Tag Archives: worm factory

Worm Tower of Power – Vermiculture Vermicomposting System


Wow, I’ve never seen a stacking system done quite like this before!

I’m tempted to try something like this, since it has such a small footprint and can handle a pretty serious volume of material.

Something like this looks like it would cost under $20, not bad for an item that handles a heck of lot more than the Worm Factory for a fraction of the price…

The Reluctant Composter (NYT article)

Originally found here (and my commentary is at the bottom): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/garden/a-city-dweller-tests-four-composters.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

WHEN my oldest son returned from a first-grade field trip last year insisting that our family start composting, my heart did not exactly soar. After six years of changing diapers, I wasn’t looking to take on additional waste-management responsibilities. I switched the subject, and our melon rinds and abandoned cheese sticks continued their steady march into the trash.

Then my middle son started kindergarten. On the second day, he, too, arrived home to proclaim the need to compost, explaining that it was good for the earth.

“The bugs eat the compost,” he noted, “then they poop it out and it makes better soil.”

This got me thinking about how much of the school curriculum is devoted to composting, and whether it was a ruse for legitimizing bathroom talk. But it also focused my attention on the obscene amount of barely touched food my family sends to landfills.

When your children repeatedly beg you to compost, your options are limited. After all, “No, because Mommy and Daddy don’t care about preserving the Earth for you, your children and your children’s children,” is not the message most parents are trying to send.

The time to compost had come.

As I called around for advice, I was comforted to discover other reluctant composters, even ones with credentials. Lynn Miller, chief executive of 4GreenPs, a green marketing firm in Bethesda, Md., confessed to being a “lapsed composter.”

“There are only so many battles you can choose to fight with your better half,” she said. “I won the battle about yes, we are going to spend more money to buy organic shampoos and soap. I decided to let the composting battle slip.”A couple of years ago, Jill Fehrenbacher, the founder and editor in chief of a green design Web site, Inhabitat, took a composter to the office on the Lower East Side that the company shared with a few other small businesses. It did not take long for her co-workers’ initial enthusiasm to dissolve.

“It got to the point where everyone was, like: ‘Jill, this thing’s stinky. You need to pick it up and take it home,’ ” she recalled. (She suspects that certain office mates were not using it properly.)

I was interested in what more than one composting expert described as “lazy man’s composting,” so I set out to find composters that were easy to use, low-maintenance and city-friendly. I also wanted them to look great. While I’m not a design fiend, I do recognize that a beautiful product can make an odious task more pleasant.

There are plenty of striking compost buckets, which are canisters you put food scraps in before you take them to the composter or compost pile. Blanco, a German company, has created a stainless-steel compost bucket designed to be embedded in a kitchen countertop. There is no need for a container taking up space by the sink, and the only thing visible is a metal lid.

The green design revolution, though, has made few inroads with actual composters. This is not a big deal for people with sprawling yards. In small spaces, it’s a different story.

In one notable attempt to mix composting form and function, Levitt Goodman Architects of Toronto created a prototype of a “vermicondo” several years ago: a worm composter resembling a sleek white apartment building with a rooftop garden.

Urban agriculture is hot, urban chicken-keeping is hot; think about all of the incredibly cool backyard chicken coops that have come up,” said Janna Levitt, a partner in the firm. With the right design, she suggested, composting could be seen to be “as interesting, as sexy, as innovative” as keeping chickens.

When Mio, a Philadelphia sustainable-design company, included a bright green cylindrical worm composter in a collection it sold at Target during a limited run a few years ago, the eco-design crowd cheered. Consumers, not so much.

“We thought that with design we could get more people composting,” said Jaime Salm, an owner of Mio and its creative director. “From a sales point of view, it was a definite challenge.”

He added: “It’s a very strange thing that has to do more with a cultural perception of what waste is than anything else.”

