Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stacking Vermicompost Bins -- A Critique

My preferences for worm bins run contrary to much of what is on the market right now. If you search for a home vermicomposting system, you'll more likely than not come upon one of the continuous-flow type systems: the kind with stacking trays with vented bottoms. They're supposed to make harvesting the vermicompost easy: start with material in the lower bin, then when that is full add to the next level, etc. The worms supposedly finish the lower bin, then crawl up to the next layer for the fresh material, leaving black gold in the lower bin.

In my house, however, an expensive stacking vermicompost system is nothing more than messy, fruit fly-infested vermicide on the grandest scale. Why?

  1. The bins are too shallow: they dry out easily. Worms can handle too much water, but not enough is deadly.
  2. However, if you keep the bins moist enough, then any fruit fly within miles is immediately alerted to the brand new, multi-level condo created (they think, if fruit flies think) just for them. Again, the shallowness of the layers is the issue: you can't properly cover anything you put in.
  3. The worms don't cooperate, either. In my kitchen, the worms were just as likely to move to a lower layer than to a higher one. I was forever fishing live and drowned worms from the water-collection layer at the bottom of the unit. And a "finished" layer was still as full of worms as an unfinished one.
  4. Talk about a mess! Each layer has a grid on the bottom. When you lift up a layer, either to check on the worms or to harvest, you have a box with worms hanging out the bottom, and dirt all over. Where do you put it? You can't set it down, or you'll smash all the worms in transit from one layer to the other. So any time a layer was lifted, it became a two-person operation: one to hold the top box mid-air, and the other to work with the material below.
  5. And finally, the bins, in addition to being too shallow, were just to small to handle fruit and vegetable scraps for a couple who eats a lot of fruits and vegetables.

Does this mean you shouldn't vermicompost? Absolutely not! It's actually much easier, cheaper, and less messy than the expensive worm towers would lead you to believe. I just created a new vermicompost bin (will post pic right after this), but the old cheap bin I made from a Rubbermaid container is still the best bin I've ever used.


Victoria said...

How do you deal with the fruit flies. They attack the good food. Do you just have to keep everything in the fridge?

angie said...

Great question. This is why I like bins that are deep enough to fully cover any food that we add, and it's one of the reasons I didn't have any luck with the commercially available stacking compost bin.

If I do notice fruit flies on anything I bring in, I will normally compost that outside and not in my worm bin.

I've had one fruit fly infestation inside that was bad enough for me to just move that worm bin outside, and start fresh with a new indoor one. I'm into organic fruits and vegetables, but I won't buy organic bananas any more (and certainly don't compost the peels if I do) because I've never been able to buy them without a subsequent fruit fly infestation. It's more a matter of prevention in my house.

I've had some success getting rid of fruit flies with a beer trap. It's basically a deep cup with some beer in the bottom, with a baggie over the top with a hole cut out of a corner, so the baggie looks like a funnel that has been set into the cup. That was probably a horrible description so I'll have to look for the site where I found it and post a link. :)

Cianoy said...

I'm actually trying a couple of stacked trays right now. So far, I've maintained the moisture level. It's still on the starting point though so I haven't begun stacking yet. I hope it works though.

Cianoy said...

Hi! I agree that layered setups dry easily. I use a tray with lots of holes at the bottom. I find that I have to spray the tray everyday. If I spray too much it drips.