May 2008

Vanishing Worms

Hi Folks!
Just so you know, I’ve been on a bit of a vacation since last week so I’m not at the computer nearly as much. That being said, I will still be trying to get a few posts up this week. Let’s start with a reader question. This one comes from Angela, who is wondering what happened to her worms.

Hi! I found your site and it was was great to read your answers to all the worm bin questions. I have a strange scenario that I’m not sure how to remedy.

About a month or two ago, we bought some worms to begin a worm bin. They came from someone else’s worm bin and came along with some “stuff” from their worm bin too so I didn’t worry too much about getting my worm bin in order a few weeks before hand. I put them in the bottom of my plastic bin and put strips of damp newspaper on top. Then I put in food scraps (egg shells, banana peels, cantelope scraps, etc.). We kept the bin in our garage.

After about a week we noticed there was white fuzzy mold growth on some of the scraps so my husband said he would be more comfortable with moving the bin outside so the mold spores wouldn’t be right in the house. We are a family of heavy allergies and want as little exposure to mold as possible. So, I moved the bin outside to what I thought was a shady location. I kind of neglected it for a while thinking I had put too much food in it and that was the cause for the mold. In the meantime we’ve had a couple weeks of thunderstorms and today I realized that the spot where I put the worm-bin gets some sun so there are times in the day where it probably gets too hot for them. So, when I checked them today there were not worms to be found. There were some kind of fruit flies and what I thought looked like baby worms, but no adult worms at all. When I moved the bin, I noticed there were about 4 adult worms underneath it but I’m not sure these came from my bin.

I know you mentioned that sometimes the worms leave the bin if it doesn’t have the right environment. We drilled our ventilation holes near the top of the bin, just underneath the lid…is it possible they left that way? I feel terrible that I am potentially a worm mass murderer and would really like to see my bin up and running.

In summary, here are my questions:
1. Did my worms leave the bin through the ventilation holes near the top of the bin, or did I accidentally kill them?
2. If there is mold in the bin, is that a bad sign or normal? If it is normal and inevitable, is it safe to have in the garage even with people in the home with allergies?
3. Is there anything I can do at this point to save my bin or do I need to start over from scratch?

Thanks so much!
Angela

Hi Angela,
Sorry to hear about your missing worms!
The first thing I wondered about as I read your email was exactly how much “stuff” from the other person’s bin you ended up with. You are right about not needing quite so much aging etc when adding a full chunk o’ habitat from another worm bin, but this amount of material should be quite substantial if you not planning to really add much new bedding to your bin. The maturity of the material is also an important consideration. If the worms in the other bin are essentially living in pure worm castings (i.e. their own poop) it is fairly important that you fill your bin with lots of new bedding materials. If there is still plenty of undigested bedding that comes with the worms on the other hand, this isn’t as serious a concern.

You are right about the potential for killing the worms when a bin sits in direct sunlight (during warm weather). A dark plastic bin will soak up the heat of the sun and get very hot inside. If it’s a larger system there will still likely be some cool zones where the worms can safely retreat, but a typical home worm bin can basically just turn into a mini oven – assuming they get enough sun.

You also mentioned thunderstorms. Worms love moisture – and one of the reasons they stay in a worm bin is because there is a much higher moisture content inside than outside the bin (assuming it is an indoor bin). During heavy rainfall, the humidity outside the bin is obviously going to be very high, thus encouraging the worms to venture out – especially if conditions in the bin are not to their liking. You’d be surprised how small a hole they can squeeze through. I suspect that this is what happened to your worms (since you found other living creatures still inhabiting the bin).

As for the growth of fungus – this is not necessarily a bad sign, although it could indicate that you’ve added too much food, and not enough bedding (good idea to add more bedding each time you add food waste). While I would normally say that typical worm bin fungi are not something to be concerned about, given the fact that your family has serious allergies I would suggest that you don’t keep the bin indoors – at least not for now. Aside from adding bedding, it also helps to bury the wastes as well.