In an effort to challenge my own perceptions, and succumb to the relentless lobbying from my sons, I tested out a few different models:

The NatureMill Ultra composter costs $400, so the price alone will no doubt turn off many people. But it is sleek and made of stainless steel, cleverly triggering a jolt of excitement in the sort of person who loves a new kitchen appliance. It must be plugged in, using about 50 cents’ worth of electricity a month, the company says, to speed decomposition by heating and turning the contents. And unlike traditional composters, the NatureMill takes dairy and meat.

Composting, as I’ve learned, is all about balancing “greens” (fruit, vegetables) and “browns” (wood shavings, dry leaves). The greens provide nitrogen, the browns provide carbon, and if the mix is not right, odors result. The NatureMill came with a box of sawdust pellets, which are “browns,” and baking soda, which balances out food acidity. When you toss in food scraps you are supposed to also toss in pellets and baking soda.

My boys eagerly awaited the arrival of the 1,800 worms that I ordered on Amazon for the Worm Factory 360 ($110 for the Worm Factory, $27 for the red wigglers). They watched the accompanying DVD several times and helpfully created the “worm bedding” by mixing water with paper scraps and a part of a coir brick, made from coconut husks, that came with the composter. They dumped in the worms and immediately started referring to them as their pets. I was then asked to take a picture, to provide proof of the worms to a skeptical fifth grader on their bus.

I tested one outdoor composter, the Envirocycle Mini ($130), which might work for people with little outdoor space. I liked its small size and the barrel design. It seemed to hit a sweet spot — unobtrusive enough that neighbors would not mind seeing it in a shared outdoor space, but not so nice that someone would likely steal it.

The fourth option I tested was actually a compost pickup business, one among many that have cropped up across the country in recent years. They are designed for people who like the idea of composting more than the actual project. For a monthly fee, a company picks up your bucket of scraps and composts it; most services will return with soil if you want it. In the Washington area alone, there is the Compost Crew, Compost Cab and Fat Worm.

In Brooklyn, Vandra Thorburn has started Vokashi. For an initial fee of $15 plus $40 a month, Ms. Thornton drops off a plastic airtight bucket, then picks it up when it’s full.

Ms. Thorburn uses a method called bokashi, which is not actually composting but, rather, fermentation. (Bokashi is a Japanese term; the “V” in Vokashi is for Vandra.) The food scraps are “pickled,” Ms. Thorburn explained, a process helped along with bran that has been fortified with micro-organisms and that you are supposed to sprinkle atop each installment of food.

The advantage of bokashi is that you can put in meat, chicken bones, dairy and more. The downside of bokashi is that the fermented waste still needs to decompose, so it must be buried in the ground or tossed into another composter. Because I was using a pickup service, of course, this was Ms. Thorburn’s problem, not mine.

Testing four composters at once can get confusing. Which one can take coffee filters, again, and which only coffee grounds? On more than one occasion I found myself reaching into a composter to retrieve something that I just wasn’t sure about.

On nights when I was especially tired and really did not feel like chopping up mango peels or figuring out whether there was some way to compost the pits, I stuffed food scraps into plastic grocery bags and put them in the fridge to deal with later (to the dismay of my husband and baby sitter, who at times unwittingly opened these bags thinking there might be something edible inside).

At this point in my composting adventure, I have emerged with some hard-earned insights, which might be useful to others who may be under pressure from small schoolchildren to take the plunge:

I am not a worm person. I was, in fact, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully with hundreds of worms in the house. When the worms did not arrive the day I expected them to, I feigned disappointment. What I felt was relief that bordered on joy.

As soon as we unpacked the Worm Factory 360, though, I felt like one of those home-schooling moms who is always doing amazing projects with her five or six children. The boys put the composter together, checked on the worms when we came back after a weekend away, and took responsibility for feeding the worms after dinner. It dawned on me that “vermicomposting,” as it’s called, could be a gateway to helping out around the house.

On the nights that I composted by myself, though, I gravitated to the other composters. After a long day, I never wanted to look at those worms.

After I decided to compost, I realized it could be an excellent opportunity for the kids to recognize how much food they waste, and to stop doing so. This has yet to occur. When I’ve commented on how wasteful it is to declare oneself “starving,” then decide after two bites of a second helping that one is actually “stuffed,” they have said, “That’s O.K., we can feed it to the worms!”

