Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Troubleshooting a Large Worm Bin

I mentioned in an earlier post that we've had some challenges with our large 240L worm bin. I hoped they could be all sorted out before I blogged about it, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to blog from the midst of it, because we haven't figured it all out yet.

If you come to our house at the moment, you'll find fruit flies. Not enough to impede your movement, but enough that you wouldn't invite your mother-in-law over.

Our fruit fly problem isn't the first problem we've had. So I'll start from the beginning and write about all the things you shouldn't do if you're trying a giant worm bin in a small concrete back space:

1) The trap door.  I thought the trap door was a work of genius, but what it was was a special entrance reserved for rats. Yes. Those of you who have followed this blog fro a while know that when we lived in Boston we borrowed humane traps from Dan and Leah. With the rats, we couldn't figure out how to keep them out. we sealed the trap door many times over with wire, but urban rats are genius and super strong. They could chew through the plastic in the bin using any bit of the trap door as a starting point. Eventually, we had to put a tile on the inside of the bin, which meant we no longer have an access point to get the vermicompost. They ate some of the worms, as well as the compost, decreasing the capacity of the bin when we eventually got rid of them. After they broke some cheap badly made traps, in the end we poisoned them. Which sucks.

Version 2.0 will have a very secure trap door.

2) Oranges: I'm passionate about not recycling or throwing away anything that can rot by itself, but I am gradually learning the balance between the time needed to vermicompost well on a larger household scale versus the need to have a hygienic home. It's all on a continuum, and I still feel the worms are awesome, but at a certain point in the winter we were just throwing organic waste into the worm bin and hoping for the best. In winter- orange season- we go through 6-8 oranges per day. Last year, we dried the peels and used them for kindling and as mulch. This year, we just didn't have the space to dry them and they ended up in the worm bin. This led to a certain amount of anerobic stuff going on in the worm bin- not enough to make it smell, but enough to make the worms focus on the bottom of the bin, which wasn't being taken out as frequently because, well, the trapdoor wasn't in use.

I'll be more careful about oranges next year. Finding a way to dry them out and use them for some other purpose is totally worth it- maybe putting them in the oven while it preheats for other foods?

3) Lots of fruits and vegetables on our kitchen counters: We have a small fridge and a lot of fruits and vegetables in two crates above the fridge. Even without any rotting, the fruit flies love coming in. They also love our just-roasted coffee beans, which is confusing. Noah sometimes catches fruit flies and my heart flutters when he says "I didn't kill him" (wow, what a compassionate son) then comes down to earth when he says "I'll go and take him up for Gold" (the goldfish)

We have a solution to the first two things, but we don't have cupboards for fruits and vegetables., so I'm putting out traps of vinegar and soy sauce with old seran wrap to try to trap the fruit flies.

My take home is that vermicomposting in winter can be difficult if you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and have a lot of food waste. Hopefully next year we'll do better. I'll let you know once we've rid ourselves of the fruit flies. The flip side of this confession is that we have taken out our trash once- mainly because of painting our house- in 3 months. And we have all the vermicompost we need to grow as much food as we have time for.

I still think it's worth tolerating - and gradually figuring out- some of the mess close to home, because when we don't we're just moving it somewhere where we don't have to think about it, and where "professionals" do what they're trained to do. We will figure it out, and in the meantime, we're careful not to expose our meals to the flies. Yay for Korean metal dishes with lids.

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