Help!! Worms dying in new 'Worm Factory'

sesselsfca(z10 San Fran.CA)October 23, 2006

I hope members of this forum will excuse the excessive length of this posting; I felt that if I sought advice for my problem, I needed to provide as much information about it as possible.

For some years, a compost tumbler in my rear garden served as a worm bin for me. Although the material never heated up and ookedà (probably a bad brown/green mix à the components were mainly kitchen scraps) it proved to be an ideal worm habitat, hosting what I would conservatively estimate were around 7-10 thousand red worms. The problem with the system, however, was that the tumbler had very poor drainage, so the worm castings and decomposed food scraps collected in the bottom as a saturated Ãsludge,à almost impossible to dry out enough to put through a screen for use as a top dressing on my perennial beds. It was also very difficult to separate out the worms, who seemed to like hanging out in the sludge.

To address this issue, about a month ago I bought a 5-tray ÃWorm Factory.Ã In the bottom tray, along with the dampened sheets of newspaper the instructions called for, I made a bedding layer of damp shredded newspaper, mixed with the coir, also dampened, which came with the kit. Over that, I spread a 2-inch layer of the sludge from the tumbler, with a very generous worm population, but no new kitchen scraps. In the next two trays, I did the same, except using just damp shredded newspaper for the bedding layers.

About ten days ago, I added another tray, and this time, in addition to bedding layers, added the contents of my kitchen compost bucket à about 30 cubic inches of food scraps, but no worms or sludge from the tumbler.

Initially, things seemed great; within two days, many worms had migrated up from the lowers trays and were burrowing around in the new top tray, and they seemed active and healthy. Three days ago, however, I checked the tray and noticed that the worms seemed almost completely to have lost their vigor, that many of them seemed to be turning from red to grayish/white, and that many of them were clearly dead. In each day since, the problem has been worse; this morning, there were almost no live worms left in the newest tray. In the trays below it, where tumbler sludge and worms but no new food had been introduced, the worms still remaining seemed fine à actively wiggling, good color, etc. It is only in the new top tray that the problem seems to be manifested.

(I should add that otherwise, the system seems to work well; today I removed the original bottom tray, and spread the contents on a sheet of plastic. Although still wetter than I would prefer, everything, including most of the shredded newspaper, had decomposed, and, of the many, many worms I had originally put there, only about thirty remained; the rest had presumably migrated upward to the trays above).

Can anybody diagnose what I am doing wrong? The food scraps in the Ãbadà tray are about the same mix of ingredients as those I had been putting into the tumbler all along, so I canÃt see how that would have caused the problem.

I would be really, REALLY appreciative if someone can help me identify and correct this problem.

Thanks in advance

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well I am about on the same page My tower also heats up sometimes. I add dry bedding and a few pellet size sticks I cut with hand trimmers,it adds o2 to the mix also the first time that it happened I noticed that alot of the worms that where in the heated try seemed to migrate downwards below the heat as it cooled the worms returned upwards now I use all kinds household stuff for bedding, cardboard,paper, brown leaves,and coir, and I bury the kitchen scraps in the middle first when I start a new tray. a fan my also help to dry the top then mix it
hope you find this helpful

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 7:47AM
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sqh1(z7 NC)

I have a tumbler full of happy worms. I never did use it the way it was designed and therefore worms found it to their liking. To fix the sludge issue add dry shredded paper and give the bin a few turns. The worms will turn that sludge and paper/leaves into a very stable material that is easily shoveled out and ready to be used.
As for the WF, if you just started it there should only be one tray on to start. As the food and paper become unrecognizable and the tray fills a new tray may be added.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2006 at 11:33AM
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gardenfanatic(MO zone5b)

My only thought would be that possibly since the tray is smaller than your tumbler is, heat filled the entire tray. Other than that, I don't know what could have happened. I'd remove the new top tray, salvage the worms that are still alive, and put a little bit of the food from it into one of your other trays, and leave it off completely.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2006 at 12:24AM
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Here is a step by step tutorial, complete with photos, how to set up and maintain a stackable worm bin.


