Are your compost worms dying? Well, compost worms are extremely sensitive and they need an optimal environment to thrive.
While worms have a natural lifecycle, when most of them die unexpectedly you should look for the cause. Could it be what you are feeding them wrongly? Is it a change in the surrounding conditions? Or is it the presence of pests?
There are several factors that can impact the survival of your worms, and the good news is that most of them are easily identifiable and fixable.
Below is an overview of the most common factors that may cause compost worms to die and how to fix them.
For compost worms to thrive, you need to place the bin in an area with moderate temperatures. Ideally, this should be between 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Red worms thrive in temperatures ranging between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, when the temperatures begin to drop below 60 degrees F, your worms will start eating less and reproducing less. As the temperature continues to drop they will go into survival mode. If temperature drops below 40 degrees, the worms will start to die off.
To prevent them from dying, you can place the worm bin in a location where the sun hits most often in your yard. You can also consider placing it indoors. This way, you can effectively regulate the temperature.
A well-designed garage space can be a good place to have your worm bin. Some gardeners even create insulated structures like shacks for temperature maintenance. This can ensure that worms thrive all year round.
Exposure to temperatures 86 Fahrenheit can be fatal for composting worms.
To regulate the high temperatures, place the bin outside in the shade. Pouring some ice cubes on top of the bedding is also another way to cool down the pile.
Inadequate and Improper Food Supply
Inadequate food supply can make compost worms die since they benefit from a balanced diet. Generally, they tend to feed on the usual fruit and vegetable scraps.
Worms deprived of important nutrient supply become malnourished and eventually die. To avoid this, supply them with healthy remains of cooked food in addition to fruit and vegetable scraps. You can also add lawn clippings, yard waste, and animal manure. Some people also leave tea bags, tea leaves, and coffee grounds.
Be careful when feeding worms because incompatible food may also kill them. They don’t feed on acid or citrus fruits since it will interfere with their digestion. They also don’t feed on spicy food, garlic, onions, and leeks. Fats, oils, bread, pasta, and other processed wheat products may also have damaging effects.
Wrong Feeding Technique
Knowing what to feed the compost worms is one thing. When and how to feed them is also another crucial aspect. Yes, that’s how sensitive worm are.
Make sure that the worms aren’t overfed.
A healthy and fully functioning worm bin shouldn’t weigh more than 7 lbs solely in compost worms. If so, it means they are getting overfed and this is counterproductive.
Slowly, make it a habit to add small amounts of foods. Worms love to feed on fresh food scraps. Excess supply will result in an uneven decomposition and the bin may end up becoming slimy and smelly.
Rotting food scraps from the excess supply will eventually interfere with the worms’ lifecycle. It can also lead to oxygen deprivation through anaerobic reactions.
Here are a few tips to help you dose food:
- Only add more food once the previous supply has been used;
- If there is remaining uneaten food, then it shouldn’t be more than 5 cm deep.
- Add a maximum of 2.5 cm of food per day
Monitor the supply, consumption, and growth of the worms. This is because the more the population increases, the more food supply they will need.
Oxygen is crucial for the survival of worms. It’s even more critical since they breathe through their skin. So, a slight fluctuation would mean that they could die.
Poor oxygen supply often occurs if the bin doesn’t have enough holes for the air supply, so some people are afraid to punch a few holes in the bin because they are afraid the worms may crawl out.
This won’t happen if you create a good environment for them in the bin. If you find that they are escaping through the holes, then they probably have a reason to escape.
Fixing oxygen supply is a straightforward process – you need to create an efficient ventilation system by poking more holes in the bin.
Just like temperature, compost worms are also sensitive to moisture fluctuations, and it’s important to avoid both extremes.
With an extremely wet bedding, the worms may end up being overwhelmed because of the highly saturated environment.
While worms also require a moist environment to thrive, excess water supply can cut prevent oxygen from getting through. This generally happens due to poor drainage.
Inadequate moisture supply is also a problem. Like I’ve stated above, worms need a moist environment since most of their weight is derived from water. So, they need a steady and adequate supply of moisture to live.
A dry worm bin occurs because of high evaporation or inadequate water supply. Luckily, fixing this problem isn’t too complicated.
