The Hungry Bin

For a number of years now I’ve been seeing a lot of positive feedback for a vermicomposting system known as the “Hungry Bin”. To be honest, I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It seemed incredibly expensive* and, in my humble opinion, looked more like a recycling bin than a highly-effective vermicomposting system – let alone a “continuous-flow” system!

Still, I “secretly” hoped that one day I would have an opportunity to test one of these things out, so I could at least base my (skeptical – haha) opinions on some real world experience!

Thankfully that opportunity arrived, due to my involvement in an exciting new composting business project on Vancouver Island (BC, Canada). The hungry bin is just one of many different composting systems we will be testing out extensively (I will share more details about the project itself in another blog post at some point) – but luckily I had the opportunity to get actively involved in the initial set-up of this one while I was on-site for 6 days in mid-August.


Right off the bat I was impressed with the size, the quality of the construction, and the overall design of the bin. It became a lot more obvious why it has such a high price tag compared to many other home worm bins. The main container has a shape like an inverted pyramid, with an open bottom and top (the latter with a large, loose-fitting lid), that sits in a sturdy frame. There is a nifty snap-on drainage floor – that can be removed when it comes time to start harvesting finished vermicompost – and a leachate catch tray that sits on the ground below.


Me being me – I decided we should get things started with a nice carbon-rich false bottom. My project partner (and owner of the property), Andrea, happened to have some “Effective Microorganisms” (EM) liquid spray on hand so we figured that would add some “life” to the bedding while also moistening it.

Based on the size of the bin I was a bit concerned about the potential for it overheating, so I felt it was important to establish a safe “worm zone” close to the bottom, where temps would likely remain cooler. We have another 3-bin worm composting system going elsewhere on the property that has been receiving lots of hay and other bedding, goat manure, and kitchen scraps – and has a very healthy population of Red Worms – so transferring some of this wormy habitat/food material over seemed like a good way to get things started with the hungry bin.

Andrea also happened to have some interesting “Gaia Green” horticultural amendments – kelp meal, glacial rock dust, and alfalfa meal – so we figured sprinking in some of each during the set up process might help to boost things a wee bit more.

It is important to note that these types of amendments are not remotely mandatory. Just generally, my recommendation for setting up new systems is simply to take advantage of the resources you happen to have available. There is no one “perfect” set-up approach (but the overall set-up strategy is still worth paying attention to – I will review this further on).

I wanted to make sure this system was “bedding-heavy” early on, partially to help avoid excess heating and other challenges, partially so as to help separate the worm zone from the active feeding zone (until the worms are ready to move up, of course).

It’s worth noting, though, that what looks like straw in the images usually had at least some goat manure mixed in, so there was definitely some nice food value available all the way up.

Apart from cardboard and straw/hay, another bedding material added (also simply because it happened to be available) was coco coir. You can see it underneath the food waste deposit in the next image – which also gives you an idea of when/where the food scraps were added during the set-up process.

As always, I wanted to finish things off with a thick layer of bedding (ish – lol) material. And, apart from the EM liquid spray along the way, as I recall we added some water with a watering can at the end as well.

Andrea’s approach in the past (she has been working with Hungry Bins for some time) has been to simply pour the drainage liquid back through the system on a fairly regular basis. This sounded like a solid approach to me (as long as leachate not left to stagnate for too long) since it provides a means of recovering a lot of the “good stuff” that drains out, while also keeping the system nice and moist!

Circling back to what I said earlier about there being countless great ways to set up this (and many other) system(s)…I do feel it’s still important to review our overall approach with this set up. It’s something I highly recommend for most larger systems.

I have referred to it elsewhere as my “safety sandwich” approach, and it’s a key part of my strategy for setting up any sort of in-ground system. The basic idea is that you create a “safe zone” for the worms, low down in the system, with a bedding-worms-bedding layering approach. Start with a thick “false bottom” of shredded cardboard (and/or other bedding materials), add worms – ideally worm-rich material from another active system – and then top everything off with a nice thick layer of bedding.