One thing that I truly did not expect was the satisfaction I felt tossing chopped-up apple cores, cucumber peels and broccoli and tofu that are left on dinner plates into the composters. There is something Sisyphean about filling lunchboxes on a Monday night and then having to throw the remnants into the trash on Tuesday. Composting them somehow felt less futile.

For better or worse, I will never again be able to throw away peels and rinds, let alone actual food, without feeling guilty. But which composter to stick with?

The Envirocycle got points simply because it was outside. When I opened the door to pop in new food scraps, it did not stink up my kitchen.

I loved that we were able to put meat, dairy and pretty much everything else into the Vokashi; leftover cereal in particular is a constant scourge. I found myself using this container often when it was late at night and I was fuzzy on the details of which composter takes what. Sometimes I went too far: I knew that leftover tuna salad should just go in the trash, but I was feeling virtuous and pushed my luck, tossing it into the Vokashi.

The NatureMill blends right in, wedged between a stainless-steel bread maker and a recycling bin. While an unpleasant fragrance was sometimes emitted when I opened it, I realized that I had been composting broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts, despite the warning that “strong odors will result.” And when I asked my husband if he had been throwing sawdust pellets in after the food scraps, he asked, “What sawdust pellets?”

Visitors of all ages are impressed that we harbor worms. With the holiday season, though, and many late nights out for the boys, the composting has been increasingly taking place after bedtime, meaning the worms have been increasingly neglected. Come to think of it, they may be starving. Excuse me while I remind the kids to feed their pets.


What a great read!  I’m glad that composting got some in-depth attention here.  I enjoy reading articles like this because I get to figure out the reasons why people are reluctant to start composting.

I love it how she mentions the persistent pressure from the kids… I really hope this is becoming more commonplace in today’s world.  Although my school had an environmental science class, it was by no means required to take.  Not surprisingly, it was my favorite class.

It bums me out that she encounters other so-called composters (“even ones with credentials”) that aren’t psyched on the process.  Is it really so hard?  What is it?  Overthinking or laziness?  There’s numerous ways to make it happen, each with their own processes to accompany your situation.

One thing I can relate to, however, is trying to garner enthusiasm in coworkers to start composting at the office.  Worms are too gross for most people, while taking turns carrying a container of scraps outside to a composter gets forgotten about quickly.  I think an option for this is the Naturemill, although the lame price tag keeps it from being the simple solution.

OK, enough with the hating.  It’s quite ambitious that she took on 4 options for handling her household waste.  I would love to see a follow-up article written on her experiences…I’m sure it’ll happen.  What’s up with the castings?  Is there a slimy mess in the Envirocycle?  How about an interview with the Vokashi person?  Any complaints about the Naturemill?  Oh, the burning questions I have.

How-To Compost with Worms and Solve Common Problems

How-To Compost with Worms and Solve Common Problems

While this video might miss on a few good points, I absolutely love the kid answering all her mom’s questions about what to do next with the worm bin… super cool… but what’s up with the lack of air holes in the bin?

Worm Composting Feeding Tips (video)

Worm Composting Feeding Tips

I just found this web channel called Big Tex Worms, and she has some great videos to check out on the topic of vermicomposting.  You’ll see that my website gets really worm-centric in the colder months as the outdoor methods slow down to a crawl here in the northeast.

This video shows some pretty standard methods for preparing worm feed, but when it gets to Step 4, I was definitely surprised.  I’ve never seen anyone make worm food into balls first, and I wonder what the point is.  I guess they’re handy and represent a fixed amount of material for your worms to digest.

If they don’t start eating it within a few days, that means they might not like it and it’s acidic…so I guess it’s a good way to evaluate if your food source is appropriate for them.

What do you think of the tips?  It’s pretty simple- if you grind your materials up first and don’t overfeed the worms, you’ll be in good shape.

Worm Inn Season is Approaching!

