Wheatgrass and Worms

Here is a question from Travis:

I am raising Afrincan Nightcrawlers and Red Wigglers. I have added
wheat grass to both bins and now it seems that the worms are moving
very slowly and the mites are becoming more aggressive in the bins.
What are my possible options to save both bins and make the most of
this situation?

Hi Travis,
Green materials like leaves and grass can be quite risky as food materials for enclosed vermicomposting bins (well, at least those made out of plastic). The problem lies in the fact that these materials have a low carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio, so they tend to off-gas excess nitrogen – in the form of ammonia – as they break down (which can happen quite rapidly). Ammonia gas is highly toxic for worms, even at relatively low concentrations – so you definitely want to avoid any and all conditions that can lead to its creation (high pH can be another potential trigger – so be careful with excess lime etc).

My recommendations for rescuing a worm herd typically include: 1) mixing in LOTS of new, moistened bedding, 2) taking the lid off and leaving it off for at least a few days if possible (keep under a light though), and perhaps (if possible) 3) adding some “living material”, such as well-rotted fall leaf litter, or really well-aged manure/bedding mixes (should smell earthy). It’s also not a bad idea to remove as much of the offending material as possible.

Regarding the mites – they CAN seem to become aggressive at times – I won’t deny that. What most people don’t realize, though, is that this is almost always a behavior that goes hand in hand with a decline in worm health (typically caused by poor habitat conditions). I have yet to see common worm bin mites attacking healthy vigorous worms (it seems some other worm bin creatures are not quite so fortunate: “Parasitic Worm Bin Mites?“).

Unfortunately, maintaining a nice “healthy” environment in enclosed plastic bins can be more challenging than in wooden and/or open systems, especially when you are just starting out, but it’s something you gradually develop a certain “feel” (“worm sense”?) for if you keep at it (that’s not to say there won’t ever be random experimental meltdowns or other unforeseen disasters, though! lol)

Anyway – hope this helps! Thanks for the question.

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    • Kevin Jiang
    • January 13, 2012

    You’re last statement is arguable. I started two months ago and my herd is doing great. Oh well. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I wonder what percentage of starters are lucky…

    • Bentley
    • January 13, 2012

    LoL – think you must have misinterpreted my last statement, Kevin. I wasn’t suggesting that all new vermicomposters will kill off their worms (have major issues within the first couple of months etc etc). I was simply saying that typical plastic, enclosed bins can less forgiving than open systems and wooden bins, and when this is combined with inexperience there can be a greater chance of issues arising.
    Those who are really interested in this stuff and gain a solid grasp of the fundamentals can do well right out of the starting gates.

    • Sue
    • January 14, 2012

    Kevin, I use the wheat grass mats at the bottom of my bins when I re-start them. Got them from a juicer place. I removed/pulled out the left over green part (stems?) as soon s I got them and spread the grass on newspaper/cardboard to dry before I add that to the top of the bin.
    Bentley is right about the ammonia and Iuckily I always added that on top at that time (before I started to dry the grass) and didn’t notice any worm die-off.
    Bentley, I assume using dried wheat grass is OK, right? It would be similar like using alfalfa pellets?

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