“I Murdered My Worms!”

***OK – So I lied! In my last post I mentioned that you likely wouldn’t hear from me again until next week. The funny irony being that not only have I added one more post for you, but for the first time ever – you can literally ‘HEAR’ from me! If you are on my newsletter list you may know that I’ve been planning to start adding audio posts and/or ‘podcasts’ to the site. Well I took the time to figure out how to do so this week – and I’m glad I did! You will need flash installed on your system – but most computers will already have this (helps you watch videos as well). I am definitely interested to get some feedback on this. It was fun recording my first audio and I can definitely see myself doing this fairly often. OK – enough blabbering. Here is the post…

A question from Charles:

Hi Bentley, my subject line may be overly dramatic, but I
think it pretty much sums up my problem. I started my worm bin about
a year ago. I got the right kind of worms, set up a cozy house for
them that I made out of those plastic grocery baskets that you’re not
supposed to “borrow,” and fed them what I thought was a balanced diet
of kitchen scraps, newspaper, and cardboard. That worked great for
the first 6 months, they happily bred, and their castings gave me what
was probably the best tomato crop of my life. Just today I tried to
harvest the castings for my winter garden, and found that all my worms
are gone and have been replaced by earwigs and black widow spiders!
I’m really sad. Do you have any idea what could have happened? I live
in San Diego, CA which has a mild, Mediterranean climate.


Hi Charles,
There are certainly some additional details about your situation that could help to shed some more light on why this might have happened, but I’ll still discuss the topic of “disappearing worms” in general to provide everyone with a broad overview.

Based on what you said, I suspect that your system has been sitting outside (it would be bad enough that you have ‘Black Widows’ in your yard, so I certainly hope you are not talking about an indoor system!!). Almost invariably, the ‘disappearing worms’ phenomenon seems to occur in outdoor systems – and this is not really too surprising when you think about it. Indoors, it is much easier to keep your worms protected from weather extremes, predation etc etc.

Another factor that almost always seems to come into play is some sort of ‘neglect’. Now don’t get me wrong here, Charles – I’m not trying to suggest that you were a bad ‘worm daddy’ (haha)! All I’m saying is that it is pretty hard for worms to vanish without a trace if you are constantly checking on the system (unless they are abducted by aliens – and we can never rule that out completely!). Worms DO decompose very quickly, but you would still see some evidence of dead worms or at least a declining population over a given period of time.

A common example seems to be when people go away for a holiday etc and come back to find the worms gone. There are certainly plenty of environmental factors that can come into play here. Was there a hot spell? A cold spell? Lots of rain? A drought? Any one of these could have a negative impact on an outdoor system – especially if it is fairly small.

I actually just received an email from one of my readers, telling me how he lost most of his worms during a period of heavy rain. If worms are able to easily escape from a given system, and conditions in said system are not ideal, they certainly won’t hesitate to move – especially during dark, wet periods.

The fact that you found spiders and earwigs makes me think that you might be on the other end of the spectrum – perhaps the system dried out?

If, on the other hand all this this DID happen within a matter of days (and if you’ve been feeding them on a regular basis still), and if there hasn’t been any rain or extreme weather – then we may have a bit of a mystery on our hands!

I would encourage you to add a comment below if you’d like to share a few more details about your situation – perhaps this will help to provide a clearer picture in terms of what might have happened (or at least eliminate some of the possibilities)


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  1. Worms are NOT fickle… If they go, they go for a REASON!

    • Neville Wade
    • October 8, 2009

    Hi Bently
    I just heard your first audio response and I am very impressed. This would be good for poor sighted people and I think that this would be aterrific thing to keep going. Regards Nifty Nev

    • Charles
    • October 8, 2009

    Hey Bentley, thanks for the advice. I like how you added audio to your blog. I do have an outdoor system. Basically my setup consists of one of those shopping baskets that I’ve elevated on some bricks inside a plastic garbage can. While there were a few days here where the weather got in the upper 90’s the whole system is in some nice shade.

    Basically all I do is put some kitchen scraps in there once every couple of days. About once every 3 months I’ll mix up the pile and sift out any finished compost.

    I waited a little longer than usual this time around and I’m worried that maybe I crushed them just by letting the basket get too full. Alternatively, I was thinking that maybe it dried out too much. I would say that the moisture level of the soil was similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. Is that too dry? Is it possible that the earwigs and spiders ate them?

    I have some pictures of my setup if you’d like me to email them to you.

    I thought my worms had it pretty good.. I’m a little insulted that they moved out.

    • Gwen
    • October 8, 2009

    Hey friend!!! Loved the audio!!!!! what a great thing! Keep it going…


  2. Oh how could I not comment on this! The audio quality is fantastic. The audio response is truly unique. I feel I am in the company of a genious.

