What causes string-of-pearls? Protein Poisoning? Cold?

antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)May 19, 2010

I just thought I would start a new thread, since this topic has the chance of being searchable by people wondering about this phenomena.

I first encountered a worm with string of pearls look when I took the worms out of my indoor rubber maid bin and put them into a larger FT bin on a protected back porch. It was early spring, but I watched the temps, and made sure that if the temps dipped below freezing I put the lid on the top and covered it with a blanket. I describe starting to see one or two worms with the lumpy affliction here on this thread: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg0413395822329.html

Another member was also seeing the same thing, and wondering if it was because of some old protein bars he had fed them.

After putting my worms out, the temps only got below 45 for more than 48 hours one time. I describe that here:

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg0510160012422.html?17

Here are other threads that mention protein poisoning:

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg1222312517402.html

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg022213091843.html

What are your thoughts and experiences?

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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

Oh, and thread where equinoxequinox pointed out that it may not always be 'poisoining' but death-by-cold is here:http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/verm/msg0319525711598.html?18

You may have seen this in your worms. The worms look lumpy, bunchy, like they have been smooshed in places. They lose color, and parts of them start to fall off even before they completely die. Some get so lumpy they look like a they have been squeezed in segments, leaving a bead-like, or 'string of pearls' pattern. Usually this is attributed to protein poisoning, overfeeding, 'sour crop', acidic bedding, too little bedding, too wet bedding, feeding too much of one thing, not feeding enough of one thing, not enough egg shells in the worms diet (because we all know that worms need their daily dose of egg shells and get lots of them in the wild Now, over feeding, too wet and too dry bedding are problems that will kill worms. (Most of us have over fed our share of first worms. But they tend to get super swollen clitellum, then the bin gets all nasty, and the worms turn pale and just die. Overfed worms also can often be rescued if spotted in time by removing food and adding bedding. In contrast with the lumpy, string of pearls worms who don't get better no matter what you do. )

I think the string of pearls, or protein poisoning is really PE worms getting too cold and dying out of a bin. That is why some worms are affected and some aren't.
If someone is not aware they have a mixed bin, and think they only have EF's they may unwittingly submit their bin to temps that PE's can't handle.

If you google these terms you will get to discussions on other sites. I am betting that they all happen in the fall, winter and early spring. I bet they will mention that the European Night Crawlers are not affected.

Anyway, just my two cents.

Thanks Equinox, for pointing out that I have two cents! :D

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 9:35AM
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borderbarb

This link is from another forum and has many pictures, along with much discussion.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pictures -

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 10:27AM
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borderbarb

YIKES!! When I lifted up the carpet that covers my in-ground worm pit, I found one 'string of pearls' worm in among the other red, healthy worms. They all get fed the same things. Needless to say, I will be watching that part of the bin for any more 'pearl' symptoms. Sure hope not!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 11:51AM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

http://thegardenforums.org/viewtopic.php?f=42&t=6383&p=49572&hilit=string+of+pearls#p49572

This thread claims that almost any environment that is radically different than the one they are used to will cause the string of pearls effect.

I wonder what could cause one worm in thousands to have that effect? Getting too close to a heat or cool source? Acidic source? hmm...

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 12:16PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

The problem is that so little is known about worms! And so much that is known is whisper-down-the-lane-not-really-fact-this-happened-to-my-friend-i-heard-it-on-youtube -it-happened-to-a-friend-didja -hear- about-this and some are true and some aren't and some are not always true and some don't have all the facts, and some you can't really know.

It is maddening.

I think I will start a new rumor. That worms randomly attack children at play before succumbing to protein poisoning. Mad worm disease. Only watch the video if you can handle the disturbing images.

Here is a link that might be useful: Worm attacking child on tricycle.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 12:35PM
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borderbarb

antonia .... Thanks for the video ... I was in a knot over something our city council is doing and needed that good belly laugh! Wish I could take it to the meeting tonight, as "eek a worm" is on a par with the 'problem' before them.

More seriously, you are right on about what passes for a lot of the worm-growing 'advice' floating around.

I was dismayed at the 'pearl' worm I found this morning. Just now took another peek and all other worms are red, solid and healthy looking. Which goes back to your question about WHAT causes this malady?

I started my in-ground worm pit very casually. Tossing worms into an old compost pile when I came across them. With the attitude of 'there you go, now do your thing'. Well, they multiplied like crazy ... and now I'm as involved with their well-being/food/bedding as the most over protective bin wormer.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 2:42PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

Borderbarb, we are lucky on this forum. We have some great scientificlly-geared minds, like steamyb, equinoxequinox, pjames, sbryce, oh, and so many others I can't think of them all. ;) I am adding you in there too, borderbarb!
Plus, all the past posts to search really does help.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 10:04AM
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borderbarb

antonia ... I agree about caliber of most posts. In fact I think that is one of the [many] reasons why people keep verms ... the mad scientist within gets some exercise.

