Back in April of this year I received an email from someone named Thomas Perkins, asking if I was interested in trying out his “VermiBag” worm composting system. Truth be told (no holds barred), I had already stumbled across his website a few months before that and had written the product off as a lame “Worm Inn knock-off” – partially because I was in the process of welcoming a “cool Worm Inn knock-off”, the Urban Worm Bag (sorry Steve – I couldn’t resist).
After all, there are only so many knock-offs you can welcome at one time!
Hilarity aside, by the time April rolled around – and I had become an official UWB promoter – I was feeling even more conflicted about having any involvement with Mr. Perkins and his creation.
But, after giving it some more thought – and remembering my “unbiased education first” mission here – I decided it was only fair to at least look at the thing. lol
(I should point out that Tom also won me over with his friendly, mellow attitude in our email exchanges)
I did however make it clear that I wasn’t sure how soon I might be able to properly evaluate the system, since I already had an UWB up and running, and my basement vermicomposting space was next to nil.
So that helps to explain why here we are in the middle of August, and I am only just writing about this…lol
The original plan was for Tom to send me a VermiBag “Max” – basically his version of the Worm Inn Mega (but even bigger). Thankfully (for everyone involved, as I’ll explain in a minute), he ended up deciding to send me a “Mini” (which is actually at least as big as the original Worm Inn) as well.
Right off the bat (before even receiving the package), I felt a little “ho hum” about the fact that Tom wanted customers to build their own stands. He does offer a full PVC stand kit (unlike the partial kit that was available for Worm Inns) for the Mini, but it will set you back an additional $30 (he makes nothing off that, just so you know). That being said, it’s also important to point out that after receiving the VermiBags, and having the chance to go through his website a bit more thoroughly, I must say I was really impressed with his excellent support documentation. Tom provides plenty of info that will help anyone build their own PVC or wooden stand.
Here is what each unit looked like coming out of the shipping box. As you can see, they are nicely packaged in a big ziplock bag with a full set of intructions. NOTE: There was some early uncertainty about the name of the company and the name of the product (something I urged him to iron out so as to avoid confusion) – but thankfully Tom recently found out that he was able to secure a trademark for the “VermiBag” name so there should be a lot more continuity moving forward (and that is the name I will use).
Getting back to the “Max” specifically…
When I finally did get around to exploring the option of trying out one of these systems, I confirmed Tom’s prediction that the Max bag would be too big for my Worm Inn Mega wooden stand. I thought perhaps there would be a way to make it work if I drilled new holes…but it was clearly going to be too big regardless.
One day I hope to build a proper stand for this beast and test it out – but alas, tis just not in the cards quite yet! lol
So…my next idea was to bring my regular Worm Inn (wooden) stand in from the shed and see if the Mini would fit on it. And as you can probably tell already, that worked like a charm – it fit perfectly!
While we are on the topic of hanging a VermiBag, it’s worth mentioning that Tom included a set of “butterfly straps” with each unit he sent me. As it turns out, I am pretty sure these need to be purchased separately (very inexpensive though). I’m still not quite sure how they are used, but I trust they make the process of attaching a VermiBag to a stand even easier.
My first impressions regarding the look and overall quality of the VermiBag were incredibly positive. I half hoped I wouldn’t end up liking the thing (haha), but there was no chance of that once I had it in my hands – very impressive indeed. I’m pretty sure Tom makes them by hand (with perhaps some help – I’m not really sure) and clearly he has an eye for detail and quality.
The Mini on the wooden stand looks fantastic if I do say so myself!
And…wait for it…these systems come with a screened lid! I’ve made it clear that I love Urban Worm Bags (will do a bit more of a comparison towards the end of this post) – but one thing I’ve really missed (from previous work with Worm Inns) is the screened lid.
Important to note that this is just a personal preference – there are definitely some advantages to having a more rugged, solid lid as well, especially for those who insist of keeping these systems outdoors! You need to be pretty gentle and protective with a screened lid if you want it to last for any decent length of time, that’s for sure.
