How to Manage Pest in Your Worm Bin

How to Manage Pest in Your Worm Bin

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Hey Worm People!

Let's do a deep dive into the different types of pest we collect in our worm bins. Not all of these critters are bad—many indicate you are on the right track, creating the optimal environment for life.

Sometimes, they may be a warning that your pH or moisture levels are off, but most of the time, they are friendly neighbors. You can control their populations and limit the competition for your worm's food with a few adjustments.

This article will clarify your confusion about these critters and provide practical steps to control their populations.  This guide features pro tips from our very own trusted and wise wormers.  

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The key to managing your worm bins and preventing pests is maintaining optimal conditions for your worms. Most pests will only appear when your bin is out of balance. To manage most pests, you'll need three essential products: Diatomaceous Earth (DE), Agricultural Lime, and Mosquito BTI.

Now, let's bug out and learn about this motley bunch of bedfellows.

House Fly

This creature needs no introduction.  We’ve all had them buzzing around somewhere they are not supposed to be.  Luckily, flies and maggots are not harmful to our worms.  They can indicate overfeeding or exposed rotting food.  Avoid animal products like meat, cheese, and dairy in your worm bins.  You can cover your food with bedding or just feed in smaller ground-up amounts on top, and don’t overwater.  

Springtails 

The Pluto of bugs. No longer considered insects, we can consider these little hexapods our worm assistants.  They will help break down the organic matter into smaller pieces.  This will make it easier for the worms to eat what you feed them.  Springtails are not harmful to your worms, but their presence indicates too much moisture.  It’s good to dry out your bins and see if their populations reduce.  

Wise Wormer Pro Tip: 

Jeff [Platte Valley Organics] recommends leaving them be. He says they are an integral part of the food web, helping to digest organic matter. He explains one of their benefits to the garden by comparing them to taxis transporting beneficial aerobic microbes to plant surfaces.  The microbes protect the plant from fungal spores like blight. Forum Thread

Springtail: Image by Elizabeth W. in The Worm People community

Worm Bin Mites

You might be concerned when you see your first mite in your bin.  Don’t be. Most mites in your bin are little composters.  They feed on organic matter just like the worms do and, for the most part, are harmless.  If your bin explodes with them, it is due to excess moisture and an acidic environment.  Feed your worms less but more frequently, and let your bin dry out a little.  Add some Diatomaceous Earth to the top of the bin, and they will vanish.   

Mite under a microscope Courtesy of Franklin Raught in the Worm People Community

Trusted Wormer Pro Tip: 

Michael Doyle offers his three-step approach to controlling mites in his bins.  

1. The bin may be too wet and needs to dry out. I remove the lid and let it 'air dry.'

2. DE or Diatomaceous Earth. This is a powder you can dust the surface of your bin with.

3. NeemOil. This can be purchased as a liquid. You can spray on the surface of the bin

I have had the best luck removing the lid and letting it dry out. Forum Thread 

Mites by Brian Valentine | CC | Flickr

Pot Worms

That is not the ghost of a worm’s past, and you aren’t Captain Ahab. You have pot worms. They are white because they lack hemoglobin in their blood.  They like acidic environments.  Chances are you overfed your bin, creating the perfect environment for them to thrive.  They are harmless, but the environment they are in might not be.  You want to check your PH. It is probably too low. Make adjustments with egg shells or agricultural lime, and stop overfeeding your worms.  

Pot Worms - Courtesy of Elizabeth W in the Worm People Community

Wise Wormer Pro Tip: 

“Pot worms usually mean your bedding is getting, or is, a bit acidic. You can add some garden lime or egg/oyster shells to balance it out. If you’re using peat moss, it needs to be neutralized using 1/4c lime for every 3 gallons of peat. Let it sit, while damp, for at least a couple of days before adding the worms. Even if you use peat mixed with other things, it’s a good idea to bring it neutral.” -Brooke Warkenitin [Seriously, Worms!] Forum Thread

Fruit Flies

These little buggers hitch a ride on our produce.  They explode in populations seemingly overnight.  We’ve all dealt with them, and they are harmless but annoying.  We recommend freezing or microwaving your food scraps before feeding to kill any eggs already on the produce. Mosquito BTI will work to kill fruit flies at the early stages of growth.

Watch Captain Matt share his simple way of catching fruit flies

Once they are established, your best bet is to set up traps.  The video above is Captain Matt's simple five gallon bucket trap. This will disrupt their life cycle by removing the adults. 

Fruit Fly by Martin Cooper | CC | Flickr

Fungus Gnats

This is another insect that hitches a ride on our produce. Luckily, the BTI and the DE work to prevent them. Be sure to use food-grade DE and a mask to avoid breathing in the dust. DE loses its effectiveness when wet. You should periodically dust the top of your bin. 