I can’t believe it… over the last few months I’ve practically ignored my Worm Inn system entirely.  It even got to the point where I was afraid to open it up and find that my worms had disappeared (died).  Looks like dumping water on it once or twice a week was enough, and that they indeed ate all the bedding I put in there although I’m sure that was their last priority.

I opened up the Inn, and under the top layer of paper waste was nothing but beautiful castings and tons of tiny worms…so awesome.  Now it’s time to see what they’re made of as I get ready to start giving them heaps of stuff instead of throwing it in the tumbler outside.

Worms surviving and thriving, leaves falling for me to shred and harvest, lower temperatures for cozy sleeping…this is by far my favorite time of the year! 🙂

Why Compost Is Essential to Container Gardens (article)

Recently I was trying to learn more about how to turn my balcony into a healthy, useful garden…and that’s when I found balconycontainergardening.com .  Since I’m a complete newbie when it comes to gardening, I ended up spending hours reading articles on the site, which prompted me to write a letter of kudos to the owner, Cassandra Radcliff.  I also asked her if she’d like to host some articles for my readers. 🙂

I was extremely pleased when she wrote back with a yes, and now she will be periodically contributing guest articles.  I often receive questions from readers pertaining to gardening, so now I hope to address some of those questions while at the same time learning from her in the process.  Below is her first contribution to the site entitled, “Why Compost Is Essential to Container Gardens”.  I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Why Compost Is Essential to Container Gardens
by Cassandra Radcliff

The best thing that ever happened to my container garden was my worm bin. The red worms that reside on my balcony help me cut down on my kitchen waste (they absolutely love spinach and coffee grounds just like me!). Every week I toss in a bit of food, some water and torn up newspaper, and the red worms reward me with black gold, which contains the castings that they create after breaking down the kitchen waste.

Worm bins aren’t the most attractive things to keep in small-space, but they can help make your container plants healthier and look better. Potting soil is very rich when it comes straight out of the bag, but plants deplete the nutrients quickly in small containers. If you keep finicky plants like roses or certain rare species, you may want to buy special fertilizers, but most plants just need a good dose of worm castings, and they will flourish. With worm castings, plant foliage will be more lush, and flower blooms will be more abundant and showy.

Worms don’t just help plants get more nutrients, they also can help aid in soil health. Consider adding a couple of your red worms to your plant containers. Actually, if you’ve ever added worm castings to your container plants, you probably already have some worms in your plant pots. When you separate the worms from the castings and give their black gold to your container plants, there were probably some eggs in the castings. This is actually a good thing. The worms will burrow in the soil, helping combat soil compaction, aid in aeration (great for plant root health) and they will make the soil slightly more acidic, which is beneficial for most plants.

So if you keep a container garden, cut down on your waste and aid your garden by setting up a worm bin (see “Steps to Vermicomposting” on BalconyContainerGardening.com for more information). It’s cheap, easy and rewarding. And if worms give you the willies, just remember that you’re doing your part to help the environment. And just imagine how much more beautiful your plants will be at their peak during the next growing season!

EZ How to Make a FREE Worm Factory (video)

EZ How To Make a FREE Worm Factory

This dude has the right idea!  While I doubt this works as well as an actual Worm Factory (short, stacking trays), it’s still a great start to see what you think of vermicomposting.

This is more or less the same process as building your own worm bin from a Rubbermaid tub.  If you use 2 tubs (the bottom tub is for collecting leachate), it will basically function in the same manner as this.

In my experience, worms do better in a shallow environment, so a short Rubbermaid tub would most likely outperform a bucket… however, whichever you can get your hands on is the best for you.  Go to any grocery store and ask for some food grade plastic buckets (food grade means the plastic doesn’t leach into the contents…or so they say)…they toss these out all the time so you’ll be doing them a favor.  Further, get some extra ones just because!  Buckets are awesome.  And so is DIY vermicomposting!

Worm Cocoons in Vermicompost?

Worm castings are tricky, aren’t they?  They can be soggy and have lots of unprocessed material encased in castings, used in containers to grow stuff, dry out and show what they’re really like.  I’ve noticed that my worm castings that I recently removed from the Worm Inn system dried out in the sun quite fast and revealed a bunch of little purple eggs.

