A question from Karen
I just checked my worm bin – been going for about a month – and the food scraps are molding and I see some flies and only a couple of worms. What is wrong? Where did my worms go? I started with a full order. Do I have to start over?
If the worms have mostly disappeared on you it likely means you have not provided them with ideal living conditions. Very often with new vermicomposters there is a tendency to add too much food and/or not enough bedding, which can lead to the deterioration of the worm habitat before too long – especially if you continue to add more food.
If food scraps are ending up covered with a lot mold when there are plenty of worms in the system (not sure if this was the case with you, but worth mentioning anyway) it typically means too much has been added at once and/or it has not been optimized for being processed by the worms. Finely chopping everything up, freezing it, letting it age for a period of time (mixed with bedding) in a separate container, and mixing with “living materials” (earthy-smelling mostly-decomposed stuff like leaf mold, compost etc) can all help.
Air flow is another important consideration – especially if there isn’t enough bedding in a vermicomposting system (since bedding tends to encourage more air movement) and you are using some sort of enclosed plastic bin. Apart from the fact that the worms need oxygen, the flow of air into and out from the system can help to prevent any toxic gases (such as ammonia) from building up.
Now, regarding what to do with your current system. My recommendation would definitely be to add more bedding materials and simply let it sit without any further addition of food waste. You might be surprised by how quickly the worm population can bounce back when left to its own devices. If you are really keen to hit the ground running with more worms, I’d suggest starting up a separate system, making sure to put a bit more time and effort into creating an optimal habitat for the composting worms.
If you are not already on the email list, I suggest signing up so you can download the free RWC Vermicomposting Guide and receive my “Worm Briefs”. These should help you to stay on track moving forward.
Hope this helps!