The Beast – 03-26-13

I’ve been having a lot more fun with the VB48 ever since eliminating the pressure of having to weigh everything going in. Not too surprisingly, a lot more food etc has been added as a result!

I’ve actually been really blown away by how quickly materials are getting processed in there (the irony is that it kinda makes me want to start weighing everything again! LOL).

Aside from lots of food wastes, I’ve also been playing with various other “foods” as well, such as hydrated alfalfa cubes, and various bedding materials soaked in molasses-infused fish tank water. Now that I have my catch bins down below (more on those in a minute), I’m not nearly as concerned about excess moisture or worms falling down from the bottom – so I’m able to “play” a bit more.

Speaking of which…and this may sound a little weird (if not downright disturbing)…I recently tried something that might be considered a “no no”. I’m almost a bit self-conscious about sharing it here. We had a recent pet mortality…BUT, before you go assuming I tossed a cat in the bin (would definitely need to be an outdoor bin for THAT! haha)…let me assure you it was something much smaller – my daughter’s goldfish (I’m still not 100% sure if it was “Marlin” or “Nemo”, but he lived a good life!).

She was actually surprisingly supportive of the idea of turning him into compost…although, it naturally led the conversation towards awkward territory with questions like “will Monty (cat) get composted when he dies?”, “do people get composted?” (as I joked with my dad later, they DO in mafia movies!! lol).

OK, so back to the goldfish…

Given the small size of the fish (and the large size of the VB48), I figured this would be a pretty innocent little experiment for an indoor situation.

Still, I was actually quite apprehensive about monitoring my little experiment. In all honesty, I (naively) hoped I’d just leave it in the corner of the bin and basically forget about it. Of course, that didn’t happen. My curiosity ended up getting the better of me, and by today I felt utterly compelled to check up on the situation. What I found really surprised me!

I thought for sure, I’d find a rather nasty bloated, rotting fish corpse (with all due respect to Marlin/Nemo) and end up greeted by a foul smell. As it turns out, I found lots of worms in the immediate vicinity of where the fish had been laid to rest (if you can call it that) – and a little orange morsel of something I’d never have guessed was formerly a fish had I not known that was where I’d put it. There was no foul smell either.

Hmmm…makes me wonder (and worry – lol) where this might take me.

In other news…(he says, quickly changing the subject)

A recent basement clean-up session uncovered quite a few boxes of old “BioBag” compostable kitchen scrap bags (originally purchased to sell via my local vermicomposting business). It’s been a number of years since I bought them and they no longer have any resale value (they’ve become quite fragile). So I figured I’d find a use for them.

What I came up with was a bio-plastic mulch for my VB48 bin! The material will gradually break down over time, but in the meantime it’s helping to keep the bin contents nice and moist (while still allowing decent air flow).

I’ve been having fun with my lower catch bins as well. The worm population in both of these containers seems to be growing quite quickly, and I’ve been augmenting whatever has fallen down from above with plenty of additional bedding and food materials. There seems to be a mix of worms in the bins, but certainly more Euros than reds.

The only negative is that I now seem to have a bit of a “moth fly” (aka “drain fly”) invasion on my hands (due to some material brought in from my outdoor beds). They really seem to like the cool, wet conditions down in these lower bins.

Today I removed the package containing the remains of my last Steinernema feltiae (parasitic nematodes) purchase from the fridge. They’ve been sitting in there for months now, so I’m not sure how viable they will be. Nevertheless, I mixed them up with some distilled water and added the concoction to both of the catch bins, and also to another Euro bin that also seems to have a lot of the moth flies. We’ll see what happens.
(I also placed an order for more of the nematodes, so the moth fly party is going to come to an end regardless! lol)

That’s basically it for today. I’m sure there will be one or more VB48 “experiments” on the horizon soon – just need to give it some more thought (and of course get my Worm Inn project up and running in the meantime)

Stay tuned!

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    • John Duffy
    • March 26, 2013

    I agree. The cat would have to be composted outside!
    Fish do compost quite nicely and will help to grow some awesome rose bushes when planted down in the root zone. When we were kids, we would catch carp & other ‘trash’ fish for use in flower beds & vegetable gardens.
    Potatoes also do really well when planted with fish.
    Our condolences for Marlin/Nemo

    • thuan
    • March 27, 2013

    Hi Bentley, I have the same problem with the VB24 as you do, worms escaping through the bottom of the bin. I loose about a dozen or so a week. Because the bin is an outside bin, I try to save them but the worms tends to dry out by the end of the day. So I used your methods and place a tray of pre-composting and try to catch the escapees. Also, like you notice, the VB24 compost faster than the worm inn but not completely processed. I use a lot of leaves for bedding and those looks rotted but not processed. Like you say before “kissed by worms” materials are still good for the plants. So compost from the VB24 goes into veggie/tomato garden while compost from the worm inn is used for worm tea. I do this because I’m too lazy to sift the casting/compost from the VB24. The VB can process a lot of waste but I would still be carefull as to how much you can add before it heats up. I don’t remember how much or what kind of food waste I put in the VB24 but the center of the bin did heat up to 90F one time. Maybe the VB48 is more forgiving (more volume).