Here is a link that might be useful: Cow Unwrapped

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 8:14AM
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goldenpond((Vero.Beach FL 9b))

Hi wormy loving friends! i just returned from Mt Dora and hubby and I took a field trip to OUR VITAL EARTH worm farm in Apopka. They mentioned that they keep water bottles frozen so if the bin gets to hot they wrap a bottle in paper and place in bin BUT NOT directly on top of worms.This way the worms can get as close as they choose and you don't freeze them.I know rabbit breeders who do the same thing but this was the first time I heard that they do it for worms.Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 15, 2006 at 8:22PM
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sesselsfca(z10 San Fran.CA)

Many thanks to all who responded to this posting. Overheating of the food did not seem to be the problem. My best guess at this point is that I overwatered the shredded paper and coir I originally used as bedding; that, coupled with the totally saturated sludge transfered from the tumbler, caused the material in the trays to compact, making it hard for the worms to move through, and depriving them of oxygen. I have since removed a large part of the original bedding, and mixed what was left with a combination of dry shredded paper and coarsely chopped sycamore leaves. The system now seems to be working fine -- many healthy, active worms, and lots of cocoons. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2006 at 7:46AM
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This page has some trouble shooting solutions, which helped me with my worm factory Worm Factory Trouble Shooting

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 1:05PM
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Cow Unwrapped

Scan back for this tutorial. Someone did a lot of work on this and it is great.

Dave Nelson

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 9:13AM
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Hi All; Heres a link to Red Hens photo bucket presentation a pictorial guide.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cow Unwrapped

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 11:15AM
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Worms turning gray is from lack of oxygen. Either the second tray was too wet or too dry, either one will not allow the worms to breath. Or, there isn't adequate air flow around the trays.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 3:40PM
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I've had much trouble getting the worm thing right. I found the following non-commercial post useful: The woman who posts there describes the process she is going through to figure this stuff out. The link I provided is specific to some problems she had with the worm factory, but she has other posts that address these problems. --j

Here is a link that might be useful: Link by same woman about making a worm bin.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2010 at 10:03PM
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hey folks i just started my worm bed in a old freezer i got about 10 inches of of field dirt and 300 lbs of cow stuff in and 50 lbs of peat moss i have been watering them and i have put coffee grounds in there and on the backside of it i put 5 lbs of corn meal i have had the worms about 2 weeks i'm starting to see dead worms and the red wigglers are not to active like i think they should be they don't look happy to me, i have ordered worm food for them but it hasn't come in yet, i'm raising these worms for fishing only does someone out there know what i'm doing wrong, i can squeeze the compost and a few drops of water comes out not sure what i'm doing wrong, please help. thanks cricket, tupelo miss.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 10:08AM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Cricket, you've got way too much food in there. The corn meal especially can heat up the bin very quickly. The worms can munch on manure alone. How many pounds of worms did you start with? Stick a meat thermometer in the material and see what the bin temps are.


    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 12:56PM
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cricket, if you have access to so much cow stuff (you mean manure, right?) you don't need to BUY the other stuff like peat moss, corn meal and worm food. You can collect corrugated cardboard as much as you want from stores and I'd rather spend the money on worms.
Well, maybe you can buy one 50 lb. bag of Purina Earthworm Chow (ca. $20) if that's what you mean with "worm food" as a treat.
Plumiebear is right, too much food in there.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 9:16PM
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OK...I thought I was over the killing my worms stage, but I just lost my worms because of too much moisture. The worms were climbing out the sides of my stackable compost system and ended up dying because of the high temperatures during that week. When I drained out the tea, there was about 20 oz of liquid from the spigot. It was my fault, because I neglected to check the system during a week of high temperatures and I think more moisture developed from the rotting food than I normally expect during my weekly check ups.

I was wondering, if I just left the system alone, whether the cacoons that were already there would still hatch. It has been a week since I discovered the carnage. I loosened up the entire system by tossing each tray and have not added any new food. I did notice some mold, but there has not been any flies or other things crawling around in the compost. This is worrisome because the first time I killed my worms when I was just starting out over a year ago, there were a few worms left. The remaining worms came back like a champ and I had what looked like thousands of them in my 3 bins.

I am grateful for any advice or help.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 6:23PM
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