My new collembolacomposting bin all set-up and ready to roll!

In the last edition of the RWC email newsletter I included an article I wrote about “springtails” (Phylum” Arthropoda, Subclass: Collembola). These are tiny insect-like critters (they used to be included with the insects, but this is no longer the case) that are extremely common in a wide variety of different habitats – including various types of composting systems.

I’ve always been curious to know how significant a role they can play in the (worm-)composting process, since I know they love to eat microbes (primarily fungi, I believe) just as the worms themselves do. I joked in the newsletter about potentially setting up a “collembolacomposting” bin to see what these little guys can do on their own.

Well, today I decided to actually go ahead with the plan, and our collembolacomposting experiment is officially underway!

I have little doubt that springtails won’t be the ONLY critters in the bin. I don’t know how many of you have ever tried to capture springtails one at a time, but it’s NOT easy! I ended up having to add small amounts of compost along with some of these guys. I’m sure there will be various other eggs etc included with that material (even given the tiny amount added), and that we’ll start to see various mites etc popping up as well. The important thing is that there be NO earthworms!

Luckily, I happen to have a big plastic garbage can full of old leaves, grass clippings and food waste down in my basement (which will be added to my Winter Windrow fairly soon), so it was very easy to get the springtail bin set up this morning. I also ended up mixing in some other dry fall leaves I’ve had sitting around as well. Springtails seem to like conditions that are somewhat drier than those ideal for worm composting (one thing you will notice if you have these critters is that they come to the surface any time water is added, or when conditions just generally become wet down below).

As you can see, springtails are pretty tiny!

A close-up shot of the same springtails

Anyway – It should be fun to see how things develop in the bin!
Stay tuned!

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    • Rich
    • January 26, 2010

    What’s the over/under on how long it takes for red worms to show up in that bin?

    • John in Huntington Beach
    • January 26, 2010

    Bently…Your dedication is over the top!!! Thank you.

    • ErickNL
    • January 26, 2010

    Looking forward to the results Bentley. Always enjoy seeing those little guys in my bin, hard at work. My money would be on them having a pretty big impact overall!

    • Bentley
    • January 26, 2010

    Rich – not sure I follow. I’d be absolutely shocked if Red Worms ended up in this bin since it is an indoor system and I know what went into it. If they DID show up, it would almost certainly indicate that I somehow managed to introduce a worm cocoon with the tiny amount of compost that contained the springtails.


    John – thanks for the kind words! It certainly makes things easy when I get to have so much fun in the process!


    Eric – I think you may be right (about them having a significant impact), but I have no clue what to expect in terms of end product. Little springtail “castings”? Who knows! Will be fun to find out!

    • Andrew
    • January 27, 2010

    Bentley, youdaman! You need a new category for “Experiments”. All those 50 cocoon & 4 worm experiments…it’d be a huge category.

    In a week or so I want to set up a small experiment and need a little advice. I’ll eventually check out your compost guy site, but thought I’d ask here also. What I have is fresh horse manure with bedding (sawdust?), UCG & molasses. I’ll have three 18 gal. totes. The control bin will just have manure. #2 will have manure & coffee. #3 adds Grade A molasses. My question for you is how much molasses should go in a gallon of water?

    The goal is to speed up the pre-composting process so that the manure is worm-ready. I know it’s going to get hot. I’ll measure temps and see if there’s any difference between the 3 bins.

    • Rich
    • January 27, 2010

    I just would bet a cocoon has made its way into the bin somehow.

    • Bentley
    • January 27, 2010

    Andrew – your experiment sounds cool! I’m no molasses expert though (haha) so I’m not really sure what to advise! Any time I’ve mixed up a batch of molasses-water I’ve simply gone with the “that looks like enough” approach. I figure if the water has a pretty deep “tea” color to it there is probably enough molasses (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!).

    If you were doing this on a really large scale I’d certainly be a wee bit concerned about the heating potential of the 3-way mix, but I will definitely be interested to see how things turn out in these 18 gallon bins!
    Do keep us posted (and feel free to email me or post here, since Compost Guy is in a bit of a lull period at the moment)


    Rich – You may be right! I do have a lot of these worms scattered around my property, so there may be some cocoons even in the grass clippings and leaves I added! We shall see!

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