How you set up the rest of the system isn’t nearly as important because the worms have a safe place to hang out. Higher up, adding concentrations of food waste and other rich worm foods is just fine. It will break down over time, and even if the worms aren’t ready to move up, nutrient-rich liquids will drip down into the bedding-loaded worm zone and boost the available nutrition down there.

Now that I am back home, I will be relying on Andrea for system updates, until I head back to the project site in November. So far, she has been adding a bit more food waste and additional cover bedding, but mostly letting the system mellow out. Based on her most recent update (with photos) it looks like we may be ready to ramp things up a bit. Levels have dropped nicely and the worms seem active throughout the system.

Stay tuned!
😎

P.S. I would love to hear from anyone who has worked with a Hungry Bin! Pros? Cons? Any and all feedback appreciated.




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Comments

    • Joe
    • September 11, 2021

    Been using the Hungry Bin for 2 1/2 years now and really like it. The one thing I didn’t like about it was the moisture that would collect on the lid and create an area that the worms loved to explore. The solution for me was covering the food with a thick layer of bedding and adding a “blanket”. I cover the bedding with a sheet of plastic that was made from a used bird feed bag. Moisture collects under the plastic, the worms collect there to feed and everything is good, the explorers stay in the bedding.

    • Andy Loy
    • September 12, 2021

    At one time, I was looking to buy a lot of Hungry bins for my vermicompost business for the outdoors. I was not sure how long the Hungry Bins will last in the Northeast weather. Plus as a worm business, the harvest side will not be efficient. I like to see your results.

    • Antonio
    • September 12, 2021

    Hi Bentley, Judging by the way you are layering “greens & browns” in the bin (any type of bin!), no wonder you are concerned with overheating. This mixing of “greens & browns” generates a lot of heat that could kill the worms. Perhaps you can get away with this in the cold canadian winters but certainly is not recomended in warm places.

    • Bentley
    • September 12, 2021

    Joe – thanks for the feedback. That’s interesting and definitely makes sense. I always recommend people keep a nice thick layer of absorbent bedding up top in plastic bins, and it sounds like that may be a good strategy for the Hungry Bin too based on what you are saying. Your idea for creating a false-cover right on top of the worm zone is great. I wonder if keeping the lid partially (or fully) open in combination with this strategy would help as well?

    Andy – I see what you are saying for sure. All along the price tag for the Hungry Bin (albeit somewhat justified given the things need to get shipped from New Zealand) has seemed excessive for a system that doesn’t even really have any commercial potential. I suspect it is very durable and could serve a household or even a school (if multiple units used) fairly well for years, but there are definitely better options out there for those wanting to get a bit more serious with their worm composting/farming efforts. Really looking forward to seeing how it performs though – maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.

    Antonio – what looks like “layering” in the photos was actually much more focused on “browns” than “greens”, and it wasn’t so much that I wanted to completely avoid heating – but rather that I wanted to ensure the worms had a safe zone further down just in case. As it turns out, the system has really only made it up into the 80’s so far, and Andrea (who has been a Hungry Bin user for at least a year or two) says she has never had heating issues with them. The 8b climate zone the project site is in is very warm/moderate by Canadian standards (think it make literally be the warmest climate in Canada) – and it can actually get really hot during parts of the summer.

    • mjswider
    • September 12, 2021

    Hi Bentley, welcome back!
    While I’m not in the market for another large bin like this (my UWB serves me well) I am curious about this bin. I watched a short video made by the “designer” which didn’t really make things any clearer.
    Is this system two large pieces that nest, then a tray that clips to the bottom?
    It looked like from the picture above of it empty, there is a floor in the bottom, that is perforated, which I’m assuming is the bottom of the lower piece. Does the tray somehow fill with castings through those small holes?
    Perhaps the Tray has a perforated bottom and that’s how the leachate makes it to the tray on the ground?
    How well do you expect that “just removing the clip on tray” one ends up with a perfectly filled tray of worm free castings?
    Look forward to future reports on the Hungry Bin.
    Matt

