Worm Inn Journal-08-27-10

Some of you may be wondering how things how things have been coming along with my latest Worm Inn set-up. As you’ll more than likely recall, a couple of days after I set up the system, I added all the weeny (malnourished) wigglers from my cocoon hatching experiment. Generally, I recommend letting things age for longer than that, but the food waste I was using in this case had been frozen previously, making it much more microbe-friendly once it thawed out (since freezing reduces structural integrity of fruit/veggie wastes). I also mixed in some aged alpaca manure for good measure. Plus, when you consider where the worms were coming from, I could hardly imagine that the slightly-less-optimized-than-normal conditions in the Worm Inn would cause problems!

That being said, it’s been a bit challenging trying to determine how the worm population, as a whole, is doing. I’ve been making an effort not to disturb the system TOO much (rooting around with my hand fork etc), and the worms have made it clear that they want to hang out (at least for now) down in the lower reaches of the Inn. This doesn’t surprise me in the least, since that is where most of the “food”, and of course, moisture, is concentrated. The good news is that I have still been able to find worms – and the worms I’ve been finding are now larger than any found in my cocoon bins. I was even pleasantly surprised this week with the discovery of a mature worm (recall that no worms reached maturity in the cocoon experiment)!

I’ve been finding that keeping a Worm Inn outside is somewhat different than keeping one indoors, as I expected would be the case. The contents of the Inn tend to dry out more quickly, and I’ve found that it’s much more challenging to keep the system free of critters that would be considered “annoying” indoors. Fruit flies in particular have made their presence known. It’s hard to say for sure how they got in, but in all honesty I can’t say I’m too surprised to find them. With plenty of overripe tomatoes rotting in my gardens these days, not to mention plenty of food waste in my trench beds, there seems to be a LOT of fruit flies hanging around the property in general. I’ve been opening up the Worm Inn a fair amount since adding the worms, and a few may have been able to get in as a result. OR, they simply managed to find a way in while it was closed up.

As I mentioned in my Worm Inn set-up post (Worm Inn Journal-08-02-10), Jerry (Worm Inn company owner) was kind enough to send along a nice new system with the stand kit I requested. What I forgot to mention, however, is the fact that this new system somewhat more “advanced” model than the ones I’ve used previously. The most significant upgrade (and something I absolutely LOVE) was the installation of a single zipper, as opposed to the previous double-zipper design. What this means is that instead of having two zipper heads (or whatever the technical term happens to be – haha) meeting – thereby creating a bit of a gap – the single zipper goes all the way around and closes tightly at the other end.

I should also point out that the drawstring tightening system was improved from the previous design. One of the reasons I’ve always recommended my drawstring tie-off method (to ensure a tight closure) when first setting up the system is because the drawstring system in the original models didn’t close really tightly – this wasn’t an issue once the system was up and running for awhile (which is why I would always end up untying my knot), since the lower compost tends to hold its shape, but early on there was more of a risk that worms etc could end coming out of the bottom. Anyway, I just wanted to point this out so that people don’t assume that you have to use the tie-off approach – this is not the case. I still like doing it for a little extra security, but that’s just me!

Getting back to the fruit flies…

With loads of them flying around outside, I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow managed to squeeze their way in from the bottom. I’ve been amazed with the ability of house flies to somehow get into knotted plastic bags etc, so I can only imagine what a teeny tiny fruit fly could do! This is assuming they didn’t simply fly in while I had the system open (certainly possible as well). One other possibility (although, not in this particular case, as I’ll explain in a minute) is what I like to think of as the “Trojan Horse Little Critter Invasion Technique” (THLCIT for short).

I’m sure most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the story of the Trojan horse. The giant wooden horse was given by the Greeks as a “gift” to the Trojans – who they happened to be fighting at the time. Why anyone would accept a “gift” from their sworn enemy is beyond me, but that’s beside the point! Of course, the horse wasn’t really a gift at all – it was a very sneaky way for the Greek army to sneak into the well-protected city of Troy. The Trojans – not being the sharpest tools in the shed – had no clue, when they wheeled the horse inside the city, that there were Greek soldiers hiding inside. Short story a little longer…the Greeks jumped out of the horse in the middle of the night and opened the gates to the city, thus allowing the Greek army to invade and defeat the Trojans.

The point of this little story (and my overall analogy) is that sometimes it’s not so much a matter of critters crawling into your worm composting systems (Worm Inns, bins etc), but rather a case of them sneaking in on materials you happen to be adding to the system. Thankfully, they don’t have the ability to open up the system from the inside, thus letting in all their creepy friends! (haha)
Nevertheless, as most of us know all too well – they don’t need ANY further assistance once they are IN, since they all tend to reproduce like gangbusters!

