Creating a “Happy Place” for Your Worms

A question from Cindy:

My worm bin is almost 1 year old. It was doing wonderful until about a
month ago. Now I hardly have any worms (& they are all small) and lots
of tiny white “bugs”. How can I get my bin back to a happy place? How
do I get rid of the little white “bugs”?

Hi Cindy,

What you’ve described sounds to me like something I refer to as “mature worm bin syndrome” – and is not uncommon when you continue using the same system for an extended period of time without harvesting vermicompost. I’m assuming this is the case for you since you didn’t mention any harvesting during that 1 year period (but we’ll touch on some other possibilities later on just in case).

The problem is that as the quantity of worm castings increases in a system, the less ideal the habitat becomes. It’s not so much that the castings themselves are “toxic”, as some would suggest, but more likely the fact that the C:N ratio is dropping (increasing the risk of ammonia release), and the overall habitat quality is declining considerably as well (fluffy, bedding-rich to more of a wet sludgy environment).

The critters appearing in the system – almost certainly mites – are a symptom of the declining environment, not the cause (but rest assured, they can also appear in systems that are doing just fine), so you definitely don’t need to be focusing on getting rid of them.

What I would definitely suggest doing – bare minimum – is mixing in lots of new, absorbent bedding materials. Even better, though, would be a full system overhaul. Harvest a lot of the vermicompost and get a new system up and running for the worms (you may want to check out David’s Tub Harvesting Method if you are using a typical plastic bin). But DO save some of that wet, dark stuff for the new system – it will serve as an excellent “living material” to help kickstart the ecosystem in there.

Now – getting back to other possibilities…

Assuming you have been adding lots of bedding materials all along and/or harvesting a bit more regularly than I’ve suspected – you may want to consider other potential factors, such as the types of foods you’ve been adding (just prior to the population decline) and the general conditions the worms have been exposed to. Is the bin really wet? (i.e. likely anaerobic) Is it sitting some place cold or warm? (can be issues on either end of the spectrum)

If you focus closely on those composting worm “requirements” and make sure to steer clear of the “hazards” (refer to my free vermicomposting guide, or my new course if you want to learn more about these) that “happy place” status shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve!

Hope this helps!

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    • John W.
    • December 20, 2012

    haha…I was going to say Check out the new course…but you got there before me!
    I would assume that this type of problem is less of a concern for flow through bins like the worm inn or stacking bins like the WF360?

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