ABF

Vermiculture worms for Aquaponics....

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I hope this is the right place to post this but I was wondering if anyone had advice on the types of worms to use. I plan to use the worms to feed the BG in my Aquaponic unit. I'm also looking for a bin as well, are these worth buying? Or should I just make my own? Any recommendations?

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​Thanks in advance for any help :rock: 

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I'd suggest red worms in a DIY composting bin made of inexpensive rubbermaid totes. Attached is a pdf for the plan that I roughly followed. Instead of a lid to catch leachate, I used a deeper tote where I nested the composting bins.

Worm Bin.pdf

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Greetings ABF,

 

   Hopefully I can give you some info. that you can use to base your decisions on.  Just a bit of input from a fellow aquaponics enthusiast who also happens to be a redworm farmer...Not just a small set-up...we run a commercial scale redworm operation.  I am glad to help out a fellow AP enthusiast in this "department''.

   'Redworms" is just a term that is used to differentiate the types of worms that live in the upper layer of the soil horizon that consume organic matter.  There are actually many speices of 'redworms", each with their own characteristics.  Most often people try to stick with the worm scientifically called Eisenia fetida, because it has the highest rate of reproduction and "food stock' consumption, has the widest tolerance for pH range and temperature swings, and does not have a 'wandering habit' in general-  all this as compared to other redworm species.  People who are versed in vermiculture use scientific names to differeniate worms because the common names are very, very often used interchangeably  among redworm species.

    As an example, the Eisenia fetida is often called: red wiggler, tiger worm, brandling worm, manure worm....but these same common names are also used with similar looking redworm species.

    The Eisenia fetida is especailly suited for living in vermicomposting 'boxes', and in aquaponics growbeds, and will stay put in general.

 

   Should you buy them?  It depends...Yes, you can find redworms in the 'wild'.  But keep in mind there are over 2000 species of worms.  You will not know exactly what you are getting...Does that matter?  It depends on whether you are willing to experiment with worms that may not want to stay put, or they may die in the conditions of your vermicomposting bin and growbeds..- or they may make a mass exodus...but you may also have a great success there too!

  Some people do not want to mess around with this variable in their aquaponics adventure, and would rather opt to buy redworms knowing what they will get, both in terms of the kind or worm, but also in the expected result of having them.

 

   Should I buy or make a vermicimposting bin?  There is depends on your desire.  To be honest, most of the commercial vermicomposting systems out there are way too pricey, and have features that leave a person open to inherent design flaws which bring in fruit flies...etc...Making your own from a Sterilite or Rubbermaid tote is really a very good option...And just to be clear ANY of the drainage from a vermicomposting system is properly called "leachate" and should NOT be used in conjunction with your AP system  That is playing with fire as far as bacteria is concerned.  In the plans in the PDF file in the other reply...please note that the drainage tray is a tray...You run into serious ventilation challenges when you start putting on bin inside the other.  It is very important for the health of your worms and the symbiotic microbial population they live with, that air circulation be a prime consideration.  The bins the redworms are in need holes on the top, and the sides, and the bottom.  A properly managed bin will have an environment that the redworms will want to stay in, so the plethora of holes will  not be a worry. When you start restricting air circulation (such as by nesting any bins), that is when the bin will start to smell due to anaerobic pockets developing.  To keep fruit flies from invading and setting up 'house keeping' in any vermicomposting system you need to have at least 2 inches of bedding surrounding all food sources...This means no food up against the sides of the bin...A 2" layer of damp paper bedding works wonders.  Entomologists , in their wisdom, have discovered that gnats and fruit flies will not penetrate a 2 inch layer of bedding to get to food sources...BUT you have to be sure the food you are adding has not been where gnats and fruit flies can get to it before you add it to the bin.

 

Hope this gives you some info to weigh in your decisions for incorporating redworms in your AP system .  If you have any further questions, or if anything I mentioned above is not clear, just let me know...Glad to help out.

 

- Converse

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Thanks for all the information.  I will go ahead with ordering the worms. I prefer to just spend the money and know for sure. Just for clarification, you can keep certain worms in the grow beds themselves?