    • Bentley
    • September 13, 2021

    Hey Matt – good to be back!
    It is an interesting system and – as impressed as I was with its construction etc – I still have some reservations about its functionality. The perforations are intended for the liquid drainage, and unclipping this perforated floor piece does indeed provide you with access to the finished vermicompost when the time is right. I will be curous to see just how wet the material stays down there, and whether or not the worms will feel inclined to permanently move away from this zone as the active feeding zone gets closer and closer to the top of the system. The bag systems and a more typical CFT bed have a lot more air flow down at the bottom which helps to dry and stabilize the end product and make this region less appealing for the worms. We shall see what happens with the Hungry Bin! 😎

    • Sue LIEM
    • September 13, 2021

    Hi Bentley,
    Lilia Kogan posted on YouTube her experiments with the HB. I think she in fact had 2 HBs but didn’t like them.
    Marty from Marty’s Garden posted on YouTube as well and he on the other hand is very happy with it.
    I think Joe (Sept.21, 2021) found the perfect solution to the “too wet” issue.

    • Bentley
    • September 13, 2021

    Thanks for the info, Sue!
    Yeah it seems like some people absolutely rave about these bins while others aren’t as enthusiastic. I will be interested to dig in a bit more (to see what others are saying) and of course to continue testing this one out as well.
    😎

    • ed
    • September 14, 2021

    Hey Bentley,

    I really like the hungry bin. I have had one since either 2014 or 2015. Anyway it’s been good. At first I had it in the house but it’s better outside It has been consistent and now I have it at the community garden here in the Florida Keys The pros are the easy tray to remove at the bottom. Yeah it’s not a lot but very easy to remove and clean. It does have wheels and can be moved but when it’s full but it’s a lot of weight and would be difficult for some people. In all the years I’ve had the hungry bin it only seemed to clog once so I poked a thin pole down from the top and fixed the problem quickly. The cons would be the price Also I added many more small holes in the lid for extra ventilation in this heat. That’s my review. Thanks for your newsletters. Ed

    • Bentley
    • September 16, 2021

    Thanks Ed – this is really great information!
    😎

    • Bentley
    • September 21, 2021

    Here is a fantastic Hungry Bin review I received via e-mail from Sharon P (and she gave me permission to share here):

    —-

    “I purchased a Hungry Bin in January 2017 after having a lackluster start with a Worm Factory 360 for a couple of years before that.

    I like the Hungry Bin very much, and I keep the Worm Factory going as potential backup if something goes wrong. Both are in my basement which in probably close to 60 degrees in winter and 75 in summer. I started it up with a substantial amount of coconut coir as the directions recommended at the time. I notice your setup was very different starting to layer things from the bottom–it is quite deep to do it that way. I think the coir may have been one of the reasons that it took a long time to get anything resembling compost to descend out the bottom. (My family still roll their eyes when talking about my worms, and there is great frustration over baggies of food the worms like that are taking up space in the freezer. I have also been known to specifically purchase a melon specifically for my worms, but I digress–wormhead, I guess.–and that was a different email).

    The pros of the worm bin…fluids run through easily and it stays pretty moist. When the worms are ready for more food, there are many more who climb up under the lid. You feed them, and they move right to the food. It is a large bin, and I don’t know how many worms I started with–maybe not much more than a pound because I took a portion from the Worm Factory. Starting with a large quantity of worms would get the Worm Bin running faster. It was slow initially, but I am happy to say that I have an unknown population that seems to gobble up food scraps very quickly now. Because of the shape of it, I have not had it more than 2/3 full–it holds quite a bit. It is pretty easy to maintain, and worms are forgiving of periodic neglect. The Worm Factory is constantly drying out, and the Hungry Bin stays nice and moist. The worms are more vigorous and appear to have multiplied greatly in the Hungry Bin.

    As far as negative aspects, the compost itself is very moist, almost wet at times. By the time it gets to the bottom, there are not many worms to pick out of it. But I do find juveniles and eggs down below. But because of the wet consistency, it is packed and it doesn’t just drop out of the bottom easily. It has to be loosened up with a stick in order to get it to fall down, and I have even found the same crater from the last compost removal still the same when I go to extract more because it is hard packed. And it is a little awkward close to the floor.

    So those are my observations. I prefer it to the tray system, and I have found it overall easy to use.”

    —-

    Thanks very much for that, Sharon!
    😎

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