    • Candin
    • October 9, 2009

    Im the one with the rain storm. The amazing thing is even though the beds were completely saturated like a swimming pool, there were a lot left. Some left and I were under the plywood cover. I put as many as I could back in the beds.

    I am in the process of builidng a concrete border around my beds. We are expecting more heavy rain tomorrow, hope the water will be diverted since my changes.


  3. I think one should also consider an acid situation forming (good tomato crop, acid deluxo?)as I have certainly had movement of worms with a change of feed?..and Africa is HOT boy!..!
    Charles..my advise is to START AGAIN..and leave out the tomatoes?

  4. Oh!..yes cool audio!

    • Kevin
    • October 9, 2009

    I like the new audio post. My only advice is to turn the gain or volume down when you record. I just finished listening to some music and when I played your audio it blasted! You need to normalize the audio a bit. Otherwise, keep em coming!

    • Andrew
    • October 9, 2009

    Well done, Bentley! The volume was good for me. Next thing you know you’ll be broadcasting a regular podcast.

    • Candin
    • October 9, 2009

    IF anyone is concerned about acid beds, I can save you some time. The pH meters I purchased locally never worked. I ordered a Kelway PHD meter and it works great. I thought my outdoor open ground beds were alkaline (lots of limestone rocks) and they ended up at 6.6-7.0.

    PS: about 1.5 inches and lots of rain and the tarps held it off the beds. Still a little crawling just up and on the edges of the plywood cover but that is becoming more common with all the rain we had lately.


    • Candin
    • October 9, 2009

    I forgot, love the audio post Bentley!


    • Su407
    • October 9, 2009

    Audio post is great!
    It’s feel better, I don’t know if we can go for Sgype or not?

    • Kevin
    • October 10, 2009

    Wow, I retract my comment about the audio volume. I forgot to check the volume level of my music player which obviously is different than the embedded audio player on your site. My itunes was set to half volume. So ignore my comment, the audio volume was fine 🙂

    • Mary
    • October 12, 2009

    I really like the audio post. You’re truly a techno – wormie geek! 🙂

    • Melody in Sacramento
    • October 12, 2009

    Loved the audio – new to vermicomposting, but have an indoor system, and the worms seem happy. I would be terrified to find black widows in my bin, but I keep in moist, and it’s inside, so glad to hear that’s unlikely! Keep recording!

  5. With a El Niño in a peak, here in Colombia, my worms, in an outdoor hanging big-bag, requires a lot of care…I have a permanent garden thermometer, pH paper strip meter, and a holed flexible pipe to remove excessive water and aireation also…In my freezer I have a cold water bottle, to reduce heat if necessary by put into. The top-covered hanging bag avoid spiders, ants, and a lot of bugs, away form my worms… Now, with Audio-responses, they will begin English classes!…Bilingual (English-Spanish) worms…Huh?.

  6. Loved the audiocast! Do more, do more.

    • Bentley
    • October 19, 2009

    Hi Everyone – firstly, let me apologize for the delay responding! Thanks everyone for chiming in. I appreciate the feedback. I have recorded and published my next audio post (using an offsite service this time around) and I lowered the volume settings. Hopefully I won’t blast anyone’s eardrums out this time (also let me know if the new one [that talks about ‘white lice’] is too quiet – I just saw Kevin’s follow-up comment now].

    CHARLES – Thanks for the additional info. I think for sure that we are dealing here with either too much heat or conditions that are simply too dry. Even in shade, I would think that a system like this sitting in a garbage can (little air flow to help reduce heating) would get too hot for worms. If it was constantly at the ‘wrung-out-spunge’ level of moisture I would think the worms would be fine (this is not actually the optimal moisture level for composting worms, but it would certainly be enough to keep them alive). As for the spiders and earwigs, I highly doubt they killed off your worms since they typically feed on other creatures/materials.

    One thing I didn’t mention yet – I would definitely NOT get rid of the material (assuming you haven’t done so already). You may be able to get your population to bounce back for you, assuming the weather has cooled off a bit. Just keep adding some waste materials and moisture and see what happens

    Anyway – hope this helps!
    Thanks again for being my guinea pig Charles, and everyone else for chiming in with your helpful comments!

    P.S. Charles, I would certainly love to see some pics if you feel like sending them my way.

  7. Just one other note to Charles: If your bin is just the depth of those grocery store hand-carry things, the worms weren’t crushed. I had an overrun of worms last summer and no container, so I used a garden carrier I have that’s plastic, but shaped like an oversized bushel basket. And it’s FULL of worms! They love it, at all depths. My problem now is again, too many babies and hundreds of eggs (a problem I like having!) Good luck! (In the outdoors in Iowa, “trapped” worms in a bin will be eaten by prowling raccoons, possums, or even moles. (I have a fairly large-sized mole that is so dumb it’s out prowling aboveground at dawn and I have to pull my nosy little Whippet dog away from it constantly.) Cheers!

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