In the case of fruit flies, when you add fruit wastes – especially in the case of fruit that’s been sitting around for awhile, or which has come from a warmer location – there can actually be fruit fly eggs already laid in the fruit! As alluded to earlier, this almost certainly is NOT how the fruit flies ended up in my Worm Inn. Like I said, I only used food waste that had come from my freezer. Freezing/cooking waste materials is a great way to make sure you are not inadvertently introducing fruit flies etc to your system. I just wanted to make mention of the “THLCIT” so that people can keep this in mind when adding new materials to their worm composting systems – ya never know what sorts of critters may be getting introduced! Another obvious example would be any “living” material introduced from outside – leaf litter, compost, soil, manure etc.

Now don’t get me wrong here – I’m definitely not suggesting that introducing various critters to your system is a “bad” thing – not at all! A lot of times it can actually help a great deal! Just as a quick example, I’ve found that the addition of really well aged manure can help to improve the “balance” in a worm bin – I’ve always suspected that this largely results from the diversity of organisms (including various small predators which will feed on fruit fly and fungus gnat larvae etc) that tend to live in this material.

Anyway – I think that’s enough of an eyeful for now (got a little sidetracked there! haha).
Will more than likely provide another Worm Inn update in a few weeks!

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  1. I discovered that homemade manure is not as good for the worm bin than a plastic bin. The manure stayed nice a moist in my plastic bin but turned to concrete in the worm inn. Another lesson. It is great fun having a flow through and a stacking system. So different.

    • LARRY D.
    • August 28, 2010

    Unlike our worm bins.The people of Troy were heard conversing”Do you hear laughing?” “Dude, i think it’s just that wooden horse thingys stomach growling!” “Any body want sushi?”
    Unfortunatly,a good example is when you bring even groceries in.Sometimes fruitflys and such hitch a ride on those bags of potatoes and other stuff.I recently had an outbreak and don’t even have a worm bin in my house!

    • Jillian
    • August 28, 2010

    I had a HORRIBLE fruit fly outbreak in our house after transplanting some plants into new soil. I finally killed them with a liberal dose of diatomaceous earth…but I’m paranoid about transplanting anything else. I’ve read that DE is okay in worm bins, but it makes me wonder how it doesn’t cut up the worms.

    • Kator
    • August 30, 2010

    You can construct simple and inconspicuous fruit fly traps with a little cider vinegar as bait. I prefer the paper funnel design – highly effective, however you can use an open jar with a drop of liquid detergent added to the surface of the vinegar method, or cover the opening of the jar with saran wrap perforated with small holes.

  2. About the fruit flies. I had some fruit that went south and was covered by fruit flies. I placed the fruit in a baggie and froze it for three days. When I defrosted the fruit a number of the fruit flies came to life!

    I use the saran wrap and jar with vinegar and soap. Very successful but does not get them all.

    Bentley, I amend my comments about the worm bin. I put it outside, just fed the heck out of it and the herd has flourished. Looking forward to my first harvest.

    • Bentley
    • August 31, 2010

    GEORGE – I assume you meant “not as good for the Worm Inn…”? One thing that’s important to point out here is that “homemade manure”, just like “compost” or “vermicompost” for that matter, is a term (and a made up one at that) that can refer to any number of different mixes of wastes and bedding materials. [Whoops – what I was trying to get at here is the fact that all these are just words, but they can refer to a wide variety of different materials]. Don’t get me wrong, George – I definitely see how it could potentially dry out pretty badly, but in the case of my “vermicake” (which was basically just HMM flattened down) I was amazed to still find a hint of moisture in it weeks after I’d left it to sit in my hot shed. Glad you mentioned that though, since it’s definitely important to keep an eye on moisture levels in outdoor Worm Inns in general, during hot dry weather!
    LARRY – Not sure if the Trojans heard any laughter, but as per usual, you certainly made me snicker with your comment! I definitely agree re: fruit flies and grocery produce. I was just at the supermarket recently and found them hovering around some musk melons they had for sale (I actually bought one – haha)
    JILLIAN – It sounds to me like you had a fungus gnat infestation rather than a fruit fly infestation since fruit flies are never associated with soil (while fungus gnats can be commonly found in moist potting soil). Fungus gnats can be really bad because you can’t get rid of them as easily as fruit flies. They have a much broader range of food sources.
    KATOR – Good suggestions! I use (and often recommend) the ones with the saran wrap and small holes and it’s amazing how many of them can accumulate in a single trap!
    GEORGE – Uh Oh!!! Sounds like I need to do an experiment. I would be shocked if fruit flies (even the eggs) could withstand the cold of my deep freezer – but I guess there’s only one way to find out! Thanks for mentioning that!

