Worms in Compost Tumblers

A question from Kristine:

I have a compost tumbler with about 1000 worms in it. I’ve noticed
here lately that some of them have turned a little pale:( Do u no why
this is happening?

Hi Kristine,
In all honesty, a compost tumbler is not an ideal habitat for composting worms. For one thing, tumblers are designed to be rotated – but worms are generally going to prefer a habitat that’s not being disturbed all that much. Sure, you COULD simply set up a tumbler like a worm bin and never rotate it (or very rarely), but in my mind that would be a waste of a good tumbler (especially if it was one of the expensive commercial models). In general, compost tumblers are designed to be hot (or at least semi-hot) composting systems, so aside from stressing the worms out with lots of disturbance, there’s a decent chance you’d end up cooking them or killing them off via ammonia release.

I should, however, point out that compost tumblers can still be fantastic tools for us vermicomposters! They offer an excellent way to “pre-compost” various challenging materials like coffee grounds, grass clippings etc, and just generally a great way to make food mixes that your worms will go crazy for! I have plans to construct my own compost tumbler this spring so I’ll certainly be writing a lot more about all this before too long.

Just so ya know, composting worms can do very well in regular backyard composters. Be sure to check out these posts if you want to learn more:
Red Worms and Backyard Composters
Composting Worms In Your Backyard Composter


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    • Maggie
    • April 28, 2011

    I have been living in Alberta going on 5 years now and have an earth machine backyard composter. For the first 3 years I lived here I tried everything including proper ratio of brown to green additions, watering, turning, even compost accelerators and never got an inch of useable compost despite all the hard work.
    Last summer I added a handful of red wigglers to my composter left the lid off so mother nature could water it for me and left it alone completely, aside from adding my food scraps. Last fall I had the most amazing compost ever! I would not even think about backyard composting anymore without the use of red wigglers.

    • Nancy
    • July 30, 2011

    Thank you for addressing my “worms in the compost tumbler” question! Living here in hottttt south Texas, I also “pre-compost” from our homemade tumbler (which we got instructions off the Boy Scouts website to build ourselves). I did leave just a few worms in and oddly, they are alive as of this date and quite large.

    Our tumbler is “bin #2”. Bin #1 is for the freshest stuff, and bin #3 is for the worms. Bins 1 & 2 are just old recycled plastic tubs with holes drilled for drainage/aeration.

    I started my worm bin last December with a $2.50 tub of 30 fishing worms from Walmart. I can’t tell you how many thousands I have now. Thank you so much for such an informative website!

    • Nancy
    • July 30, 2011

    p.s. Bin #3 (the worm bin) gets frozen apple cores and banana peels too 😉

    • Tan
    • August 4, 2013

    I have two tumblers, and two vermicompost buckets, and was wondering what you thought about the idea of putting works into my tumblers over the winter? Do big bins of mostly composted material seems like a toasty winter home?

    • Douglas Waldrep
    • January 6, 2022

    Worms do well in tumbling com-posters as long as their environment is maitines with correct amounts of food and water. Tumbling doesn’t bother them.

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