Subpod Is The Latest “Composting” System To Hit The Media. Here I Examine The Pros & Cons of Subpods

Worm compost can replace peat
Composting Worms: Worm compost can replace peat

I’m all in favour of anything that encourages people to grow veg crops in the garden. So when I saw the advert for Subpod I was intrigued. SubPod claims to the best composting system I’ve ever seen, odour free, pest free, neighbour approved and with five-minute assembly.

It’s apparently simple, modular and modern and composts my kitchen and green food waste by using composting worms and microbes to do the work. Ohh and it’s largely buried underground .. though I’m not terribly clear why that’s a benefit and not a disadvantage!

And I do like the company’s vision of a world where composting and the composting process is a part of everyday life. It already is in my family and has been for decades. We hate food waste.

What Is Subpod?

Essentially Subpod is a plastic container, divided into two sections. The sides and bottom are perforated sufficiently to allow worms and smaller living creatures in and put but too small to let mice and rats in.

There’s a lid that seals the top and the whole thing is buried, or partially buried, in the soil or into a raised bed.

The dimensions of the Subpod are 75 cm long, 45 cm high and 43 high. So it’s not very big.

So the easiest way I can see of describing the Subpod is that it’s a smallish plastic wormery that is part buried when in use. The composting process and compost worms then produce a resulting compost can be used as a mulch, soil additive  etc.

Subbed themselves have described SubPod as a modular in-ground vermiculture composting system which is succinct, though perhaps not as descriptive as my description. And it should be noted that the word vermiculture is used by SubPod. Since first writing this review SubPod has extended their offer to include a SubPod Mini.  I’ve added a SubPod Mini review below. It can also be used to combat food waste, which is good. 

 

What is SubPod Compost?

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what a SubPod is and does.  SubPod is not a traditional composting system and arguably shouldn’t be compared with any of them. SubPod is a worm composting system used to deal with food waste and related organic material.  It uses compost worms rather than heat-based decomposition to produce worm compost rather than traditional compost. SubPod is a vermicompost or vermiculture system.  It’s not the same process and yet the manufacturers, in their UK promotional materials, seem to be trying g to compare the two as if they are the same. Worm composting is a separate thing. In British English don’t use the word compost to describe worm compost or vermicompost systems. 

People in the UK seem to have been confused by the idea of composting worms being used in a composting system. And whereas the term clearly makes sense in Australia and perhaps the USA it would make more sense to explain the concept in language that adverts to local people (in the UK) understand. It makes no sense to confuse customers.  

Having said that, composting worms often play a minor part in traditional compost making after the heat phase. But the two processes shouldn’t be confused.   Compost worms sometimes move into the cooling compost in the UK but they aren’t purchased and added as the SubPod system requires. 

 

Is SubPod Organic? 

Several writers have discussed the organic virtues of SubPod but it can be used in an organic or non organic setting. Not everyone is organic in everyday life and not everyone eats organic food. Whether organic practices are used, or not, a rich compost ought still to be possible with a SubPod.

 

Subpod Pros & Benefits

As I said earlier I like anything that encourages people to grow their own veg and deal with food waste. And when they provide YouTube videos to explain the system I give them a vote straight away. That’s got to be positive.

 

Subpod Cons: Why I Hesitate To Recommend Subpod

OK, so the Subpod prevents smells. Smells in compost come from anaerobic conditions. No compost should go anaerobic or it will smell. The thing is no compost system that’s properly managed need go anaerobic. And in the video on starting the SubPod the commentator warns about putting too much compost in the Subpod at the start or it will turn the compost anaerobic and drive away the worms away.

That takes me onto it being easy to set up. Just five minutes it says. So in five minutes, you have to assemble the Subpod, dig a hole big enough for it, ensure its level, add the starter compost and the worms. That’s after buying the starter compost and worms as it doesn’t come with them. I’m not sure how long this is all going to take but it seems to me that it’ll be much slower than the five minutes claimed. Check out the video to see what’s involved in the assembly and decide if you could do it in five minutes. I couldn’t when I tried. 

 

Pest free is another issue I have with this product. I’ve seen a lot of feed bins on farms and in stables that claim to be pest-free. They are often made of plastic or metal and resist the rodents until they chew a hole in them. Even galvanised sheet metal succumbs to rats after a while. They just chew through it. So I’m not sure how the plastic SubPod is going to resist a rat or two!