Kidding aside, I think that the world of worms [& all soil organisms] is fascinating and very CUTTING EDGE. Who knows, but that in 50 or 100 years, people will rely on the 'lore' that we have developed through our questioning and arguing and experimenting. [wow .. talk about delusions of grandeur]

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 1:52PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

We have good company -- the original vermiwhacko and founder of vermicomposting was Chuck Darwin. We always tend to forget that 1881 bestseller, "Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits," most research of which was conducted in his backyard and in pots where he kept worms.

Here is a link that might be useful: Text of the work online

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 3:18PM
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smalltowngal

My first batch of worms died an ugly death. I got the discoloration, string of pearls, yuckiness. I think I might have tried to control conditions too much. I believe there was also an aeration issue too. I suppose it could have been protein poisoning since the bin was so new but I set it up a week before getting the worms and mixed in aged horse manure in the bin. My food also rotted a week in the bin before adding the worms.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 10:00AM
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sbryce_gw

Aged horse manure and pre-rotted food won't cause protein poisoning. In fact, aged horse manure is about the best thing you can feed your worms.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 10:17AM
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randomz

How about we each get a small container, add a handful of worms and each do or add something different to see if we can create and then duplicate the string of pearls effect?

Over feed, different types of feed (one type per container), hot, cold etc.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 8:50AM
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steamyb(7)

Protein Poisoning or Sour Crop: worms eat too much food and not enough microorganisms so the food rots inside the worm, gases are produced, and the worms pop or develop "string of pearls" effect. Cure- mix your food with a small amount of "finished" VC and let it sit a couple days before feeding the worms (gives the micro-herd a head start). -From an old post
With new worms the easiest way to mess up is overfeeding. We believe that a pound of worms can eat ½ pound of food a day. Actually, the worms eat the micro-organisms that are breaking down the food in the normal course of decomposition. It does take some time for this micro-herd to reach full efficiency. Patience is required. Air holes, moist bedding, 65 to 75 temps, and darkness are real easy for us to do. -From an old post
Under the kitchen sink, I keep a 3.5 gallon bucket with holes drilled in the lid for aeration. This gets a couple handfuls of shredded cardboard (for liquid absorption) and 3 or 4 "claws" full of worms and VC out of the worm box(for the micro-herd and agitation). These worms crawl through the UCG and table scraps and seem to spread good cheer as they go. Usually I feed the worms once a week, but sometimes I will go longer. Depends how full the bucket is and whether I have time or not. This set-up has no smell (exceptions: meat, dairy, broccoli, onion and/or garlic in the bucket will be noticeable when the lid is raised). If I add something to the bucket that is known to stink, I will go ahead and feed the worms (if I have time). -Also an old post
Randomz- We vermi-folks love an experiment. But results from several different experimenters would be worthless without a "control". A control is the standard and is used to measure the differences in the results of all the different experiments. Not much money in worms for hobbyists such as myself and probably most of you that are reading this. This may explain why so little research is being done with worms. Most vermi-folks are do-it-yourself types, and we will not pay for gadgets or junk that is marketed to yuppies to make them feel better about their Âcarbon footprint while cruisin in Hummers.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 9:54AM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

steamyb,

I just wonder how we can know that is the reason for string of pearls?
My worms died of cold, I am pretty sure, yet they had the string of pearls look. there was plenty of pre-rotted food for them to feed from, and no reason for them, after three months of being fine to suddenly over eat from fresh food on the top of the bin, get sour crop, go in bunches to the bottom of the bin and die in clumps.

I also have overfed new worms in a new bin. They got lots of fresh food, got very fat with huge clitellums, were almost dormant, then got lumps just behind the clitellum. At that point I knew there was something wrong. I read up on what I was doing, and took out all the visible food. I put in lots of bedding and wet corrugated cardboard, and the worms (almost all) recovered. I found only a few that actually died, and most of my present herd is from that original batch.

With string of pearls, once I have noticed this effect, I have separated the afflicted ones, and put them in smaller 'hospital bins' with VC, and none have survived more than a day or two. Some actually fall apart as they die, with parts of the worms living after other parts have died. Weird, huh?
I do think that sometimes string of pearls may have something to do with food, but I think not always. I also think overfeeding and string of pearls may be two separate things.

