John Kohler vs The Urban Worm Bag

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).

Wow…

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!).

<…Sigh…>

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!

LoL

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).


Anyway…

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.

(Mic drop)

😉


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!

Previous Post

Walking Windrow Project – 7 Months In

Next Post

Measuring the Benefits of Castings & Leachate on Plant Growth

Comments

    • Blair
    • April 5, 2019

    I have been running a worm bag for a couple of years now. I love that they can be fed and happy while we go away. We don’t need to wheel it to the neighbors. My population is healthy and stable. We get far more castings that I was lead to believe when I was deciding if this was something I want to do. We have zero waste, except some chicken bones, leaving for the landfill and the garden is lush. I use regular buckets with holes that live in the flower beds under the bushes where I put everything I think the bin worms might not love: a ton of coffee and citrus. Earth worms and soldier fly larva love this stuff. All a win. I am not sure this guy is worth the trouble. Sounds distracted in his arguments about worm pets. Don’t get me wrong. I love the worms in my garden, I love the worms in my buckets in the raised beds and I love the worms inside in the worm bag. Everyone is happy! (There are a lot of SHOULDS in this video.)

    • Bentley
    • April 5, 2019

    Hi Blair!
    Yeah there were a number of things that didn’t sit right with me (not all of them mentioned in my response). I am the king of worm bin neglect…John is advising against plastic bins, yet is looking for a system you can just leave alone while away (no better system than a plastic bin for neglect). And the irony – as you point out – is that an UWB can be neglected for quite some time as well.
    Anyway – think he was a little “off” to say the least with that one. Hopefully he does a follow-up, actually giving the UWB a fair chance!
    😎

    • Andy
    • April 5, 2019

    Bentley,

    I saw the video early on this week. Plus, I checked out the comment section, both Steve and Larry take care of the negative points of the UWB on the video. I respect Steve, he produces an excellent product at the same time makes improvements. I like watching John Kohler’s videos once awhile. I like his interviews especially with commercial worm farmers, commercial composters, and market gardeners.

    • Shaul
    • April 5, 2019

    I’ve been using the UWB v.2 for about 7 mos and I love it. I think it works great and as far as the bag is concerned, I think it does everything it’s supposed to do. I’m also subscribed to John’s YouTube channel and I usually enjoy his videos. The nice thing about raising compost worms is that when I first started watching this video (a couple days ago), I saw right from the start that he didn’t seem to have a clue as to what he was talking about and so I just switched it off (I never even got to the 10 min mark). Now of course he could have been more diplomatic and framed his opinion differently, but instead of us freaking out about his use of the term P.O.S. I think instead we should focus on his complaint which is the Flimsyness of the steel frame. In that respect, I have my own complaints as well. The steel frame is good and solid but only as long as it’s pushed back against a wall or a corner and is never moved. The one time I needed to move the frame (with the bag being quite heavy), within 1 minute the frame started to come apart. It’s not like the poles are attached to the plastic corner pieces in some solid and secure way; it’s merely a press fitting, easy in, easy out. I’d like to see some improvement there, so that the corner pieces were firmly attached to the poles. Now on that one time I had to move the frame, luckily I had a couple of heavy-duty, nylon webbing, ratchet tie-downs (like someone would use to secure something to the roof of a car or truck) and so, securing the frame from the 3 directions I was able to slowly move it without it coming apart. If the steel frame were the perfect solution, then why would so many people be building their own frames from wood or plastic pipe? Just doesn’t make sense.

    • Bentley
    • April 5, 2019

    ANDY – Larry mentioned he had left a comment but I didn’t get a chance to check out the comments section (I’m guessing plenty of people who watched the video may not have either). Yeah John has done some good stuff for sure. My hope is he sees some of these responses and takes it into consideration for future videos.

    ————

    Hey Shaul – any “freaking out” you picked up from my post stems from the fact that John basically just walked into a situation with zero prior knowledge about the product and product creator, and made accusations based on a very limited amount of information he was given. When you have the sort of influence John has, you need to be a bit more careful about these sorts of things. That’s potentially someone’s livelihood.

    In Steve’s case, I’m not worried – but the bottom-line is it really rubbed me the wrong way, and I wanted to share my opinion about it.

    As I said, the stand claim was perfectly valid – and it’s important for people to keep letting Steve know about it if it continues to be a problem (version 2 i definitely better than version 1 anyway). I haven’t had issues with the stands – but I don’t really move my UWB around at all.

    • Shaul
    • April 6, 2019

    Bentley; If you re-read my post you’ll see that I already wrote what you’re writing, now. If John’s attitude hadn’t bothered me, I wouldn’t have responded to your email. But the first words out of his mouth were not about the bag but rather that the frame had fallen apart (something I can empathize with 100%). Once he got started denigrating the frame, he just went on to criticize the whole thing (which is unfortunate). If the frame had been solidly connected then he wouldn’t have had anything to complain about and this whole thing would never have happened. If he had truly wanted to compare different styles of bins/bags, then he could have been at it all day as there are many different styles and configurations. But in truth, if someone had asked me to choose between what seemed like a rather flimsy unit as opposed to one that was solidly built, I probably would have chosen the ‘Hungry Bin’ as well. I think that what John needs to understand is that just as his negative comments can impact on sales of the UWB, so also, tens of thousands of worm forum members badmouthing his YouTube channel to all their social media contacts, can also seriously affect his rank and status. When things quiet down he needs to be invited to have a second look, maybe even from someone in his area. If he could see the bag on a tall wooden frame (the reason given that the tall frame makes it easier to harvest the castings (another complaint of mine)).

