June 2008

Do Vibrations Harm Worms?

These questions come from Tina. She is wondering if she will need to relocated her new worm bin, and whether or not a certain food waste is good for her worms.

I just got my first bin of red worms set up last night and
was reading and rereading lots of websites to make sure I had
everything right. One thing that I did read was that the worms are
sensitive to noise/vibrations. I have my bin set up next to the
washing machine, which I use once a week. Should I relocate the bin
while running the machine?

Also, I know that worms love vegetables, but does this include hot
peppers? Those seem a little too strong for their fragile bodies.

Thank you!
-Tina

Hi Tina!
Those are great questions. You are right – worms are certainly sensitive to vibrations, so it’s not a bad idea to keep their bin in a nice quiet spot. That being said, if your bin is simply sitting beside the washing machine but not actually touching it, you should be fine – especially given the fact that your laundry days are only once a week. Of course, if you DO have another good location where it can sit, it might not be a bad idea to relocate just to be sure.

In general the worms are pretty tolerant creatures. If you think about it, during the shipping process (assuming that’s how you got your worms) the worms can experience an awful lot of vibrations – and in VERY crowded conditions as well. While they often are pretty restless when you put them in a new bin, for the most part all those vibrations don’t have any long term negative effects.

As for hot peppers – I would personally avoid them (or at least large quantities of them) since the worms skin is a highly sensitive organ and the pepper oils can cause irritation. I would imagine they’d break down rather quickly into other harmless compounds, but it never hurts to err on the side of caution.

Hope this helps!

B

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Keeping Reds and Nightcrawlers In One Bin

This question comes from Bob. He is wondering if Nightcrawlers and Red Worms can live together in the same system.

Hi,
Just found your site a few days ago. I love the net….. so much
info, so quickly.
I am going to start up a couple of bins and was wondering, has anyone
you know of combined nightcrawlers and reds in the same box and was
there any problem? I used to raise worms to sell back in the late
70’s and had 6- 4’x8′ beds. I don’t think they were Reds but I don’t
remember for sure. I did have 1 bed with nightcrawlers back then and
every so often, I would find a few NC’s in the other box surrounded by
the smaller worms. Never found any dead ones so I don’t know if it
was “look there’s big brother ” or if they were trying to kill it as a
territorial invader.
Ideally, I would like to combine them to have some for fishing and
yet keep up the voracious disposal speed of the Reds. Also, what is
the optimum pH for each? I used to try and keep it just a touch
acidic to neutral range, 6.8-7.0 and had decent results.

Hi Bob,
Good topic for discussion – I’m sure lots of people wonder about this.
I’m not 100% sure what you mean when you say “Nightcrawler”, but I suspect you might be referring to “Canadian Nightcrawlers” (aka Dew Worms – Lumbricus terrestris). Assuming this is the worm you are talking about, unfortunately they do not make good composting worms, nor are they easy to breed in captivity. If you have open-bottomed bins sitting on soil outside, there is a good chance that Dew Worms (and other soil dwellers) will venture in to the lower reaches of your bin, feeding on some of the organic matter while they are there. But these worms just aren’t suited for the crowded, warm conditions in rich organic matter that Red Worms love so much. They might survive for awhile, but you certainly won’t get a breeding population of them.

If on the other hand we are talking about ‘European Nightcrawlers‘ (Eisenia hortensis), then the answer is yes – Euros and Reds can be combined in the same bin. Some actually like having both in the same system since the Euros tend to go down where the moisture content is higher, while the Reds remain up near the top – thus ensuring that the entire contents are getting vermi-processed.

Red Worms do tend to be a more prolific and active worm however, so mixing the two might not always be the best idea if you want your Euros to really thrive. Also, it might be a bit of a pain to separate the two species later on if you want to sell them etc.

Some readers may recall that I actually dumped a bin of Euros in my outdoor Red Worm bin after it went really sour on me. Just so you know, within a few days I could not find a single Euro. I suspect they went down deep, but I really don’t know for sure.

As for pH, I’ve read that Red Worms are very tolerant of a wide pH range – something like 4.5 – 8. In general I think they prefer it to be somewhat on the acidic side since their preferred habitat tends to be in this range. I’m not 100% sure about Euros but I DO know they are incredibly tolerant. As mentioned above, one of my Euro bins went really sour on me (after adding too much bokashi), creating conditions that would have likely caused a lot of stress for Red Worms. I thought for sure I had killed off my Euros or at least that they would be dying, but when I dumped out the bin they seemed totally fine – sitting down in the shredded leaves (an acidic bedding material by the way) with no visible signs of being stressed or unhealthy.