    One other really effective method is vaccuuming up the adults. If you remove excess food (and feed only bedding for awhile), vacuum adults daily, and set up your traps, you should be able to bring about a fruit fly population crash fairly quickly!

  3. I’ve had fruit flies in my worm inn for a while now. A month or so ago I tossed in a bunch of ladybugs to hopefully eat them up. That took care of most of them, but I can’t seem to get the number all the way down to zero. Still, at least I can open the worm in without being engulfed in a swarm of the things. 🙂

    • Kator
    • September 1, 2010

    Where can the BT israelensis bacillus be acquired in Canada? Several BT bacillus for various varmints (other than the fungus gant) are advertised but I can’t find a source for israelensis.

    • Bentley
    • September 3, 2010

    GRAHAM – Cool idea (lady bugs) – I would have thought that it would be too dark for them to thrive in that environment. Interesting!
    KATOR – Good question. The only Bti products I’ve been able to find are mosquito dunks. This is where I bought them from:

    • Kator
    • September 5, 2010

    BENTLEY – Thanks for the URL link. That led me to a brand called Aquabac 200 G/CG strength – 10/14 mesh granule size bacillus medium which is the BT israelensis. I was unable to locate a local retailer for the dunks but did locate 500 grams of Aquabac. What I found most interesting was the lack of knowledge of nursery folks about the product and its potential use against the crafty and destructive fungus gnat – that common household pest – as mentioned before – often confused with the fruit fly.

    I’m experimenting with strength and application methods and inoculating a small sample test bin of wigglers with gnat larvae (continuing your experiment which used fruit fly larvae), to test for toxicity. A friend tells me that her vermicompost bin is now infected with gnats after she recently purchased a flowering plant from a large retailer. If indoor bins become infested and untreated, then almost every houseplant is at perpetual risk and pesticide use is not an option.

    I feel like I’m taking on the life of a mad scientist. See what you’ve started ??? 🙂

    • Bentley
    • September 8, 2010

    That’s COOL, Kator! Thanks for sharing.
    I suspect that Bti will be more effective against fungus gnats than it seems to be for fruit flies, simply because mosquitoes and gnats are in the same sub-order (Nematocera) of the order Diptera, whereas fruit flies are in Brachycera (along with most of the other things we think of as “flies”).

    I love the fact that you are an experimenter, Kator (and always happy to provide inspiration any way I can)! Please keep us posted on your progress!

    • Rosa
    • June 22, 2011

    Hi Bentley, hi Kator!
    Your comments about the lack Of knowledge of Bti is totally true!!
    I fnally found some Mosquito dunks here at Ritchies Feed andSeed in Ottawa. I’m not sure how to use them in the bin though.
    Where did you find the Aquabac?

    • Kator
    • June 23, 2011

    Hi Rosa

    I’ve never used the dunks, but I believe that Bentley has. I acquired the Aquabac 200 G/CG strength (10/14 mesh granule size) bacillus medium (BT israelensis) direct from the manufacturer. The value of the product wanes within a relatively short period of time and there should be a proscription date on the container. I originally purchased the product locally from a flower shop – the container did not have a date on it and when I checked the lot number with the manufacturer, I discovered that it was proscribed by about four years.

    My amature experiments resulted in a 100% kill of the fungus gnat larvae. I mixed the product in collected rain water and sprayed the mix. Repeat application is necessary but the effort is worth it if you have a hardy infestation. Good luck!

    • Rosa
    • June 24, 2011

    I soaked the dunks in water then watered Plants and sprayed the bins. So far it seems to be working.
    I’ve also rid my bins, with DE, of fruit flies and also of a long shiny but tiny black critter which I believe may have been a rove beetle. I am left with a teeeeny black bug coming out of the bins. It is similar to size of fruit flies and gnats but not airy. Small oval body with legs and wings quite compact. Are these immature rove beetles or what I thought were rove beetles or something else altogether?? They are numerous and crawling all over the compost. Crawl/hop/fly out of bins though they don’t fly very well – quick but erratic. I’ll go back to DE when I’m done the BTi application but I’d like to ID these things.
    Any suggestions are welcome. My pics Only look like a tiny black blob.

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