But then, I am often very wrong.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 6:10PM
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pjames(8/LA)

I think 'protein poisoning' is a misnomer. It's probably an environmental function like the claims of pH being out of range. I have read this on other sites. This makes more sense to me. I'm not sure if anerobic conditions change pH significantly or not but it could produce direct toxins that could be detrimental. It would take some lab tests to determine all that.

I doubt the post saying the worms overeat. I seriously do not think they can do that. A cow or horse might get into a grain field and overeat because it tastes good. (and get into real trouble).

I also do not completely the claims that worms seek out and eat the microorganisms themselves. Yes they seek out decomposing material where the micro-organsms are most prolific but that is as much a function of particulate size of the food or the texture that allows the worm to 'suck up' or otherwise engulf the food. I think if you cut open a worm and look at the contents of it's digestive system you will find a large portion of undigested organic material not just micro organisms.

Like most animals they have a pretty good digestive system that allows them to break down sugars and proteins, but not cellulose. Actually I don't know of any animal for sure that CAN digest cellulose. (I'm not sure if termites directly digest cellulose or depend on bacteria.) Some of this is also semantics. You can say a cow can not digest grass but you can't say they don't eat it. Alot of the digestive system of animals requires bacteria to break down the food in some stages. In the human, we eat alot of foods that we can not fully digest. We eat beans and digest a good portion directly but there are macrostarches we cannot handle (simply do not have the enzymes)... when bacteria in our gut breaks it down, we get gas.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 6:12PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

pjames,
Gosh, your post makes sense to me.
"Overfeeding" could really be throwing the pH out of whack with fresh food, and adding bedding and removing visible food corrects it. If it were true that worms voluntarily ate fresh food if available, rather than eating food that had the correct microorganisms on it, wouldn't worms have become extinct?

We hear all the time that worms have lived literally for years in bins without new foods being added, wouldn't they easily wait a week for the micro-world to catch up be ready for them if there was fresh food around and not anything rotting?

But, then again, I am not sure this is the whole answer to string of pearls. Or even part of it.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 6:26PM
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randomz

Steamyb, I understand what you are saying about controls, but I don't think we are at that point yet. It seems to me that the string of pearls effect at this stage is pretty random. People that have experienced it, can't seem to define themselves why it happened.

So we need to at least try to find out roughly what causes it, so we can then investigate the real "why".

Example, if we could make it happen by over feeding a particuly food stuff, then we can start to test for acidity, temperature, food groups, whatever, but we need to be able to make it happen reasonably reliably first.

Cheers :)

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 8:34PM
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11otis

MHO: if the food scraps go through a processer or blender, you will get a paste or slush that the worms can "slurp" and I think that is when worms will get indigestion. The food is just beginning (or probably hasn't even started) to decompose. With the MO in the worms' gut, it will start the process, and create gasses.
Even without a lab we know that gasses are built; i.e. put food scraps/fruit, veggie in a ziplock and seal it. You could add some compost to jump start it. You will find the ziplock stretch to bursting after a few days once the contents start to rot.
I use a cleaver to chop whatever worm food need chopping.

Some of you folks get this SOP (string of pearls) effect when the bin got a chill and the worms started to die.
Then I guess we have to use the phrase: ONE of the reasons of the SOP is protein poisoning etc, etc.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 9:04PM
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steamyb(7)

All of these great comments and opinions expressed reinforces my notion that very little actual research has been done on composting worms. I do reiterate some "information" that I have read in an obscure old book, and state the old tale just because of a lack of relevant knowledge to deal with a new problem. I apologize for dragging up old posts and waving them around like some sort of sacred wormy sacrament. I did not mean to imply that worms had been neglected or that one method of vermicomposting was better than any other. I wish that there was a "magic formula" to successful vermicomposting and vermiculture. At the present time, I have worms in 9 separate systems. Each system is unique. I added ground limestone to 2 systems in the garage to increase reproduction (something I read somewhere- one of those obscure old books again!). Will it work? Your guess is as good as mine.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 9:38PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

steamyb,
That is exactly how I read your post, as good worm-sense. And it is. Worms do like pre-rotted food. Worms do better in bins with more bedding than food. SOP (I love the acronym. :D) does seem to happen during times of environmental change that is hard to nail down. And your advice is always good and I read it knowing I will learn something useful. You are also right that worms just haven't been studied as much as they should.

