Cleaning Up!

Unfortunately, I am not referring to winning the Powerball or Mega Millions. This is an important but a not well discussed topic in vermicomposting. This post on cleaning is geared for indoor vermicompost systems.

Why should I clean my vermicompost area? I mean vermicomposting is all about collecting worm poop. Well poop collecting friends, it’s more about keeping other bad things away and not having a grimy area inside your house, shed, or garage. Here are a few reasons to keep the vermicompost area clean.

Mold

For vermicompost systems that are indoors such as a basement, crawl space, or even living room, the area should be kept clean to prevent build up of harmful molds. I’m referring to you the vermicomposter, not the worms. Breathing in mold can lead to unwanted doctor visits or even a hospital visit if one is highly allergic. By simply cleaning up any material that falls on the floor will help prevent any mold outbreak.

Bacteria

Vermicomposting is a cold composting method so it will not generate enough heat to destroy pathogens. This is why vermicomposting one’s personal #2’s is not recommended. E. coli and salmonella can be present in rotting foods or eggshells used for vermicomposting as well. Although it is unlikely that one would get ill from bacteria from a vermicomposting system, it is best to use caution and clean up any spills or debris.

Unwanted critters

In an indoor system the most common culprit is the fruit fly. Fruit flies will typically live deposit eggs in the rinds and peels of many fruits. If the scraps aren’t frozen you may get an unwanted surprise. Even if you do freeze the scraps, leftover food scraps or juice is left out after a worm feeding can attract fruit flies. After chopping up any food, make sure to clean up the area to remove any particles from remaining.

If you have your system set up in a garage or shed (or non-climate controlled space) you may encounter other problematic pests. Mice can be an issue and have been known to get into worm systems. Prevention is much easier that eradication. It is probably more important to keep the area clean in these areas as you may have to battle both rodent and insect pests.

How to do it?

OK for the most part this is self explanatory. Make a mess, clean the mess. Pretty simple. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Use mild soaps
    • I tend to avoid using anti-bacterial soaps as they can lead to an increase in mold. I cannot seem to find the article but there was a comparison of modern homes vs open air huts in indigenous communities in Brazil. There was a finding that mold was much more common in modern homes. Could this be a reason for allergies and other health conditions? I have no idea but it was an interesting article.
  • Tools
    • When I prepare food scraps, I use an ice scraper and a 5 gallon bucket. After I feed the minced material to the worms, I clean both the scraper and bucket. I rinse off any excess scraps and wash with soap and water.
  • Broom
    • Sometimes bedding or finished vermicast falls onto the floor. I simply sweep the area to make sure the floor stays clean. If the vermicast gets wet or is sticky to begin with, then I would wipe it up with a damp cloth. Otherwise it will just smear into the floor.
  • Vacuum/shop vac
    • There is some debate about using a regular vacuum to clean up dry material. The main issue is that it will clog up the filters and the life of the vacuum will decrease. I’m not sure if this is the case but I wouldn’t purchase a separate vacuum or shop vac just for vermicomposting operations.
  • Cloth/Sponge
    • If any spill is too wet for a broom or regular vacuum, I just use a cloth to wipe it up. This will normally be an issue when making a vermicompost tea or extract or very wet vermicast.
  • Gloves
    • Personally, I always wear gloves when working with worms. Vermicast and other materials in a system contain mold and can get on your hands. This can lead to a fungal skin issue. Also, rotting food contains bacteria that you really don’t want on your hands.

Other thoughts

Personally, I find this topic important for any vermicompost operation. The main benefit of cleaning is prevention of critters. There are few other issues with worm bins that annoy me more than unwanted critters. Ants are a particular annoyance for me. However, another aspect is for your own personal health too. There have been a few stories of people getting an illness from compost piles or compost tea. Keeping a clean environment will help prevent any potential issues.

One caveat. Don’t use harsh cleaners especially inside the vermicompost system! You don’t want your cleaning efforts to kill the worms!

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