When to Harvest Vermicompost

In this video I respond to a question from Steve:

When is the best time to harvest vermicompost (i.e., what should it look like, how broken down, etc)? I know that “it depends” and that you have commented on this in the past, but it seems like a common question without a detailed answer.

In typical Bentley Christie fashion, I stick with my “it depends” stance (haha), BUT I do explain WHAT it depends on, and talk in more detail about each of these factors.
8)

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Comments

    • brenda bowen
    • February 9, 2011

    super with the video and you kept it to 5 minutes well done lol
    B2

    • Steve from St Louis
    • February 9, 2011

    Thanks Bentley for the video. We can all read “wet/dry/ 50% composted” and each picture something different. This video however really helped me to get on the same page as you and your more experienced wormers. I’ve been thinking of changing to a flow thru system from my current plastic bin. You may have given me the push I needed. It seems to be a bit more in initial set up and start up but should keep the post digestive work to a minimum. Thanks again for all your hard work.

    • John Duffy
    • February 9, 2011

    Great video Bentley! Even though I’ve got my first year as a worm head behind me, I still get pretty “antsy” when it comes to the question of harvesting VC or waiting…Waiting is not my forte but, I’m getting better.
    Thanks for all you do

    • Julie
    • February 9, 2011

    Nice pictures and explanations. So simple, when explained along with a single picture for all the different systems compared.

    Since I started, I’ve been scratching my head at the content of my plastic bins. When I started my first one, I couldn’t understand what all that talk about “black gold” was… my vermi-compost was not like any pictures that I had seen (mine was balls of all gooey and light bright brown bits covering undecomposed newspaper, not smelling bad though).

    So, since it wasn’t dark brown or black or crumbly, I couldn’t figure out if it was ever ready for harvest… all those pictures and websites out there always just show the darkest, crumbliest material. that never matched my reality 🙂

    • Steve from St Louis
    • February 9, 2011

    Julie, your description matches my bin to a T. I am going to let mine go for another couple of weeks then start to dry it out…maybe it will start to look more like the pictures you were describing.

    • Travis
    • February 9, 2011

    Funny, my vermicompost in my plastic bin – in the two years that I’ve been doing this – doesn’t look anything like that goo! I suppose I am doing something right!

    • Julie
    • February 9, 2011

    Travis, maybe you could share some good tips 🙂

    interior or exterior bin? climate? size of bin? type of worms?

    do you live in a dry place, or humid? what average temperature/humidity is the room where you put your bin?

    cardboard or newspaper or coir or peat moss bedding? closed or open bin? ventilation, or holes in the bottom or not? feeding food wastes or manure or both? feeding schedule?

    do you add more newspaper or cardboard?

    • Steve K
    • February 9, 2011

    Thank you for another great post, Bentley. As others have indicated, you answered my question and showed a lot more of what you mean by the different types of compost than words could easily describe. I also agree with Julie and Steve that the contents of my indoor bin look a lot more like yours than I had originally hoped, and I had wondered, until now, if I was just being impatient (my rule for harvesting was to stop adding food/bedding once the bin started to get heavy, then give it 2 months). I ended up adding the semi-digested contents of the bin to my outdoor compost pile, and we’ll see what’s going on in there once it thaws out….

    In the mean time, I need to measure what space I have on the pantry (aka the space my wife allows for my wormy habits) to see if it will accomodate a Worm Inn. I am excited to try some new things.

    • Steve K
    • February 10, 2011

    Looks like the Worm Inn stand will fit in the space I have, so I just put in my order. Thanks, Bentley!

  1. BRENDA – It was pretty tight there are the end (haha) and technically I did get cut off, but oh well! This has been fun practice for me – hopefully it will get easier and easier to share my msg quickly/effectively
    ——–
    St. Louis Steve – I totally agree! This is why I always encourage people to TEST, TEST, TEST everything out for themselves! haha
    Apart from interpreting things differently, we all have different systems, different conditions etc
    ——–
    JULIE / TRAVIS – in my experience it ALL comes down to moisture content and aeration (typically very closely linked). I don’t mean to give the impression that all plastic enclosed bins product awful vermicompost – this is definitely not the case. I’ve had especially good luck with bins that end up neglected a bit (or a lot – haha) and/or those that have pretty good air flow. When you are adding water-rich food wastes on a regular basis and you only have a handful of drilled air holes (just a hypothetical situation) you are more likely to end up with the “goo”.
    ———
    Steve K – thanks again for the great question(s) (will need to come back to some of the other ones you sent in). Thanks also for the Worm Inn order. I hope you enjoy using it!
    8)

    • Jon
    • February 10, 2011

    Alpaca manure!? So glad you mentioned this. I almost forgot stumbling upon an Alpaca farm in my own town in CT while doing the census this summer. Upon seeing this video I immediately read up on it and saw the benifits: aging not required, no weed seeds, easy to apply-just lay on top of garden and water in. Im going to go see if I can get ahold of some, drop it down, and let the snow melt it in.
    Also I agree with you on plastic bins being too wet. I’m constantly fighting the moisture with fresh shredded newspaper. It might be time to change the system up.
    Great Video Thanks!