Randomz.
I like the idea of experimenting on worms.
In the abstract.
Unfortunately, I am very attached to my worms, and the idea of putting mine in the freezer, for example, would drive me to distraction. I seriously don't know if I could do it. When I got mites, I couldn't sleep. After reading that mice could get in the bin I had a nightmare that a mouse ate all my worms. I know it sounds silly, but I think I would have to go to walmart and buy some panfish worms if I wanted to experiment. I don't know if I could do it to MY worms.

But I will try if others are going to. Even if it means sleepless nights.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 10:06PM
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pjames(8/LA)

There is another answer to the string-of-pearl phenomonon. And that is the "look" is what worms do as they die from anything other than being eaten or chopped in half. It may be that as they begin to die from some external cause,they almost almost appear to decompose, sloughing tissue and slime. It could simply be an inflammation sort of reaction to an external cause.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 10:07PM
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steamyb(7)

G- "appear to decompose, sloughing tissue and slime. It could simply be an inflammation sort of reaction to an external cause."
It is interesting that you should mention these circumstances. This is a separate phenomenon than the "string of pearls" we are discussing. I know because of an experiment I conducted last week-end.
The goal of the experiment was to discover how much vinegar (acid) it took to dissolve casts (calcium coated) without damaging worms or cocoons. The idea was an acid wash to remove casts from bins without harming worms or cocoons. The ratios were formulated and samples drawn up with ½ cup vinegar/1 gallon water, 1 cup V/ 1 gallon W, 1 ½ cup vinegar/ 1 gallon water, 2 cups vinegar/1 gallon Water and 2 ½ cups vinegar/ 1 gallon Water. A drop of detergent was added to the water to break surface tension and allow faster absorption of the liquid by the poo. The water did not contain chlorine.
Samples were placed into 2 oz. plastic cups with poo taken from 3 separate systems. Total samples= 25. Each strength of vinegar was tested with each sample of poo and 3 cocoons and 2 worms.
Results: Poo dissolved in the 1 ½ cup vinegar/ 1 gallon Water sample. Worms showed immediate distress in the ½ cup vinegar/ 1 gallon Water sample. This distress progressed to the point of "appear to decompose, sloughing tissue and slime. It could simply be an inflammation sort of reaction to an external cause." And the stronger the vinegar, the quicker the reaction. The cocoons showed no reaction to any external conditions. They have been placed in an incubator.
Now we all know that poo cannot be dissolved in a bin by an acid wash without killing worms.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 10:47PM
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randomz

Any idea what the Ph of your weakest solution was?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 3:42PM
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smalltowngal

I should get some PH strips to test my bin. I have two. The rubbermaid bin that I killed my first batch of worms in seems to be having some trouble again. I've had quite a few worms escape, I think it got a little dry with new air holes and they were younger worms. I found one worm that was all mishappened and almost white. I had another that had the string of pearls look. At least I did find some happy worms under a banana peel and I think some of the cocoons I saved from my first batch did hatch.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 4:18PM
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steamyb(7)

No Ph testing was done because acidic was a given considering vinegar was added to water. The purpose of the experiment was to determine if any acid wash could dissolve worm poo without harming worms or cocoons. The weakest acidic water harmed the worms and to dissolve poo, more vinegar was needed. The calcium which holds the poo together can be dissolved, but to achieve this result, the worms suffer and die. If poo could be dissolved and the worms unharmed, then harvesting would become "tea" making and the worms would only get a quick wash. But alas, that will never be.
If you want to test for Ph:
1/2 C "V" = 6 drops
1 Gal H2O = 2 Ozs (4 Ts)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 7:01PM
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randomz

I am thinking that your weakest solution was fairly dilute yet still seemed to harm the worms.

So perhaps if worms eat very mildly acidic food, then it attacks them from the inside and we get the SOP effect.

If I think I have overfed my COW's and they get smelly, I sprinkle some lime/dolomite mix that I have, then water liberally with a water can to rinse it through.

So far I haven't noticed any problems from doing this, nor have I seen the SOP effect at all.

I haven't ever done this to my wheely bin FT as it sems to handle whatever food I throw at it, though a lot of that food is horse manure. The COWs mainly get veg scraps.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 9:33PM
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pjames(8/LA)

"So perhaps if worms eat very mildly acidic food, then it attacks them from the inside and we get the SOP effect. "

I do not think worms will consume something that is harmful to them. Mother Nature protects her critters.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 12:35PM
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sbryce_gw

Mildly acidic? like tomatoes? or oranges? I have fed both to my worms with no problems.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 2:00PM
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randomz

Sure, but perhaps there is a point where it becomes a problem?