In fact, if the questions being asked online are indicative, people do experience various pests. 

And if the system is pest-free, why the video on cockroaches and ant problems? To me, a cockroach is definitely a problem! So are the rats I’ve seen people complain about. 

 

Simplicity

Now let’s think a bit more about simplicity. I watched some of the videos which highlighted how the worms can be driven away by overloading the system and making it anaerobic, how the worms have to be removed from the bin that is to be emptied and, once done, how the compost needs to be lifted out to an exact predetermined level.

Then there’s the issue about ensuring that dry carbon is used in the right carbon ratio and how sometimes dry carbon needs to be added if the compost gets too wet. Again, based on the number of questions people ask about this it doesn’t look like they find it easy. 

Plus there’s the need for a video that explains what to do if the worms are overfed. And there need to use worm blankets keep the worms happy in the worm garden. 

 

If the system is so simple why is there a video on … Tips for fixing overfed compost worms? If the instructions inside the lid of the bin were so easy to follow then mistakes wouldn’t happen. Of course, in life mistakes happen .. usually where systems aren’t as simple as claimed!

My other hesitation over simplicity is the result of so many people who go online asking for advice when they have problems. They seem to find the SubPod far from easy. They may well be a minority but certainly a goo d number of people find the SubPod far from easy. 

Then there’s the term “neighbour approved”. I’m not convinced that they have asked the neighbours. Did they ask you to approve it for your neighbours? To me, this is just a shallow, meaningless and trite claim that can’t be validated. It’s poor marketing and devalues the whole system by telling me something I know not to be true. How can it be a “neighbour approved outdoor composting system” when my neighbours haven’t been consulted?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the compost produced is incredible. I’m sure it is fabulous nutrient rich compost. I’m not disputing that. I’ve seen the evidence of it. I’m also sure the system copes with food waste, plant scraps, vegetable scraps and more. And it could be the if they are chopped up into small pieces the worms might appreciate it. But it seems a lot of hassle compared to my above ground traditional compost where I rarely cut my waste up, don’t worry too much about carbon to green ratios or get any odour. 

Finally, there is the price.

Subpod Prices

According to the SubPod website the system is available as the basic plastic box, the box with an aerator (a large corkscrew type device) or as a Grow Bundle which is the plastic box, aerator and a grow bed (this looks like a raised bed to me). The Grow bed is slightly larger than the subpod and surrounds it. I couldn’t determine what its made from but I assume it is plastic as well.

Prices range from £179 for the basic plastic box to £299 for the full kit. I say full kit but of course there still the worms and starter compost to find, buy and install.

 

SubPod Mini Review 

The SubPod Mini is a smaller version of the standard SubPod.  It seems to normally retail from £119 for the most basic kit but was £109 the day I looked … which was better.  

Essentially, other than the size and price, the SubPod Mini appears to have all the benefits and disbenefits of its larger brother.  The price is considerably lower but you’ll still have to buy worms and any other extras and pay for delivery. 

And if you want to buy the full SubPod Mini kit it cost £224 the day I wrote this review  …. plus worms and delivery  

 

Subpod: Will It Sell?

According to the information provided 16,000 SubPods have already sold. And I’ve no doubt many more will sell. It’s the sort of product that appeals to gardeners that think its going to answer all their gardening problems.

Of course, it probably won’t solve all their problems and it’s going to cost a fair bit of money before buyers discover this. Certainly, there are positive reviews on the website. Positive reviews are always easy to find at the outset. I wonder how many of them will continue using it in a few years time.

Personally, I’ve tried various worm composting systems and tried the SubPod and I’m going to continue using my conventional, aroma-free compost bins that will save me £299.

NB I’m delighted to have received a comment (below) from Peter at SubPod. We share many common beliefs in gardening, the need to compost and combat food waste. But I’m still to be convinced about expensive systems like this one.

 

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SubPod FAQs

What is a SubPod?

Essentially Subpod is a plastic container, divided into two sections. The sides and bottom are perforated sufficiently to allow worms and smaller living creatures in and put but too small to let mice and rats in.

There’s a lid that seals the top and the whole thing is buried, or partially buried, in the soil or into a raised bed.

