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My 5-gallon mini flow through bucket

I have been given a couple 55-gallon plastic drums (one is now a tumble composter) and I plan on turning the other one into a flow through style vermicompost bin (as seen elsewhere on this site). However, I wanted to experiment a little first before tearing into what was a rather hard to find barrel. So I am experimenting with a 5-gallon bucket. Veteran vermicomposters may already be doing this (or perhaps know better not too----we shall see). I just followed the design of the larger bind, which was to cut a compartment out in the bottom and drilled holes just above this to run wire (which is used to hold up the paper/bedding/food). The wire is cable wire---sort of a waste of good wire but the cable guy left over half a box of the stuff and when I called for them to come get it they told me just to throw it away. A few layers of newspaper across the cable, shredded newspaper for bedding (damp, of course), and a layer (1.5 - 2.0 inches) of horse manure. To this I added probably 50 worms or so. Wasn't sure how many to put in such a small system. Here are the pics. Let me know if you see any major flaws I am making.



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Comment by Sue on August 7, 2009 at 2:15pm
Josh, I hope the manure is either composted or aged. Fresh manure will heat up and cook your worms.
Comment by Eve on August 8, 2009 at 7:49am
I would think that such a small amount of manure wouldn't heat up that much. But to be on the same side i would make sure there is a good sized manure free zone for the worms to move to to get away from the heat.

The recommended stocking rate for worms is 1 to 2 pounds per sq foot of surface area. With the minimum bedding depth of 6 to 9 inches to help maintain moisture levels. Flow Through bins do tend to dry out and you will have to watch the moisture levels daily until you build up a good bed of compost that can hold moisture better.

With a flow through you have a lot more surface area than you would think you have at first glance. Consider the top and the bottom of the bin as surface area. And you also have the air pulled up through the bedding making all the bedding almost as aerated as the surface areas, allowing even more worms.

Keep us informed on how the flow through bucket is working out. I believe you are the first to try FT with buckets.
Comment by Josh on August 8, 2009 at 1:12pm
Eve, you got me thinking that I probably didn't have enough bedding so I added a couple of inches of damp shredded newspaper to the top. Hope that was ok to do.

Also, I am noticing the bottom HAS dried out quickly. Is simply using a spray bottle now and again on the top sufficient. How do I keep the rest from drying out in this method?
Comment by Susan B on August 8, 2009 at 2:15pm
Small bins are much more difficult to maintain than large ones. It is a really good idea to start small and learn the ropes, but just know it won't be this hard when you get to your 55 gal bin.

Did you just buy 50 worms or did you take them from another bin to try out a flow through?

Here's what I would do. Add a lot more worms. They keep the system balanced and aerated. The most common initial problem is overfeeding and the food getting anaerobic. More worms means less chance of that. More worms means less smell. If you're getting them 50 at a time from a bait shop, I'd get 100 more. (If you've got more from another bin, then at least twice that many.) Of course, I'm not even sure you're feeding it except the horse manure.

I'd also have the bin more than half full. If you're only using horse manure, I'd layer about 2 inches of that with about 6 inches of moist, well fluffed shredded newspaper, then 2 more inches of manure (which will weigh down the newspaper so it won't be 6" any more) then lots more newspaper to the top. You want the worms to have options if the manure is too hot.

Let them all hang out for at least 2 weeks before you start adding vege waste. The horse manure is great food and the newspaper is also food, so no one is going to starve.

I try to keep the bottom of my flow through a little moist. If the bottom is bone dry, I pour in a little water once or twice a day until there's a few drips. About 1/4 cup. Try to spread it out so it doesn't just go right through in one spot. If I have the time, I add it all with a spray bottle instead of a plant waterer.

If the bottom is just mostly dry, I spray lots of water on top to keep it moist. I also leave a layer of plastic loosely on the top to keep some moisture in but let air out. The worms like to hang out there sometimes. Others put a layer or two of wet cardboard over the top - also in an effort to keep too much of the water from evaporating. That's not necessary if you make sure the top is moist regularly or have the lid to the bucket on with LOTS of holes in it.

You're not going to be harvesting for a while, so for now, feel free to dig around and see how there's doing (about twice a week). If the manure is hot, make sure there are cool places for the worms to go. It will cool off in a few days. If it is warm to the touch, it's probably too hot - they like shaded forest floor.

If they're all balled together, or all trying to escape, there's a big problem. Since your bin is so small, I'd set up some bedding (for me newspaper), and put the ball in there while I dug around to figure out what the problem was.

If the worms seem spread out and doing well, just let things sit. It's as exciting as watching paint dry.

One reason I'd add more worms is to be sure they reproduce. According to http://oacc.info/DOCs/Vermiculture_FarmersManual_gm.pdf, more than 1# of worms per square foot of surface area will maximize composting but suppress reproduction, but less than 1/2# /ft2 will also decrease reproduction. For the fastest reproduction, you want to be somewhere in between. If you're getting them 50 at a time, you won't get up to 1/2 lb,, but you need to have enough to make sure the worms can find each other, otherwise the population will crash. That's why I'd get 1 or 2 more batches of 50.

To give you some sort of time line. If you've got red wigglers (eisenia fetida) and they start laying cocoons today, they'll hatch in 30-75 days and become sexually mature in 53 to 76 days. After that you'll notice really rapid reproduction, but don't get discouraged by slow reproduction before that. I started with 4 oz and after 1 1/2 years, now have 4 bins.

My 4 oz started in a 2.5 gal bin, but 2.5 gal of flow through will dry out way too quickly. An alternate is to keep them in a regular 5 gal bucket for the first 3-4 months, till you have more.
Comment by Sue on August 8, 2009 at 3:53pm
**You're not going to be harvesting for a while, so for now, feel free to dig around and see how there's doing (about twice a week). **
Susan, you meant twice A DAY, right, LOL
Comment by Susan B on August 8, 2009 at 4:35pm
Yeah, it was 2x/day for me in the beginning. EFs are said to be very forgiving of disturbances. I said 2x/wk because I think it's often enough to find problems before they get to big and minimize disturbance. Of my 4 bins, there is one that I spend more time checking up on and two I try to check on only once a week.
Comment by Garden Citizen on January 3, 2010 at 9:31pm
Hi Josh, I've been wanting to make a tumble composter and I think using a 5 gallon bucket is brilliant. Can you post pictures and maybe a little thing on how you made it? I know it's kind of off subject but it would be a great way to age manure and greens for my worm bin as well as more humus for my raised bed.

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