The bottom opening of the VermiBag is interesting. There is both a tapered fabric funnel and a zippered flap. To be honest, I wish there were toggles for the funnel part, since I would have liked to keep the flap open (found the opening at bottom of funnel was just to big to attempt this) – but I at least appreciate that Tom wants to keep the zipper protected as much as possible from gunk, calcification etc. (The good news for UWB fans is that Steve has addressed this issue in his 2.0 version as well).
One completely-unnecessary-but-totally-cool feature Tom has included is a plastic viewing window (with fabric flap cover) in the side of the VermiBag. NOTE: I added the orange outline since it didn’t show up very well in the photo.
I am looking forward to regularly spying on my worms once the level in the system is consistently up closer to the top! lol
OK – time to talk about getting this puppy set up!
My plans for the Mini aren’t overly complex – but I do intend to try something a little different, at least over the next few months. Rather than set it up as a typical “home” worm bin to receive regular mixed kitchen scraps, I’m going to try more of an “optimized” – for quality worm castings…hopefully faster – approach.
The main food materials I plan to add are: 1) aged horse manure, 2) comfrey leaves, 3) tea bags (yes, I still need to post a final update for my tea bag vermicomposting project – haha), and 4) left-over (past their prime) cucumbers I will undoubtedly have a good supply of these next 2-3 months.
But, as is always the case with bag systems like this, I got things started with a decent false bottom – quite a few layers of newsprint, and then some loose cardboard. I always like to moisten the newsprint as I go so that it sticks against the sides, creating a sort of “bowl” to contain the rest of the start-up materials.
Luckily, I just so happened to have some nice worm-rich material on hand the day I got things set up (last Friday – Aug 10th) so stocking the VermBag was incredibly easy. And since there was plenty of (aged manure) habitat material already with the worms, I didn’t even worry about adding more habitat bedding.
NOTE: There are definitely some nuances (to say the least) when it comes to “aged manure”, so if you are fairly new to vermicomposting I highly recommend sticking with a typical set-up using loads of moistened bedding along with some compost-friendly kitchen scraps.
I was actually caught off guard by just how many worms were in the mix, so I think things should ramp up with this system even more quickly than is usually the case (I very often use fairly low-density wormy material when stocking new systems for these types of projects).
Since I planned to add quite a bit of manure/comfrey mix as food on the same day as the worms were added, I decided to “play it safe” a little, adding a layer of moistened newsprint strips as a sort of separator between the worm zone and the food zone.
As it turns out, it was kind of pointless since they seemed eager to quickly move up into the food zone anyway, regardless of the potential peril that awaited them – lol. Joking aside, the reason I was being cautious is that green wastes (like these comfrey leaves) can release ammonia gas as they break down. This is why I caution the use of grass clippings and similar wastes in any sort of small, enclosed worm bin.
But the aged manure (which can act as a sort of “bio-filter”), and excellent air flow should help me to avoid any trouble.
To help accelerate the break down process, and make it easier to work with the comfrey I decided to snip it up a fair bit before mixing it with the aged manure.
I had a decent sized bag of tea bags in the freezer. Rather than waiting for them to thaw out, I simply put them in on top of the manure/comfrey mix.
Lastly, I added a nice thick layer of old straw taken from one of my outdoor worm beds. I love using straw as a cover bedding because it encourages air flow while still helping to keep moisture in – and it serves as a nice “slow food” (and habitat) gradually breaking down over time.
I have checked on the system 2 or 3 times since last Friday, and everything seems to be coming along nicely. What actually inspired me to add cucumbers to my food list was the fact that things almost seemed a little dry down in the worm zone – and I ended up adding a couple of sliced-up cukes the other day to serve as a slow-release source of additional moisture (and of course nutrition).
I am not going to overthink things – and definitely want to be careful not to overcompensate – since it is so early, but I will be very interested to see what water-retention will be like in this system over the long haul.
Tom had actually encouraged me to punch some holes in the bottom of the zipper flap to allow for drainage (something he actually now does before sending VermiBags to customers) – and I did add a couple – so I’m guessing it will run wetter than a Worm Inn. But I just can’t see it being as wet as the Urban Worm Bag seems to be (when well fed with kitchen scraps anyway).