The dimensions of the Subpod are 75 cm long, 45 cm high and 43 high. So it’s not very big.

So the easiest way I can see of describing the Subpod is that it’s a smallish plastic wormery that is part buried when in use. The resulting compost can be used as a mulch, soil additive  etc.

There’s an in-depth SubPod review and article on the BiteSizedGardening website

 

 

21 thoughts on “Subpod: Pros and Cons Of Using Subpods

  1. Steve Rickaby says:

    I think this review, although useful, slightly misses the point. The issue is not whether a subpod is a better alternative to conventional cool- or hot-box composting, but whether it’s a better alternative to an above-ground isolated worm composter. I have many years of experience with the latter, and find the runoff a very useful liquid fertilizer. But although I have no experience (yet) of a subpod, the idea of shorting the circuit and putting the worms directly into a veg plot makes a lot of sense.

    What doesn’t make a lot of sense to me is putting a subpod into a tiny raised bed. You will surely be constraining the worms’ environment and increasing the chances of poisoning them. I have an organic bed of some five by three meters, and am serious considering putting a subpod into it and charging it from my (very healthy) ‘Can ‘O Worms’.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      That is certainly one consideration. However I wrote the article this way as SubPod appeared to be comparing themselves with conventional composting systems. It felt to me as if they had confused vermiculture with conventional composting.

      I agree with you regards putting a SubPod in a small raised bed. It makes no sense to me to enclose the system in such a small bed when bigger ones would appear to be more resilient.

  2. Allen Oliver says:

    I’m sorry, but a review and recommendation by someone who hasn’t used a product is a real turn-off. I live on the side of hill in a sub-alpine rain shadow area on barely decomposed granite. The soil is terrible and everything has to be brought in. Rainfall is less than 600mm a year and any above ground compost dries to a crisp in no time. I am willing to give Subpod a try, in a raised garden bed. If it works for me, then I might let others know of my experience with it. Until I’ve actually tried it, I’ll not say anything one way or another.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      Allen,

      Where does it say I haven’t used one?

      And even if it were the case that I hadn’t I’ve had decades of commercial horticultural experience including owning a market garden, teaching horticulture at various colleges and writing gardening columns in several magazines and papers in the U.K. and Europe.

      Before writing this post I investigated some of the concerns and problems people are encountering with SubPods and took those into account alongside my own horticultural experience.

  3. Cathy Valentine says:

    I was given a SubPod as a gift. I live in far Northern California and winter temperatures can stay in the 20-30 degrees for quite some time. I have an indoor worm bin. I was told by 2 of the worm providers that my reds cannot withstand being outdoors. And for me the worms are expensive.so I have 2 questions. One, temperature. And two, isn’t it hard to harvest the product so much lower and mixed with worms?

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      Hi Cathy,

      Your question illustrates on of the problems with this type of composting, that of terminology over red worms. The term seems to mean different things to different people. Some people seem to think that any work that is red is a red worm. That’s not true. The type of worm we use in the U.K.is Eisenia fetida, commonly called a red worm here. But the chances it’s the same worm in the USA or Australia isn’t certain and the proponents of subpods don’t make it clear which species of worm they mean.
      It’s this vagueness that confuses many SubPod users and makes composting so much more difficult.

      As for temperatures worms can’t stand prolonged cold temperatures. If it freezes they die. Though their eggs survive.

      So you need to protect from severe frosts. However, outside the worms will go deep underground if they can. That’s no good if you have no deep soil under them. And there’s no guarantee they will return.

  4. Peter R says:

    Interesting to hear these points from Stefan. Personally, I have a Subpod system. I never post recommendations for anything, so it says a lot about Subpod, that I do recommend it. I had high hopes for Subpod but in the back of my mind was prepared to be disappointed. But Subpod has actually exceeded my expectations. There is no smell, it looks good and we grow herbs around it. The worms are prolific and I love the way they work to break down our food scraps. My wife and I don’t load it with too much citrus and make sure we put in plenty of paper and cardboard. The worms seem outrageously happy with the diet and thrive throughout the year. Harvesting the compost is easy and very satisfying. As for the price, you get what you pay for. I’m a quality buyer, price is not that important if the product does what it says. Knowing what I know now I would have paid more for the Subpod. If your not an expert gardener or composter, the Subpod is for you. I haven’t got a huge block of land or the time to deal with a smelly above ground pile of compost. Plus I have an aesthetic eye for a nice compost solution and Subpod fits the bill

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      Peter, I’m glad you are happy with your SubPod.
      I’m sure it doesn’t smell, but why would it when above ground systems don’t smell? In this respect both systems are equal.

