The appearance of a worm bin that has been aging for 1 month
I’ve come to realize that one of the serious limitations of my worm bin set-up videos is that I don’t talk at all about the so-called ‘aging period’ I recommend. I actually recently made a video about this (part of an upcoming video series), but wanted to write a post about it as well.
Back in early April I set up a fairly large worm bin (also for a video), using my standard recommended methods. In fine Bentley Christie fashion I then proceeded to basically forget about it for a month!
This is exactly WHY I have a fair amount of confidence in my recommendations. When it comes down to it, I’m basically a bumbling fool (and I mean that in the nicest possible way – haha), so if I can successfully vermicompost – pretty well ANYONE can!
Keeping things simple and sticking with the fundamentals is always the key.
When I opened the bin after letting it sit for a month, I wasn’t surprised to see that a lot of decomposition had occurred, and that fungi seemed to have taken over the system. There was even a good population of some sort of flying insect (a variety of gnats or flies). I definitely had a good chuckle about all of this, since people seem to consider me some sort of vermicomposting ‘expert’. In actuality, I’m just an ordinary guy who is very passionate about the topic, and has made (and is still making) every mistake in the book – thus providing people with plenty of lessons in what NOT to do!
All joking aside, I was actually really excited to have this opportunity to provide readers with more info about this aging process, because it’s really not something I’ve talked all that much about.
Close-up of dense fungal growth in aged worm bin – a typical occurrence in a bin left to sit without worms
Aside from all the fungi and flies, I also happened to notice that the sides and lid of the bin were absolutely coated with a very small species of mite. I’m pretty sure this is the same variety that I’ve written about as a potential ‘indicator species’, after countless numbers of them left one of my Euro bins that went ‘sour’, creating heaps of dried mite carcasses on the outside of the lid and on the floor beside the bin.
Close-up of ‘indicator’ worm bin mites – thankfully looking healthy and happy – haha
I’m sure what I’ve described thus far will sound very familiar for many of you who have used my methods for setting up a worm bin. Even after only a week (my usual recommended aging period) you can see pretty extensive fungal growth, and even some of these other critters who are taking advantage of the low-competition environment.
The big question of course, is what (if anything) needs to be done before adding the worms.
What I generally like to do (when not being a total procrastinator) is open the bin a few times during the aging period to check on the status of the contents. I will almost always mix everything up to break up the fungal hyphae and help to create a homogeneous environment. I will also add more bedding and water as needed – the contents tend to settle down quite a bit, so it can always use more bedding (this will help to improve the quality of the worm habitat). Even though I add lots of water-rich foods when setting up the bin, I almost always will be adding more water before the worms arrive. I want it to be as wet as possible without excessive pooling in the bottom.
This is fairly straight-forward stuff, I realize – but it can often be these subtle details I forget to elaborate on that can leave people unsure about the methodology.
As for this very well-aged system of mine, still sitting there without worms I might add, I’m not 100% sure what I want to do with it. I was thinking of setting up a ‘4 Euro Experiment’, or just adding worm cocoons to it to see how long it takes them to reach maturity. So many possibilities for fun experiments!
If you have any ideas, feel free to add a comment!**Want Even More Fun With Worms? Sign Up for the RWC E-mail List Today!**
What are the contents of the bedding? Is it possible that parts of it may have soured since it was left unattended for a month?
I used egg carton cardboard (with corrugated cardboard ‘false bottom’) mixed with lots of regular food waste (fruit, veg, coffee grounds etc). You are right – there is a certain amount of ‘souring’ that’s going to occur in an environment like this with all that food waste (generally pretty acidic as it decomposes) and no mixing etc. Fungi tend to thrive in lower pH conditions, so the fact that they are taking over so readily probably indicates a fairly acidic environment.
I wouldn’t say it’s become even remotely close to as bad as a typical ‘sour bin’ though. Just by mixing it up and adding some new bedding I know I’ll be in great shape to add some worms (I should mention that I am leaning towards my cocoon experiment).
YES ! Do the cocoons, please !!
I’d love to see how long it takes a number of cocoons to turn into a vibrant worm population.
