Fixing a Sour Worm Bin

Question from Leslie:

I have a Worm Factory 360. All was going well for a while, then a
bunch of food went bad and I thought I could add it all and just get
away without feeding for a while. Bad move. I think my bin is souring,
or soured.

Could I add a new, clean bin (of mostly coir) on top of it? It’d make
a safe space for the worms to get away from my mess, but still allow
them to go back and eat at their leisure.

I also get a little too involved in things, and worry that any more
hands-on approach at fixing things will invariably make it worse and
leave me obsessing.

I really appreciate your help. This site is awesome

Hi Leslie,
Thanks for the kind words (I wrote “worms” the first time…happens a lot! lol)

I think you are on the right track for improving the sour bin situation. If it was me, I would add a lot of new bedding, likely some “living material” (eg. really well aged manure, compost etc), and provide plenty of air flow. I would then basically just leave the system to sit for a period of time. I like your idea of giving them a new habitat to move into. I would likely set it up using exactly the materials I just mentioned, rather than something like coir.

You’ve brought up a REALLY important point. Trust me when I say that you are NOT alone in “getting too involved in things”, trying to “fix” your system when trouble arises. This is likely one of the most common challenges that eager vermicomposters (especially new ones) face. It’s so tempting to keep trying different things – often resulting even more issues. I used to be exactly the same way myself.

Over the years I’ve learned that a “K.I.S.S.” approach and a fair amount of patience can go a LONG way!


*** IMPORTANT NOTE (For Others Reading This) ***

Leslie mentioned something else that was really important as well. If you leave food waste to age and it ends up turning into stinky anaerobic sludge (this can usually be avoided if you mix it with lots of bedding and provide good air flow), DO NOT add it to your worm bin right away – at least not in the case of smaller systems – since this can really create issues. Mix it up with lots of dry absorbent bedding, ideally some “living material”, provide plenty of air flow – then let it sit (notice a recurring pattern here?). Once the bad smell is gone (might even start to smell a bit earthy) it should be fine to feed to your worms.


Hope this helps!
😎

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Comments

    • Paul Spengler
    • July 15, 2014

    I noticed for the last two days the vermicompost tea smelled just a bit sour. Tonight the worm bin was bubbling out the sides of the lid and smelled quite sour. I opened the lid – the bubble subsided in – but I found what looked like all of the worms on the top layer of newspaper and NONE in the vermicompost. I had recently shifted towards shredded partially composted leaves as my brown material versus a successful history of shredded newspaper. I had added a little more kitchen veggie scraps as we are going to be away a week. After reading this post I added shredded newspaper to the top tray – mixed it in with my hands – removed the bottom sour smelling tray. What do you think happened? And what should I now do?

    • Kirsty
    • August 16, 2014

    Hey Paul, thought I’d jump in and give you my two cents worth. I’m so sorry that your little squirmies seem to have gotten into trouble.
    The likely problem was feeding more than the system can cope with. The leaves would also be likely to be less absorbent and may have contributed to the problem. Maybe a mixture of bedding might be better, not exclusively leaves.
    As long as some of your worms have survived in the top layer you should be ok. Make sure they have heaps of bedding, some living material and a tiny bit of food. I would dispose of the sour tray in an outside compost bin. The worries will not benefit from trying to live in it or process it.
    You may have lost some worms and cocoons but I’m sure your system will recover. Happy worm farming!

    • Paul Spengler
    • September 25, 2014

    Kirsty is right and so is the K.I.S.S principle. After I intervened as described above I left nature alone and everything resolved. The same thing happened to me again and the culprit as far as I can determine is a too ambitious feeding of green materials from veggie kitchen scraps. I am learning the balance between green and brown and time. It’s all so cool I love it – and I have had the BEST organic raised garden beds EVER. Thank you!

    • Loretta
    • March 10, 2015

    I am also new to raising red worms for composting and have a sour bed from over feeding would you mix in more beding or put worms in a new beding. Thanks 2015 March 10th.

    • Kirsty
    • March 11, 2015

    Depends how stinky it is and how many worms you have. Adding bedding will always help as will some living material like aged horse manure or leaf mould. Good luck!

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