      Composting is a natural process so I’m intrigued why people think it can only be done by expert gardeners. That’s a myth. If you put organic matter in a pile it will compost itself. It’s that simple. It really doesn’t require any expertise whatsoever.

      And in my book anything that’s natural is the best quality there is.

      1. Peter R says:

        Thanks Stefan. Look, I agree with your basic premise of composting. However, a lot of people are turned off by the unsightly look of a pile of open and exposed compost. Rodents and insects are attracted to it and in my mind it’s just unattractive. Growing up we had a compost heap, but it was hidden out of sight down the back of the yard near the wood heap. Our backyards were bigger then and we could hide the compost heap. With a subpod you can have it in the regular area of your garden, in full view and grow plants and herbs around it. The idea of putting together wooden pallets with string is very unappealing. Personally I have a Subpod for food scraps, an Aerobin composter for lawn clippings and pruning and use the green organics bin provided for by the council for any overflow and dog droppings. This is the perfect solution for me. Lots of compost, and visitors are always intrigued and impressed with such an attractive set up. Horses for courses, I guess.

        1. Stefan Drew says:

          If it’s perfect for you, great. The great thing about composting is that there are several ways of doing it and, being a free world, we get to choose what suits us best.

          I’v e just been down to my compost heap. its above ground, there are no insects beyond those that are busy breaking down my compost, and definitely no rodents. And there’s no smell. I’m still not sure why people think that compost smells. But as you say. horses for courses. Let’s use what we both prefer.

          Happy gardening.

        2. Maureen says:

          My subpod in an apartment garden plot has a big hole in the side – a rodent has clearly been digging it’s way around the sides and has found a way in. The subpod is not rodent resistant and for the sake of apartment health I think I may have to remove it.

          1. Stefan says:

            This is interesting as the SubPod is claimed to not suffer rodent problems. Personally I can’t see why, if other systems are claimed to suffer from rodents, this one wouldn’t. They all contain the same sort of material.

  5. Tori says:

    While some valid points are raised, this article overlooks one major benefit of Subpod: it makes composting incredibly appealing and inviting to new composters who otherwise wouldn’t pursue composting.
    I live in the U.S. (Virginia) and have never met anyone that composts. (In fact, my only exposure to composting was seeing a bin for compostable waste when I was on a business trip to California once several years ago, and having no idea what it was for.) I have never previously had interest in gardening or composting. All I had was a general inkling that throwing away food scraps was wasteful for some reason.
    I somehow stumbled on a video ad for Subpod, and I was amused/interested. Several weeks later, I had my own shiny supbod nestled in my backyard, in my own little mini garden.
    Could I have gotten a compost setup for cheaper? Probably. But the Subpod videos and community has completely removed my need to independently seek out the information required to understand the process, which is also valuable to me as my time is extremely limited.
    Finally, Subpod has immense curb (backyard) appeal. Just googling other composting systems led me to believe that composting would be an eyesore without added effort or money, while my Subpod garden is adorable and brings me joy to look at out my window.
    Again, my ability to speak to it’s efficacy vs. other processes is limited, but the bottom line is that as someone with zero exposure, mild interest, and very limited time, Subpod was my entry point into this world. My friends and family are endlessly amused by my “worm farm,” and it may be inspiring them to give it a try as well.
    Looking forward to being a member of the composting world. 🙂

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      Hi Tori

      I’m delighted you have taken up composting. As I say at the beginning of my article anything that encourages gardening is good.

      I’ve never met anyone that didn’t know anything about composting, though some don’t know a lot about it. And I’d have to agree that if you found this easy that’s very positive.

      My main concern, other than cost etc is that this is a worm composting system and therefore very specific. There are other natural composting systems that are more common and don’t need worms. They rely on the natural processes that generate heat when organic material decomposes. I prefer this as it naturally sterilses the compost as it forms. And it needs no special / expensive equipment. Just heap organic material on the soil and it’ll decompose/compost!