Where do you suppose the mites came from? Contamination from another bin? Eggs on food scraps? Spontaneous generation? (Kidding on the last one.)
Resolving fly issues.
Can you comment on how to address fly issues in the bins? I started mine a few months ago after purchasing some worms from you and I now have a substantial fly issue. Not sure what kind they are. I may have over fed them as we produce a decent amount of vegetable matter in our house. The worms seem to be handling the work now that I’ve backed off on what I’ve been adding but the flies persist.
I have a stacking rubbermaid bin set up. Should I perhaps try starting a new bin above and put the food in that one to encourage them to migrate up to the new bin (travel holes exist between them) and clean out the lower bin? I searched through your posts and I didn’t see anything specifically about how to address it other than using fly paper to catch them. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
I second Rich’s question!
I have mites hanging around all over the inner walls of my bin and while they seem harmless, they give me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Is there anything I can do to minimize them?
In one of my outdoor bins I loaded it up with different types of melon.
I have found that if I (A) bury the food or cover it with bedding,
(B) maintain a ph of 7, and (C) sprinkle in PULVERIZED egg shells, I don’t have any bugs. I even left the lid off one night. No bugs, no harmless spider mites.
I have also found that airflow is more important than I had considered before. On my plastic tote bin system, I raised up the worm bin to increase air flow. I got the idea from this website that was posted a long time ago. As a result, that faint odor went away.
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Hi, regarding the fly issue–
I have found that citrus fruit peels are the big issue–apparently, fruit fly eggs are resident on banana peels, orange peels, etc. After dealing with a MASSIVE fruit fly explosion, I bought nematodes & added them to my bin, set up homemade fruit fly traps, and have stopped adding citrus peels to my bins. I have read that microwaving your peels will kill the fly eggs, but I can’t be bothered, frankly. ANyway, I went through all this about a year ago, and my bins are fly-free.
Thanks Susan! Can you expand a little more please? Where did you get your nematodes from and how did you make a homemade fruit fly trap?
Great suggestions and thanks again.
I honestly do not remember where I bought my nematodes, I did a fair amount of searching online to research the problem–I think they are fairly easy to come by, but my local garden shop was no help. Now–about handling the flies–my husband and I did several things. Yes, I made fruit fly traps. Take a bottle with a neck, like an empty wine bottle. Take a sheet of white paper, like copier paper, nothing fancy. Apparently fruit flies are attracted to white. Make a funnel, a cone shape — just roll the paper on the diagonal to make a cone, and drop it in the bottle. You don’t need to tape it or anything. Add vinegar, or cider vinegar to the bottle–just an inch or two, it attracts the flies. They go in & can’t get out, and drown. But I have to tell you– we also took out the shop vac, and I opened the bin, and we vacuumed as many as we could–several times. Also, one winter night, we parked the bin outside with the top off, hoping the worms would escape freezing (they did) and the fruit flies would freeze (it did knock’ em back a bit). This was not a fast process, it took us a few months to really get it under control.
I only added nematodes once, although this article says to do it regularly. I do think they helped a lot at the time, but I am certain that my adherence to no citrus (incl banana) has done the trick on a continuing basis. This article might interest you:http://www.happydranch.com/86.html
Whats a Nematode??
From this site:http://www.buglogical.com/beneficialNematodes_control_soilDwellingPests/beneficialNematodes.asp
Nematodes are microscopic, non-segmented worms which occur naturally in soil all over the world. Thousands of strains exist with different life-styles. Beneficial ones attack soil dwelling insects and leave plants alone. These predators enter the host through body openings or by penetration of the body wall. Once inside, they release a bacterium which kills the host within 48 hours. The nematode continues to reproduce and its offspring begin to seek out new host material. Beneficial nematodes are a totally safe biological control parasitic insect organism. They are so safe that the EPA has waived the registration requirements for application.
Thanks for the mites photo. I have some in my bins and was wondering what they were.
They’re sort of cute —small, round and light beige; pretty gregarious too, yet surprisingly speedy when they venture away from the herd. They seem peaceable and contented enough.