I’ve been a fan of John Kohler – creator/host of the wildly successful “Grow Your Greens” YouTube channel – for several years now. I wouldn’t say I’ve watched “a lot” of his videos – mostly because they tend to be very long – but any time I do, I tend to be drawn in by his contagious enthusiasm about gardening, composting, and various related topics. I’ve been especially impressed by the amount of air time he gives to the topic of worm composting – and I have little doubt he has been responsible for a lot more people getting interested in this quirky field of endeavor.
With my positive thoughts about John out of the way (haha), I must say he REALLY missed the mark with one of his recent videos, called “Best Way to Keep Worms: Hungry Bin Worm Farm vs Urban Worm Bag Review” (I’ve posted it above).
Before I continue, it’s important to note that I am quite biased when it comes to Urban Worm Bags. I am good friends with the creator, Steve Churchill. I sell UWBs here on the site. It is a system I use and highly recommend. SO, when I see someone ‘dissing’ it – I just naturally take it a bit personally. lol
But regardless, John 100% said some things that were completely out of line and unfair, and just generally, he didn’t make any attempt to provide a balanced comparison (uhhhm…different worm species in each bin, one bin climate controlled while the other was not?!)
We’ll come back to that, but first I feel I should provide a bit more background information about the video. John was visiting Ann Wigmore Insitute in Aguada, Puerto Rico, where they have been testing out vermicomposting with the aim of boosting the health/growth of greenhouse and garden plants. John leads in with a discussion about the value of worms in your garden and his recommended ways to keep them happy and healthy.
I wasn’t thrilled that he compared worms to pets like dogs and cats (since thinking about them that way can get new vermicomposters into trouble) – nor did I like his suggestion to basically just order worms online and toss them in your garden. BUT he did at least follow-up with some good info about the advantage of using “feeding stations” (basically Worm Towers using buckets) and just generally, making sure to meet the needs of the worms in the beds.
At around the 10:45 mark, John shifts gears and starts talking about the two vermicomposting systems they been testing out at the institute: 1) Urban Worm Bag, and 2) The Hungry Bin.
Within a matter of seconds John says the Urban Worm Company “should be ashamed of themselves” and literally uses the acronym “P.O.S.” to describe it. (Not familiar with that one, just do a Google search for the slang version – lol).
He goes on to explain that the original stand broke (a very valid concern – I’ll come back to in a minute), and highlights what he feels are the problems with the system. Things like it getting excessively heavy, the potential for castings to fall out too easily, and staining of the sides. John also expresses disappointment that there is no good way to collect “worm elixir” from the bottom (he at least mentions that it is also referred to as “leachate”…but c’mon!).
Here’s the thing – the system has African Nightcrawlers in it, and it sounds as though they have been running it too wet. It’s also not uncommon in flow-through systems with ANCs for the castings to fall out quite easily (since they tend to be really granular).
As for this magic “elixir” he speaks of…
I have issues with stacking tray bin manufacturers encouraging new vermicomposters to run their systems wet and collect “worm tea” in the reservoir. That irritates me to no end! All that excess moisture impedes the vermicomposting process, and you end up with lower quality vermicompost, and lower quality “tea”.
But to express disappointment in the fact that an Urban Worm Bag is not a good tea making system is beyond ridiculous! For best results (in my humble opinion), the lower reaches of an UWB should be kept as dry as possible – you should not be wanting a lot of leachate draining out the bottom! You should be aiming for high quality worm castings – not watered down sludge!
Coming back to the valid concerns about the stand etc. Something else John fails to acknowledge is the fact that Steve bends over backwards to make things right with customers. He would replace a broken stand in a heartbeat – likely even a system with some zipper issues.
The urban farming teacher at the institute, Kaelash (person responsible for the worm composting), seems like a nice guy – and maybe he just didn’t think to reach out to Steve about the issues he was having. I dunno – but I do think this should have been looked into before John shot the video and started bad-mouthing the Urban Worm Company.
Moving on, John next shares his views on the Hungry Bin…
What’s that, John? Ohhhh…that system was kept in the climate controlled part of the greenhouse, and Red Worms were being used – not African Nightcrawlers? Yep that seems like a valid comparison!
I have no beef with the Hungry Bin – I want to make that clear. It’s not cheap but it seems like a great system that a lot of people are happy with (although I definitely see some potential for problems if not used properly…kinda like when UWBs aren’t used properly! lol).
Much in the same way I am biased about UWBs, John is clearly biased when it comes to Hungry Bins. Basically friends with the owner of the company – has visited the factory in NZ (and the guy’s own home). Has been recommending the system for quite some time now. These aren’t “bad” things – it’s just important they be taken into consideration. John doesn’t know Steve from a hole in the wall (and until this video was released, Steve had no clue who John was either – lol).
I am ALL for reviewing systems and sharing your honest opinions – and I still have a lot of respect for John and his work…
But, for the love of worms, please make sure you have ALL the facts, you’ve done some actual background research ahead of time, and that you are providing a balanced comparison that’s as unbiased as possible!
That’s all I have to say about that.
P.S. I just remembered there was a comment about worm castings having “10 times the nutrient content of compost” (or something like that). Completely NOT true! It is a material that has very unique plant-growth-promoting compounds etc…but in terms of actual NPK it is often quite low. There is much more to castings than basic NPK, that’s for sure!