This question comes from Wendi, who is wondering where all her worms went.
I’m really enjoying your website/blog and find it very informative.
I’ve looked for info on worms “leaving the bin/possibly dying” and am
having trouble finding a thorough answer. I have an outdoor bin that I
prepared last year with fresh damp bedding (newspaper strips
w/cardboard on top), added worms, and tried to follow feeding and
care recommendations, but my worms were gone within a few weeks. I
was adding kitchen scraps weekly, and figured out that the pieces
were probably too big since nothing was being eaten. There were no
signs of worms within a couple of weeks. What did I do wrong? Did I
starve them? Did they escape out the small drainage holes in the
bottom? How did they leave so fast and completely? I would really
appreciate the help – I love the idea of vermicomposting and want to
be successful at it!
Sorry to hear about your worms. That certainly doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable introduction to vermicomposting!
I think the very first question I would ask is, what type of worms were you using? Were they a species adapted for worm composting (such as ‘Red Worms’) or were they garden worms? I have a sneaking suspicion that they would have been the right kind of worms, given the fact that you’ve been reading up on vermicomposting, but you never know.
For the benefit of anyone new to worm composting, it is important to know that not just any worm will do well in a worm bin. The typical species of worms you find on your lawn (after rain) and in your garden are adapted for soil, not rich organic wastes – nor are they well adapted for crowded, warm conditions.
You also mentioned adding the worms to the moist bedding, THEN starting to add food scraps. If this is indeed the case, your worms likely ventured elsewhere in search for food. When setting up a new system, I recommend mixing a lot of food scraps in with your bedding then letting the system sit for 1-2 weeks before you even add any worms. This allows time for colonization of lots of microorganisms (the main source of nutrition for the worms), thus offering the worms a nice tasty buffet when they arrive. I think one of the most common problems with the usual recommend way of setting up a worm bin is that the worms end up introduced to a basically sterile environment – new bedding and fresh food scraps don’t really offer anything similar to the worms preferred habitat.
As for escaping out the drainage holes in the bottom, that seems quite likely. You’d be amazed how small a hole worms can squeeze through when they want to. When I’ve kept outdoor plastic bins (with drainage holes), I’ve always had worms sitting underneath the bin (if conditions are really favourable inside you won’t see too many bothering to venture out though).
One other possibility is that unfavourable conditions developed in the bin and the worms decided to head elsewhere. Perhaps you added too much food (less of an issue when you mix with bedding and let it sit for awhile) – although this seems very unlikely given the fact that you were only adding food weekly.
My recommendation would be to add a bunch more bedding and food waste this year then let your system sit for a good 2-3 weeks (make sure to add water if it seems like the system is drying out) before adding another batch of worms. Once they have been added, don’t add any more food for another 1-2 weeks, and even then start out slowly – only adding food as it disappears from the bin.
Hope this helps.
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