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • March 27, 2013

    I’d like one of these….

    A couple years ago someone left a 5 gal bucket of smelly fish by our trashcan. I assumed they wanted us to compost them, so we did. Never saw any evidence of the fish again. I buried them deep within the bin, of course, so the neighborhood cats weren’t tempted.

    There’s a farmer in Illinois that has such a large composting operation that other farmers bring their dead animals to him and he buries them deep in the mountains of compost he has on site and within a couple weeks they’re just a pile of bones.

    So many ways we could solve the waste problem in this country.

    • John W.
    • March 27, 2013

    This system seems a lot more suited for half of the worm inn project/challenge. Seems reasonable to have 4 different feed zones in something of this size.

    Out of curiosity…why would this system not come out with as good compost as the Worm Inn?

    • Bentley
    • March 27, 2013

    JOHN – LoL! Hopefully, it was clear that I was VERY MUCH kidding about the cat. Even with my keen appreciation of composting, and mellow nature, I’m doubtful that a pet cat’s body would end up even in one of my outdoor composters! lol
    I likely would have even been more respectful of the goldfish (or at least made more of a ceremony out of it) had my daughter been more attached (and upset) than she was.
    As for fish as fertilizer, that’s an approach Native Indians of the past employed as well. Even now there’s fish emulsion fertilizer you can buy!
    THUAN – I’ve been really pleased with my new skirt & tray approach. Not losing any more worms and I’m creating two additional thriving bins down below. As for the material coming out the bottom not being “completely processed”, in my case the only obviously-not-processed stuff is the remains of the cardboard false bottom. Everything else looks like nice vermicompost. Take a look back at Joe’s VB96 update and you’ll see that these systems can indeed produce nice stuff:
    Definitely more than “worm kissing” going on in there! lol

    The type of materials you are adding can make a big difference though. If there are lots of tough resistant materials, there’s a decent chance some of those will end up coming out the bottom – especially if they were used as part of the initial bedding mix when first setting up the bin.

    As for heating – yeah absolutely. It’s easy to forget how large these bins really are in comparison to a typical worm bin. Thankfully my basement is really cool these days, so temps in the VB48 have actually been fairly close to “ideal”.
    KIM – I’m with you! I think it would almost be an embarassment (if I could feel the emotion after death – haha) if the “Compost Guy” ended up getting embalmed and all the rest of it. I think it’s going to be au naturel for me!

    I’ve definitely heard about farm mortality composting – but I’ve never been tempted to go down that road at all myself. Again, I assumed it would still be a nasty, smelly situation. Now, I’m not so sure. I think some small-scale meat composting experiments may be on the horizon!
    JOHN – As mentioned earlier, if you are in doubt of the quality of vermicompost vermbins can produce just check out Joe’s update post. He was absolutely thrilled with the stuff that came out the bottom of his bin (he’s now getting ready for his second huge harvest in fact).

    In my case – as mentioned in one of my “Beast” updates – my focus is definitely more on growing worms (and just generally having fun) than on producing vermicompost. So I’m not worrying about adding too much liquid etc etc.

    Would be interesting to compare vermicomposts produced by a Worm Inn and a VermBin though!

    • Ben
    • March 28, 2013

    For what it’s worth, I’ve made a point of adding small amounts (1-8 oz max) of fat, meat trimmings (raw and cooked) and bits of ‘no no’ materials to about half of my feedings just to see what was possible. I mix it with all the other food so it doesn’t all end up in one place. I figured even if the worms avoided the larger chunks, the microbes would eventually end up attacking it. Here’s what I’ve found:

    They all break down, given enough time. Obviously bones don’t, but that’s about it. Smells are more of a mixed bag. Add too much of anything and it smells. Broccoli and cabbage have yielded worse smells than the small amounts of proteins/fats I’ve used. Large amounts of carbohydrates tend to yield more of a poop smell. Meats tend to generate a VERY faint rancid smell if they get too compacted. In my experience, as long as you mix these in with lots of other food products, a small amount of meat/fat isn’t going to hurt the overall environment of a bin the size of a VB24. If you were to try large amounts without other foods/grounds/bedding to dilute it, I think you’d probably see more of an issue, particularly with the fats. Obviously large amounts of grease/oil/fat will kill (suffocate?) your worms.

    • Bentley
    • April 1, 2013

    Very interesting, Ben! Thanks for sharing your findings.

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