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Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

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Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  dk54321 on 2/12/2014, 1:41 pm

I've successfully made vermicompost in the past. Everything I read suggested covering the bin or misting it with water to keep it from drying out. I lived in avery damp house at the time, and I found I didn't need to do either. I took a 5 gal bucket, drilled 1/8" holes in the bottom for drainage, and set it in another 5 gal bucket to catch the drips, which i poured off from time to time. I set it in the kitchen, with a paper shredder on top. I shredded waste paper (junk mail, etc) directly into the bucket as I got it, and threw kitchen scraps in as they came. The worms did very well. The only downside was fruit flies.

After reading about the importance of providing moisture for my worms, I started misting the bucket once a day. They all died.

I'm in a much drier house now, so I set up a new worm bin in the basement. I used a plastic storage bin with a loose-fitting lid. I drilled holes in the bottom and put a drip tray underneath. I started with shredded paper, which a moistened according to the directions in Worms Eat My Garbage. I added kitchen scraps as before, but dunked my shredded paper in water before adding it. I noticed mold growing on top of the bedding, so I left the lid opened for a few days to let it dry out a bit. It started looking rather dry on top, so I dug under the surface to check moisture conditions there. Still rather dry for worms. I dug all the way to the bottom, and didn't find a single worm. I'm not sure if I killed them with too much water or too little this time.

How do you keep the moisture balance right?

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  llama momma on 2/12/2014, 8:43 pm

What is the exact size of your storage bin??   I ask because surface area tends to be critical.  Also a very thick topping of shredded paper cures a lot of issues, about 10 inches or more.  Do you have this on top?

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  dk54321 on 2/14/2014, 8:17 am

19" wide
36" long
16" deep

But since I had just started filling it, it's only filled to about half its depth so far.

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  llama momma on 2/14/2014, 9:59 am

I can't say for certain why yours died.  With 3 bins I must admit I'm only a hack wannabe expert at my own experience so far, lol.
 
Your surface area sounds fine.  I don't use any drainage holes in the bottom.  To me I thought ventilation was a huge issue.  So near the top of all four sides and the lid I did cut a bunch of 4 inch squares to 6 inch long rectangle holes and covered them with stretched out panty hose, then duct tape the edges to the plastic bin.  I feel there is loads of ventilation.  Every time I add food I also tuck in some new dry bedding into the bottom.  Your directions from worms eat my garbage book is how I got started and still refer to from time to time. Love that little book.

 I'm wondering if you keep a very thick dry layer of shredded paper above the worm eating/living area?  I keep a good ten inches right to the top of the lid. That's the layer I referred to earlier and what Bentley Christie (from redwormcomposting.com) says will cure many problems. 

 I hope Boz comes along with some ideas too!  I think he's been at this worm stuff longer than me.

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Re: Vermicomposting-getting the moisture right

Post  Boz on 2/14/2014, 11:47 am

llama momma has given good advice, as always.

I can't explain the loss of your worms. I would suggest that you keep the bin for several months to see if some cocoons hatch out.

If you have plastic bins such as buckets or Rubbermaid totes with lids you should not have to mist the bin. Eisenia fetida can live under water, as long as the water is not stagnate for an indefinite time so I doubt they drowned. The general rule is the bedding should feel like a rung out sponge, the layer above the bedding should be dry or almost dry.

I have large holes, 4X4 or larger in my lids for ventilation, no holes in the bottom or sides. The holes on the sides or bottoms aren't necessary nor do they cause problems, in my opinion.

I put all my vegetable scraps in my freezer for at least 3 days to eliminate fruit flies.
Hope this helps

Al

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  Kelejan on 2/14/2014, 10:07 pm

I would think the dry bedding on top should be enough to keep out the fruit flies.
It seems to work for my little friends. All named Fred.