Should you give up on this bin? Absolutely not! Add a bunch more bedding and maybe a little bit more food, then leave it to sit for awhile. You may be surprised to find worms springing up after a couple months, especially given the fact that you received some materials from someone else’s bin (which likely contained cocoons). You might also want to create a full-blown outdoor system, and simply add the contents of the bin to it. I’d recommend digging a hole 3 feet deep and 2 feet across, then adding a nice thick layer of shredded cardboard (or strips of newspaper if you prefer) in the bottom. Next, add LOTS of food scraps mixed with more bedding materials along with some water from a watering can. You can put a regular backyard composter over top or any other cover you feel like using. It should be something that will allow you to control the amount of moisture added, since you don’t want the contents to get completely flooded every time it pours. Let this system age for a week or so then add the contents of your bin. If you keep adding food scraps and bedding to your worm pit (don’t need to be nearly so careful in terms of the amounts added) you should have a thriving population of worms before too long. Aside from whatever young ones and cocoons are left in the bin, you’ll likely attract any others that may still be hanging out in the area.

Not sure where you are located, but in case you are worried about freezing during the winter…
I have a couple outdoor systems – one is insulated during the winter and easily keeps the worms alive until spring, but even the regular backyard composter with the pit beneath it has a good survival rate – likely due to the fact that the worms can go down below the soil surface to zones that don’t freeze solid.

Anyway – hope this helps, Angela!

B.

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Worm Composting Canada

Why have I been so scarce lately?

Well folks, I’ve decided for once to fly by the seat of my (creepy) pants and take a leap of faith – I’ve decided to start my very own ‘real world’ eco-business.

I’ve dreamed of doing this for years, but in all honesty I didn’t expect it to come to fruition for at least a couple more. Long story short, I finally decided to stop thinking in terms of “some day” and opted instead for “why not NOW?!”
🙂

As part of the first phase, I’ve launched my new Worm Composting Canada website. As the name implies, the main focus of the business will be here in Canada (especially in my own region), but I will be taking U.S. orders as well. I’ve partnered with a fantastic supplier south of the border, and they’ll be helping me with U.S. worm shipments.

Worm Composting Canada will be one arm of my overall business (more on that in a future post) – which will be focused primarily on earth-friendly waste management solutions (product/services). It will of course be a very important part though – I am a ‘wormhead’ after all!

Just so you know – not much will change around here. Red Worm Composting will still provide quality information and commentary about worm composting. It might even get a lot more interesting now that I’ll be so involved in it myself. I suppose if I get SUPER busy my posting regularity may drop off a bit, but I’m really going to make a serious effort to get a number of posts up each week no matter what!

Anyway, thats all for now. I’m still very much in the early stages with this – I have a LOT of work ahead of me over the next few weeks.
I’ll keep everyone in the loop as things continue to develop!
8)

[tags]vermicomposting, worm composting, waterloo region, kitchener, cambridge, guelph, ontario, canada, red worms, european nightcrawlers, waste management, green business, eco business[/tags]

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Help For an Overfed Worm Bin

This question comes from a vermicomposting beginner, wondering how best to deal with an overfed bin.

I am a newbie and way overfed my worms. Can I just leave
them alone for a few weeks and let them work it out or do I need to
clean out their whole bin and start over? They seem to be enjoying
themselves, but I am worried about the white fuzzy mold growing on the
food they haven’t gotten to yet. It is only slightly musky
smelling…for now.

This is a great question, and deals with a problem I’m sure MANY worm composting newcomers encounter.
You never mentioned how you knew you had overfed your worms though. The fact that they are still “enjoying themselves” seems to indicate that all is still ok. That being said, it is always much better to err on the side of caution when concerned about the health of the bin.

I will assume that the presence of large amounts of unprocessed (now covered in fungi) food is what tipped you off. Indeed, this is a good indication of an overfed bin. If you see that the worms are not even coming close to processing everything that is being added then it’s definitely time to ease off with the feeding. I’d recommend either adding new wastes to an outdoor composter or some sort of food scrap holder (a bucket with bedding in it works great) in the meantime, if at all possible.

You definitely don’t need to completely start over – especially given the fact that the worms are still happy. I would recommend adding a decent amount of fresh bedding to the bin then simply letting it sit for as long as it takes for the food materials inside to be broken down. Once it looks like the worms have processed most of the wastes you can start adding new materials (slowly) again.

The musty bin odour you described is also another indication that the bin is still in OK shape – if you smelled some really foul odours it would likely be an indication of all the excess waste materials going anaerobic.

Anyway – hope this helps!

B

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Wormheads of the World Unite!

