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Questions about small scale vermicomposting after about 2 months of operation  RSS feed

 
Ian Harrison
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Hey everybody,

So I started vermicomposting about two months ago and things seem to be going pretty well for the most part but I do have a couple questions. A few weeks ago I noticed a bunch of these guys (sorry for the crummy video quality)running around the outside of the container. They seemed to disappear after a little while though. Anyone know what they are? Mostly just curious, but I also seem to be getting way more bug bites than normal and would be interested to find out who the culprit is.

A few weeks after that I noticed a bunch more tiny little bugs running around. Don't have any video of them unfortunately. But they were like little wingless gnats or something, very small. They seem to have gone too. At around this time I noticed that the worms I could see right on the top layer seemed sort of sluggish, and especially the last one in this video maybe sort of dried out??. See here
On that note I hadn't gotten any leachate draining out of the bottom. It seems like there is a decent amount of moisture in there but maybe not enough. I added some water at this point but still haven't gotten any leachate draining out of the spigot at the bottom of my system.

Soon after that I started freezing their food and only feeding once per week as opposed to whenever I had the food scraps. I also blended up this last batch with paper. That last batch happened to be a lot of broccoli stalks and some other things. May have been a bit heavy on the green side (brown was made up of some coffee grounds and shredded brown paper bag). A couple days after this feeding I looked inside and found an explosion of these little insects. I then took the system outside, and checked a day later to find most of them dead. Worms seem to be doing fine, much more active now.


So anyone want to tell me what's goin on here and maybe identify some of these bugs I've got?
 
Alex Veidel
Posts: 125
Location: Elgin, IL
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Whenever you have food lying around in a bin, all sorts of critters are gonna come for the buffet. Most of your bugs are likely harmless and are just looking for a free lunch. In return, they'll aid in breaking down your compost faster for you, chewing up chunks into smaller bits and pieces, which provide more surface area for beneficial bacteria.

First video looked like a spider and the bugs in the third video are mites. All harmless. You'll also probably find spring tails and roly-poly bugs, amongst a myriad of other things. Some bugs that aren't so beneficial to find are ants and large numbers of centipedes, both of which eat worms.
 
Ian Harrison
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Cool, I assumed most were harmless but the mite population exploded so quickly I was a bit concerned.

Haven't seen any ants or centipedes yet but I'll keep an eye out.

Oh one more thing, I've been adding more and more moisture but I haven't gotten any leachate draining out of the bottom. What might be some possible reasons for this?
 
Lee Daniels
Posts: 63
Location: Eastern WA -- 5b-6a
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Do you bury your worm food or just lay it on top? I had a worm bin a few years ago and I seem to remember I buried, or lightly covered, the food. Mine was outside in the shade. Never had any bug issues. I also only fed half at a time, one side then switch to the other.

Beetles - the shiny black one inch or so long version - are not worm friendly. If a worm is caught on the surface, out of its hole, it is beetle dinner.

No worm juice - Is the drain plugged? You don't want to drown them.... yet

- L. Daniels
 
Will Holland
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Location: CT zone 5b
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My wife has a worm bin and got mites in it. She said it's from putting too much food in the bin. The worms don't eat it fast enough and then mites show up because there's an abundant food source. She stopped putting food in for a while (many weeks) and the mites started to go away.
 
Alex Veidel
Posts: 125
Location: Elgin, IL
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Actually, I'm not too sure why some people are so obsessed with worm leachate. It's beneficial, I guess, but mostly it just ends up being an anaerobic mess. In my opinion it's way better just to take a handful of castings and make a decent compost tea. I went with a solid bottom worm bin myself.

I'm not too sure why you're not getting leachate, but I would say let it become a natural product of the worm bin and don't try to make it happen. Adding too much water can cause problems of its own.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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As Alex alluded to, leachate is actually a sign of too much moisture and a possible warning sign of an impending anaerobic environment. I have a self draining system with a sump, and I aim for the smallest amount of leachate possible without drying out the worm bin. I want all the nutrients and soil organisms caught up in the vermicompost where they belong.

I've found that it's actually more of a challenge in my system to have sufficient oxygen throughout, than it is to have the moisture level high enough.
 
Ian Harrison
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You guys are so right. I was just expecting it to happen and then wondered why it wasn't, but both your answers make a lot of sense. I just checked the moisture and it's at between 75% and ~82% in the top bin, so that seems about right. There are still thousands and thousands of mites though and I haven't put food in it in a week and a half I think. Thoughts on that?
 
Nick Kitchener
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I get mites in the summer and they go away in the winter when the temperature drops and I move it to the basement (12 degrees C).

They come and go. I think it's just part of the little ecosystem...
 
Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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I've had my system going for about a year now and have never got any fluids leaching out. The medium stays a nice "wrung out sponge" damp as well. I'm personally happy about it as its one less thing I've got to worry about cleaning out. I didn't watch your video, but where are you keeping the bin?

I keep mine in my basement year round and thus have no infestation issues. I also bury the scraps in the paper strips when I add them.

Personal recommendation: worm castings are great, but avoid using them on house plants. I found this out the hard way as I practically overnight had an explosion of fungus gnats in my house. They're completely harmless, but annoying, and let's be honest don't reflect well on you if you have visitors lol.
 
Ian Harrison
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So I initially had it in the room I rent in this house (didn't want to force worm composting on my roommates), but took it outside recently due to worry about breeding huge numbers of insects in my room. Right now I've got them outside in the alley basically between my house and the neighbor. Two old, three story brick buildings fairly close together so it doesn't get too much direct sun, or rain but I'm still a little worried about it since it has hit 90 degrees F every day the last week. One option would be to move it to my girlfriend's patio which faces north and gets almost no direct sunlight. Just a tiny bit in the morning maybe, it would also be much better protected from rain.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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The worms I use are red wigglers, which originate in the tropics so they love the heat as long as the compost doesn't get above 85F (30 C). In fact, I've noticed they slow down a lot when I have them in the basement and I think it's because of the cool temperature. It takes forever for them to process much.
 
Alex Veidel
Posts: 125
Location: Elgin, IL
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If you're worried about the worms, you can wet a piece of cloth and drape it over to the top; the evaporating moisture should help draw heat from the compost pile.

About the flies and mites: I've noticed that as my compost bin matured, flies and mites steadily became less common. Your worm bin is an ecosystem, and the microorganisms are still pulling the majority of the decomposition labor in a worm bin. As your beneficial microorganisms increase in population, they'll begin to break down your food before mites and flies become much of an issue. Also, make sure you're covering your food with at least 2 inches of a wet, clean cover material. Fruit flies aren't burrowing insects, so covering your materials will deter them from being able to lay eggs in your food waste. Dealing with current flies usually just requires taking a break from feeding until things calm down.
 
Ian Harrison
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Do you use anything specific for that top 2 inches of cover material or just whatever "browns" you have laying around?
 
Alex Veidel
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Location: Elgin, IL
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Some materials are going to work better than others. The effectiveness of a cover mater is going to greatly depend on it's ability to mat and create a screen against flies. Personally, I use shredded office or newspaper. The finer the shred, the better it covers. I'm sure sawdust would also work great and would be readily available at any saw mill.
 
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