Worm Composting Troubleshooting
WORM BIN TROUBLESHOOTING GUIDE
Here’s some tips and information on how to deal with common issues worm farmers face. Make sure to read our journal for more information on how we’ve dealt with the issues we’ve encountered over the last several months of raising red wigglers.
Common worm bin problems and how to fix them:
- It’s not supposed to smell, but it does. The worms are generally doing ok, though. In my experience, this is due to improper conditions inside the bin, or perhaps you’re adding more food scraps than the worms can handle at any given time. Remove some of the food scraps and reduce the amount you add and see what happens. You may also go back and review the section on what foods to add. If the bedding is too wet, let it dry out a bit. Also, gently move the material in the bin to let air circulate. Add drier food scraps for a while too. Depending on your climate, the compost you put in the worm box may have plenty of moisture in it to keep your worms healthy. In cooler months you worms with stay moist and will need less water. As things heat up, check the bin more frequently and mist the top of the bedding.
- There are other critters living in the bin. During my research, I found that ants can be a problem, but a few ants aren’t seriously going to threaten your worms. Try out a natural ant trap of some kind to keep them out of the bin. If you can kill or trap the ants before they get to the bin, that’s ideal. Fruit flies can annoy, but really aren’t that big a deal. Just add less fruit scraps. I did read that some predatory centipedes can do harm to your worms. Keep an eye out for them. I’ve never had a problem with these critters but if you do, I’ve read to destroy them immediately. Also, be aware than moisture can attract something called “earthworm mites” which can affect the activity in your bin. See this website from Ohio State University for more info on common earth worm pests for more info.
- Worms are crawling out of the bin. Yuck! In general we had worms crawling out of the box when we first installed the bin. That’s pretty normal. A few seem to always make their way out. If there are lots of them leaving, check the acidity level and the moisture level immediately. Acidity should be around 6.4 and no higher than 6.9. Use a soil pH tester if necessary. Worms leaving in large numbers may mean that they’re drowning because the bedding is too wet or the lower part of the bin is filling up with liquid.
More information about improper worm bin conditions:
A note on temperatures: Your worms will do best at temperatures of around 50-75 degrees F. While they can survive higher and lower temperatures, don’t ever let them bake or freeze. Move them to a cool place if things get too hot outside, and to a warm place indoors in the winter if things are starting to freeze.
- Strong odors are a sign that the conditions are not right in your worm bin. This usually means that generally the circulation of oxygen is not sufficient for the food to break down, or that your bin is too wet.
- Based on what I’ve read and what the compost experts that I’ve talked to have told me, citrus peels are highly acidic and can throw the conditions in your worm bin out of wack. Garden lime is said to lower the acidity in the bin. An electronic soil meter can help to find the correct pH level for your worm bin.
We’ve personally have avoided adding lots fruit scraps so that we don’t attract fruit flies. I’m guessing that a lot of fruit scraps may increase acidity as well. In the cooler months, fruit flies weren’t a problem. Then things warmed up and they started to appear. Now we have the bin outdoors and fruits flies aren’t that big of a deal. You can actually avoid many fly and odor problems by burying all your food waste under the bedding.
You can also read our worm composting journal for all the fun issues we’ve dealt with while raising worms! Sometimes it’s not easy raising worms, but it’s definitely easier than raising kids!