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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Continuous Flow-Through Worm Composter DIY Tutorial

I have had composting worms for many years.  I have evolved in my methods, changing systems as our needs change and to figure out what works best for me and my family. If you go way back to my childhood, I raised worms in a gallon pickle jar for fishing bait and had no idea then that in the future, they would eat my garbage and fertilize my plants.  I have learned so much over the years and thank all the people out there for posting excellent information! 

I have successfully used The Worm Factory for many years.  In fact, I liked it so much, I have two.  Today, I am using one and have moved all the contents of the other one to my re-purposed, never used as a worm bin before, old as the hills, very sturdy, garbage can composter.  I made it myself :) *imagine me smiling really big*

It was so easy!  I scanned the internet looking for ideas. There are some smart and crafty people out there.  I'll post some links at the end of this tutorial in order to give them credit, so be sure to stop by their blogs/channels and show some love.

I have had this garbage can for 20 years.  That is when everything, and I mean everything, was either country blue or mauve.   When the colors finally went out of style, I moved the can into my laundry room, where it has resided.... until now.

The first thing I did was start drilling holes.  I used 1/2" thin wall PVC pipe so I marked my hole centers about 2" apart and used a 7/8" spade blade to drill the holes.  I left enough room at the bottom of the can to allow me to scoop up castings when it is time to harvest them. 

I put the pipe in the holes and used a PVC cutter to cut them to length.  I left about an inch on each end in order to attach a cap to prevent the pipe from sliding back into the can.
I eyeballed it :)  I just had a long piece of pipe, stuck it in so there was about an inch hanging out the back and marked about an inch on the front.  You can see in the picture below, I also marked a door.  There were plastic supports in the bottom of the can so I just went above them and marked it.  I drilled holes in the corners so I could cut it out.
I have no idea how long the PVC "floor" pipes were  I marked them as I went because the can had some curve in it.  I then used a (very dull) PVC cutter to cut the pipe off and capped it to keep it in place.  I haven't glued it at this point because I was not quite sure if I would need to take it apart for any reason.
I needed a scraper to assist with harvesting the castings and I liked this idea.  The scraper pipe will move up and down, as well as back and forth, which I think will help if the compost is arching (not touching the PVC floor). 
I made the scraper handle stick out the front and capped it too. I did glue all the pieces of the scraper together with clear PVC glue.  I didn't want it to eventually fall apart under all that compost.  The scraper handle is above all the "floor" pipes.

I am not sure if the scraper is going to work as well as I had hoped.  Plan B is to ignore that it is in there and use it in cases of the castings arching.  If it doesn't work, I will harvest from the bottom, using a small garden hand rake to gather castings from between the tines.  I don't think I want to use my hands.  I have an irrational fear of spiders, and you know, there could be a spider in that dark place. Yikes!

Another idea I had for the scraper is to put it under the PVC floor and attach screws to the top of the "T" portion, essentially making an attached rake that will go between the pipes, however, that may be too much candy for a dime. :)  I'd love to know your thoughts as well. 

I used cutters to cut out the door.  I think I could have done a better job if I had a fine toothed saw.  I have seen some posts that just cut three sides and leave one short end attached to make a closing door.  I chose to leave mine completely open.
Ta da!  This is what it looks like finished.  There's a nosy cat checking it out.  I don't know if I will need extra ventilation in the top.  I can certainly go back at this point and put plenty of extra holes in the lid, but as you can see, the lid swings and has a large gap so maybe I won't need any extra ones.
To start your composter, you have to add newspaper to the PVC floor to keep everything from falling through.  Once the contents settle, it will hold itself up.  I wasn't sure if I needed to put the newspaper under the scraper or over it.  I opted for under it.  The newspaper will decompose, allowing harvesting to begin. 
I put the newspaper up the sides a little, just to make sure everything stayed in place.  I took the contents from my Worm Factory and started adding it to the can on top of the PVC floor and newspaper.  The scraper is pushed all the way in at this point. 

This is a picture from inside the harvesting chamber.  It shows the underside of the newspaper on top of the PVC floor.  This will decompose.  I put about 3 double layers. (6 pages total).

I kept adding the contents.  Look at all those worms!  The green stuff that looks like plastic is actually compostable bags.
After I filled it up, I put a few sheets of wet newspaper and printer paper on top.  This will also become worm food, which will turn into castings, which will enrich our garden!

The system I use to gather scraps are BioBags along with the Fresh Air Kitchen Compost Collector by Full Circle.  I usually purchase the bags through Amazon by the 4 pack.

I tried using a washable can, but the convenience of just "taking out the garbage" in a bag is easier for our busy family.  The bags I use are 3 gallon and fit nicely in the the Fresh Air Compost Collector. 

Great links for ideas and education...
In no particular order and links open in new tabs:
How Does a Flow Through Bin Work video
Cool idea, but haven't seen it in action: Hungry Bin

I hope you found this post helpful.  I love to read your comments!

Although I love the design that keeps my worms working, it will not harvest as expected.  The handle will not push/pull due to the weight on top of it.  I also would like a bigger system to handle all of my organic waste, instead of having multiple systems.  I found a Toter flow through compost system that I really want to try with my worms. It isn't marketed for worms, but I don't know why it would not work. 

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