and even some regular fruit/veggie scraps and make a big “mash” of it. Put it in a corner of the bin and let the composting heat serve as a natural heater for the bin. I would love to hear your temps near there, the next few days, and how long it takes for the worms to migrate to that and start chomping down. When I did it, I was not going to go out in the single digit windchill and dig into my outdoor trench–but you have a perfect controlled environment to check it out for us! Now that it has warmed up—I can’t believe how well my outdoor worms did.

    • John
    • January 15, 2010

    Be careful of adding too much bread products to the bin. I suggest burying one slice in a corner of your bin and watching it to make sure that an undesireable mold does not become established.

    I put a couple of slices in my rather small worm tower and an aggressive, sulphur-colored mold began to sprout. It seemed to originate from the bread. the mold grew to the outside of the tower and I have to work hard to keep it from becoming re-established, after I scrubbed everything down.

    Now, I put waste bread products in my compost pile which gets pretty hot. This seems to control the mold. Once the compost is pretty well broken down and cools, the worms love to work through it.

    • Harley
    • January 16, 2010

    Hey guys,

    I just read the article & was wondering why wouldn’t the
    worms eat the mold off of the bread? Can moldy bread
    hurt the worms? I’ve got some bread saved up for mine
    & I thought the mold would be good for them.

  11. Heather,
    Is that a challenge or a triple dog dare? I do have cool zone (1 square foot) imagine that. I wonder why I did that? How did you figure out I had a perfectly (well, close to perfect) controlled environment?

    I spoke to Letty and she said she would make pasta on Saturday. I’ll try it out.
    How do you think “Heather’s Homemade Microbial Mash” do in a pressurized bin? I was wondering because, earlier today I sealed the top of the bin except for a small opening in the side and when I opened it I freaked!

  12. Hi Harley,
    I think it depends on your bin. As John mentioned in an earlier post, the mold took on a life of it’s own. John says he uses a worm tower and is more precautionary with bread. Heather on the other hand has an outdoor trench, with no apparent problems. Heather’s worms can escape easier if they have to than John’s. John does have a good point about precomposting, which is always a safe strategy.

    You can also add a small amount to see what happens.

    • John in Huntington Beach
    • January 16, 2010

    You nailed it, Mark. The bread mold took over my relatively small worm tower whereas the substantially larger mass of my compost pile will control anything I throw at it. Anything within reason, that is. I can easily make the pile go anaerobic if I overdose it with spent mash from the brewery.

    If I had a large worm bin or an outdoor trench, I don’t think I would have a problem with bread if I could bury it six inches deep. But in my tower, the trays are only four to five inches. What I get is a sulphur-colored mold or fungus that exudes out of the various cracks and crevices then starts to grow on the exterior of the tower. When I try to hose off the growth, the surface cracks and releases soot-black spores which float to heaven knows where!

    The stuff is still in my system but I don’t let it get out of hand. I wash it off as soon as it appears, before spores have a chance to develop.

    I attribute this to the bread I added one time because I observed the sulphur growth starting at the bread (which was a preservative-free sourdough). As I stated orginally, I think that if I had put in a smaller amount of the moldy bread, the worms would have liked it, as Harley suggests, and would have been able to keep the upper hand.

    Thanks again for all the feedback… John

  13. Mark, Can you handle it?!

    Hey Mark…I don’t know would it be easier to measure in lbs or square feet? Maybe a good idea would be to measure it in weight and square feet, since you think your bin is still around 100 lbs? You could weigh the mash easier than making 1 square foot. That way, you could easily do the math as a percentage, ie: 3 lbs in a 100 lb bin raised the temp X degrees.

    Personally, I would do it in 1 corner, so the greatest area of the bin would be available for worm escape or emergency mash removal if something crazy was happening, but if you can easily reach your cool zone square foot, that also would be a good option. I would make the mash go down at least 5 inches.

    I guess a variable would be how much bread or coffee and how much molasses. I am looking at some of my cooking molasses, which has 70 calories/TBSP. Reaching back to junior high science, KCAL==amount of energy to raise temp 1 degree C of kg water or something like that. In my worm wine, I add 1 fluid oz to one gallon of Worm Wine–no idea how many TBSP are in 1 fluid oz…It would be cool to measure the molasses in “calories” and see how that played out. It will be interesting to see how much 1 oz molasses with a food source would raise the temp (assuming it does!), once some of those beneficial microbes come into play.

    I can’t wait to see your results!!!!!!!!!!! I feel like science fair all over again, lol.

  14. John–from HB–what brewery do you get mash from? We love HB and the last couple of times there dropped into the Huntington Beach Brewery.

    My FAVORITE stop is the Sugar Shack for Breakfast. Drooling, now, lol.

    • John in Huntington Beach
    • January 16, 2010

    That’s the one, Heather, though technically the name is Huntington Beach Beer Company.

    And Sugar Shack is a favorite of mine, too. It is a family owned place and the third generation is becoming more and more in charge.

    • Kuan
    • January 17, 2010

    Hi Mark,
    I didn’t read your question about the bread until now. I’m a bit under the weather here. I’m the only one eating bread here so about 1/3 of it ended up in the bin. I just tore them up into bite size pieces, mix them up with veggies trimmings, banana peels, etc. then feed them to the worms. By the next feeding, they are gone. If I got lazy, I just let the bread sit until they got moldy and then toss them into the bin. The worms seem to love them. So far, the bin really doesn’t heat up much at all.


    • Eve
    • January 17, 2010

    John in Huntington Beach, the mold you were describing is Slime Mold. Look it up in Wikipedia, its fascinating… and disgusting.

    • John in Huntington Beach
    • January 18, 2010

    Thank you for the reference, Eve. It is definitely a fascinating…and well named…subject. Yuck!

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