Common Vermicomposting Mistakes
Avoid common vermicomposting mistakes and you’ll be on your way to having a thriving worm farm and healthy worm composting bin in your home.
- Your worm composting bin is too wet.
That sour smell coming from your worm composting bin is because it is too wet. This happens more often if you use Rubbermaid containers than it does with wood containers. The wood allows the bedding to breath, where the Rubbermaid worm binsdon’t allow moisture to escape.Either you started out with bedding that was too wet, or you’ve put too much food with high water content into your bin as feedstock. (Melons, etc) Your bedding and finished vermicompost should be damp, like a wrung out sponge. Not dry and not dripping wet.How to fix the problem: Put a temporary freeze on feeding your vermicomposting worms food that have high water content. Take some dry worm beddingmaterial and place it into the bin. Scatter the material over the top of the existing bedding. The dry material will absorb some of the moisture. If you have a bin that doesn’t have drain holes in the bottom, make a deep pocket in your bedding and place a handful of dry bedding material into the pocket.Be patient. It will take some time for the dry material to absorb the moisture. Only add more dry material if you still have a moisture problem AND all the dry material you added before is wet.
When the problem is corrected, only feed your worms food with high water content in moderation.
- Your worm composting bin is too dry.
Worms breathe though their skin and their skin needs to be moist in order for this to happen. When a worm gets too dry, he is not only dehydrating, but he is suffocating.Worm bins usually only get too dry when you start a bin without pre-wetting the bedding or you add too much dry bedding to your bin. Only add dry bedding to a vermicomposting bin if you have moisture problems (as described above).How to fix the problem: Pre moisten all bedding before putting it into the vermicomposting bin. I like the soak and wring dry method. Soak bedding material overnight in a container of water. Then grab a handful of bedding and squeeze as much water as you can out of it and then spread it out through your worm bin.If you’ve started your bin with moist bedding and it dries up, you can use a spray bottle set to mist and give them a few squirts every once in a while.
Be aware that the bedding on the bottom of your bin may be a lot wetter than the bedding on the top of your bin. If you still have moist bedding below, you are fine.
- Mixing your feedstock with your bedding.
Your worms are climbing the walls of your vermicompost bin and your bedding feels like a hot compost pile. That is because you mixed your feedstock up with your bedding and made it an indoor compost pile and your worms don’t like that.How to fix the problem: Start by salvaging as many of your worms as possible and get them into a new worm bin. The food and bedding has already been mixed up, and unless you want to go through it bit by bit, you should probably just add it to the outdoor compost pile. Any remaining worms will scramble to safety and start breeding in your compost pile, which will be a good thing.Remember to only top feed or pocket-feed your worms. Never make a salad out of your bedding and food. Your worms will find the food. Trust me!
- Over feeding your worms.
It has been said that under ideal conditions, composting worms can eat their body weight each day. This is true, but everyone seems to ignore the part about “under ideal conditions”. Red wigglers are voracious eaters, but“can eat” and “will eat” are two different things. People also forget to take into account the bedding the worms eat as well.If you are new to vermicomposting or just starting a new worm bin, start slowly. Give the worms a few days to get used to their new environment before you start feeding them. Then, give them a small amount of food and see how long it takes for that food to completely disappear. Then, give them more. You’ll start to get a feel for how much food they need and how quickly they will eat it.Overfeeding will lead to rotting food and rancid smells, not to mention acidic worm bins which will make your worms want to flee.Notice that “under feeding” your worms, is not on this list. That’s because it is pretty hard to starve your worms if you have fresh bedding. I’ve heard of people going on vacation and not feeding their worms for 2-3 months and coming back to a thriving worm population.
- Loving your worms too much.
We all love our worms, but you can love your worms too much. People new to vermicomposting are very susceptible to this phenomenon. Disturbing the bedding to show off or watch what is going on can lead to unhappy worms. Imagine someone ripping off the roof of your house to see what you were up to.What to do: Try to only open your bins to check conditions, feed your worms, or clean out the bins when they are ready. Of course, part of the fun of having a vermicomposting bin is to watch the worms. Just keep it to a minimum.
- Not enough air flow
Poor bin design or having an overly wet worm bin can lead to airflow problems. You start getting anaerobic condition which affects the health of your worm bin. Anaerobic conditions make your vermicomposting bin sour and stinky.What to do: Start with a well designed worm bin with plenty of ventilation. Also, make sure you don’t have an overly wet worm bin. Bedding and finished vermicompost should be damp, like a wrung out sponge.
- Inappropriate feedstock
Worms will eat almost anything organic, but so will my 2 year old son. It doesn’t mean we should feed them everything. Stay away from feeding them cheese, dairy, oil, bread, and meat. Eventually, this stuff will break down and the worms will eat it, but it could be a stinky wait.Review the Do’s and Don’ts of Feeding My Vermicomposting Worms for more information about feedstock and bedding.
- Overreacting to problems
You’ve made one or more of the mistakes above. Now what? The worst thing you can do is to overreact. Patience and moderation is the key to successfully raising worms.Once you realize that you have made a mistake, act slowly to correct it. Take a small corrective action and wait to see the result. It may take days or even weeks for that action to fully develop. Be patient.
- Giving up
Everyone who has vermicomposting worms for any period of time has made one or more mistakes above. Sometimes we’ve made them multiple times. Don’t give up. Vermicomposting is a fun, relaxing, educational, rewarding, and sometimes addicting hobby that can reap huge benefits in your garden. Just have fun with it!
- Spending too much money
The best part about vermicomposting is that it is relatively inexpensive to do, but some people end up spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on various contraptions (blenders, shredders, fancy worm bins, etc). If you have the money then you can buy these things for a little added convenience, but they are not a prerequisite.Remember to keep it simple. Earthworms have survived for millions of years without our intervention or gadgets. They are one of nature’s most perfect inventions. They eat our trash and then return a perfect soil.Find out how you can get started raising worms for under $10.