    • Susan
    • February 11, 2011

    Your videos are much appreciated and you’re doing a great job in 5 short minutes. I have learned so much from your web site. It sounds like a lot of people are producing gooey messes in their plastic bins. It is possible to compost in them and not have that gooey mess. 4 1/2 months ago I started vermicomposting in 1 plastic 18 gal. bin with 1000 worms (supposedly–I didn’t count them or weigh them). I drilled holes around the top edge of the bin, in the lid, and on the bottom (there are 10 holes). I have covered the bottom of my bin with window screening. In Jan., I took 1/2 of the original bin, sieved the contents for castings, and put the large pieces of bedding and worms into a new 18 gal bin. The other half was left in the original bin. This week I took the other 1/2 of the original bin, sieved the contents, and began a 3rd 18 gal. bin with those worms and bedding. First, there was no bedding left on the bottom in the bins–just castings. 2nd, the castings were wet (but not dripping). They seemed sticky at first, but when I sieved the contents (I built a sieve out of 1/2″ screen) I was left with dark, particles similar to the ones in Bentley’s video. Also, I have never had liquid leak out of the bottom of my containers. The bins must be moist enough since the worms certainly seem content because they have greatly multiplied. Of course, it’s probably because they’re in our warm guest bedroom!!

    I did do a “Bentley” kind of experiment beginning in Nov. I put 20 adult worms in an 8″ x 14″ x 8.5″ (deep) plastic container. I dumped the small bin on Monday (3 mon). There were 205 adult worms, 191 juveniles (lots of them looked like they had small clittelum developing), and lots of babies and cocoons. Yes, I did count them and my non-worming husband recorded the count as I identified them. I was blown away!! That were 20 times the number I had started with. I can’t imagine how many there are in those large bins now.

    • jean kruse
    • February 11, 2011

    The best way I’ve found to use plastic bins is not to use a lid – just a layer of newspaper and then about 4″ of shredded dry paper. To feed you just lift up the newspaper, dump food in and recover. If you do have maybe almost ready compost but it is too wet, just put it in a cardboard box with a layer of newspaper on the bottom and on the top and leave in a preferably warm place for a couple of weeks.

    • Terri
    • February 13, 2011

    I just harvested yesterday and my VC is somewhat crumbly, but also somewhat gooey… is it OK to put on my garden or should I do some further processing? (I was just going to top dress my asparagus bed in anticipation of spring… yum)

    • Bentley
    • February 14, 2011

    Jon – I’ve been really happy with alpaca poop (unfortunately, it looks as though my supplier has purchased another farm and moved away though!) – while I wouldn’t throw caution to the wind entirely (fresh material probably still releases ammonia etc), it definitely seems to be a milder manure than some.
    ————–
    Susan – congrats on the results from your “Bentley” experiment! Pretty impressive for such a (relatively) short period of time!
    ————–
    Jean – I agree 100%! It took me a while to figure this out, but ever since then all my favorite systems have been open (still experiment with some enclosed bins though).
    ————–
    Terri – it really depends on the application. I would never use an anaerobic (stinky) material in a potted plant, for example, but in an outdoor garden situation (such as the one you described) it’s not nearly as big a deal. It sounds like your material is much better than that, so you should be totally fine!
    8)

    • Terri
    • February 14, 2011

    Bentley, thanks… it’s not stinky at all! Ok, so now I just have to wait for the snow to melt so I can get AT the asparagus bed. But we’re having melty temperatures this week, so I’m hoping I can do that next weekend. 🙂

  2. My plastic bin has never created goo, so here are some answers to Julie’s questions.

    – very shallow Sterilite bin (fits under a bed), kept indoors in my guest bathroom (guests are fascinated!)
    – I keep the lid on unless I observe an over-moisture situation. I just rely on two lines of holes drilled around the upper edge for aeration.
    – in my entire year of keeping it, I’ve only added water about 3 times. The food and bedding that I add has plenty of water to keep the system going, and the closed plastic lid means that water evaporates up, then condenses back down so the top and bottom of the bin are evenly moist.
    – I initially drilled holes on the bottom for drainage, but I’ve never seen a single drop of water come out. I’m not going to drill holes in my future bins. I also plant all of my houseplants in containers without drainage holes — once you get the knack of never overwatering, plastic becomes your best friend.
    – I initially kept the whole bin at an angle so that one end would be dryer than the other, in case I messed up with moisture.
    – My bedding is 2/3 newspaper and 1/3 cardboard, and I feed about once every 2 weeks with food waste from the kitchen.
    – The worms are redworms from eBay. Sometimes I swear they are better at producing more worms than they are at producing compost! I’ve given worms away to friends and finally had to start eBaying. Left to themselves, the worms would fill the entire bin with worms, and then harvesting would be impossible.
    – 1 month before harvesting, I “pre-harvest” by pushing the bottom layer (blacker, moister, more done) to one side and the top layer (half-decomposed newspaper) to the other side. I feed on both sides evenly until the week before harvest, when all the food goes into the unfinished side. Then I scoop out the finished side and use it in my window garden.