We shall see!
All in all, I am very impressed with this system. As promised, I want to spend a little time comparing it with the Urban Worm Bag, since I know a lot of readers will want to know how they stack up against one another. Keep in mind this is just a preliminary assessment since I haven’t had the chance to use the VermiBag for very long.
VermiBag vs Urban Worm Bag (So Far)
Overall Quality – Both systems really impress me in this department! In contrast, I saw/received more than a few comments about some quirks (to put it nicely) with Worm Inns – weird dimensions and just generally not being easy to mount on the stand, somewhat iffy sewing work from time to time etc.
Appearance – Again, both look fantastic in my opinion. I would say the VermiBag has the edge in terms of overall aesthetics (partially because of the color options), but there is no denying the appeal of the UWB with its nice black stand. Speaking of which…
Ease of Set-Up – Like I said, I am impressed with Tom’s documentation for the VermiBag (much better than for Worm Inn in my opinion – I literally created my own guides just so customers would have a better idea of what they were doing) – but it is hard to beat having a super-easy-to-build stand that comes with the UWB. If I hadn’t had the wooden stand on hand, who knows how long it would have been before I got around to trying this system out! lol
Performance – Hard to draw any conclusions yet. I found my UWB ran a fair bit wetter than I expected and would have preferred, but it was my first kick at the can and I mistakenly assumed it would work pretty much exactly the same as a Worm Inn. All in all, I was still able to harvest to nice vermicompost from the system, and was able to build up a very impressive population of worms.
Stay tuned for VermiBag performance updates in the weeks ahead.
Updates and Improvements – Both of these systems are relatively new, but I have been blown away by the apparent desire of both Tom and Steve to keep improving on their designs. Tom’s seem to be smaller tweaks on more of an ongoing basis, while Steve looks as though he’ll do less frequent roll-outs of new versions with multiple improvements (of course makes perfect sense since he is importing them). I was a bit frustrated by the fact that very little was done to improve the Worm Inn over the years – even with plenty of people either complaining or offering suggestions – so I see a bright future for both of these systems.
One other quick thing to mention relating to this – Tom has a new (at time of writing) monster system called the “Mammoth” he is getting ready to launch (offering an impressive 8 square feet of surface area). It definitely looks like it is going to be pretty cool. It should also be mentioned that he already has a really small model called the “Micro” as well.
Cost – Not too surprisingly, VermiBags are a fair bit more expensive than Urban Worm Bags. The VermiBag Max, which is comparable in size to the Urban Worm Bag, retails for $139 USD. This is just for the bag itself, and appears not to include shipping either. UWBs, on the other hand, have a regular price of $109 (with various promotions that have made them available for less) – and this includes the stand and shipping for U.S. customers. But I will provide some additional perspective relating to pricing in a minute.
Customer Support – Steve is a close friend so it is tough to evaluate his level of customer support in an unbiased manner, but I’ve seen enough positive feedback from others to support my feeling that it is truly top notch. He genuinely cares about the best interests of his customers – and a big part of why he created the UWB in the first place was to improve upon some of the customer-relations weaknesses he saw in the Worm Inn brand. I still don’t know Tom all that well, but based on my interactions with him so far I would be very surprised if his support wasn’t excellent as well.
Miscellaneous – Related to costs, it’s important to point out that VermiBags are hand-made (again, by Tom himself) in USA, while UWBs are made (and shipped over from) China. I’m not here to make any sort of judgement either way – but I do know some people would prefer supporting a business a bit closer to home over saving money.
FULL DISCLOSURE: While I don’t have any plans to actually sell VermiBags here (but will continue to sell Urban Worm Bags), I did take Tom up on his offer to join the VermiBag affiliate program. SO, if at any time you are thinking about buying one for yourself, and you’d like to show a little RWC support, it would be great if you could follow one of my VermiBag links before doing so since I will receive a small commission (assuming you end up purchasing before clearing your browser cookies). As a perk, I am more than happy to provide guidance/support to all those who use the link.
On that note, it is time to sign off for now – but definitely do stay tuned since there will be more VermiBag and Urban Worm Bag updates coming your way soon.