Here is a good question from Jim:
I am somewhat new to worm composting. I started earlier this
year. The bins were outside during the summer.
I moved my worm bins indoors a couple of weeks ago, just before the
first freeze. I pulled most of the compost out of the bins. As I
separated the worms from the compost, I put the worms with a little
bit of the compost back into the bins. I put the unprocessed material
back in the bins as well. I mixed dry grass, leaves and shredded paper
in the bins. I put the bins in the house in the basement.
The issue I have is, the worms seem to be trying to escape the bin. Each
time I go down there, the upper rim of the bin has quite a few worms on it.
Yesterday I thought that maybe the bin was too wet and the worms were
trying to get out of the moisture. I mixed quite a bit of shredded
paper in the bin to absorb some of the moisture. Today I went down to
put some scraps in the bin and I found lots of worms up around the
edge of the bin again. I have holes in the bottom to allow it to drain
and there doesn’t seem to be much liquid coming out of it. I am
wondering if you have an idea why the worms are trying to climb out?
Thanks for the info I have gleaned from this site in the past.
The topic of escaping worms in general is always a good one (VERY common concern), but you’ve also touched on another very interesting occurrence – something I’ve witnessed a number of times as well. For whatever reason, worms seem to be sensitive to rapid (relatively speaking) temperature changes. I’ve seen this when – like yourself – I’ve brought worm-rich materials indoors during cold weather, but I’ve also observed something similar when I’ve tried to cool down a batch of worms that was already warm. In the latter case, I had put a bag of worms in the refrigerator as a means of slowing them down and cooling them off prior to a (summer) customer pick-up. Minutes later, when I opened up the fridge to check on them, many had already found there way out of the breathable bag and were crawling around in the bowl I had place the bag in! I can’t say FOR SURE that it was the change in temperature that did it, but I’ve never witnessed anything quite like that when the bags have simply sat in the dark, so I definitely think it at least played a role.
It sounds as though you have the right idea in terms of discouraging roaming behavior. One of my recommendations is always to add a bunch of (dry) bedding at the top of the bin to help dry the sides and lid, thus discouraging the worms from venturing up from the composting zone. I also recommend taking off the lid and shining a bright light down into the bin. This (latter) approach can have two benefits – firstly, the light itself is an effective deterrent (assuming there isn’t something going seriously wrong down below), and secondly, the greatly increased air flow in the bin can help to remove gases that may be causing issues and reduce that humidity that builds up in an enclosed bin.
You MAY also have created issues with the addition of “dry grass, leaves and shredded paper”, or perhaps with whatever unprocessed materials were added back to the system, but in all honesty I’d be quite surprised if these were the cause of the roaming.
Assuming the worms have not yet settled down, my recommendation is to try the lid-off and light-shining methods to see if that helps them settle in. If not, you may indeed have something seriously going wrong in the bin, and your best bet may be to start a brand new system.
Hope this helps!