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​On the bin, how does one keep other bugs out? Earwigs are what I am most specifically worried about.

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Keeping bugs out of your worm bin can be solved by a simple step.  Put the bin up on any kind of stand, or low stool, or make a simple frame for it to sit on. Or just set the bin on wooden pegs or blocks.  Put the legs of the stand (or the pegs or blocks) centered in empty tuna cans filled with water.  The moat the water in the can creates is your bug barrier.

 

  Hope this helps.

 

- Converse

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Different species of redworms will 'get along' together.  The one thing that will be clear though, is that the species that eats the most and reproduces the fastest will soon the be ones that show a marked population increase over time. 

 

    Most people use the same species of redworms in their grow beds as they do in their vermicomposting bins.

   We use the same species of redworms to compost, to live in the AP growbeds, to feed our fish, and to feed our farm fowl.

 

- Converse

Edited by Converse (see edit history)

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Converse,

 

Great to have you here sharing your knowledge. I've only been at it for about a year (a friend gave me a bunch of worms to start), and so far it has seemed to be going well with minimum effort. Yet, based on your statements, it seems that I can make the system more productive/resilient.

 

The nested bins are primarily to have the worms migrate into the new feed area, thus easing the transfer of castings while leaving the worms in place. All the bins have a good amount of holes to allow ventilation, including the bottom one that holds the leachate. Is this not enough ventilation, and if not, how do you transfer worms readily otherwise?

 

The worms stay in place and seem happy enough, multiplying very rapidly. Yet, I'm always open to making improvements.

 

Thanks,

Eddie

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www.redwormcomposting.com

 

 

Take some time to read this blog.

 

When building a bin, most of the bins on the market are similar, overpriced, and don't do nearly as good a job as a simple wood box would do.  There are some basic guidelines to follow, when building.  Don't use treated wood, allow propor ventilation and drainage, give yourself an opportunity for easy harvest, etc. However, the most important factors to ensuring your worms' health is in what you feed.  Be sure to use lots of bedding, such as corrugated cardboard, cardboard egg cartons, shredded newspaper, peat moss, etc.  Feed worms organic matter at a highly carbon ratio (typical recommendation is C:N of 20:1). Less disturbances the better.

 

Flies are deterred by covering any worm feed with bedding. Predators are harder to keep out, but in a plastic system I prefer having small bins inside a larger bin.  The predators cannot make it into the larger outside bin.  For a large wooden outside bin this is more difficult, but realize that predators are simply a part of the compost ecosystem.  If the conditions inside the bin do not favor them, they will enter in much smaller numbers. Earwigs and centipedes can be deterred with a proper amount of bedding which absorbs excess moisture, stops anaerobic processes from taking over, and adds to the worms' health.

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Greetings Eddie,

 

    Sorry about the delay in reply....Since we are a 'working farm', sometimes I cannot get to the computer for a time...We do not spend our time on the computer. We actually are DOING the farming...redworms and aquaponics....Still, I am glad to help out where I can. I learn a lot on this forum too, and am so glad when others share what they know.. 

 

    If you read the instructions for the link another member gave you to construct the plastic totes set-up, you will notice that it states to add the next bin on top then the initial bin is almost full.  Doing the stacking this way will not cause too much of an issue with air circulation needs. This is because with the bottom bin connects up very high, when the second bin is placed on top you will not have a bin inside a bin inside a bin situation...

..Look at it this way:

     Use a tray on the bottom (or a bin lid for a tray). Here is why:   If you use a bin to catch leachate, you have your first bin that you have to place (nesting) the worm bin in.   So next the worm bin goes inside this 'catchment' bin...then at some point you have to place the next bin on top of the worm bin to get the worms to migrate up into this level.  At this point you now have a bin inside a bin inside a bin. And you are now in trouble.  Actually, it is your redworms that will be in trouble.  With three layers of plastic  next to each other unless all the holes line up exactly, you will have inadequate (or none) air circulation. Add another bin layer and it gets worse.