B.

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Worm Bin Mushrooms

After a promising start, our ‘Reader Photos’ section has certainly been quiet. Thankfully, fellow ‘wormhead’ Dwayne C. has helped to get things back on track with this cool photo of mushrooms growing in his worm bin.

It’s not something you see every day, but it is kinda cool when it happens. It has even had me wondering if one could grow edible mushrooms in some sort of worm composting system. I remember reading an article in the print version of Worm Digest (published an number of years ago) describing how the author had put a gourmet mushroom kit in her worm system and ended up being able to harvest mushrooms for several months.

Your chances of seeing actual mushrooms (the fruiting bodies of certain groups of fungi) are much greater in outdoor systems (for obvious reasons) and can be closely linked to the type of material you have in your bin. Manure is an example of a material that commonly is colonized by certain species of mushrooms. Having lots of carbon-rich bedding materials in your bin can also encourage fungal growth.

Last summer I used lots of straw in my outdoor bin and ended up with some big mushrooms in the bin (as shown below).

Generally, the mushrooms don’t last very long (in my experience anyway). I always imagined the worm feasting on the fungal mycelium below, but I’m not really sure if that happens (worms definitely eat fungi – but I’m not sure if they’d actually consume mycelium while it is still alive).


One of the mushrooms that appeared in my outdoor bin last summer.


[tags]mushrooms, worm bin, compost bins, vermicomposting, worm composting, fungi, mycelium[/tags]

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Worms Leaving Bin – Help!

This one comes from Stuart. He is wondering why all his worms are attempting to jump ship.

I bought some red worms and put them in a rubbermaid contain
filled with peat moss, newspaper clippings, banana peels.. All of my
worms seem to be crawling out and leaving. What might I be doing
wrong ???

Help Needed Desperately….

Hi Stuart,
Hopefully your peat moss has been a) moistened, and b) rinsed with water. The second one isn’t quite as important, but it can help. Peat moss is pretty acidic stuff, so it’s not a bad idea rinse it a bit under water before use (a cloth bag of some sort should work fairly well).

Was your mixture of peat, newspaper, and banana peels left to sit for a number of days – or was it mixed up the same day you got the worms? If the latter, there probably just isn’t really anything there for the worms to feed on. It will be a pretty sterile environment.

The best bet is to set up your system AT LEAST a few days before adding the worms, thus allowing a microbial population to develop. Adding a variety of food materials would also help. Worms DO like banana peels, but it’s not a bad idea to provide them with a few options.

See if you can find some sort of semi-rotting food in the back of your fridge somewhere and add that. If you live near a decidous (with leaves that drop in the fall) forest go gather a bunch of dark leaf litter (humus material down below the leaves) and add that – it will offer not only a quality habitat, but also a temporary food source.

Good luck!

Bentley

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Getting Rid of Worm Bin Mites

This isn’t technically a reader question, but I thought it would be very helpful to post it. Kristen has been frustrated with her abundance of mites – specifically the ones crawling out of the bin and piling up on the floor. After not being able to find any solutions online she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Hey there! I LOVE your website and find it very helpful and
informative! Thank you for putting so much effort into keeping it
updated and interesting =)

I have an almost – 3 month old worm bin that I’ve made from a big
rubbermaid container and about 3 weeks ago noticed that sawdust type
stuff all around my bin that has been mentioned here before. I assume
they were dead white mites from what I’ve been reading around. Well, I
hear they are not dangerous to the bin, BUT, although I can handle the
idea of worms living under my sink, having to vacuum piles of dead
bugs daily just rubs me the wrong way. There aren’t many solutions I
could find for this issue and since my worms all seem very happy and
healthy I didn’t want to go picking through the bin and start it over
already, so I figured if they really weren’t a health issue I would
just contain them so I didn’t have to deal with them. . .