Use a clean spray bottle to water the bedding. Ensure that you mix the bedding material effectively while spraying it with water for a more even moisture distribution.
Excess Protein Supply
Protein is generally good for the growth and development of most living things. However, compost worms can die from excess protein.
This condition is normally known as protein poisoning, also called “string of pearls” or sour crop. It’s an issue that occurs from the accumulation of protein in the compost bin.
You can tell that it’s protein poisoning from serious deformation of the earthworms as their intestines rupture, and inevitably their death.
First, remove the affected worms. Second, consider the type of feed that you are currently adding to the worm bin.
Do some research about the best foods to feed compost worms and ensure that you consider those with low protein content. Generally, you can prevent protein poisoning by not overfeeding the worms.
Note: Once you have established the compost worms are dying and you have removed the affected worms, you might want to consider your feeding program again. During the next couple of days, it’s advisable to stop feeding the worms to allow normalcy to settle in.
Harmful Bedding Material
Are your compost worms dying due to toxic bedding materials?
One thing we can all agree on is that the type of bedding material matters. It’s vital for upkeep and that’s why you need to use the right type of material.
Bedding, as the name suggests provide the worms with a surface. Using toxic materials to create a bedding interferes with the worms feeding habits and overall behavior.
Toxic materials that may result in the death of these organisms include bleached white office paper with toxic inks, fresh bovine manure, and junk mail. You should also avoid using sharp and compact objects as a bedding.
Worms tend to thrive when you use the following materials as a bedding:
- Shredded paper. (Don’t use the bleached white office paper).
- Shredded brown cardboard
- Aged compost
- Peat moss
- Shredded newspaper (Don’t use the colored version).
- Wood chips
- Straw and hay
- Aged cow or horse manure
- Fall leaves
- Organic yard waste
For optimal results, it’s always advisable to use a mixture of these materials. This helps create a bedding with the following characteristics:
- Neutral PH
- Compost pores for sufficient airflow
- Good moisture retention rate
- Soft and comfortable profile
Note: Compost worms usually eat bedding materials. Understand that almost 50% of the worms’ diet is made up of its bedding. Hence why the bedding is so important.
Snails, Flies, and Mites
Naturally, a healthy worm bin should have other organisms.
However, flies and mites are typically unwelcomed guests. If you leave them around for too long, you increase the risk of your worms dying.
Harmful organisms that may interfere with the survival of your homes include:
They have toxic venom that may kill the worms. If you spot these arthropods, then you should remove them as soon as possible.
Always wear gloves when removing centipede because they can bite humans as well.
Slugs and Snails
They are not really problematic to the worms in the bin per se, but their existence may affect the environment around the worms.
This is because when they lay eggs, your composts can get a slug infestation.
These arthropods are normally found in the soil. Earthworm mites are responsible for breaking down the soil’s organic matter.
But the fact that they promote a healthy growth environment for plants doesn’t mean that they are safe for worms.
These blighters grow and multiply rapidly. So, having them in your worm bin means that they will also compete with the worms for food. Eventually, the worms will be deprived of the essential nutrients and die.
To eliminate the earthworm mites, cover the bedding with water. The mites should end up floating to the surface where you can easily remove them.
A slow and effective alternative involves using a soaked slice of bread. Use milk to soak the bread and then place it on top of the bedding. The mites will end up filling the bread and you can easily remove them.
To create an environment that is optimal for worms to grow, supply them with important and beneficial organisms. They include:
These insects love dark environments and would, therefore, thrive in a compost filled with worms. Earwigs help decompose compost and the worms can also feed on them.
With their “thousand legs”, millipedes are also great compost decomposers.
The nocturnal flies usually lay hundreds of eggs that grow into maggot-like larvae.
The larvae can be helpful in decomposing organic matter, and they can also help deter house flies.
Springtails are not insects but hexapods. They naturally carry bacteria and spores with them. This combination helps decompose vegetable matter. Their presence in the worm bin usually indicates a healthy growth environment for worms.
There are several reasons that may cause your compost worms to die.
From temperature and moisture fluctuations, the wrong feeding technique and food supply to potential insect mismatches.
However, it’s possible to fix all these issues, right on time before the entire population of worms crumble.
For that to happen, you must regularly monitor the worm bin and look for the signs that may justify a reaction.