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 5:23PM
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equinoxequinox

String-of-pearls is happening to experienced worm caregivers who when adding a tomato or an orange would naturally add 2 to 5 handfulls of bedding. As the food leached the bedding would balance the acid.

steamyb! Did you notice how the room got real quiet when you mentioned "I diped my worms in vinegar." LOL. I fear for your squirmy charges the next time an electrical storm approaches your labratory in the castle East. LOL.

A micro vacuume cleaner might harvest light weight cocoons for you while leaving the wetter material behind. Though not quite as fast as zapping away everything else. :-)

Give me time. I may do worse to my worms.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 1:07AM
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steamyb(7)

Yea, pet owners can be peevish. I thought the few could benefit the many, with that experiment. By the way, I really dropped a bomb over at
http://vermicomposters.ning.com/forum/topics/worm-tea-has-no-effect-on
There are still some folks that avoid me. LOL

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 6:16AM
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smalltowngal

I'm really starting to think it might be an acid problems with my worms but not sure. I did add some coffee grounds to my second bin but it seems to be doing much better than my first. The worms have only been in there a week though instead of two. I'm avoiding all acidic foods for a while and have added egg shells all along. I dug through my first bin and I have some scary looking worms again. Some parts are horrible swollen and chunks of them break off. It's pretty gross. I did find a good chunk of worms huddled together that seem in better shape but still appear to be going downhill. I know it's not overfeeding or over watering. I still need to get PH strips to see if it's too acidic. I've been using filtered water. The bedding is mainly wallstreet journals with some torn up cardboard. I through in some aged horse manure a couple days before adding in the worms.

My second bin, which seems to be doing better, is a wooden system my hubby bought for me. It came with bedding that was half old leaves, half cardboard. I had the system set up for a week with a cup full of food. The worms seem faster and much healthier but they are a week younger so I might kill them yet. :/

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 9:17AM
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randomz

STGal, how about a test? Sprinkle some garden lime over one half of the bin, then water it in and see if it makes a difference in a day or two. I know the worms move around a bit, but you might still be able to tell a difference.

Or just do the whole bin. Leave it open for a bit first so the worms burrow and don't get the lime directly on their skin.

Steamyb, I think a lot of worm "facts" are driven by wishing and selective reading of available data and facts. And of course all those that have an opinion by re-iteration of what someone elses opinion is.

The sooner we get objective and look at the real world, the more likely we are to understand how best to use our little friends and their output.

Example, leachate is bad and casting are good. Simple fact right? But consider, the castings at the bottom have been getting leachate drain through them for as long as their has been food stuff on top.

So is it possible that the castings have filtered the leachate and in turn leached their goodness into the run off? Or has the leachate contaminated the castings?

I am thinking that fresh leachate is better then stuff that has been sitting or collecting slowly.

Maybe the COW manufacturers have a good point when they suggest to pour a couple of litres of water through the bin every week? It could help keep the food waste fresh plus getting rinsed through the castings would add some goodness and it would be diluting any toxins etc, so maybe it could be a good form of Worm Tea if used when freshly collected?

I must say, despite all the myths and obvious oversights, I love the mystery in trying to learn more about all this stuff.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 12:15PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

Steamyb, I read that thread back when you posted it, and was surprised at the emotion in the threads.

I am very glad you are willing to do experiments and look at things with an unbiased eye. When folks go in expecting to see what they want to see, they miss so much. Like with leachate, and worm tea, and string of pearls and so on. (But I do feel you should know there is a small group of WormPeace members set to liberate their vinegar-endangered brethren in your area. :D)

Smalltown, I am sorry to hear about your worms. Do try the lime, and whatever else you think of, because it is horrifying in a small way to watch your worms literally fall to pieces like they have some sort of annelid leprosy.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 4:08PM
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wendrew8

I read this thread when it came along saying quiet prayers that I would never see the SOP in my bin...forward to today and I found several worms near the top of my upper level of my COW all bunched up and lumpy. I dug around and everyone else seems okay for the moment. Now I am debating...add water, add eggshells, pull out food, what??? I am frustrated by our guess and try techniques because I am not a very patient person by nature and want to fix whatever it is now before any of my other wormies suffer. Any thoughts??

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 10:39PM
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randomz

Rinse it through is my suggestion. You won't drown the worms assuming you have an open drain at the bottom, and it may help dilute whatever is the problem. The fresh leachate you get from doing this is also good to go on the garden - in my own personal experience.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 3:23AM
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equinoxequinox

How about this as a cause for sick worms? "there isn't enough effective surface area to provide nesting sights for the bacteria to deal with the organic matter. As the organic matter sits in the medium, it causes small localized pockets of anaerobic zones, which ... causes pH to rapidly fall."

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 9:51AM
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