Fungus Gnat by Katja Schulz | CC | Flickr

Roaches

If we let our bins get too dry, they can turn into roach motels. Keeping your bin at the proper moisture level will help prevent roaches from taking up shop. Burying food in bedding eliminates their easy access to food sources. Sprinkling DE around your bin can serve as a barrier.   

Slugs and Snails

Harmless to worms but devastating to your crops.  We don’t want their eggs getting into our garden.  It’s best to manually remove them from the beds and use DE to interrupt their life cycle. Their presence indicates your bed is too wet.  You can catch them with a bowl of beer buried in your bin. If you have chickens, snails are a welcome treat.  Plus, you can grind up their shells as another source of calcium.  

Snail: Image courtesy of Elizabeth W. in the Worm People Community

Ants

Ants are a common pest, and they need no introduction. If you want them to march on, water your bin. Their presence indicates your bed is too dry. They are a problem because they will eat young worms and cocoons.  The same barrier of DE for the roaches will prevent the ants from finding your bin. Another option is cinnamon; they hate it.   

Earwigs

Earwigs are little helpers you should not concern yourself with.  They will find your bin, and their presence isn’t harmful.  They help keep all the other critters in balance.  

The problem with earwigs is they harm our plants.  It's best to keep their populations in check with DE. 

Earwig by Anthony Willey | CC | Flickr

Woodlice, Isopods, Rollie Pollies, Slaters, Pill Bugs, Doodle Bugs, Sowbugs, Basketball bugs, Armadillidium

A crustacean so nice they named it four hundred times.  Don’t worry about woodlice.  They are beneficial to your worm bin, breaking down bulkier organic material. 

Isopod - Courtesy of Elizabeth W in the Worm People Community

Flatworms 

Planarians, also known as flatworms or hammerhead worms, are predatory to worms. This is the scariest thing to find in your worm bin.  Luckily, they are very rare.  If you see one, remove it immediately and inspect your bin daily to ensure they don’t return.   

Flatworm by Brian Valentine | CC | Flickr

Centipedes and Millipedes

Remove centipedes from your bed manually.  They will eat your worms.  Millipedes are harmless to worms and help with composting.  

Soldier Flies and Larvae

Black soldier fly larvae are fantastic composters.  They have a voracious appetite and can quickly consume your worm food.  The fly lays its eggs in the corrugated cardboard, and they are attracted to the smell of rotten fruit.  Burying your food under bedding and not having any corrugated cardboard on the surface is the best way to prevent them from getting in your bed.  

If you notice black soldier fly larvae in your bed, we recommend starting a Black soldier fly bin somewhere away from your worm bins. Black soldier fly larvae are an excellent source of protein for chickens and fish. They are easy to manage and will crawl out of the bin when ready to molt.  

Black Soldier Fly by Henrik Peterson | CC | Flickr

Spiders

A gardener's best friend.  Leave them to the extent you can stomach working around them.  Arachnophobia Runs deep, but they are great little garden helpers.  They help keep the other bug populations in check.  Watch out for the poisonous varieties.  

Beetles

Beetles and their grubs help with composting but should be manually removed to avoid infestation and competition for food.  

Silverfish

Silverfish become a problem if your bed is too acidic.  You may be overfeeding the bin or it is too moist.  Add some dry bedding, agricultural lime, and check your PH levels.  Ensure your worms are consuming all the food before you feed again. This will prevent acidity levels from rising.  Adjust the PH with neutral browns, agricultural lime, or crushed eggshells.

Silverfish by Ippopotamo | CC | Flickr

Termites

Harmless to the worms but devastating to your home and pegleg.  Sprinkle DE on the surface of your bed for a few weeks and inspect that they are gone.  We recommend contacting pest control and confirming you do not have an infestation in your home.  

Termites by jehkay | CC | Flickr

Birds, Possums, Lizards, Frogs, Snakes, Rats, and Mice

Not all of our pests are small.  Some are large and in charge.  These larger pest are a nuisance if we leave food on top of our bins uncovered. The best way to control larger pests is to cover our bins and create barriers to prevent entry.  Covering our food in bedding will give your worms a layer of protection from these predators.   

Strike a Balance 

Like all things in nature, finding the balance is critical.  A healthy worm bed properly managed will rarely encounter infestations.  Following good practices from experienced worm farmers is the best way to ensure your worms have a home and some food will be left on their table.  

Laying the Foundation for Success

We recommend taking our course Learn to Worm to learn every step of the process and establish a firm knowledge base for your worm farming endeavors.  Captain Matt takes you through the entire process from start to finish.  You will have the tools you need to succeed as a hobbyist or a professional worm farmer.  Sign up today!

Our Mission   

We are Worm people.  We do this for the love of worms but also the love of community.   We love sharing knowledge and growing as a group.  Our love for our little wriggly friends brings us all together. Through them we nurture our living soil.  Worm farming reduces waste in landfills and rejuvenates stressed and depleted topsoil. You are creating a healthier, biodynamic world. You are making a difference!