Mark’s OSCR – 12-14-09

[Editor’s Note: I couldn’t resist! Here is Mark practicing for his upcoming role as a compost eater! Haha!]

Hi everybody!

If you remember, my winter project is an OSCR flow through bin. I am trying to see how long it takes me to add and process 2000 pounds of trash/food to my bin. I only have a tarp covering it and I think there is 35 -45 pounds of worms in it, I have no idea.

Here is the latest update:

WINTER IS HERE! Well I don’t need that guy on the weather channel to tell me that.

It has been my experience that winter time is the hardest test for an outdoor Vermicomposter. My bin is again in my unheated, uninsulated garage. I do have a heater cable running through the bin that is supposed to keep the bin at 72 degrees F.

Uh Oh…what do I mean by supposed?

Turns out the heater cable heated the organic matter into this cement-looking crust that is sticking to the cable preventing the heat from transferring to the moist bin. Temperatures are dropping and it’s time for plan “B”. If you research the “Getting Started” and “BOM – 6000” section of this site you’ll see what I mean.

First of all I could not find my worms. They are “epigeic” (living close to surface). These topics point out that the worms will leave if conditions are not favorable to them. I am careful of what I put in the bin so, I am sure I did not kill them all; they were hiding in some warm spots. I did not dig around too much because in the summer I fluffed my bins to cool them down.

Next they are not as active as before. The guides say they are most efficient around 70 -80 degrees F. My bin got down to 58 degrees F.

With this in mind, they are not as hungry. I could tell because the bin started to smell sour. I did not feed for a week; I let the worms “be my guide”. The temp was staying at 60 degrees F and when the smell left, I added more food. More greens than browns with the hope of slowly kicking up the temp a little. The temperature went up to 70 degrees in the center of the bin which is fine – I’ll leave that area alone!

I went to the harvest chamber to see what the heck was going on down there!

Originally I was motivated by “Mike from Delaware” [Editor’s Note: Mark’s “brother from another mother??“] to not mess with the bin, but I couldn’t help myself. I’ll just rake this section over here …and here …and here …and here. I think all the original finished Vermicompost that I added is now out. I filled three 18 gallon bins. Once I started, VC fell down, that crusty cement fell, worms fell, unprocessed stuff fell.

I was reading about Bob Lauver’s blog about his first 24 hours with his worms and how it smelled. Bob, if you are reading this, take my word for it and don’t try this. I harvest my bin upside down and I have to lie on my back to do so. The finished Vermicompost… TASTES like it smells! Thank the Lord Almighty that a worm didn’t land in my mouth too. My days as a Vermicomposter could have ended right then and there. I’ll take one for the team but, that’s a little to far 🙁

Here are some pictures of the harvest and finished Vermicompost.

The stuff that fell through. I had three 18 gallon tubs of this stuff.

The moisture meter reading on the harvested stuff.

I let it dry for a few days, and after I screened it to 1/8 of an inch, I had this rabbit manure looking stuff. I tossed it back in.

Screened finished Vermicompost.

This is what the bin looks like today.

I got the temp up a little.

‘Mark from Kansas’ is an avid vermicomposter from…well…Kansas, and contributing author here at Red Worm Composting. When he is not tending to his OSCR worm bin, Mark also enjoys spending time with his wife Letty (who also doubles as his trusty vermicomposting assistant) and picking petunias (ok, Bentley just made that last bit up).

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Mark’s OSCR – 12-16-09

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Four Worm Reproduction Experiment – Part Deux


    • Rich
    • December 14, 2009

    Mark, do you think the heater cable crusting may have been caused by the fact that the heater cables were near an open bottom rather than near the bottom of a closed container that would stay very moist? I am currently trying out a 150 QT coleman as a winter worm bin — I have a 24 ft soil heater snaked in the bottom on some hardware cloth. I am hoping is stays moist enough not to crust.

  1. Rich,
    That crust was all along the cable. The cable does snake around the bottom but, it does rise in the middle to about 14 inches and that crud was on that as well. I used that hardware cloth before on a prototype, it didn’t work well. What size is the hardware cloth?

    • Rich
    • December 14, 2009

    It is 1/2inch mesh hardware cloth cut to fit the bottom of the cooler.