 

    So I recommend using one bin.  One tray (or inverted bin lid) underneath to catch the leachate. Foil trays are available at the Dollar Store - or in grocery stores as oven liners. It is simple and inexpensive and very effective. Anyone can make it.  Just buy a tote, and melt (or drill) holes all over the bin...and you are in business.  You should not be creating a 'lake' of leachate under your bin at any time, or you are doing something wrong.  The exception is for the occasional addition of juicy foods (melons, leavings from canning, etc.), and also when you first set-up your bin..  Any leachate should not be allowed to sit around very long either .  Remember it is a petri dish of bacteria, and the like.  A one-bin-vermicomposting system:  Let your redworms work over the matter in the bin, just like they would if they were outdoors.  Once the bin starts to look as if it contains mostly castings (they look like fine coffee grounds), it is time to separate the worm castings. I can send you directions on this simple process if you like. Once that is accomplished, just return the redworms to the bin with new bedding and the worms will keep producing casting for you.

 

   Yes you can use wood.  Keep in mind that wood, unless sealed in some way will absorb odors and can harbor bacteria and fungus.  There is even  a growing number of offices and schools that have indoor furniture that you'd never know are vermicomposting bins, inside of cafeterias to handle compostable wastes.   Just lift the bench lid and add your food scraps.  Wood bins are heavier than plastic, which make them more difficult to move when full of castings and worms. Moving, tipping, cleaning can be difficult, if not impossible, if this is not taken into consideration when designing  a wood vermicomposting  set-up to match your available muscle power. A wood bin gives you options for many designs...a lovely bench, table...etc..

 

 We  have huge outdoor worm beds in our vermicomposting/vermiculture operation AND also actually use the one-bin system I am writing about here, and have for many, many years. Tried other small set-ups too, and have come back to the one-bin system for the small set-up.     Vermiculture is the backbone of my farm. It is a passion of mine and I am glad help out. Vermicomposting and aquaponcis go hand in hand..

 

  Hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any further questions.  If I did not address what you wanted to know well enough, let me know, and I will give it another shot.

 

- Converse

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Thanks Converse. Very nice detail that clears up some aspects. I'll be able to make a few adjustments to get my bin in a more ideal state, since I'm not too far off as it is. I am curious about your process for harvesting the castings. I've read that some folks with a single bin will pile up the castings on one end and then only feed toward the other end. Over time, the worms migrate and the castings can then be added to the garden. Yet, it seems that you would need a large bin for this to be effective.

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Thanks Converse. Very nice detail that clears up some aspects. I'll be able to make a few adjustments to get my bin in a more ideal state, since I'm not too far off as it is. I am curious about your process for harvesting the castings. I've read that some folks with a single bin will pile up the castings on one end and then only feed toward the other end. Over time, the worms migrate and the castings can then be added to the garden. Yet, it seems that you would need a large bin for this to be effective.

This idea is wonderful to get started and learn the in and out. Once you're sure you'd like to be serious, build a flow thru system. As long as there is good air flow (ie donate that plastic bin and upgrade) you should be easily able to harvest from the bottom and let the worms continue doing their thing.

Don't waste your money on a plastic pre made system. No matter how many holes are there to promote airflow, it will not be enough since the material doesn't breathe. It will retain moisture and decrease the oxygen, rendering the most important part (the colonizing bacteria and fungi) useless.

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What is a flow through system? Is it one of those laundry bag looking deals where you harvest from an opening chute at the bottom and continually feed through the top?

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Flow through simply means the vermicompost is harvested from the bottom. Food gets added on top and the worms slowly gravitate upwards. Once the bottom layer is sufficiently composted, you harvest relatively worm free vermicompost that can then be screened.

The worm Inn, the bag with the bottom zipper, is probably the best premade system. The fabric is very strong and incredibly breathable. It will make good vermicompost and worms tend to multiply quickly because of air flow. And it's relatively cheap.

Don't waste money on plastic systems. There are a myriad of them, one I've seen selling for almost 700 dollars. It's a waste, you can get better out of a Rubbermaid.