      It’s that simple. And as a retired commercial grower I’m all for making growing as simple as possible. Especially for new growers like yourself.

      Good luck with your SubPod.

      1. Tori says:

        Thanks for the reply, Stefan! I am definitely not proud of my ignorance about the practice. Unfortunately, evironmentalism/sustainability was not in any way a part of my upbringing or education. I think the sad reality is that not knowing what composting is into one’s 20s is a possibility in some parts of the world. 🙁 But I am very excited to start my growing adventure, and I’m very grateful for people such as yourself sharing your wisdom with those like me. 🙂

        1. Stefan Drew says:

          Thank you, I try not to be judgemental but to encourage. I remember the time when there were things I didn’t know (and still don’t) and it’s clear to me that this is often due to where we live, our culture, and other factors. When I was young, in the countryside, we all knew about composting because everyone did it. But if I’d been raised in a city, had no dealings with plants and nature, I might also have not appreciated or known about composting.

          So when I write these posts I try to give advice to all and be as objective as I can. I’ve no doubt SubPods help some people, and that’s good. So I try to be objective, pose questions and answer the questions posed to me. That way people learn and make their own decisions based on objective considerations.

          Enjoy your gardening.

  6. Stefan Drew says:

    Peter, I’m delighted to get a response from SubPod. The offers been on the table and, despite emails going back and forward with your team I wondered why no one had responded.

    Let me start responding to your points by firstly reiterating where we share common goals. It’s to get people gardening and composting. Personally I started gardening as a preschool child and went on to own a commercial salads nursery and teach horticulture at various colleges. So I’ve a lot of composting experience.

    Composting is a very simple and natural process. In fact it’s hard to stop it from happening and I believe we often make it too complicated by interfering with the natural process. In nature any like of organic waste is going to decompose. There are various chemical and biological processes involved that result in the breakdown of complex biological units into simpler units. It involves bacteria and fungi in the initial phases and produces heat. As it cools other organisms get involved, including worms, insects etc.

    The speed of decomposition depends on many factors, from moisture content, oxygen levels and temperature. Without oxygen we get anaerobic decomposition and that can smell. The higher the temperature the faster the breakdown and compost formation.

    You comment about the above ground systems being more susceptible to heating. Correct, they are, simply because that’s the natural way in which composting works. Heat is created by the chemical and biological process of decomposition.

    I’m not saying worm composting, ie composting without heat, doesn’t work. It does. But you are advertising a composting system where what you have is a worm composting system.

    In nature, and the garden, natural decomposition works extremely well with a simple pile of organic matter. There’s no need for bins or purchased worms etc. Worm compost however needs equipment, in your case made of many kilos of plastic. My experience is that if we follow nature’s method we can compost very efficiently at nil, or close to nil, cost. In my case I use a compost bin to retain the compost I make. Bins can be made very simply. For example a few pallets held together with string or wire can be made with recycled materials in minutes at nil cost. It’s a lot quicker than digging a bin into the ground or surrounding it with a plastic container that then needs to be filled with soil or compost.

    As for buying a SubPod to test what you are telling me I see little point in spending money on a composting system when the process can be done at nil cost. I’m prepared to test a system if supplied, but really don’t want to lay for the privilege!

  7. Hi Stefan,

    It’s great to hear you’re enthusiastic about getting people into gardening and composting, that makes two of us.

    My name is Peter, and I’m the person in the subpod videos above.

    I completely agree, any composting system should not smell if it’s managed correctly. However, from my experience, above-ground systems are harder to manage. This makes them more likely to go anaerobic (smelly)

    The key difference I see with underground and aboveground composting is;
    Above-ground systems are more susceptible to heating and loss of moisture. This means, more oxygen gets used up and the system can slip into an anaerobic phase. Of course, you can help manage this by aerating it, keeping it moist and adding more carbon. But for some people this is a lot of effort… so they end up stopping composting completely.

    Have you tried underground composting?

    Of course, I’m totally biased, but it really is a lot easier. The fact that it’s underground means the worms are able to breed and eat faster. This allows you to compost more, in a shorter amount of time.

    There’s also no resting period, as you would have with a compost pile, where you would wait (1-3 months), until the compost is cured

    I can easily compost 10-15kg of foodwaste in a Subpod weekly. From my understanding, there isn’t another worm farm that can do that weekly capacity.

