Plastic Worm Bin-07-23-12

I had hoped to get a “plastic bin follow-along” update posted last week, but alas it just didn’t happen. The good news is that I DID manage to check up on things (and take pics), and I even added my Red Worms on Thursday. As far as the bin being “ready” for the worms, everything looked and smelled great. The bedding was thoroughly (and evenly) moistened – yet there was no pooling on the bottom of the bin, and everything smelled fairly earthy (i.e. no foul, anaerobic smells) when I dug around.

I noticed a number of different critters in the bin – nematodes seemed to be especially abundant. Normally these guys are so small that they are basically invisible (some people confuse them with white worms, though, which are easily seen with the naked eye), but when you get loads of them all together they almost seem to form a larger organism. They were most noticeable on the edges of the shredded cardboard pieces, where they grouped together in small undulating string-like masses. I can only imagine how many there must have been in the entire bin! Just so you know, these guys are certainly nothing to worry about, and in fact I have little doubt that the worms will end up consuming a lot of them before too long.

On a more frustrating (but interesting) note, I ended up with a pretty serious fruit fly infestation during the aging period. The timing seems to coincide with me adding those lemon pieces to various indoor systems (see “Citrus Vermicomposting Update“), but it’s hard to say for sure. Regardless, last week we ended up with clouds of these little annoyances all over the house (which didn’t please my wife too much – haha), so I knew it was important to strike fast and effectively.

Unfortunately, this meant collecting ALL bulky food materials – namely pieces of lemon and zucchini – from my indoor bins and dumping them outside, vacuuming up adults like a madman on multiple occasions, and making a bunch of fruit fly traps (I think I currently have 7 of them). These traps are very easy to make – basically all you need is a jar with some apple cider vinegar and a drop of detergent in it. I’ve found that narrow neck bottles work really well even without any sort of plastic wrap over top, whereas I prefer to use the wrap (with fork holes in top) on the wider jars and bowls since it helps to prevent the flies from getting back out.

My multi-pronged fruit fly strategy seems to have worked very well since there are far fewer of them in the house now. From the looks of things, the traps alone have captured hundreds of them! It’s important to point out, however, that I’m definitely not out of the woods as far as my worm bin goes – but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

In case you are wondering, the reason it’s SO important to remove bulky food wastes right away is because these materials can become prime fruit fly breeding grounds. They remain intact for much longer so you can end up with wave after wave of the flies hatching out. Getting rid of these potential “nests” and lots of the adults (via vacuum and traps) can go a long way towards bringing about a population crash. Needless to say, it’s also important to stop adding food wastes (even those that have been optimized) – and instead to add only bedding materials for a little while.

OK, let’s talk about adding the worms…

Unlike a lot of my experiments, where I tend to just add some non-specific amount of wormy material to my systems, for this project I’ve wanted to get as close as I can to a “typical” new vermicomposter scenario as I can. As such, I decided to add 3 bags of same “Red Worm Mix” I sell up here in Canada [in case you are new around here – all worms sold from the RWC website are sent to customers via U.S. worm farmers/drop-shippers] – I generally recommend 2-3 bags for a typical home worm bin. There is no exact/specific quantity of worms these bags contain, but I’ve reached the point of knowing what sort of densities of worms I want to see before bagging up the material for customers (i.e. I spend time removing excess habitat material until those desired densities are reached).

I really like the “worm mix” approach since it’s more of a “natural” way to add Red Worms to a composting system. Apart from there being plenty of adults, you end up with lots of baby worms and cocoons, along with a substantial quantity of the habitat material (and associated ecosystem) they live in. This helps to inoculate the new bin with lots of beneficial organisms, and also helps the worms to feel more “at home” right off the bat. This combined with the lower densities of worms (vs “pounds”) also helps to ensure that you won’t experience much in the way of (if any) worm roaming early on.

Adding these bags of worm mix simply involved dumping them over top of the bedding material in the bin and gently mixing everything in. I then just put on the lid, and set the bin back on the shelf where I’ve been keeping it. If I was more nervous about worm roaming, I might have added a thick layer of dry bedding over top of the composting zone, and/or put the bin some place under a bright light – since both of these can help to keep the worms down, resulting in the faster creation of a habitat that seems more familiar to them (obviously not necessary in my case given how much of their original habitat material went in with them).