    Interesting that the crusting occurred deeper in the material. Still, I am hoping that the bottom of my cooler is a significantly moister environment. Clearly these are off-label uses of soil-heating cables.

  2. Rich,
    I use 1/4 inch mesh. I did buy the heater cable from Vermico along with the OSCR plans.

  3. Now THAT”S dedication!!…..and possibly a new job opportunity (compost taster!). Thanks for the update on the giant flow-through bin. I will in fact take your word for it… bin is still smelling like a forest floor….that’s good enough for me!

  4. Hi Bob,
    You what always makes me laugh is:
    When I smell the bin and say “that is my garbage”.

    When feel the finished Vermicompost in my hands and say “that use to be my garbage”.

    When I got the test results back for nutrient content of the finished Vermicompost and said “from my garbage”!

    When my wife and I grew some plants in gravel and some plants in sand mixed with Vermicompost with great results, I say “my garbage did that”!

    Good luck with your bin. It is fun.
    Best always

    • Kuan
    • December 15, 2009

    A good and interesting article to read. I was hoping your heating cable will work because I was looking at how to heat up my FT and that was one of my options. Well, as you mentioned in your article, it is getting COLD in KS and my garage is unheated and uninsulated just like yours. So I came up with a plan to use a reptile heater (60W) instead. So far it is keeping my FT at a comfortable temp of 74F (center of the bin) with surrounding temp ranging 56F to 69F.

    I will have to give you credit for tasting the vermicompost. 🙂 If it drops in my mouth, that will be the end of my vermicomposting days, I don’t have to wait for the worm to find its way in. LOL!! I like your final sifted compost though. Looks like some good stuff that your plants will love. I still have a long way before I harvest and I’m hoping the newspaper barrier doesn’t break for a little while yet (hoping it will hold till Spring).

    Keep your updates coming. I really enjoy reading them!!!

    Stay warm and I feel your cold here in KS!!


    • John H. from Orlando
    • December 16, 2009

    I like your comments regarding “my garbage”. I know I have a greater appreciation for the life force that still remains in our “waste”. I know after a few years of vermicomposting I now think of this matter as non-people-edible caloric resource (energy) and certainly not waste. It drives home the point how uneducated (or lazy)are most people in many industrialized areas, who toss or flush this source this energy source. It is frustrating to think that we spend more energy to dispose of this instead of letting smaller critters do there thing. Okay I’ll stop before I start sounding like Yoda…hehe Keep up the great posts!

  5. just so I understand–you put the finished VC back in the OSCR? It looked great, may I ask why you would do that?


  6. Kuan,
    I found the cable does work, it has to have the crust/sand knocked away from it.

  7. Hey John,
    I would (and other readers) be interested if you would comment further.

  8. Hi Heather,
    Some of that finished Vermicompost was really wet and after I screened it some turn into these little balls. I did not want to spend any more time trying to dry it out. So back in it went.

    • Carolyn
    • December 16, 2009

    I can relate to tossing vermicompost that does not meet quality standards back into the top. First it covers the top layer and sometimes that is needed if a lot of fresh stuff has just been added to prevent fruit flys. I am almost thinking of a three flow through system. Papa bear, Mama bear and baby bear. When the worms are removed at the bottom, 10 percent of the energy can be used to get most of the worms out of 90 percent of the compost. Then just take that last 10 per cent of compost with worms that would be difficult to seperate from the tiny bit of compost and toss it back on top. Sort of like not farming hedgerow to hedgerow but leaving hedgerows.

  9. Hi mark this is william, I had a question pertaining to the mesh. Every where that i go i can’t seem to find 1/8 in mesh just 1/4 in mesh and i wanted to know where you got it from.


  10. William,
    I have a small hardware store in my town. Try Tru Value or one of the smaller less known stores.
    I found the big box stores are not always the best when it comes to odds and ends.

    • arnold
    • December 20, 2009

    #16 I would like to know where I might take my composite to find out the nutrenits it has. Im new at this worms business. dec 19 2009

  11. Hi Arnold,
    I took my Vermicompost to our local county extension agent. They in turn sent it to K-State. It cost me about $20.00, if I remember right.
    They gave me a count of the macro nutrients.

    If you get a chance, I would like to hear more about your worms.
    Best Always

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