How to Solve the Most Common Worm Farm Problems

Quite a few worm farm problems happening here! Overfeeding, too many carbs, no bedding, rotting food, some friendly pests and probably a foul smell...
Quite a few worm farm problems happening here! Overfeeding, too many carbs, no bedding, rotting food, some friendly pests and probably a foul smell…

Many worm farm problems that occur are avoidable through proper worm farm maintenance. This includes:

  • Not overfeeding your worms.
  • Add the right food scraps. Do not add meat, dairy, greasy or oily food, pet feces, or too much acidic food.
  • Keeping the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio at least 1:1 or higher – when in doubt, add more paper.
  • Regulating the worm bin temperature between 59° – 86° Fahrenheit or 15° – 30° Celsius. Always remember that worms like the same temperatures as humans.
  • Make sure your worms are always comfortable. Provide sufficient bedding and keep it always moist (but not too moist!!!).

When I first started my worm farming odyssey, I learned the hard way through a series of trial and error. I hope you can forgive me. As a male, I’m not hard-wired to read the manual until something goes wrong.

Here’s a list of the most common worm farm problems and possible solutions to resolve them. All of which I wish I knew when I first started worm farming.

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Worm Farm Problem #1 – Too Hot

Worms will try to migrate to cooler spots in the worm farm such as the base when it starts to get too hot.
Worms will try to migrate to cooler spots in the worm farm such as the base when it starts to get too hot.

This worm farm problem is a real challenge in the Summer heat.

When your worm bin starts to get too hot, your worms will migrate to cooler areas (or trays). They will also eat less food and slow down reproduction.

Worms will likely suffer and die if temperatures exceed 95° Fahrenheit or 35° Celsius.

Solutions:

On hot days freeze a water bottle, wrap it in some newspaper and bury it deep in your worm farm.
On hot days freeze a water bottle, wrap it in some newspaper and bury it deep in your worm farm.
  • Place your worm bin so that it is not in direct sunlight (e.g. under a tree). Limit exposure to the sun when its impact is most strong (morning or afternoon). Also try setting up some shade cloth for sun protection.
  • Cover the worm bin with light-colored materials such as second-hand carpet. You can also build a custom cover for your worm bin (e.g. a polystyrene box that you can place your worm bin in).
  • Move the worm bin to a cooler place such as indoors. Be mindful that many garages exceed 95° Fahrenheit or 35° Celsius.
  • Keep the bedding moist. Be careful not add too much water as this can boil them. Soggy bedding can heat up much more than dryer bedding. Use a watering can or spray bottle to keep the bedding wet.
  • Don’t put too much food scraps in the worm bin. Excess food will decompose and heat up the bin.
  • A low carbon to nitrogen ratio increases the temperature in the worm bin. Add some more carbon to offset the nitrogen (e.g. cardboard, shredded paper, eggs cartons etc…).
  • On hot days freeze a bottle of water, wrap it in some newspaper and bury it deep in your worm farm to create a cool zone. Replace the bottle as it defrosts. You can also try adding a large ice block on top. The worms will congregate upstairs to stay cool. The ice block should take several hours to melt completely.
  • Drape a damp cloth or hessian over worm farm so it acts as evaporate cooling.
  • Paint your worm farm a light color so it reflects more heat.
  • Apply lots of bedding respite (mix in some compost with worm castings). Extra bedding will act as an insulator against extreme temperatures and offer protection.

Worm Farm Problem #2 – Too Cold

In extreme conditions, worms like humans will not survive the cold.
In extreme conditions, worms like humans will not survive the cold.

If your worms are too cold, they will crawl a lot and eventually mass together in a ball to keep warm. The worms will also eat less food and slow down reproduction.

If conditions get too cold, your worms may go into a bit of a survival mode, causing them to reproduce in a hurry. In extreme cold (i.e. 40° Fahrenheit or 4° Celsius), your worms will likely perish.

Solutions:

  • Adding in more nitrogen will increase the temperature. Feed your worms foods that are higher nitrogen, this will generate more heat as it breaks down. This means fewer fruits and more legumes and vegetables.
  • Insulate the worm bin, wrap it in wool, cardboard, fabric etc…, to trap the heat in. Be careful not to wrap too tight restricting ventilation.
  • Move the worm bin to a warmer place (e.g. near external exhaust vents of heating system)
  • Add a heat source such as a heat lamp or a spotlight
  • Add some pre-soaked newspaper on top of your worms bedding
  • Refrain from opening your worm bin lid as this will let the cold in
  • Bury your worm bin partially in the ground
  • Add dry leaves, straw or grass on top
  • Make your worm bin floorless to let your worms burrow deep into the ground to stay warm

Worm Farm Problem #3 – Too Wet

Too much moisture can drown your worms. The bedding in your worm bin should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If you can squeeze water out of a fistful of bedding, or if you see puddles, then your worm bin is too wet.