What are these things?  After doing a little reading and talking to the dude Bentley over at redwormcomposting.com, I learned that they were worm cocoons.  So is this a good thing or a bad thing?  I don’t really know.  Reproduction is obviously a good thing.  However, I’m learning that the cocoons may be worms laying more eggs in response to a dry or unhealthy worm system.  They also seem to lurk around the cardboard…but wouldn’t the best place for eggs be inside those corrugated tubes?

My castings seem to harden up in big chunks, and it has to be from the cardboard…I think I’m going to try chilling out on the cardboard for a bit to see if I can make a better end product…I think the worms must be getting bored of eating my cardboard scraps!

What Composting System is Right for You? (video)

What Composting System is Right for You?

What composting system is right for you?  There’s 4 main methods for composting: dig a hole, compost bin, worms, compost tumbler.  They all have their pros and cons, so here we go:

Dig a hole – $0
+No maintenance
-Risk of animals/pests digging it up
-Hard to obtain any compost
-Might annoy neighbors

Compost Bin – $25+
+Cheap, easy to do it yourself for free
+Can handle large volumes
+Can thoroughly process any and all organic materials
-Unsightly?  (It’s worth it though, trust me)

Worms – $30/lb, $100+
+Works year round
+Worm castings are a great soil amendment
+Fun for educational purposes
-They need attention to ensure they’re happy
-Somewhat expensive to start

Compost Tumbler – $175+
+Secure from pests/animals
+Turning the compost is easy (although not necessary)
+Neat in appearance
-Limited capacity
-Attention to moisture/oxygen levels
-Lots of crappy models on the market



Worm Factory 360 review (video)

Worm Factory Review – Is it worth it?

When my friend told me he had a Worm Factory in his basement, I had to check it out.  Although I use a Worm Inn system, I definitely like how this system works, too.  Check the video for my on-the-spot observations!

When it comes to vermicomposting, I’m a big fan although it requires some attention to ensure the worms are happy.  I’ve made my own worm bins in the past, and then decided to focus my attention on the Worm Inn system: better airflow, easier harvesting of castings.

I kinda forgot about the Worm Factory 360.  It’s been on the market for a while now, but I never paid attention to it since I started with making my own bin anyway.

I was hanging out at my friend Brian’s house, and he wanted me to take a look at his worm system in the basement.  I had noticed a few flies in his house before he led me downstairs, and I figured they were from his Worm Factory…I was right.

I took a look around on some forums, and that seems to be a common issue with this thing- and now I see why.  Here’s a picture of his system:

Upon opening it up, right away I noticed that all the trays were not only full of castings, but they were full of friggin awesome castings.

I was impressed.  The castings were really moist, and that’s the thing with plastic…it doesn’t breathe well, if at all.  There are little gaps around the edges of the trays, maybe this is intentional to get some necessary airflow in there.

There were a lot of critters inside, indicating the system was alive and… well?  Maybe slightly out of balance- it was lacking cardboard.  Worms love cardboard, and I’m not sure if that’s scientifically been proven yet, but they like crawling in the corrugated tubes and I’ve read that the glue is tasty to them (can anyone confirm this?).

Besides taming the flies, the spigot seems to be the other design challenge.  Looking at the bottom tray, it was holding a significant amount of leachate because the castings were clogging up the spigot.  Makes sense.

What I didn’t expect was that although the bottom trays were all processed into castings, they still contained plenty of worms.  The worms seemed to go where they pleased (which is great and I’m happy for them), but I figured they’d all be in the top tray focused on eating the food.

How would I rate this thing?  Well, I only hung out with it (them) for about 10 minutes…but based on that, it exceeded my expectations.  I think they have the potential to be a really solid system with next to no issues, but you have to work a little bit for it.  Keep the dry materials coming into this thing and I think the castings/spigot/flies issues should become minimized.

If you’d like to learn more about one of these, I suggest clicking here to go to the company page on Amazon.  Plus, it’s always fun to read Amazon reviews, isn’t it?