Lethargic Worms & Worm Tea

Here is a two part question from a reader wondering why her worms aren’t doing so well and her ‘worm tea’ output is so low.

I followed your video for setting up a worm bin and letting
it age. I got the worms last week and added them to the system,
supposedly 1000. There always is like 10-20 up around the top. And
some of the worms are lethargic and a bit limp. Because of the
escaping issue, I checked them out, some places they are more lively
and eating the decaying stuff but there are definitely those that
seem like they are hardly living. I think I anticipated they would
be a bit more lively. if healthy. I have a second rubbermaid
underneath the first. But have got no worm tea. I actually added
about 4 cups of water just two days ago and it was all absorbed. I
checked the acidic level and it seemed to be OK. I’m sure a sound
like a paranoid newbie. My husband calls me a worried worm mother.
I’m afraid of killing all my worms. My question is: if there is no
worm tea, does that suggest it is too dry? If some worms seem limp
and lethargic is that just normal? Thanks for your input. JoEl

Hi JoEl,
You didn’t mention how you obtained your worms, but I have a sneaking suspicion you ordered them and had them shipped. If this is indeed the case, your worms are likely suffering from the stress of the ordeal (especially if they were shipped from far away). Perhaps the worm dealer even had them separated and ready for shipment prior to you placing your order (i.e. in preparation for orders coming in), or they use a harvesting method that causes a lot of stress on the worms. It’s hard to say for sure what sort of trauma your worms have been through, but based on your description I think it’s quite likely that this is what has happened.

I’m glad to hear that some of your worms are actively feeding, and seem to be more responsive! The silver lining of this cloud is that even if some of your worms die, those that survive are likely much tougher worms and your future population(s) will therefore likely be healthier as a result.

As for the ‘worm tea’…

You’ll likely notice that I’ve been putting quotes around the term. Technically speaking, the liquid that ends up in the reservoir is not really worm team – a more appropriate term would probably be ‘leachate’. In order to properly make good worm tea you generally need to use high quality finished worm castings (vermicompost). This material will be much more stabilized and will contain all sorts of great beneficial microbes. Leachate on the other hand, while it can certainly contain nutrients, can also potentially contain some phytotoxic (bad for plants) substances produced via anaerobic processes etc. If diluted with water, this liquid can be perfectly fine – especially if your bin is much more mature – but generally it is best to make worm tea once you have some finished compost.

Worms love it wet, so as long as you have good drainage in the bottom of your upper bin it should be fine to add water. The fact that you added 4 cups of water and none drained seems odd though. You might want to make sure your holes are functioning properly, since you definitely won’t want liquid pooling in the bottom of the upper bin. Assuming your drain holes are working fine, your system must have been a tad dry if it was able to absorb 4 cups of water.

One thing to keep in mind with running a lot of water through the bin – you’ll likely end up with a compost that is not as rich in nutrients (since a lot of them will be carried away in the water), but if your main interest is producing leachate for your plants then this may not be a big deal.

Anyway, I hope this helps!
Thanks for the great questions.


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