My first system was a large Rubbermaid with three smaller hefty tubs. I suspended the tubs in the Rubbermaid to catch the leachate and put cardboard in to soak it up. (That leachate is nothing but trouble, don't promote it in a plastic system. ) when the short hefty bin got 2/3 full I suspended a second taller one above with fresh bedding and foods. The worms slowly made their way up and I had a tub of vermicompost. That's the simplest flow thru.

Wood system is an outdoor box with a grating suspended in the bottom. The grating is lined with a cardboard false bottom. That is composted and then the vermicompost can be harvested by sticking a small garden rake through the grate to allow it to to a collection tray.

Flow thru is the way to go. No digging thru half composted waste, less separation of worms, and less overall stress on the worms. Remember, especially in a relatively small home system, that worms are organisms who you are charged to care for. It is just like the life of fish in an aqp system. Treat your worms right and they will make all the rich vermicompost you'll need.

Edited by Rosso Carne (see edit history)
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Thanks Rosso. Just have to reconcile myself with paying over $100 for a bag, but the system does seem to have obvious advantages.

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Thanks Rosso. Just have to reconcile myself with paying over $100 for a bag, but the system does seem to have obvious advantages.

The inn is definitely the most affordable on the market for what you get. It's in bad taste to post negative reviews, but any of the plastic systems are not worth the money.

I've never been one to buy something pre made, which is why I built the wooden chest. Maybe look up the vermi bin on the red worm composting blog. It is a good design.

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Something needs to be clarified here.....

   A properly maintained Rubbermaid-type bin with adequate holes DOES work, and work well and efficiently. And it is not just a "beginner" set-up. Key here is it is properly managed. As a forest resources (by education and past profession) professional I can honestly tell you cut  wood does not 'breathe'...It will, however, absorb moisture and  be a safe harbor for bacteria and fungi (good and bad) - so it needs to be sealed which makes it no different than a tote.  It is just a matter of personal preference.

     With a single bin or box, a person is not relegated to "digging through" partially composted matter to get the castings. There is a simple process to do so.

   I agree that the pre-made commercial plastic flow-through composting apparatus for the most part are not worth the high dollars being asked for them.  The design inherently leaves people open to the fly and gnat invasion experience. There is never enough room for the two inches of needed bedding top-sides-and-bottom to surround all food sources on each level to keep those insects in check.  Then there is the pool of leachate that collects in the chamber at the bottom that many of the instructions that come with those set-ups incorrectly call "worm tea" or 'worm casting tea" and encourage use on plants and the like.  Many people really like the look and the convenience of a flow-through set up. 

 

     The Fabric option Rosso described, is  a great option as well.  It also has a design issue .  Due to the 'breathability' of the fabric it is made of, keeping an eye on the needed moisture levels so your redworm population and beneficial microbial population stay alive can be an issue for those who are not attentive.  As the matter in the system at edges dries out, the worms will avoid those areas and not "work" there. ....So here you have another set-up that does work, but also needs to be properly managed. The frame does limit where it can be put.

 

  Keep in mind, I am not trying to "sell" anything here.  I am just trying to provide realistic info for people to use and hopefully avoid some expensive lessons in time and in money.  So you can pay for convenience, or make something on your own that works, and you will also need to put a little effort into the process yourself.... That is the trade-off here.

 

   Wood or plastic made at home great...

   Fabric also ...great...

 

 

 

 

 

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Converse,

 

What size bin would you recommend? I am currently using 10 Gal Rubbermaid totes, and also have 18 Gal ones available.

 


    So I recommend using one bin.  One tray (or inverted bin lid) underneath to catch the leachate. Foil trays are available at the Dollar Store - or in grocery stores as oven liners. It is simple and inexpensive and very effective. Anyone can make it.  Just buy a tote, and melt (or drill) holes all over the bin...and you are in business.  You should not be creating a 'lake' of leachate under your bin at any time, or you are doing something wrong.  The exception is for the occasional addition of juicy foods (melons, leavings from canning, etc.), and also when you first set-up your bin..  Any leachate should not be allowed to sit around very long either .  Remember it is a petri dish of bacteria, and the like.  A one-bin-vermicomposting system:  Let your redworms work over the matter in the bin, just like they would if they were outdoors.  Once the bin starts to look as if it contains mostly castings (they look like fine coffee grounds), it is time to separate the worm castings. I can send you directions on this simple process if you like. Once that is accomplished, just return the redworms to the bin with new bedding and the worms will keep producing casting for you.
Edited by edmolina (see edit history)