    The video you posted above about simplicity. Sorry, I’m not sure, how you got to the “overloading the system and making it anaerobic” the idea is to stop feeding one side and load it up with carbon while continuing to feed the other side so they migrate across. Maybe it was my explanation, if so, sorry about that.

    As for the price, I’m sorry if that seems overpriced for you, but the weight of Subpod (10.3) kg and size, means the manufacturing and shipping costs of a Subpod is expensive. As an Australian startup company, we are trying our best to make composting with Subpod affordable.

    Have you researched other large compost systems, as most of them are at a similar price if not more?

    Sorry for the wall of text 😅 I’m happy to jump on a call if you have any questions.. or if you would like to try a Subpod so you can share your feedback after some first-hand experience.

    It’s great to hear you’re already composting, as that’s our real mission here, to get people composting, no matter what style… I hope we can agree on that!

    Happy composting.

    1. Sam Powrie says:

      I’m contemplating purchase of a Subpod – mainly to assist my increasingly frail wife’s composting efforts & interests (which mainly involve food scraps from our kitchen & worms). I have been composting for many years here in coastal Adelaide where the soil is mainly sand! I’ve used just about every approach – in-ground & above ground, black closed-top bins, wire mesh enclosures, open piles & ‘bays’, in-ground ‘worm hotels’ and now a large 400 litre (1200mm diam.) open tank ring. The latter has proved to be my favourite! I don’t use it for food scraps though.
      Instead it contains horse poo, grass clippings, coffee grounds, raked leaves, chicken-run straw – anything organic I can get my hands on – except food scraps! I don’t know what you’d call it but it is both ‘hot’ (or at least ‘warm’ – over 20 degrees C at least) AND it is absolutely chock full of worms. All I do to maintain it is turn it occasionally with a fork and add a bucket or 2 of water (its open so gets watered when it rains).
      Over the last 4 months it has gone from raw materials to a fine-tilthed organic mix that’s just about ready for the garden – 400 litres of it! I have never encountered any sort of ‘vermin’ using this approach – not even cockroaches. It has never ‘smelled’ (apart from some initial ‘horsey’ smells) or gone anaerobic. It has never turned to sludge (remember – open top & bottom) and requires really minimal physical effort. And it has cost me virtually nothing.

      Much of the advice encountered about home composting is confusing & misleading. Composting is a straightforward process that every gardener can master easily! It’s all commonsense. You basically have 2 choices – you can either do food-scrap composting or non-food-scrap composting. About the only difference being that food-scrap composting is best kept away from the animals we share our gardens with.

      The easiest way I’ve found to do this & get rid of kitchen waste is to simply get some large 15 litre restaurant yoghurt or margarine buckets (or similar) with clip-on lids, cut the bottoms out and bury them in the garden. Bit of straw or shredded cardboard in the bottom, a shovel of ‘worm soil’ from the garden (or other compost bin) and food waste on top. Alternate layer with straw/leaves/shredded stuff if you can. Put a rock on the lid to keep rats & possums out. You can put several around the garden – the worms will find them.

      Dead easy! But I am still thinking about the Sub-Pod simply because my wife is frail & a bit unsteady on her feet & because it would make a nice seat by our frog-pond! 😉

      1. Stefan Drew says:

        Thanks for your comments Sam.

        It’s interesting that your current system is essentially homemade, doesn’t smell or attract vermin. In my experience basic compost bins work extremely well.

        It’ll be interesting to hear what you finally decide to do. But I can’t help think that if you want a seat for your wife, there are lower cost ones!

        1. Nick Gill says:

          We use in-ground worm farms similar to what Sam describes, although we bought them. Friends have made them with success. We live in a ground floor apartment with a large raised garden bed that is part of the building construction and have three in ground worm farms.

          These were cheap, available locally, process pretty much all of our kitchen food waste except in the cooler months, and are relatively inconspicuous. The only disadvantage in our context is that we move them occasionally and digging their conical shape out and then in again is a bit of a hassle. If I was doing it again, I’d get or make them with straight sides so they are easier to get out and dig in somewhere else.

          We could of course leave them in place and move the organic material and we probably will once the garden bed is improved generally by moving them around.

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