The first vermicomposting system I got involved with was the Worm Inn. The Worm Inn was first developed by Robyn Crispe and was later taken over by Jerry “Worm Dude” Gach. Jerry passed away in 2018 and unfortunately the Worm Inn is no longer available for purchase.
The reason I decided to go with this system and not the more common and cheaper tote system was due to the recommendation from Bentley Christie at Red Worm Composting. The increased airflow and ease of harvesting vermicompost was what sold me on the product. The finished vermicompost was easy to handle as it was much drier than a tote system. Also, you can harvest more frequently and don’t need time for the material to dry out to get the finished product.
Here were some of the features of the system.
Fabric bag allowed for airflow along the entire outer surface
Zippered lid which helps keep out unwanted pests
Screen lid which provides for more airflow
Drawstring with clamps to hold the bottom in place
PVC connector pieces that connect 3 pipes
PVC pipe stand had to be purchased at a hardware store separately
One of the most amazing aspects of the system was its breathability. This allowed moisture to escape the system and prevent anaerobic conditions from occurring. This also meant that you could get away with overfeeding the system with moisture rich food scraps. Bentley Christie had a great series of posts showing just how much you could get away with in feeding the system. Here was a post back in 2010 of a 15 pound feeding!
As someone starting out, this system was ideal as it was difficult to create the conditions that cause a system to fail. The easiest way to kill a system is by overfeeding which leads to anaerobic conditions that isn’t good for worms. Also, the easier harvesting process was much easier than a tote. The Worm Inn’s bottom is held tight by a drawstring and clamps. Once opened it was very easy to get the material out. To harvest a tote system, you have to empty the contents in a tray to let dry for a period of time and gradually scrape off the top layers. This can be time quite time consuming versus just pulling material from the bottom.
Unlike the tote systems, you can cover the entire top surface with food scraps when feeding without worrying about causing poor conditions.
There were some disadvantages to the system. Since there was so much airflow, the material along the edges can become quite dry. This material essentially is untouched by the worms and is the first material to come out when harvesting. I normally just use it for additional bedding but it needs to be moistened before reuse.
The vermicompost can also be a bit too dry if you leave a system sit too long without harvesting. In a tote system, the material can be left for months and will retain its moisture. The Inn requires more maintenance and needs to be harvested somewhat frequently.
The Worm Inn also requires more space than a tote system. Since you can stack totes, you can get three or so totes for one Worm Inn.
Feeding the Worm Inn
This sequence was taken from the latest feeding.
I typically gather food scraps in a bread bag or some sort of plastic bag. I prefer the bread bags as they fit nicely on the door of my freezer.
When the bag is mostly full, I put the bag into the freezer for a few days until all the contents are fully frozen. Granted it should freeze much quicker but the extra time gives me peace of mind that all fruit fly eggs are killed off.
Next, I empty the contents into a sturdy 5 gallon bucket and allow it to defrost for maybe 30 minutes to an hour. I use an ice or sidewalk scraper to chop and break up the scraps into smaller and smaller pieces.
After chopping the material, I transfer the scraps into a bin where I can add some additional material to. I mix in some sort of “grit” type material such as glacial rock dust or oyster shell flour. A common grit other vermicomposters use is ground up eggshells. The grit helps to neutralize some of the acidity the food scraps may have and also adds some additional nutrients such as calcium. A little bit of this goes a long way so just lightly sprinkle the material in. The last material I add is a bedding mix that contains plenty of beneficial microbes. This bedding mix is typically made from fresh bedding materials and vermicompost screenings that were too large or didn’t fall through the screen. This material has already been through a system and often contains worms. Then I thoroughly mix up the contents so everything is spread uniformly.
Then this material gets added to the top layer of the Worm Inn. I don’t dig the material in as there are worms near or at the surface.
The material is pretty wet when it is added but that isn’t a big issue with this system. The system’s breathability won’t allow the material to become overly soggy and create an anaerobic mess. I’ll also point out that this feeding was about 5 pounds of just food scraps. I didn’t weigh the bedding mix that was added, but it was probably around 2-3 pounds.
The last step in the feeding process is to cover the food scrap material with additional bedding. This step is necessary to add a filter for smells as the food scraps decompose. Remember! Worms don’t eat the actual food scraps! They feed off the microbes and fungi that are decomposing the scraps.
Harvesting the Vermicompost
With the Worm Inn this is a fairly easy process. One downside is that you do have to crouch down or sit on something low to do it.
Typically, the time to harvest is when the top layer of the system stops dropping. This indicates that the system is full and material needs to be taken out.
The drawstring bottom is simple to open up. You just adjust the clamps and pull apart the bag. Some material may fall out when opening so make sure you have a tray or bucket to catch it. This material is usually quite dry and flaky. The damper material typically requires you to rake it out or scrape your fingers against it.
The material can then be collected for sifting or screening. For the Worm Inn it is pretty easy to use a 1/8″ screen as the material tends to be drier than from other systems. The material that doesn’t make it through the screen can either be but right back into the Worm Inn for further processing or you can save it as a bedding material for the next feeding. If you do use it right away in the system, it will need moisture added to it.