Monday, April 20, 2009

Removing the Five-Gallon Vermicompost Bin

After much deliberation, I have decided to eliminate one of my two kitchen vermicompost bins.

I came to this conclusion based on the following lines of reason:

  • I don't think a five-gallon plastic bucket, even with holes poked in the sides and drainage rocks at the bottom, is the best place in which to grow vermicompost, given the tightness of the space and lack of airflow;

  • I am beginning to think that, while I'm still a novice, I can easily get away with the rubbermaid bin and the outdoor bin. Do I really need *three* compost bins for a 1/4 acre "farm"?

  • I don't believe this bucket can stop smelling like orange diarrhea fast enough.

    So I took about half of the contents of the five-gallon bucket and as many worms as I could save and put them in the rubbermaid bin, aerated it a bit, sprinkled sphagnum peat moss on top and replaced the lid. I'll take the remaining conents in the five-gallon bucket and dump them in my outdoor compost bin as soon as it stops raining.

    Another thought: we drink so much coffee here at the Blue Bungalow that I am going to have to be much more careful about managing the nitrogen-carbon balance in all of my bins (especially the indoor bin). And I am never, ever again going to add a bag of moldy oranges to a small plastic compost bin inside my house.

    1. That made me laugh. I've been paranoid about overdoing the coffee, as well. I think my worms may be a little over-caffinated.

      I need to figure out when the vermicompost is ready. I am not confident in my ability to judge that. Do you have any insight?

    2. my sister set up a vermicomposting bin for me as a birthday gift in september. i was so pumped. i added kitchen scraps to it during the fall and early winter. then the fruit flies got out of control and i couldn't handle it anymore. so i dumped its contents in our outdoor composting bin. i'd like to try again but am nervous about the fruit flies. have you had any trouble with them?

    3. I have had the same lack of confidence, Karri, about using my worm castings. For about a year now I've had this rubbermaid vermicomposter and until recently had never once used the castings, for fear that I'd do something wrong, or lose worms in the process. I wasn't really sure what to do with it, really. Meanwhile I kept filling the bin, and filling the bin more, until the contents nearly reached the top of the container. I knew at that point I'd have to do something or this whole process is useless.

      So I finally had an idea one day to experiment with compost tea. I dug deep down into my rubbermaid composter and found some worm-free dirt that looked like compost and didn't have too many unfinished scraps in it. I removed a shovelfull and then put it inside a piece of cheesecloth, tied up the cloth with twine into a tiny knapsack and then dunked it in my watering can. I used this basic "compost tea" for about a week to water my houseplants. I didn't notice any odors coming from the watering can, so I think it worked out OK.

      I have since experimented with this process and have refined it a bit. I hope to post on my new process soon. In the meantime, I am planning to mostly use my indoor bin to make compost tea and fertilize the many plants I grow indoors.

    4. Fruit flies. Maiasaura, they can be a problem. I remember when I first started my rubbermaid bin last summer, I quickly found that I had fruit flies galore all over my kitchen. At the time, my remedy was to move the bin outdoors and cover the unprocessed food scraps with loads of dead leaves and/or shredded newspaper. This seemed to do the trick. Unfortunately, I naively left my bin outside all winter, thinking "Worms are hardy. They'll just move to the center of the bin to keep warm when it freezes." Yeah, right. The bin froze solid, and all the worms turned to food for future worms, which I had to purchase anew this spring. :(

      I have since moved the rubbermaid bin back inside, but now I keep it in my back door vestibule and, when I add new kitchen waste, I make sure to keep it *thoroughly* covered with some kind of odorless carbon-rich "brown" material. I find that shredded newspaper works well. If you don't subscribe to a newspaper, try picking up a few extra copies of the alt weeklies every once in a while. I "shred" mine by hand with scissors, which is tedious. I have often wondered if one could use a paper shredder for this purpose (if you don't mind going "on the grid" to do so).

      So far I haven't noticed any fruit flies indoors using this "brown cover" technique, but I'll give you a final verdict once the warm weather finally arrives in Southeast Wisconsin (could be a while yet!).

    5. Sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with your vermicomposting.

      Some remedies come quickly to mind with the small insite I have from your posts.

      For example...increase the number of aeration holes; add some shredded cardboard/egg cartons since your wet paper may have matted; decrease your watering; chop up your kitchen wastes since smaller pieces decompose quicker and worms feed on the moldy portions of the food wastes (do not blend the wastes since this will make a slurry and add to your problem).

      I am asking politely, but are you also using the correct species of earthworms? Those found in your garden/lawn will not survive in this type of environment. You must be using composting worms. The most common is Eisenia Foetida or the red wiggler, manure worm, compost worm, etc.

      Regarding the sifting of your compost .... worms hate light! Place a pile of soil on some newspapers in a well lit area. After several minutes the worms will have crawled lower in the piles to avoid the light. Then, divide the larger pile into several smaller piles. After another few minutes, remove the tops of each pile. Continue this action until nothing remains but worms and small bits of uncomposted food which are placed back into the composter.

      Lastly, citric fruit rinds like orange peels are very acidic and decompose very slowly. Add them more sparingly than other materials.

      I have a vermicomposting presentation that I made recently in Shorewood. Send me an email and I will gladly send you a copy.

    6. Thank you for this advice, Bruce. I'm still learning through trial and error about regular composting and vermicomposting. Despite my (highly educational) setbacks and the elimination of the poorly thought-out 5-gallon vermicompost bucket, I'm pretty happy with the current state of my older vemicomposter. Now that I've added more carbon-based materials and aired it better, it's looking good. The worms seem happy and the pile appears to be balanced.

      Thanks for the tip about worms and light. Very interesting. And yes, I do use red wigglers, purchased with a friend from Growing Power.

      Please send your presentation to sustainabletosa(at) I'd love to see it!