    My friends and I just started a blog this very day — please leave us comments and love! Just click on my name to jump there.

    • Lynn
    • February 15, 2011

    I’m working with an upward migration stackable plastic tray system and my biggest misunderstanding is about adding more trays. I seem to do fine with two trays, but never can seem to get any higher than that. Usually end up harvesting just when I might add a third tray. Any ideas out there with others using this type of bin? Hold off maybe and add that third tray?

    What I harvest is awesome dark and semi-moist (10 lbs last tray full) so no complaints there – but I always have a fair number of worms and cocoons to pick out too… sure would like to go higher??

    • Terri
    • February 15, 2011

    Lynn, your experience is very similar to mine. Some of the worms never get around to migrating upward. And it’s just as you say, just when a third tray might be appropriate, it’s time to harvest the bottom.

    • Cookie
    • February 16, 2011

    Terri and Lynn I have a tiered system to add another layer just do not harvest instead add the next tray. I am feeding my top tray and have so many worms right on top when I lift the lid. I’d rather just add more trays than harvest because I think I’ll be removing cooccons and some worms. My tray system is outside (California) sitting on the ground ( dirt) I don’t use the leggs or the bottom liquid collector. So for me I’d like to buy more trays and just keep adding up. It would be easier to feed when I don’t have to bend down so far. Then when my tray layers are at a max. height for me. What I think I’d do is put the top tray on the ground next to my current system and only feed the new worm trays until i think all the worms that will move have moved over. I have shared worms with both friends and family and have a family that saves worm food for me I feed 2 or 3 times a week and feed big chunks (whole fruits potatoes celery heads lettuce heads) as well as small bits strawberry stems carrot peels When I put a half egg shell in and look at it in a few days it is full of worms it kind of looks like they have moved it like it’s a home. Well I am really enjoying my worms I just wish i could feed them dairy and bones and bits of meat scrapes.
    Cookie

    • Scott
    • February 16, 2011

    Hi,
    I’ve been trying a 3 plastic bin tiered system. It’s working pretty good. I do have to mix the container up every week or so and add shredded paper. The bottom bin holds anything that drains out. (empty every 2 weeks or so)The next bin is the old first bin with 4 support boards for the next bin (newest stuff). I waited until the bottom bin had almost no worms in it them took that bin out of the stack. I figured whatever worms that were left in the bin would complete the finishing off. Is this going to be a problem? I do keep it lightly covered with an old bed sheet. It doesn’t seem to be drying out.

    P.S. The stuff draining out does wonders to my house plants. I dilute it 1:10 I use it whenever the bottom bin gets full enough of liquid to reach the next bin. Plants flower that following week.

    • Lynn
    • February 16, 2011

    Thanks Cookie for some good feedback. i will try to refrain from harvesting my bottom tray – which you are right – often contains both worms and cocoons along with the awesome dark compost…. so I will leave it longer and add on top.
    Not sure how tall you are… or how many extra trays you would like to get you up to a more comfy feeding height, but I have quite a few extra new trays from when I was selling these upward migration systems… I’m in Florida so what ever shipping might be involved, I’m sure we could work out a nice deal to get you more trays. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks again.

    • Kristy
    • May 11, 2011

    I have a 4 tiered, upward mobile system. The problem is, I haven’t harvested any vermicompost b/c the worms won’t leave! I have 3 tiers full of very moist, darm material with hundreds of worms per handful. I’ve recently added the fourth tier to my system, and I really would like to harvest some of the material. I use a food processor to chop my worm scraps, so I think there is a leaching of liquid material through the tiers and supplying the guys on the bottom tier. Any ideas? Do I try to dry out the material and lose worms? Stop feeding chopped material?? Any comments are much appreciated.

    • Terri
    • May 16, 2011

    If it were me, I’d just go ahead & harvest the bottom tier. I always have to sort worms & cocoons out of my VC. I think the idea that they will all migrate upward is a bill of goods.

    • Louise
    • August 4, 2011

    Dear S, we had change of management recently on my farm. I am trying to understand more of our worm farm (2 x 7m x2m walled). We ar in a winter rain fall area and in the past the worm farm was “harvested” in winter. Will this be the correct practice? yes, our use ar for vericompost and the current consistance is “fine”. recently lots of mulching was added, thus the lots of worms on the top layer.

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