If your worm bin becomes too wet, it can become anaerobic (meaning no oxygen) with rotting food and produce a foul odour. Worms will naturally aerate the compost.

If your worms are becoming pale in color, or are skinny rather than nice and fat and healthy, your worm farm moisture levels are probably too high.

Solutions:

  • Add some fresh dry bedding material such as straw and paper. This will soak up some of the moisture.
  • Make sure you are not over-feeding the worms as this can cause excess moisture. Stop adding food for a bit so the bin can dry out a bit more.
  • Reduce food scraps that are high in water content (e.g. cucumber and lettuce are 96% water).
  • Stop watering for a while
  • Check the drainage of your worm bin to ensure there are no blockages

Worm Farm Problem #4 – Too Dry

Worms need moisture to breathe. If a worm bin is too dry, they will suffocate.
Worms need moisture to breathe. If a worm bin is too dry, they will suffocate.

All worms breathe through their skin. If a worm’s skin dries out, they will die.

If your worm farm isn’t producing any worm tea, then it’s a sign that the moisture level is going the other way. An ant infestation is usually a sign that your worm bin bedding is too dry.

Solutions:

  • Add some water using a spray bottle until you have the correct moisture level
  • Add more organic waste with a higher water content

Worm Farm Problem #5 – Too Acidic (Low pH Levels)

Another common worm farm problem is acidity. A good worm farm should smell earthy. If your worm bin smells rotten and vinegary, then it’s most likely that your worm bin is too acidic. Correct pH levels help worms to digest larger quantities of food waste. Worms are quite tolerant of acidic conditions.

pH, the potential of hydrogen, is a numeric scale between 0 and 14 used to specify acidity or alkalinity. 7 is neutral where lower values are more acid and higher values more alkaline. For example, lemon juice is at pH 2, pure water is neutral and seawater is at pH 8. A good pH level for a worm farm is between 6 and 7.

Some foods are more acidic than others (e.g. citrus fruits). Acidity is also produced through microbial fermentation. Excess amounts of acidic fruits, such as oranges, can contribute to a worm farm with low pH levels.

If your worms become deformed, discolored or dismembered, they may have protein poisoning (also known as sour crop or string-of-pearls). Protein poisoning is a direct result of overfeeding which creates a toxic environment.

Solutions:

  • Add pH neutral minerals such crushed eggshells, garden soil, dolomite, and crushed lime.
  • There are some worm farm conditioner products you can buy. Sprinkle a light even coating of powder across the top surface of your worm bin. This will help to neutralize and balance the pH levels.
  • Add some fresh bedding to offset the pH level
  • Get some clean air to your worms. Gently aerate the bedding by lifting and turning it.
  • If there is excess food waste, then it will decompose and create a toxic environment.
  • Remove any uneaten food which may be fermenting in the worm bin.

Worm Farm Problem #6  – Unwanted Pests

While some pests can become a big worm farm problem, many other inhabitants are harmless. Most pests pose no threat unless their population spirals too high.

The most effective prevention is to ensure your worm bin is well maintained. And make sure the worm bin lid is securely on to keep the pests out!

Solutions:

  • Potworms – Try to reduce large populations with some bread soaked in milk
  • Springtails & mites – Try cutting back on water and feed. Add some calcium carbonate to raise the pH levels (reducing acidity)
  • Fruit flies – Cover fruit with some bedding. Try custom traps to reduce the population. Wash produce before consumption to remove eggs. Try microwaving or freezing food waste before adding it to the worm bin (letting the food waste return to room temperature of course).
  • Slugs, snails, centipedes – Remove by hand.
  • Ants – Ants are a sign that your worm bin is not moist enough. A good splash of water usually fixes it. Do not use insecticide. If your worm bin is on legs, place each leg in a dish of water to stop the ants getting in. Try sprinkling ground cinnamon wherever the ants are. You can also move the worm bin somewhere else.
  • Blowflies & house flies – Do not add any meat, greasy food waste, or pet feces as feed. A well maintained worm farm should not stink, which is what attracts flies.
  • Earwigs, beetles, millipedes, soldier flies, sow bugs & pill bugs – Do not worry about these – they are harmless.
  • Maggots or larvae – Eggs are laid on the surface of nitrogen rich material. Cover and bury nitrogen rich food waste. Add leaves, dry grass and shredded paper on top. Try putting a window screen over any holes in the bin.
  • Land planarian flat worms – Will attack your worms by the masses and reproduce quickly. Remove immediately and check your worm bin at least twice a day for others.


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