I had pet hissing cockroaches for a few years and abosolutely loved
having them around. They are very smart and can climb glass and they
can then even push the top up on the tank to free themselves. I
learned that if you smear vasoline around the top of their tank, about
an inch wide, they can not keep their traction and slide down so there
is no way for them to reach the actual top of the tank to escape. It
would have to be reapplied every once in a while because it’d dry out
and they would keep testing it to see if it was gone. . Soo . . I
applied this method to the worm bin hoping that the worms would not be
affected if they touched the vasoline if they tried to esape. 1st I
wiped the inside of the bin that wasn’t covered up with paper scraps
so I got rid of most of the mites I could see, then I smeared the
vasoline about an inch wide around the whole top of the bin. I also
dug down a little bit and wiped some around the ventilation holes
since that mite-dust was coming out of those also.
I had stopped feeding my worms for about a week to let them really
work on the food that was in there so hopefully that wouldn’t be the
issue that was inviting these pesky mites. So I figured they were
hungry by then so I dumped in some food, covered it all up and fast
forward 3 days later and my mite issues seemed to have just about
dissapeared! There is no more mite dust to clean up, and there is just
a minimum of mites inside the bin! yay!
so, I’m not sure if somthing I did was the solution to my problem, or
if it just was by chance they are gone, but I thought I’d get your
take on the whole vasoline idea and maybe it can be offered to anyone
looking for something to try when they have to be living so close to
their worm bin and don’t want dead bugs to be piling up all around it.

Hi Kristen!
Thanks for sharing that. Very interesting.
In all honesty, I would normally be a little worried about the idea of smearing vaseline on the inside of my worm bins – oily substances like that can coat the worms’ skin essentially suffocating them. It does however sound like an intriguing way to trap (or at lease impede) mites, and once your worms are well settled in (not crawling up the sides as much) this shouldn’t cause too much harm. Perhaps they wouldn’t even go near the stuff anyway.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has come up with ways (that actually work) to get rid of mite infestations. I tend to be pretty easy going about various worm bin creatures, but I know there are a lot of people out there who feel otherwise.

[tags]mites, worm bin, worm bins, worm composting, vermicomposting, invertebrates, worms[/tags]

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Must be something in the air!

I hate to do this yet again, but if ‘Anna’ is out there and reading this I would greatly appreciate it if she got in touch again. Yet another e-mail bounce (the third within the last week – all different people). It seems that pesky e-mail form is tripping people up!

Be assured, I’m not going to do this every time an email address bounces, but this is a particularly important case.

Also, while I’m on the topic – if you ever try to get in touch with me but don’t hear back after a couple days, please do send another message. I honestly appreciate the reminders and, as this case illustrates, sometimes I receive the wrong email addresses from people, or some other technical glitch gets in the away.

I have yet to completely ignore someone – as of late my response time has certainly slowed down, but I always make a serious effort to get back to people at some point.

B.

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Packaging Worms for Sale

This msg comes from Chris, the worm-counting teacher ( and yet another e-mail bounce victim!) 😯

Our special education classroom has a pretty large
vermicomposting system in place. We have 5 large plastic sinks full
of worms and compost over 600 pounds of cafeteria waste over the
school year. One of the projects we have (besides composting and
bottling up the worm leachate) is selling our redworms for fishing
bait at a local gas station. Our problem is… after we count and
package our worms into a styrofoam container something happens to the
worms.

1. They stretch out and come to the top of the container.
2. They look as though they are “bleeding out” and soon die.

We have tried the following:

1. De-chlorinate the water we use to moisten the packaging dirt.
2. Use the dirt the worms are living in without adding any liquid.
3. Refridgerate the worms.
4. Don’t refrigerate the worms
5. Use distilled water when moistening the packaging dirt.

What is the best packaging material ?
Are the worms that sensitive to change of environment? How do the
bait producers figure this all out?

Help. I appreciate your suggestions. I have students who count on
the worms for their “jobs” during the school day.

Hi Chris,
Sorry to hear about your worms!
Your project sounds fantastic – getting kids involved with worm composting is awesome, but it’s even better when you can teach them about running a business at the same time.
8)

I wonder if you styrofoam containers might contain something harmful? Have you tried cardboard cartons instead? I would imagine there would be some available from the food industry (portable soup bowls etc). A worm farming friend uses something like this for bait worm ‘cups’.

You mentioned using moistened ‘worm dirt’ as a bedding material – this may also be the cause of your problems. Worm castings are fantastic for your garden, but it’s important to remember that the material is a worm waste product, so it can be toxic in high concentrations – especially if it is water-logged (can go anaerobic). Not sure how much water you are adding, but just figured this might be a possibility.

You might try keeping them in well-washed peat most (it tends to be really acidic so it’s good to wash it in a mesh bag before use) – this is a standard material for the bait industry. It is NOT the most environmentally friendly option however – coconut coir might be a better choice (but costs more).
You can mix in some of your worm dirt or some very well-aged manure (should have an earthy odour) to add a little ‘biology’ into the mix as well.

All in all, worms are pretty tough creatures, so I suspect there is something specific causing their demise. I would imagine that over the years bait farmers have learned how to keep worms alive the longest via a lot of trial and error!
8)

Anyway, I hope this helps!

Bentley

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