I recently received an interesting email from someone by the name of Steven Chow. In fact he sent me the same e-mail twice – once via Flickr and once via Youtube. He wanted to let me know about his new site, Vermicomposters.com, which I must say features a VERY cool concept.

Essentially it is an opportunity for vermicomposting fanatics (aka ‘wormheads’) to connect and share their pictures. What makes it even more cool is the fact that Steven has incorporated Google Maps into the site so you can see where everyone is from. He only has 17 people on the map so far, but I have little doubt that number is going to grow fairly quickly. I haven’t signed up myself yet, but am planning to do so.

Steven has also added a cool photo gallery of Flickr images relating to the topic of worm composting.

All in all, a very creative idea – especially given the fact that it relates to my favourite topic in the world. I can’t wait to see how this site develops!
8)

[tags]worm map, vermicomposter, vermicomposters, vermicomposting, worm composting, worm pictures, compost pictures[/tags]

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Moldy, Creepy Pants

Well…I was walking in the basement,
When suddenly I spied them
I saw a pair of moldy pants,
With worms and dirt inside them!*
😆


I guess it was inevitable that this was going to happen. It seems my ‘creepy pants vermicomposter‘ has started growing mold on the outside of one of the legs. For some reason moisture seems to be settling in that area despite my best efforts to keep the pants completely upright. This is another good reason to set up a system like this outside – while I suspect this is simply a harmless rot fungus, there is no need to take chances when it comes to your health. That being said, simply wiping down the outside of the pant leg with a damp cloth will do wonders for getting rid of any fruiting bodies (thus preventing lots of spores from being released into the air).

This also once again highlights the advantage of using pants made from a synthetic material (although, just as mildew can grow on tiles, it would likely grow on synthetic pants as well).

All in all the pants experiment seems to be going well. It’s been difficult to monitor the activity of the worms, but when I dug around a bit from above I found quite a few congregated up where the rotting, wet food waste is sitting. I’m happy to say that there haven’t been any objectionable odours produce yet. I think all that aeration is doing wonders for keeping anaerobic odour producers under control.

Anyway, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on any new and exciting developments!


* adapted from Dr. Seuss story “What Was I Scared Of”

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Deformed Worms

Hi folks – sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been working on something new and exciting (worm related) recently and thus have been pretty focused. More on that fairly soon!

Anyway, I thought it might help to get back into the swing of things here with a reader question. Cindy is wondering what is wrong with her worms.

I’ve had my red wrigglers for a week now and have basically been
letting them settle in. Today when I had a look, I found some were
deformed looking … all lumpy, like someone had tied rubber bands all
up and down their bodies. Some looked like they had been travelling
along the bedding and stuck to it and tore on half … too dry? I
found some very short stumpy worms … 2mm long … babies? And two
stuck together … ok … I know what they were doing.

Anyway, I put some banana skins in that I stored over the winter,
might they be too dry?

Any info would be great!
Love your website!
Cindy

Hi Cindy,
Thanks for the great question. Unfortunately, the shipping process can put a lot of stress on your worms, so it is very common to have at least a few casualties along the way.
I’ve heard of worms developing bulges from being fed too much protein, but I suspect in this case it is simply some of your worms dying due to trauma from the shipping experience.

When worms approach death they get very lethargic and go quite limp – I’ve also seen the bulging (and accompanying ultra-thin) sections as well, and have found that they are much more prone to breaking apart. Often, this seems to be when the shiny round mites appear and cover the dying worms. Many mistake this for the worms being attacked, whereas it is actually the mite scavengers simply taking care of the dead (or at least almost dead) worms.

This is part of the reason I strongly encourage people to set up their systems ahead of time, and to not add any new food for a week or two after the worms arrive. It is an important time for the worms to recuperate and rehydrate, so the last thing they will need to deal with is too much food in the bin etc. Of course, I’m not suggesting this is what’ happening in your case. As mentioned, it is just inevitable that some worms are less durable than others. This may sound harsh, but it’s actually probably better to eliminate them from the gene pool anyway to help your worm population becoming stronger overall.

Moisture is definitely important in your bin – everything should be nice and moist, but not with water pooling in the bottom. If you are using a rubber bin without drainage you need to be especially careful.

Anyway – hope this helps Cindy!
8)

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