Repairing a Damaged Worm Habitat

Great question from Leanne:

I have learned a lot from the reader’s questions but how do you fix a
compromised environment? I think I killed 2/3 of my worms by not
having enough bedding and it some how overheated even though it’s in
the shade. I pulled out the worms I could save and have added fresh
bedding. Should I let it sit a certain amount of time? Should I keep
the worms out while it repairs or will they survive with my
corrections? Lot’s of worms died and decomposed in the bin, so does
that make the environment toxic?

Hi Leanne,

What you have done in response to your issues is absolutely on-target. When there is clearly a population meltdown taking place, the key is always to get those survivors out as quickly as you can. Ideally you can get them into another bin containing lots of moistened bedding (recommend either strips of newsprint or shredded corrugated cardboard), and in a location that’s not experiencing any extremes (heat, cold etc).

Any additional stress can end up killing off more of the survivors. Speaking of which, you should closely monitor the worms in your new bin to make sure there aren’t any more of them dying off (any that do should be removed immediately). Provide this bin with excellent air flow. Maybe instead of a lid you can just lay some sheets of newsprint across top of worm zone. If possible, I also recommend shining light over top. The worms may be restless in their new (relatively sterile) environment. As for feeding – you might try adding a very small amount of food to the new bin, but err on the side of moderation for sure!

Getting back to the original bin…

I always recommend keeping the material from a ‘meltdown’ bin. It’s kinda like a “box of chocolates” – as Forrest Gump would say – you never know what you’re gonna get! LoL
Seriously though, there may be plenty of cocoons in there that will be unharmed by the population die off, and perhaps even some smaller worms that managed to survive. Adding new bedding (as you’ve done) and giving the system lots of air flow – while maintaining moist conditions – will go a long way towards getting the bin back on track. Then you simply leave it be, and focus on your new system.

Before you know it, you may end up with a new thriving population of worms in the original bin! Worst case scenario, you should at least end up with some nice “living material” that can be used to mix with food for the new bin etc. Definitely make sure you give the old bin a good month or two before using any material though. Also make sure it smells nice and earthy. Taking things even on additional step further – try adding a small pile of it on top of the worm zone in your new bin and see if any worms move into it. If they completely avoid it (even with some tempting food material added) you should let the old bin sit even longer.

Hope this helps!

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    • Maryfrances
    • November 24, 2013

    I started a worm bin using worms from the yard. They did fine, but I got a lot of liquid in the bottom; in fact, the worms were almost swimming. Didn’t seem to hurt them–I had lots of baby worms (they never seemed to mature, but they survived). I got a plastic lid and put the worms and bedding on it, then put it in the bin at a slant so it would drain. I also drained the liquid. It continued to be very moist. It was also very gooey–not what I have imagined “castings” to be. Nothing I could sieve through a hardware cloth, to be sure!

    So I got another bin and drilled a few small holes in the bottom. I transferred the worms and bedding to it and put it in a larger bin to catch what drained. Very little liquid appeared in the bottom bin, but the top bin dried up. . .too much. It got dry and my worms died.

    I put the bedding back in a bin without holes and have acquired a few (less than 10) more worms (it’s cold now and we couldn’t get many). (I can probably get another supply from a friend.)

    Did I do something wrong originally? How do I keep the bedding at a proper moisture?

    Oh–I tried to refresh their bedding by pushing the old stuff to one side, adding fresh bedding to the other side, and feeding them only in the fresh bedding. It didn’t work. They would NOT leave their old home. I don’t know what they were eating; it was pretty much a homogenous black goo.

    • riverman
    • February 6, 2014

    Been raising worms for 3 years, the first year was mostly a bust with lots of mistakes. Various different experiments with bins, Feeding, and bedding lead me to conclude that besides the feeding aspect, the most important thing is creating the proper balance between aeration and moisture. I had the wife build me a worm inn which was too well aerated and dried out too quickly and around the edges always needing attention because they dried even quicker; too much monitoring required and impossible to keep a good balance throughout the bin. My first bins were plastic and they are by far the worse bins to work with because they are even harder to keep the proper balance between the two. Sure both bins will work well enough but much attention and fussing is requirement and working with the final product is tedious and messy.
    My solution to the aeration and moisture balancing came with my next experiment. I built a 1 ½ ft by 3 plywood bin with legs to make the bin waist high. I then lined or rather hung polypro weed block inside the bin creating a barrier between the wood and the porous weed block. The roll of fabric was 4’ wide allowing for a depth of an easy 20 inches. I think I paid about $50 or so for the 100 ft roll. This material is extremely strong and will hold the bedding without tearing if attached to the sides of the bin; I used the self sealing metal screws, the ones with the rubber and metal gaskets. I top the bin with plywood. This seemed to create an easy and functional bin that I only moisten twice a week or so with a juice bottle with holes drilled in the lid. PERFECT.
    This bin is producing about 25 gallons of vermicompost per year which I harvest some every month and store in 5 gallon buckets. My harvesting method is scooping up in a large pile turn on direct light over the the bin so when the worms dive, then I scoop off the top. I will scoop off some worms which go into the bucket but don’t sweat the lose because the bin produces so many worms that I just don’t care. Additional the worms that do end up in the buckets continue to work. Come spring I can use the vermicompost as is or separate casting if needed. I don’t because frankly the vermicompost is mostly castings anyway. This bin produces lots of worms as well, I have gone now from a couple of hundred worms to 30,000 as I built another bin just like it and started a huge outdoor bin. OK well, 30,000 is my best guess but admittedly I did harvest a bunch from outdoor humanure piles along with some worms from alpaca and horse manure that I picked up.

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