Wonderful Worms

 I’ve been composting with worms for many years now and I am continually impressed by how good they are at what they do- eat our garbage. 

For those who want to start a worm bin of their own you can either buy a bin or make your own. I must say the black, stacking bins made from recycled plastic work very well. They are well designed to allow for a lot of waste in a small footprint and provide good drainage, which is absolutely key for worms. I’ve also made my own bin and I’ll write about that in a separate post. Target has also come out with a fancy worm bin they call the MIO(I’m not sure how to make the link work so you’ll just have to look it up) . I’m incredibly jealous because I wanted to be the first to come out with a snazzy, hip worm compost bin. The Target bin is cute but unlike other prefab bins it is not made from recycled plastic. I still kind of want one. 
Mr. Homegrown has encouraged me to share my failures because apparently readers of this blog love to hear about projects gone awry. I’ve only had one problem with worms but it was a doozy. I had been composting with worms for several years without a glitch when I got overly enthusiastic and threw everything off. There is a local juice bar that doesn’t compost. All that lovely, ground up juicing waste just ends up in the trash. So I decided to take home a big bag- maybe twenty pounds of ground up carrots, wheatgrass, apples, kale and whatever for the worms. I spread it out as a layer in one of the bins. Several days later I noticed flies. I opened the bin and there were all of these hideous larvae crawling around. Now I love worms, but larvae are just gross. They were some kind of fly larvae. I screamed and jumped up and down shrieking for about 5 minutes. I closed the bin and decided to wait. Composting is all about balance. I knew I had thrown off the equilibrium of my worm composting system. After about five days of just letting the bin do its thing I started by slowly adding just my morning coffee grounds. I put down a thick layer of shredded newspaper to keep any more flies from getting in. After about two weeks I had restored the balance, the larvae were gone and the worms and I have lived happily ever after.

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19 Comments

  1. Indeed, we do like hearing about the mishaps. So many blogs out there only focus on the successes and the gardening ‘victories’. Frankly, it gets a little boring reading about perfect people. I had a very similar experience with my worm bin; in my case it was several pounds of apricots that had fallen off our tree and rotted in the grass. It was the best smelling worm bin (yum! ripe apricots!) for exactly two days at which point I opened it up and found loads of maggots. Additionally, It had upset the water balance in the bin; there were virtually no worms left due to the mushy consistency. I’m glad that cooler heads prevailed in your case. I’m sad to say that I cleaned out the bin and scrubbed it down with bleach; a decision I regret to this day. I wish I could locate the picture I took of the whole mess; it was awful.

    http://chrisandsonja.blogspot.com/2008/07/tale-of-fly.html.

  2. Okay, not a worm bin, but I did put together a compost bin per the instructions from your book; a plastic trash bin with holes drilled in the side. And today, I notice bermuda grass (my continual nemesis) growing out of the holes in the bottom.
    So, a failure. Do you have any advice? I’ve been reading up on compost, but I’m not sure what to add at this point. Just been kitchen scraps and newspaper to this point.
    Any help would much appreciated!

  3. Okay, not a worm bin, but I did put together a compost bin per the instructions from your book; a plastic trash bin with holes drilled in the side. And today, I notice bermuda grass (my continual nemesis) growing out of the holes in the bottom.
    So, a failure. Do you have any advice? I’ve been reading up on compost, but I’m not sure what to add at this point. Just been kitchen scraps and newspaper to this point.
    Any help would much appreciated!

  4. We love our worms. Or rather, we loved them. We’ve never been able to get them to live through a summer in Pasadena. After a week of 100F weather, they just seem to liquefy, even if we keep them in the shade. How do you get yours through extended heat waves?

  5. First, as to Chris’ problem with the bermuda grass- just pull it out. Whenever I pull out bermuda grass from anywhere I throw it on the hot brick patio area. The sun dries it out so that it can’t get its evil pieces into the ground to grow. As to the heat issue, the best thing you can do is keep the worms in deep shade in the summer. I have a friend in Altadena who has struggled with this. Deep shade and plenty of moisture are key. If you can put on a sprinkler or some other type of irrigation even better. You might even try setting up pans or buckets filled with water next to them. The evaporative cooling will lower the air temps a couple of degrees.
    Of course, when temps get well over a hundred, cooling them just a few degrees may not be all that helpful. Here in Silverlake it is just a little milder than Pasadena and I keep the worms in a shady spot and don’t have any problems.

  6. I had an episode with fruit flies in my homemade worm bin too. I started loosely covering the bin with an old bike cover, and that kept them out from then on. I think the maggots do a good job too, so I don’t mind them, as long as the grownups don’t get in the house.

  7. Sometimes I learn more from others’ shared mistakes than I do from perfection posts. Especially if they’re humorous posts. I laughed out loud at: “I screamed and jumped up and down shrieking for about 5 minutes.”

    I haven’t tried worms yet, mostly because of concern for the heat, but your story did remind me of the squirrel in our house that almost ran up my leg to escape from our dog!