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I've done outside "worm bins" in the past that consisted of nothing more than 55 gallon barrels with some holes drilled in them and the bottom cut out and replaced with 1/8" plastic mesh.  They actually worked really well.  I just threw table scraps in, and let the worms do their thing.  No other fuss about it really, but I wasn't seeking to optimize worm or compost production either.  It was just a way to keep the stuff from going in the landfill and to have some fishing worms at the ready when I wanted them.  When I moved several years ago, the worm bins were taken offline.  This spring I bought a Sunleaves Worm Farm on clearance.  It was cheap.  I'd prefer to build my own, but it was quick and easy, and all I wanted was a way to keep fishing worms around again.  Like has been mentioned, you can't put much in the trays of these pre-made worm farms, but they are extremely handy for someone who just wants to keep an "endless" supply of fishing worms.  It is also extremely easy to harvest worms from the trays, which for my intended purpose, makes it a winner.  

 

Like most things, the chosen system should be in line with your goals and expectations.  In my case, a pre-made plastic worm farm was a perfect solution for my needs, and I'm glad I bought it.  It's already paid for itself in fishing bait production, and will do so many times over into the future.  If I want to get serious about vermiculture (again... sorta), I'll build my own bins again.  Until then, fish on! :)

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Kellen, you make a very good point!

 

    Years and years ago I got my first worms from a lady who had a pretty sizable vermicomposting operation going on in her garage...Nothing fancy.  She was using many plastic garbage cans and one metal one.  Nothing stacked or layered, and wow, she had an amazing garden to boot!  I brought my first "official" redworms home in a kitty litter bucket, where they lived very comfortably for months (just outside the chicken coop- maybe a bit intimidating for them ;>).  The bucket had holes all over it.  From there our commercial scale vermiculture/vermicomposting operation was born (our outdoor wormbeds are many, many windrows). Vermicomposting containers do not need to be fancy to work.

     And we also use our redworms for fishing! Even the Eisenia fetida are great fishing worms - small enough to get the whole worm on a hook to give you better 'worm action".  

    There really is no "right" way...just what suits your needs, budget, purposes and the time you want to invest, and how adventurous you are.  It does pay though to have the info in hand so you can make those decisions with some base of knowledge.

 

   Goin' fishing sounds like a great way to end the afternoon!  But we are on incubator watch this afternoon.

 

- Converse

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Red Wigglers are my bait of choice for bluegill and crappie fishing at my pond.  They tend to stay on the hook a bit better/longer than Canadian nightcrawlers.  I do (errr.... watch) a lot of pan fishing these days due to my twin boys.  They love to fish.  I mainly re-bait and untangle lines.  hehe....

post-356-0-99330700-1407275786_thumb.jpg

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What about using an old bath tub? Put a fine metal grate under the drain to catch the liquid and migrate the worms between each sides. You could even partition it off to keep them on the side you want them on. Then you could cover it with a tarp or something to keep moister in.

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The bathtub has been a favorite for many people doing vermicomposting.  The natural slant in the base of the tub facilitates draining (remember the leachate is full of good and also bad bacteria - not something to use with ANY part of your AP system).  The screen separating one side of the tub from the other side of the tub  is also a strategy many use very successfully.  You will not want to put any plastic or other air tight material that sits directly on the matter in the tub.  It will retard or seal off air circulation that is so important for the maximized vermicomposting process.  You can suspend it over the top though to keep rain out.

good luck!

 

- Converse

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Any thoughts on sticking a PVC pipes into the soil to provide extra ventilation?

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Not trying to be thick-headed here, but could you explain the PVC pipe more as in how you envision it being incorporated in the tub for ventilation?  Air exchange is important.  I just can't quite get a mental image of what you are asking about.

- Converse

 

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