Roaming Worms

Here is a good question from Dan. Very likely something that a LOT of people wonder about.

I just started a vermicomposting bin yesterday. It is a
rubbermaid bin, and I drilled lots of aeration and drainage holes. I
then added some vegetable waste, lots of newspaper, cardboard, coffee
filter, and papertowels about 2 weeks before the red worms arrived.
I’ve also made sure to keep the bin nice and moist. I just got the
worms yesterday and added them to the bin. I’m noticing whenever I
take the top off that I usually have 4-8 worms on the sides of the
bin. Is this normal for new worms to have a few escaping….or does
4-8 mean the entire population doesn’t like my bin? I can’t think of
anything about the conditions they wouldn’t like…Also, what do I do
with the ones on the sides…should I put them back in or leave them

Hi Dan,
Be assured that this is totally normal for a new bin – even if it has been set up ahead of time (although you should generally see less roaming in an aged bin). If the worms are in real trouble you will definitely know about it – there will be masses of them on the sides and coming out any holes they can find.

Roaming is simply a sign that the worms are still adjusting to their new environment. I have little doubt that the shipping process (assuming that’s how you got them) shakes them up a little, and by the time they reach you they are probably starting to adjust to the constant motion and vibrations, only to then be put in a quiet environment.

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that it is very common for composting worms to be fed primarily manure when raised on worm farms – this is one of their preferred foods, and it promotes fast growth and large size so it makes sense to use it. Only problem is that when they are added to a food waste and bedding system it takes them some time to adjust. This is why it’s always a good idea to hold off from adding any more food to your new bin for a little while (assuming you added some when setting up) – the last thing you need at this time is an overfed bin!

There are a couple things you can try to keep the worms down in the bedding. If you take the lid off and shine a light on the bin it is unlikely that they will venture upwards, unless they are in real trouble (and assuming you have Red Worms – some species are less affected by light). Adding a really thick layer of dry bedding at the top of the bin can also help by drying out this area, making it a lot less desirable for the worms to roam up the sides.

I wouldn’t bother putting any roaming worms back down in the bedding (unless of course they’ve fallen out of the bin altogether) since they will probably just start climbing up the sides again. In a sense, it’s probably not a bad idea to let the roamers do their thing even if it means they end up drying out and dying – kind like ‘survival of the fittest’. You get rid of the roamers, and are left with more tolerant worms.

Anyway, hope this helps!

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    • Surya
    • September 14, 2008

    Hello Bentley,

    What do you do when your worms are in real trouble? (climbing up the sides in hoards). I feel like everytime I add food (once a week), they freak out and all start climbing up the sides. I think it’s too hot at first. After a 4-6 days they seem very content. But, i want to avoid freaking them out.

    How do you know when you’re feeding them too much? How often should they be fed? How would you recommend depositing the new kitchen scraps into the bin?

    Thank you,

    • Bentley
    • September 15, 2008

    Hi Surya,
    I find myself wondering what type of worms you are using. It seems odd that they would freak out like that each time you add food.

    If I saw this sort of behaviour I would assume they were overcrowded and/or the bedding wasn’t too their liking. I’d likely start up a new bin and split the population between the two systems.

    Add food scraps as they start to disappear – if they seem to be building up a bit just let them sit without feeding until they catch up.

    Hope this helps


    • Christine
    • September 29, 2008

    I started my bin and didn’t add any carbon for a couple months. After a while, I found I had dozens of worms crawling up the sides and escaping only to die on the basement floor. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong and figured out I had nothing to lose by adding torn up newspaper. That did the trick. I don’t think you can add too much newspaper to a worm bin. They work it up so fast! In one of my bins, I don’t have any holes drilled in it. I always add my paper dry. The paper absorbs moisture and my bins are doing better than ever.

    • Bentley
    • September 29, 2008

    Hi Christine,
    Thanks for sharing that! It’s amazing how effective bedding can be for curing bin problems!

    • Terri
    • October 6, 2008

    Hi Bentley,
    I love your web site. I could sit and read it for hours. Now I know how my daughter does it. I just started a bin the rubbermaid one. I put the food in and some soil and then the worms came. I kept it in my back room since I don’t have a basement and all was well. Then the flies came. I put in the vinegar traps, which kind of worked but eventually we all got tired of flies in our drinks. So I moved them outside. We live in Las Vegas so its pretty hot, so I waited to try this until fall. I think the weather now should be Ok its still a little warm in the day, but we’ve had some cool nights. They worms have been outside for two days now and I noticed today they are trying to climb out. I put some dry bedding at the top thinking it may be to moist, but I’m not sure. Could it be the change in tempature?

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