Getting back to my flying pesky critter situation…

One additional – and rather amusing – development since last week is the fact that I seem to not only still have plenty of fruit flies in the bin, but I now also have a healthy population of fungus gnats (can’t say I’m too surprised since I’ve been finding a fair number of them down in the basement for a little while now)! This is really turning into the “ultimate” newbie case study, isn’t it?? LOL

If nothing else, hopefully the early presence of these critters in my worm bin will at least demonstrate that many years of experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you no longer get fruit fly and fungus gnat invasions. As always, I’m sure this will also help to make this into an even more educational experience for everyone!

I’m not overly worried about either of these pests to be totally honest with you. As the worms become well-established in the bin there will be far less available habitat and food for the fly and gnat larvae. Hopefully the “ecosystem” that came with the worms – which includes some predatory rove beetles and their voracious larvae – will also help to take care of the situation.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Previous Posts in Series
Plastic Worm Bin Follow-Along
Plastic Worm Bin-07-12-12

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    • Jeff Cummings
    • July 25, 2012

    I’ve used small, but tall and thin bottles of wine with a small bit of wine left over to coax the flies, and it’s captured the slightly larger than fruit fly (i think soldier flies)….and the fruit flies are easily captured with a bottle with some banana peels at the bottom….

    Good luck, btw the white flies are captured easily with some yellow or white (reflective) sticky surface.

    later again,

    jeff c

    • Bentley
    • July 26, 2012

    Where are you located, Jeff?
    I know there are “fruit flies” that are much larger than the typical ones we have here (in North America), but my impression is that they are found in tropical locations. Black Soldier Flies are much MUCH larger than our fruit flies (which are teeny tiny in comparison to a small house fly).

    I’d be nervous about luring fruit flies with banana peels (unless it was a small piece floating in the vinegar) since I’d likely just end up with loads of them hatching out in the bottle. lol

    When you said “white flies” did you mean “fungus gnats”? I remember catching LOADS of them with some fly paper hanging down below a light bulb (fruit flies don’t seem to be drawn to light nearly as much).

  1. Bentley,

    Have you ever tried covering your bin with a large piece of spun polyester cloth? They sell it as weed block. I’ve used it instead of drilling holes, and it works great to keep flies out, and the ones that stay in tend to die off.


    • Alex
    • July 31, 2012

    Hey there,
    Im new to the worms and rather enthused. I currently have a plastic bin (2000 worms) like the one in this post that is about 2 months into its cycle.
    I decided to make another bin project so i used an old cat box pan that is about 4 inches deep. Is this deep enough? It has good surface area. I transfered maybe 100 worms into it, along with shredded egg carton and layers of composted material, so i dont think they will try to escape due to lack of food. I layered a damp towel over the top.

    My goal is to see how efficiently the worms process the well decayed compost compared to my other system, and maybe get some quick fertilizer for the fall. Thanks for the time and great info.

    • Bentley
    • August 2, 2012

    JOHN – In all honesty, I prefer to use completely open bins. These seem to perform the best for me. Your idea sounds great – I guess the only aspect that might be annoying would be putting the fabric back on after taking it off. How would it be secured? Perhaps if you could create something with an elastic sewn in, it could just slip on and off?
    ALEX – 4″ is fine as long as you keep a close eye on moisture levels (especially if uncovered). A well maintained bin like that would likely produce some nice vermicompost relatively quickly.

  2. I just use a bungie cord to hold the spun polyester, but yes, you could tape or sew the bungie on, and it’d be as easy as joining the hooks to put it back on.

    It’s worked well for me – I also use a piece secured the same way under the bin – I have a flow through plastic bin that a cut holes in and then put a piece of 1/4″ screen on the bottom.

    Anyway, the lower bin just collects the leachate, and the castings collect on top of the fabric. It seems to save the worms from drowning too when they escape out of the bottom of the bin.

    • Bentley
    • August 7, 2012

    Ahhh ok gotcha, John- sounds good! I am all for any approach that improves air flow – especially if it can also potentially keep flying pests out as well.

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