Can-O-Worms Craziness

Here is a fairly long – but interesting – email from Leonie:

I have a Can-O-Worms and after listening to your course (well, half way through it at present), I see some glaring mistakes in the (C.O.W.) manual I was previously following.

1.Completely Cover 1st working tray with cardboard before adding bedding material.
2.Add potting mix on top of each feed.
3.Flush with 5 litres of water each week.
4.Use worm fattener:
Chicken layer pelletts 50%
Corn Flour 10%
Lime or dolomite 10%
(Sprinkle once a week)

End results of this all – a wet gooey mess and nearly loosing all my worms. Giving the manual the flick and following your advice instead.

One question. In South Australia we have had a few days over 40 Deg. C. My friends have all lost their entire population – mine just made it through. You mentioned an ice block. Can I just make ice in a container and wrap it in a bag and put inside the bin. Don’t want to add blocks that will melt and make mixture wetter – have added lots of paper and cardboard (dry) to soak up moisture.
PS Manual said to add SOAKED paper and cardboard.

Thanks for great course – will get back to hearing the rest of it.

Hi Leonie,
Wow! I’m pretty amazed that they would make some of those recommendations. Yikes. Guess I should go through all the points one at a time! lol

Cover tray with cardboard before adding bedding – actually great advice. I personally recommend newsprint since you can fold it up the sides, but covering the grate in general is a good idea since it will help to prevent the worms from roaming down into the reservoir.

Add potting mix on top of each feed – very risky advice! While some “potting mix” should be ok, especially if it’s older material that’s been rinsed out a lot – this is downright dangerous for the worms in a lot of cases. Potting mix often contains starter fertilizer salts – and these can harm or kill your worms in a hurry.

Flush with 5 litres of water each week – seems pretty strange to me! My guess is that this is their way to ensure you end up with lots of “worm tea” in the reservoir. Unfortunately, you’ll likely end up with lots of anaerobic metabolites in your leachate as well – especially early on (and especially when everything is so soaked up above). Adding SOME water is not a bad idea – and if you leave your lid off during hot weather this could probably even help to keep the system cool – but drenching everything just isn’t the best way to optimize the (AEROBIC) vermicomposting process! Especially not when it’s super hot out. If it was a wooden (or just generally, really breathable) system I could maybe see how this would make sense. But not with an enclosed plastic bin – regardless of whether or not is has good drainage!

Use worm fattener – more bad advice, I’m afraid! The average person using a C.O.W. is likely not a seasoned worm farming veteran, so the suggestion that people use a protein-rich fattener (presumably in addition to regular kitchen scraps) in a plastic enclosed bin boggles my mind! The risk of ammonia release (among other things) – especially during really hot weather – would be very high. As is the case with “salts”, worms are extremely sensitive to ammonia and will be killed very easily if there isn’t enough air flow and/or safe habitat to move into. The lime would probably be just fine if added in moderation – but forget the rest of it!

I am NOT at all surprised to learn of your results. Glad you managed to avoid a complete population melt-down!

Now, about the hot weather…

Not sure where I mentioned adding blocks of ice. While I might suggest this for a larger, free-draining bed (especially a wooden one) – for a smaller plastic bin, I’d probably be much more likely to suggest rotating frozen water bottles between your freezer and the bin.

If you left the lid off completely, you could likely get away with some actual ice being added on top of the bedding, but your idea is definitely better. Speaking of leaving the lid off, if you did this and draped a wet sheet over top, this could potentially provide you with an evaporative cooling effect. It would certainly be a lot cooler than simply leaving the lid on. Not sure where you are keeping the bin – but if it was possible to blow a fan towards it (with the wet sheet on top) this could help even more.

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    • Chris
    • January 28, 2013

    I found the same when I bought my first worm bin, it came with some pretty bad directions.
    Such as using the packaging as the bottom cardboard layer… glossy cardboard packaging. When I emptied that tray I had all these colorful specks throughout the vermicompost from that glossy coating.
    And the feeding directions, saying they’ll consume half their body weight a day, and saying that no additional bedding needs to be added after the initial set up, that the worms will ‘create their own bedding’, which led me to have some initial problems before I became better educated.
    It also recommended flushing with water to get ‘worm tea’.

    I’m also from Australia, and had some very hot weather at home. Unfortunately I’m away overseas, so I have no idea how my worms handled it. I’m hoping they’re ok.
    One thing I’ve used in past hot weather was a hot/cold pack from the freezer (in a ziplock plastic bag to keep it clean). No risk of excess water from melting ice.

    • Anne Pagliarulo
    • March 13, 2015

    Hello, Worm Expert!
    A neighbor gave me a Can-O-Worms bin recently, and 500 red wigglers moved in yesterday. I put cardboard on the bottom of the lowest working bin (and damp, shredded newspaper to fill the bin half way), and tried to settle them in with a light over the open bin for 24 hours. But many of the little guys have gotten through into the sump where it’s dry and inhospitable. Some are even exploring the upper working bins (they’re empty.) Will they eventually settle down into the bedding? I don’t want them to dry out during their explorations! I’d be grateful for any advice you can offer! Thanks, Anne

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