Avoiding Common Worm Farming Mistakes

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When I think of worm farming mistakes, Rod Stewart's cover of Ooh La La always seems to come to mind... 🎶 "I wish that I knew what I know now - when I was younger..." 🎶

It's helpful to know common mistakes in any subject up front because it can help us avoid those same costly mistakes. By understanding the most common pitfalls and challenges that people have encountered in the past when working with worms, you can take steps to prevent those mistakes from happening to you - in turn saving you time, frustration, and resources while helping you to make more efficient and effective progress on your worm journey. Additionally, knowing the common mistakes of worm farming will help you troubleshoot future problems that you will encounter leading you to find the solutions faster.

Common Worm Farming Mistakes:

  • Overfeeding/Underfeeding
  • Poor Ventilation
  • Inadequate Moisture Levels
  • Non-Optimal Temperatures
  • Worms Escaping
  • Bad smells

Feeding your worms

One of the most common mistakes with worm farming is feeding your worms an improper amount of food. It is important to provide the worms with a balanced diet of BROWNS - CARBONS (shredded paper, cardboard, newspaper, wood chips, decaying leaves) & GREENS - NITROGENS (fruits & vegetable scraps, leafy greens, grasses such as wheat grass) and enough food to meet their needs. This will help ensure the health and productivity of your worm farm. But the this is going to depend on many factors. It typically takes a little experimentation to figure out.

Overfeeding your worms can lead to a variety of problems, but a major challenge is pests. If you feed the worms more food than they can consume, the excess food will begin to decompose, which can lead to an increase in moisture in the worm farm. Too much moisture can cause a build-up of odors and create a breeding ground for pests such as fruit flies and fungus gnats. Not to mention, it's just a waste of resources. If you are feeding too much to the worms, it might be time to get more worms! :)

Underfeeding your worms on the other hand is also a common problem. It might not mean you are underfeeding to a point that your worms are dying, but maybe they are just less productive than they should be. Worms require a steady supply of food to keep them healthy and to facilitate the composting process. If you do not feed the worms enough, the composting process will slow down - limiting the amount or quality of your castings.

" A healthy casting starts with a healthy worm." - Captain Matt

There are no shortcuts to finding the right amount of food to feed your worms. It will take experimentation because everyone's situation is a little different.
Because it is hard for me to tell if my worms are not eating enough, I always try to push the limits.  I feed until I notice uneaten foods. When I find my limit, I cut back to help eliminate as many pests as possible.

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Poor Ventilation

Proper ventilation in your worm bin is essential. Worms need oxygen to survive, and proper ventilation helps to ensure that there is enough oxygen available in your worm farm. Remember that it is not just worms in your bins, it's an ecosystem! There are billions of microorganisms in there working just as hard as the worms and they all require oxygen as well. The quality of your compost literally depends on your ventilation.  I have always chosen to not use lids on my bins for this reason. I just don't want to limit one of the most essential things they need.

Inadequate Moisture Levels

Worms need moisture to survive because they breathe through their skin. A dry worm is a dead worm. Moisture will also help facilitate the breakdown of your food and bedding which makes it even easier for the worms to eat.
If you have a moisture meter [check price], the approximate level I use for red wigglers is around 80%. Typically, however, I go by feel for my moisture content. I pick up a nice handful of the bedding, and I squeeze it…I don't want water dripping out; but I want it to feel that if I squeeze just a little harder, I may get a drop or two.

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Non-Optimal Temperature

Worms are sensitive to temperature and will do best at a specific temperature range for each type of worm. The closer you can maintain their environment to this temperature, the more they will breed, eat, and poop! A safe temperature across most breeds is 76 to 80 degrees.

To maintain the right temperature in your worm farm, an easy way is to keep it in a location that is protected from extreme temperatures, such as in a shed, basement or garage. It is also a good idea to insulate the worm farm if it is in a location that is prone to extreme temperatures.

Compost thermometers [check price] are readily available - they measure the true temperature of your bedding below the surface. It is comforting to verify the temperature you are providing for your worms. Extreme weather conditions (hot & cold) have the potential to dry your beds out, so remember to keep a close eye on moisture content!

"Don't read success stories, you'll only get a message. Read failure stories, you will get ideas for success." - Dr. Abdul Kalam

Escaping worms

I'm sure you've heard stories of worms escaping from time to time - maybe leaving you with an uneasy feeling if you are keeping them somewhere in your house?  This is certainly a controllable problem. Would we be crazy to think that worms can be a bit selfish? I mean, we want them to stay put in their bins, but sometimes they want what's best for themselves, and it doesn't always align with what we want. If we want our worms to stay in their bin, let's think more along the lines of how are we attracting them to stay in their bin, not just keeping them there. And also let's put the things outside of their bin that they don't like, maybe then they will make the right decision for both us and them.

I encourage you all to provide the best environment for your worms. After all, they need these things to be productive as well as stay where we want them.

  • Proper bedding materials
  • Good Moisture
  • Correct temperatures
  • Adequate Ventilation

After all these considerations, the last thing I do to keep them put, is to use light. Worms do not like light. I cover all my bins with bubble wrap or a breathable fabric, and keep the area well lighted to avoid the great escape.

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Bad Smells

For other worm farmers with indoor bins like myself. Odors are one of the top concerns. I will tell you, there is no reason for any odor. Actually it means there could be something wrong in your bin. Here's a few things to check:

  • Too much food
  • Wrong types of food
  • Bedding is too wet

If you are noticing a lot of uneaten food after a week or so, it may be the food you are smelling. Try to reduce the amount you are feeding, and even cut it up or blend it so that it is more easily consumed by the worms. Also burying food scraps a couple inches under your bedding will help as well.

Certain types of food are not recommended to feed the worms such as meat, fish & dairy products. These would certainly cause unwanted smells common from your bin, not to mention unwanted critters!

If your bedding becomes too wet, your bin can become anaerobic. These conditions will cause a rotting smell and can be very harmful to your worms. Your worms may even start dying, making the smell even worse. If you think this may be a problem for you, Try these things:

  • Add fresh dry bedding
  • Remove any uneaten "wet" foods from the surface or under the bedding
  • Make sure drainage is working properly

If all else fails, you may have to empty the contents of your bin, worms and all onto a surface that will pull moisture out of the bedding. I have used my concrete floor in the garage for this (concrete absorbs water). Fans can also help dry the bedding. Don't be afraid to add shredded cardboard and mix the entire bed up with your hands if needed.

In Summary

Knowledge of common problems does not always mean these problems will be eliminated.  It's about having time to create a plan if these things do happen to you. It's a proactive approach to challenges. Worm farmers must be problem solvers. Although it may look like a small job, we are caring for livestock. And there is nothing predictable about any living thing, we just need to take it as it comes with as much knowledge as possible to make the best decisions.

Problem solving is a form of art. It's creative. It requires curiosity, critical thinking and conversation. It's not about being given all the answers, it's about knowing how to find the answers and choosing a path of action.  Community solves problems through collaboration, constructive criticism, & feedback. I want to encourage all you Worm People to continue to build each other up through the Worm People Discussion Forum - it is an awesome place to learn and to build on each others ideas. A rising tide lifts all ships. The worm tide is on the way in!

Have a wonderful worm week! ‌‌