    • Bentley
    • April 6, 2019

    LoL – I think this is probably one of those “agree to disagree” (on certain points) scenarios, Shaul. And maybe an “agree-that-electronic-communication-isn’t-always-the-best” situations as well. 😉

    If tens of thousands of people ended up badmouthing John I’d be shocked – I certainly don’t have that sort of influence – but yes, that would certainly make him sit up and take notice (assuming he isn’t already).

    I definitely “get” the negative review in general. He walked into a situation that resulted in him being given a very bad “first impression” of the UWB. And the “POS” “…should be ashamed of themselves” stuff was perhaps just an immediate gut reaction that got verbalized a bit too quickly.

    In general, John seems like a very reasonable guy – and I think he even corrected something on Steve’s request (think he had the wrong product name in the title originally, or something like that). So, yes hopefully he circles back later on to review the system again, and provides more of a balanced, constructive criticism. Maybe it will even end up being a “bad press is good press” situation for Steve in the end – and maybe also an important reminder to keep working on improving the stand design.
    😎

    • Jim Wagner
    • April 6, 2019

    I have had an urban worm bag for over a year. When I put it together I figured it was going to become very heavy when filled, so I built a platform out of two-by-fours and put casters on the bottom and mounted the frame on the platform. I move it daily in my garage with no problem at all.
    The only problem I had was with the bottom zipper pull rusting away. I notified the maker and he immediately sent me a UAB-2, which took care of that problem.
    Anyone who complains about the urban worm bag is not using it properly, in my opinion.
    It’s so nice to have a great product with a great company to back it up. Thank you so much UAB for making worm farming easy.

    • Shaul
    • April 6, 2019

    Bentley; My ‘Social Media’ idea was more, ‘wishful thinking’ and not something I was planning to do, or thought that it might actually happen. So John is safe. Like I wrote previously, I’m subscribed to John’s channel . I enjoy his videos and his enthusiasm. I would hate to see him lose his fan base over something so ridiculous as calling the UWB a P.O.S. Actually I’ll do it myself. “The UWB is a P.O.S. (Place of Safety), and in this respect, I think even the worms would agree with me.

    • Jim Wagner
    • April 6, 2019

    I just read my comment and realized I had made a mistake. I called it a UAB and it should have said UWB. My apologies for any confusion I may have caused. Anyway, no matter how it’s spelled, its a wonderful product.

    • David Chan
    • April 6, 2019

    I had the opportunity to see the video in which John posted comparing the Hungry Bin to the Urban Worm Bag. I stopped watching when he basically called the Urban Worm Bag a POS.

    First of all, when it comes to lechate which is liquid dripping from the waste put into the bin, if you do some research, most people suggest not using that on your edible plants due to the fact that the liquid did not go through the worms system and can carry pathogens harmful to your plants, which we end up ingesting.

    To me, I think John has gotten too big for his own britches. If he were professional about his criticism, there is no way you call any product a POS. Being that is the language he used, therefore he is the POS.

    What ever problem he had with the Urban Worm Bag, he should have contacted Steve to let him know and see what can be done about the problem. Using his big ego to criticize a product without contacting the manufacturer or distributor is completely unprofessional and he should be called out for it.

    I have both the Hungry Bin and the Urban Worm Bag and personally I much prefer the Urban Worm Bag over the Hungry Bin.

    Not only that, Steve from Urban Worm Bag backs up his product 100% and should you need advice he is there for you. Unlike the Hungry Bin company, once the sale is made good luck getting the support should you need it. In Canada, they have a sales rep here who sells the bins, but as far as knowledge is concerned, I would have to say Steve knows a heck of a lot more than the people I have dealt with on the Hungry Bin.

    To me all professionalism went out the door and that will be the last time I ever watch any of his videos. I have no idea whether he is educating us or is he out to promote companies he has relationships with. Are we getting an unbiased opinion or are we getting a marketing promotion from John due to his relationship with the company?

    All I can say is I hope Steve continues his great support within the worm composting industry and wish him all the best in the future.

    • Joan
    • May 31, 2019

    I have been running an Urban worm bin for 3-4 months and I’m not that happy with it. I like to run my system wet because I live in Texas where it is hot and we have fire ants. So I need it to be able to drain and have excellent ventilation which this bin does not. I modified it to have a screen top and drilled tiny holes throughout and put in a pipe to drain it. Also, the frame is ridiculously substandard, it did not last a week on level ground. The hungry bin would probably not be any better at ventilation but it wouldn’t be listing within week either.

    • Bentley
    • May 31, 2019

    Hi Joan – I really appreciate your candid feedback! There are definitely some things you mentioned that are important to focus on – Texas, outdoors, running the system wet. If someone came to me and explained that they needed an outdoor system they need to keep wet outdoors in Texas heat, I would never recommend the Urban Worm Bag. It’s been a little while since I’ve reviewed Steve’s information/recommendations, but I suspect he would feel the same way. It’s just NOT meant for this scenario. MAYBE outside in a sheltered location without extremes, where you can operate it at recommended moisture levels. Plain and simple, there are much better approaches for outdoor vermicomposting in Texas. If you would like to discuss further I would be more than happy to offer suggestions etc via email – don’t hesitate to drop me a line! Again, I appreciate the honest feedback about your experience!

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