Worm Bin Recovery

A very relevant email from Tiffany:

I have a closed rubbermaid tub with a bunch of holes and a second tub
as water collector system. I collect my veggie and fruit waste in an
airtight closed tub. A few weeks ago, I forgot to feed the worms what
was collecting for a few days and it decomposed to watery, really
putrid smelling waste. I figured it was ok anyway and put it in.

Long story short, I had to stop feeding, mix in dry bedding and leave
the bin open on and off for the next couple of weeks. I thought the
smell finally dissipated and the moisture went down and left it alone
covered for a few days to find TONS of white fuzzy mold that I ended
up mixing in with more dry bedding. The worms seem ok. And I do have a
white mite population that seems under control.

How should I be collecting/saving/feeding the food wastes? And if the
wastes are really disgustingly decomposed and watery, should I still
feed it to the worms next time?

Finally, any advice on how to get my bin back in order?

Thank you so much for your time and your great website!

Hi Tiffany,
You’ve brought up some really important topics here – so thanks for writing in!

Firstly, let’s talk about keeping waste materials…

If you are going to let them sit at room temperature for multiple days prior to feeding, it’s really important to provide them with good air flow, and to make sure they are mixed with (or at least sitting on top of) some absorbent bedding materials. An air-tight container with no bedding is an invitation for creating nasty, foul “worm food” (not a great idea as I’ll discuss in a minute).

That being said, I am really impressed with how you handled the situation – that’s pretty much exactly the approach I would have recommended. i.e. stop feeding, add lots of absorbent bedding, increase air flow. So good job on that front!

Don’t worry too much about the mold growth – if you add a bit more bedding and simply mix the upper layers (where the mold is growing) really well – without disturbing the worms too much, that is – and then perhaps add an additional layer of dry bedding over top, you should be in good shape before you know it!

I’ve talked already about how you can prevent things from getting ugly when storing wastes (in a room temperature container). One other potential approach I’ve grown to love is freezing (then thawing) the wastes! Although you don’t end up with materials that are loaded with microbes – the freezing/thawing DOES work wonders in terms of helping to break down the structural integrity of the wastes, thus making them very worm/microbe-friendly. You do need to be careful with water-release though (since it can happen much more quickly in this case) – it’s never a bad idea to lay the materials down on a layer of dry bedding to help soak up excess moisture.

When you do end up creating foul wastes (and trust me when I say that it still happens to me all the time), you definitely want to be more careful about using them right away. In a big, open, outdoor bed you’re probably fine just adding them as-is. With a smaller enclosed bin my recommendation would be to mix them with a lot of dry bedding and let them sit for awhile (in a separate bin) before using them as worm food. Anaerobic waste slop can contain various compounds (alcohols, acids etc) that are not great for your worms.

Like I said, it really seems as though you’ve done a great job with your recovery efforts – so, other than the advice regarding the mold (already mentioned), I don’t really have any additional suggestions – other than recommending that you go easy on feeding until it seems like things are starting to balance out a bit more.

Hope this helps!

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    • gary
    • July 19, 2012


    Is it okay to add unthawed food into the worm bin?

    Like you, I freeze our little buddies’ food before feeding it to them. However, I let the food sit in a air thigh container for much longer than the thawing processing and do tend to get the ‘not so ideal worm food condition’.

    • Bentley
    • July 19, 2012

    Absolutely, Gary – that’s actually a great strategy for warm weather systems since it’s the double benefit of cooling + easily-processed foods (once thawed). I often like to thaw the materials out first simply because I can then chop everything up more before adding to my system(s) – and with smaller bins I’m sometimes a little more paranoid about shocking the worms with too much cold stuff (not likely a real concern unless you are using Blue Worms or African Nightcrawlers).

    • gary
    • July 19, 2012

    Thanks for the quick reply!

    Looks like the worms will be getting frozen fruit/veggie scrap popsicles from here on out.

    • Shevek
    • August 2, 2012

    Gary – I’ve been adding frozen material myself this past summer, to cool things down given the hot hot summer we’re having. I haven’t noticed any negative effects. Just in case though, i make sure to put some bedding underneath before adding the frozen material.

    • ron
    • October 22, 2012

    I usually freeze a few 20-32oz bottles in the freezer to lay on top of my worm inns to cool the bedding down during the warm/hot months. Allows the worms to migrate up/down with the temps as opposed to burying frozen foods with the worms.

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