Worm Composting Not So Easy, Part III


This is the third in a series of posts on the lessons I’ve learned from maintaining a worm bin. See Worm Composting Not So Easy, Part I and Part II to get the background on my worm bin, including some of the lessons that I thought I had learned, but now realize were incorrect.

The main point of the series, however, remains true: worm composting can be more difficult than the experts make it out to be. This post will help you avoid the mistakes that I made.

Not long after I published the first two posts in this series, there was a tweet that really got my attention. Colleen Vanderlinden, the co-author of Edible Gardening for the Midwest* and organic gardening writer for About.com, tweeted that setting up a worm bin was so easy her five-year-old could do it.

Since I had been having worm bin difficulties off and on for about two years, I was a little worried. I was tempted to ask Colleen if her five-year-old could help me out ;). Just kidding. Colleen has a great step by step guide that turns setting up a bin into child’s play.

A couple of blogs that provided good advice were Wormbincomposting.com and Red Worm Composting. Wormbincomposting.com has a question and answer page where she provides very good answers to sometimes difficult questions. Red Worm Composting has a free 77-page worm composting guide.

The Situation

After doing quite well for a while, my bin started to become too wet and mucky. The worms were crawling up on the side of the bin and in the handles so they could get away from the material they were supposed to be eating. They would eat a little, then crawl up the bin, then go back down when they were hungry. Many spent most of their time on the side of the bin.

One of the tell-tale signs of a problem was that my bin was draining quite a lot of leachate (the liquid that results when the worms eat). I thought that was a good thing. It indicated that they were eating. Also, some worm bin sellers claim that the liquid is an added benefit of worm composting. Something that is good for plants and is similar to compost tea. The consensus among worm composting experts is that leachate pouring out of the bin means that I’m over feeding and there isn’t enough bedding. Plus it isn’t very good for plants and should only be poured onto your regular (not worm) compost pile.


Another problem area was that the worms were not eating the bedding. All I was getting was worm castings stuck to strips of paper.

Two Changes

To restore my bin back to good health, I made two changes.

1. I’ve added more bedding in the form of thin (instead of fat) paper strips. More paper should help change the nitrogen to carbon ratio, making the material more palatable to the worms.  It will also allow the worms to get more oxygen. Thinner strips should make it easier for the worms and other little creatures in the bin to break down the paper more easily.

2. I stopped feeding the worms for about three weeks and let them process the food that’s already there. The bin is now a lot less moist. No more leachate. I’ve started feeding them again, but only a little bit of food every few days, which I add in a nest of paper strips in one corner. And, the food I am putting in has already been composted a bit before I add it to the bin.

The worms seem much more healthy and are no longer crawling up on the side of the bin. There’s also some young worms in the bin. Still, it seems to be taking a long time for the material to decompose and there aren’t nearly as many worms as there were about six months ago.

I know a lot of people can get more out of a video than just a post on this kind of thing, so here’s a short video showing the state of the bin currently.

Related articles that might interest you:

1. Worm Composting Not So Easy, Part I
2. Worm Composting Not So Easy, Part II
3. Free 77-page Worm Composting Guide
4. Don’t Use Compost Tea on Seedlings

*If you purchase using this link, I make a small amount of money that lets me continue to publish Suburban Hobby Farmer.

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10 Responses to “Worm Composting Not So Easy, Part III”

  1. February 3, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    Liz at Wormbincomposting.com has provided some information on her blog at http://www.wormbincomposting.com/wormcompostingquestion.html.

  2. February 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    I’ve been on the fence with starting a worm bin. I have 3 outdoor compost bins, and it seems to work fine for us. But I do want to one day try a worm bin because it seems that it composts much faster.

    • February 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      The best part about a worm bin is you can keep it inside. I keep mine in the basement. It’s so convenient, you’ll be tempted to feed too much like I did. That’s where I had trouble.

  3. Worms!
    July 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Bill,

    I love that you have kept at this for so long! I have had my worm bin for about 8 months now with pretty good (albeit accidental) success. I have a suggestion for you (and many questions!). Try cutting up some cardboard into about 2 inch pieces, soaking it, then ringing it out thoroughly and place it in a layer on the surface of the worm muck – the worms seem to like to reproduce in this stuff and that may help inflate your worm population and up their food intake. I am also having the problem of too much moisture, and the worms seeming to try to escape, that bit I have not figured out a solution to yet, though I may try your method of adding more paper – most of mine has decomposed over the last 8 months – do you recommend I add the paper to the top or try to layer it in with the current soil? Or have you found another solution to the moisture and escaping worms issue that you might suggest?? I also noticed that when I put some of the “compost” that I had harvested in a flower pot in the back yard and promptly forgot about it for 4 months, when I went back to it it was teeming with bugs and had wonderful, rich compost – it has large holes in the bottom, so the other bugs could get in, so that might be a thought for the mostly processed compost from your bin? Please let me know your thoughts!

    • July 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      On the question of how to remove moisture that is causing worms to leave the bin, I suggest that you layer in strips of paper and also put paper on top. That’s a good first start. I also have large drip holes that allow moisture to drain from the bin. I almost never have worms leave through the bottom of the bin. But the most important suggestion is to reduce the amount you are feeding the worms. This is the cause of too much moisture and the bin will dry out over time if you reduce the amount of food.

      Thanks for letting me know about soaking the cardboard. I’ll give that a try.

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