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  dk54321 on 2/14/2014, 10:29 pm

My current bin is a Rubbermaid. I'll definitely try piling on the bedding. I think leaving the lid off over-dried the bedding. I just got worried when I saw white, fuzzy mold growing on top of it. Our old house had black mold on the walls and ceilings so bad, we had to move. (My wife and son have asthma and allergies.) Is white, fuzzy mold a problem, as long as it is confined to the bin?

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Compost Troushooting

Post  babeangie on 2/15/2014, 9:35 am

Not enough air (anaerobic conditions) Turn the pile frequently, add dry Brown material such as autumn leaves, woodchips, straw or newspaper/cardboard. Make sure bin has drainage; leave lid off to all more are air flow.
 thinking

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  llama momma on 2/15/2014, 10:32 am

@dk54321 wrote:My current bin is a Rubbermaid. I'll definitely try piling on the bedding. I think leaving the lid off over-dried the bedding. I just got worried when I saw white, fuzzy mold growing on top of it. Our old house had black mold on the walls and ceilings so bad, we had to move. (My wife and son have asthma and allergies.) Is white, fuzzy mold a problem, as long as it is confined to the bin?

You can simply stir and mix up the mold down into the bedding.  And it may be the end of it.

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  babeangie on 2/15/2014, 10:40 am

@babeangie wrote:Not enough air (anaerobic conditions) Turn the pile frequently, add dry Brown material such as autumn leaves, woodchips, straw or newspaper/cardboard. Make sure bin has drainage; leave lid off to all more air flow.
 thinking

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  sanderson on 2/15/2014, 3:53 pm

DK,  Okay, I'm a retired health inspector.  One of the Programs I specialized in was Substandard Housing, with  mold in the home a sub-program.  Mold growing in the home is a definite a no-no.  Mold is supposed to grow outside.  While it is impossible to eliminate mold spores from the home, unless you have a "bubble" house, it can be kept down to a low level through various methods.  People can become sensitized to mold exposure through a past mold problem.  If I was still working and you called me for information and non-medical advice, I would advise that the worms go outside the living space for sensitive members.  Then I would direct you to several websites for more information.

This was one of them:
http://www.epa.gov/asthma/molds.html

This was another:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/epi/epi-mold-guidelines.pdf

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  dk54321 on 2/16/2014, 9:04 pm

The old place was definitely substandard. It was built in 1962, presumably with little or no insulation. Someone added insulation in the 1980s, but it wasn't a remotely professional installation. It also had a very damp basement. Between the basement and the bad insulation job, humidity never got below 60% in any season. In winter, water would condense and run down the walls and drip from the ceilings. I scrubbed the mold with bleach, but it grew right back.

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

Post  Esme on 3/13/2014, 10:11 pm

I started my current worm bin with a handful of worms 3 years ago, and I have harvested 20 lb of finished castings each of the last 2 Mays. I keep it in the kitchen, so you know it doesn't stink.

I use an old, slightly cracked, blue recycle bin, which is like a rubbermaid container but with drainage holes, with an old boot tray under it.

I started with a lb of shredded newspaper, a litre of water, and a couple of litres of garden soil, and left the worms alone for 6 weeks to settle. Then I slowly added veg scraps and shredded paper, and never any additional water. I keep a good thickness of paper and castings on top of the veg scraps, since rotting cabbage is stinky.

Fruit flies can't be totally avoided, even with washing fresh produce and freezing scraps, but a cover of plastic window screening draped over the top and held in place by a pair of pieces of 2x2 wrapped in the long ends and stapled, hanging down, works fine. A plastic garbage bag draped over the screen keeps the moisture constant, and a few sheets of newspaper keeps the light right there by the low window not too bright. 

I regard the worms as a safety feature. In winter, I don't walk through ice and snow to composters. The castings are a bonus, and I bribe other gardeners to help with heavy work by offering castings or even worms.

Mostly, worms are like perennials, and need to be ignored at great length.

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Re: Vermicomposting—getting the moisture right

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