    I wonder if wrapping the container with foil might help keep the temps down?

  8. Chris:

    Mrs. Homegrown here checking in on the bermuda grass thing. Do you mean the grass is growing up through the drainage holes on the bottom of your bin, clogging it? Or is it sprouting in the compost?

    Whichever, as Neighbor Lora says, pull it. And keep pulling it til it gives up.

    Or, if it’s coming in through the bottom, you could put something under the bin– like maybe a piece of cardboard? If you have holes punched up the side of your bin that is probably enough to take care of drainage and air circulation. You’ll cut down on bug traffic, but I bet they’ll figure out how to get in anyway.

    I hate to hear you call your bin a failure. I bet it’s not. The variables with compost are mostly time. People who really slave over their bins can produce beautiful compost in relatively short time spans. However, if you put a pile of garbage in a corner of the garden somewhere and ignore it long enough, it will become compost too. So have faith in the powers of decomposition! Rot never fails.

    Kitchen scraps and newspaper is a good place to start. Some things I’d try to add to the mix would include grass trimmings (easy to get from neighbors) Just make sure they’re not sprayed. Clippings are full of nitrogen and really good for your pile.

    Dead leaves are great for layering and burying. To my way of thinking, the only “wrong” thing to do with compost is to leave food scraps unburied. Then you get into a larval situation as so eloquently described by Lora. So keep a supply of dried stuff on hand. Collect a bag of leaves in the fall if you don’t have them in your yard.

    And if you know anyone who has a horse, a rabbit or chickens, remember those varieties of poop are solid gold in compost terms. If you get some poop in your bin, you won’t believe how much faster the decomp will happen.

    But even if it happens slowly, it’s happening. It’s happening even if the bermuda grass is popping up. So keep the faith!

  9. Los Feliz composter here. I must have REALLY thrown off our ph balance or something because after one too many enthusiastic drenchings (I spent $30 on red worms, I wanted them to survive the heat) my compost heap developed a polenta-colored and, coincidentally, polenta-textured colored mold. My husband and I looked it up and apparently it is called “Dog vomit mold.” I mean, that’s its clinical name. But the good news is, apparently if you leave it alone, it just goes away. We also have fruit flies and some arthropods that looks like earwigs. I’m suspending disbelief and hoping it will all sort itself out.

  10. I looked at the MIO and some of the commenters there said it was made of recycled plastic but there also seems to be a problem with worm travel in them. I have always heard that if you get fly larve in your compost to give them to your chickens, that they just love them and they are good protein. Some people even create maggot beds that way as a cheap way to feed chickens protein. Dunno if it is really good for them or not, or if it is just the ick factor bugging me.

  11. Funny–and familiar. Sounds like Black Soldier Flies to me. I had what sounds like a very similar infestation–if it can be called that. After a little internet research, found out they’re harmless, quite dopy fliers, and, turns out, pretty good composters, too. Something about “self harvesting” was intriguing about them. But I too wanted a worm bin and not a BSF bin, so I sacrificed that bin to the garden and started fresh. Still see a few now and again, but I attributed it to too much H2O in the bin. More bedding solved my problem. Thanks for the post.

  12. today i checked my worm bin for the first time this year – i’d just been throwing piles of junk in and covering with dirt. i was afraid that it was overmushy and would be messed up – but nope, there are worms by the clumpful, happy as little clams. they’ve also survived horrible freezes outside when i was sure there was no way they could have pulled through. next spring they were wiggling away, though the population did take a hit.

  13. Regarding the flies you mentioned… did they happen to be Black Soldier Flies? Because they can be quite useful.

    I am thinking about putting together a small aquaponics garden. Its basically a grow bed which uses pebbles instead of dirt to grow vegetables, and the nutrient rich water that feeds it comes from a fish tank raising Tilapia. The aerated water then drains from the grow bed back into the fish tank. But what to feed the fish?

    A company in the USA came up with the “BioPod” which lets you use food scraps to conveniently feed and collect Black Soldier Fly (BSK) larvae. The larvae are high in protein and can be fed to chickens as well as fish. A free, natural, and self-sustaining food source for animals, BSK’s do not swarm or sting, they tend to stay away from human habitations, and they naturally keep other pests away.

    So if BSK’s were in your compost, perhaps you guys live in an area where you could utilise them. Here’s a video of an aquaponics guru in Australia showing off his BioPod:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnfkW4WgtG8

  14. Hey worm lovers,
    If y’all are really interested in tips and stuff on Worms I highly recommend this blog:
    http://www.redwormcomposting.com/
    I’ve been following it a bit longer than here, and it’s full of ideas and experiments. If you start from the beginning, or from their ‘start’ pages, you’ll get a better idea of beginner’s trials and tribulations.

    As for the heat, I had worms in Melbourne summer dry heat, other than keep it in shade, I’d water it in the mornings as well to cool it down. Less food if possible, the decomp causes heat. And I reckon a bigger bin will have more cool areas in the center for the worms to escape the heat.

    -Debbie

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