I am extremely pleased to interview one of the top vermicomposters Bentley Christie. Bentley is the owner of www.redwormcomposting.com and www.wormfarmingalliance.com. Over the past year I have gotten to know Bentley pretty well. He has been a mentor and a great friend to have.
Bentley it is a pleasure to have you here today.
Thanks for having me, Steve!
How long ago did you start vermicomposting?
Almost exactly 12 years ago! (January or February 2000)
How did you start vermicomposting?
I was working at an environmental consulting firm at the time and had heard rumors about a strange bin of worms that one of my co-workers (in another department) kept under her desk and put her lunch scraps into. I was vaguely familiar with vermicomposting at that point, and a serious nature nut / critter geek (lol), so I just HAD to see this thing for myself! The viewing was arranged via a mutual friend (the person who told me about the bin in the first place), and – needless to say – ended up blowing my mind.
Looking back in my mind’s eye, I must say (now) that this person really wasn’t doing a good job of taking care of her worms (lol) – the bin was mostly filled with dryish vermicompost, and I clearly remember the tiny red wigglers congregated around the various morsels of water-rich food waste in the bin (apple cores etc). Critiques, in hindsight, aside (lol) – the idea that these little worms could turn what most people consider “garbage” into a beautiful, rich soil-like material was just amazing to me!
I guess my co-worker appreciated my enthusiasm, since she ended up insisting that I take a bunch of wormy compost material home with me so I could start my own worm bin.
The rest, as they say, is history!
What made you decide to start up www.redwormcomposting.com?
I think on some level I had always wanted to share my passion for vermicomposting with others, but I’ve always been a very reserved/shy kinda guy, so the “real world” options didn’t look all that inviting. In 2005 I ended up walking away from a masters degree program (in soil science) to pursue various web-based business ventures. In a lot of ways it was pretty “crazy” – and I won’t claim that my father – a PhD holding academic – was exactly thrilled (understatement of the century – lol), but it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
Oddly enough, at the time, I knew virtually NOTHING about how to create a website, but – long story, short – over the next 6 months or so I did gradually put the pieces together and figure it out. Naturally (for me anyway) I felt the urge to create some websites on topics I was passionate about – vermicomposting being pretty well on the top of that list. So, I registered the domain name (redwormcomposting.com) in June of 2006 and, well, you probably know where this is headed (Yep. The rest is history! lol)
What is your favorite worm bin and why is that?
I’ll tell you my favorite “bin(s)” and my favorite overall system since they are not one and the same. The term “bin” implies some sort of container – so if I had to declare a favorite worm composting container – I would likely say the Worm Inn. I am a BIG fan of effective simplicity when it comes to vermicomposting. What I love about the Worm Inn is that it is so easy to use, and is so forgiving in comparison to your typical plastic enclosed bin – yet it also produces fantastic results, thanks to excellent aeration and “flow-through” vermicompost production.
That being said, I have a sneaking suspicion that I am ALSO going to really love my “VermBin” (will likely be a VB48) once I build one this year. Like the Worm Inn, it is relatively simple in design, offers good air flow, and relies on the principles of flow-through vermicomposting for effective production (and harvesting) of vermicompost.
Now – let’s talk about my favorite non-contained vermicomposting system! That would definitely be my vermicomposting trenches (most of which have now become vermicomposting windrows). I love these beds because they are not only really easy to work with, and offer a fantastic way to process a large quantity of organic waste materials – but they can also serve as a natural fertilization system if you built them close to your garden beds. I’m no “green thumb”, that’s for sure – but if you saw my gardens during the past few summers you’d likely think I was!
Can you tell us about your two websites?
I’ll assume you are referring to Red Worm Composting and Worm Farming Alliance.
Red Worm Composting is intended as an online resource to help people learn about (and hopefully get EXCITED about) vermicomposting. It contains quite a lot of info aimed at those who are thinking about getting into vermicomposting or are just getting started – but it also just generally chronicles my own meandering vermicomposting journey. It is primarily aimed at those interested in pursuing vermicomposting on more of a “hobby” (but not necessarily “small-scale”) level.
Worm Farming Alliance was created for the purpose of sharing my passion for the entrepreneurial side of vermicomposting (and “eco businesses” in general), but more importantly, as a means of helping other entrepreneurial vermicomposters to start up, or further develop their own vermicomposting (or related) business. One of my other BIG goals for the project has been to create a really strong community of vermicomposting (and similar) professionals – a place where we can come together, share ideas, and help one another!
For someone that is just starting out what advice would you give them about starting vermicomposting?
First and foremost, make sure you have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of vermicomposting – most of these relate to the requirements of the composting worms that play such a vital role in the process (no worms – no worm composting, right? lol). These are FAR more important than learning all the tactics and tricks for setting up and maintaining the ultimate vermicomposting system. There is SO MUCH info out there – a lot of it contradictory – so one is always best to keep things as simple as possible (again focusing mostly on those core principles) and do a lot of hands-on learning as you go.
That being said – if you are looking for a “guaranteed” way to succeed with vermicomposting, here are my top three “things to focus on”:
1) Bedding – it is VERY important to create a good habitat for the worms. Carbon-rich, absorbent materials, such as shredded cardboard and newsprint are an excellent choice for the average worm bin (something like well-aged manure can work really well in larger, outdoor systems). Make sure you use a LOT when you first set up the bin, and don’t forget to continue adding small amounts of new bedding on a regular basis (or simply always maintain a nice thick layer of it above your main composting zone, so it can be regularly mixed in).
2) Aeration – oxygen is very important for the vermicomposting process. The worms are quite tolerant of low oxygen conditions, but the process itself (an AEROBIC composting process) suffers as oxygen levels decrease. Aside from providing vital oxygen, good air flow is also very important since it can help to prevent harmful gases – such as ammonia – from building up too much in the system (ammonia, in particular, is highly toxic for the worms).
Enclosed systems should be as “breathable” as possible. This can be accomplished via the addition of various vents, air holes etc, and/or by using bin materials – such as wood or various fabrics – that just generally allow for better air flow. Use of bulky bedding materials (such as those mentioned above) can also really help with aeration, since they absorb excess moisture and create air spaces in the habitat, allowing oxygen to reach the composting zone.
3) Moderation – when you first get into vermicomposting it can be VERY natural to feel impatient and/or worried that you are not doing it “right”, not taking “good care of the worms” etc. The irony is that the more fiddling you do, the greater the chance of having something go wrong. I recommend taking a really mellow approach – especially early on. This is especially important in terms of the amount of food you add to your system – it’s very important to keep in mind that it is FAR easier to “overfeed” your worms than it is to “starve” them. Start with a fairly modest amount of food waste (ideally, materials that have been allowed to age for a bit), and let the worms guide you in terms of when to add more.
So, let’s review…
Learn the fundamentals + Keep those 3 KEY areas (just listed) in mind at all times = High likelihood of having a successful vermicomposting experience!