New Worm Farm Issues

granola_momNovember 22, 2009

Hi Everyone!

I have just started a worm farm a few days ago and have been very excited. I followed all the instructions precisley when setting up and placed a moist hessian bag on top. A friend of mine has a worm farm and told me that she had lots of worms and not to buy any as she would give me some. On day one after setting the farm up, I put her worms in and the next morning noticed that they were either dead or couldn't even find them after tilling gently through the soil. I figured I should just buy some since I read that we really needed at least 1000 to get started (plus her worms looked really tiny and super skinny, that may not matter but I'm just used to seeing plumper worms) I should also add that it was 41C/105F that day! I thought perhaps the worms over heated due to the extreme heat and moved it to a shader place.

I bought 1000 worms and added them to the farm. These worms looked really healthy and were nice and redish purple in colour- not yellowish like those from my friend. I added a small amount of food scraps- about a small handful(a few carrot peels, tomato top, mango peel and celery tops) and a tiny bit of shredded cardboard. I noticed my husband had wetted down the hessian cloth that evening. The next morning my husband checked on them and a large amount of worms were all on the top of the compost or stuck on the hessian bag.

That day it was really hot again, about 43C/110F. When we got home in the evening I found that many of the worms had gone all over the hessian bag. After reading some advice about heat on the internet, my husband put a frozen ice block gently in the tray to cool it off, as suggested by some peopple. I also decided to inspect further and lifted the working tray up and was horrified when I saw so many worms in the liquid collection tray, many which had drowned in liquid. I didn't even realise there would be that much liquid already (about 3 cups?) the tray slopes down a littleas the ground is uneven so there was a good bit of liquid on the side towards the tap with what looked like all the worms my friend gave me and many of my new worms were on the dome shape in the middle or elsewhere. I gathered all the alive worms out and put them back in the working tray and gave them a pep talk!

I've been so disappointed and not knowing what to do next. I don't know if it is the heat or something I have done wrong. Is the compost too wet or dry? It is nice and moist but not soggy- (I noticed my friends was like a thick mud, which mine is not) It just seems like they are not happy in their new enviornment and I feel terrible for them and for us! We were so excited to start our farm.

Any helpful advice would me appreciated.....Thanks in advance!

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It is hard to determine what might be wrong over the internet, but from your description, I'll guess that the heat is your problem. My worms start complaining real loud around 90F.

Also, if you have that much water in your collection tray, your bedding is too wet.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 10:35AM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

It always takes a few days to get those worms settled in and the heat isn't helping you any

A lot of people say to put shredded paper in the bottom tray to asorb the water and give worms a way back up

I'm not sure how but you need to reduce the heat

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 12:32PM
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***my husband put a frozen ice block gently in the tray to cool it off***
I do hope he put that in a plastic bag or something so you can remove it once thawed.
Frozen water bottles would be easier. I wrapped that in several layers of newspaper so the worms won't stick and freeze to the outside of the bottle. In the meantime I have another bottle in the freezer for replacement whenever needed.
I agree that your bin is way too wet.

***a tiny bit of shredded cardboard***
I use LOTS of shredded cardboard and newspaper as bedding at the bottom of the bin and on top of it.
What do you use as bedding? BTW, what is the size of your bin? You shouldn't get any leachate (or just minimal).
I would make a trench or two depending on the size of the bin and fill it with shredded newspaper and/or cardboard to soak up the moisture. Don't mix it with whatever you have in there because that will cause to heat up. If you feel there is still too much moisture, replace and put fresh material in the trench(es).
Good luck and please keep us updated.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 1:14PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

granola mom, with ambient temps that high I would say your bin needs to be in absolute shade - no sun at all. Even 30 min. of sun in those temps would basically cook your worms. If there is sufficient bedding, the temps in the bedding/compost itself will be much cooler than air temps. A worm seller in my area raises worms in a garage that consistently hits 100F during the summer months. The worm bins stay relatively cool.

Can you describe what you used for bedding and how you prepared your bin? You mention "soil". Is that compost or dirt from the garden? Usually it is best to prepare your bin a week or two before introducing the worms. A handful of compost will get the beneficial bacteria started so the worms have something to munch on when they arrive.

It sounds like you have a stackable type bin system. You should not have that much liquid in the collection tray in a newly started bin. Still, it's very hard to have an environment that is too wet for worms. They do well in very mucky conditions as long as it's not standing water like in your collection tray. I agree with others that it's most likely a heat issue. There's an outside chance something in your bedding is driving the worms out, but it probably isn't moisture.

Don't give up. First thing is to move the bin into complete shade. Then perhaps you can push the current contents to one side of the bin and introduce a new mixture of bedding (shredded newsprint & cardboard) with a handful of existing compost and just a little food waste (rotting veggies or fruit). Make sure all that is moist and mixed up very well and put it on the other side of the bin. Hopefully your worms will move to that new environment instead of heading to the collection tray or up into the burlap bag.

One last question: is it a dry or humid 43ºC? If it's dry, then it will be better to ball up sheets of newsprint/cardboard and throw them into a bucket of water to soak overnight. This allows water to really soak into the fibers. Then wring out as much water as possible without crunching the paper into a tight ball. Unravel the paper and tear into strips. Don't worry about neatness or size, just shred it and fluff it up with the other material. This bedding should retain moisture for quite some time before you need to mist it with additional water. If you add food scraps with high water content you may not need to add water at all.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 2:38PM
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Thanks everyone for your advice!

Otis 11...To clarify, it is a plastic ice block, (English term), not a 'real' ice block. I've been in Australia too long and have forgotten American lingo :-)

Today is much cooler, only 21C so hopefully my worm friends will be happier. To answer the question about mixture, it is just the coir that came with the worm farm (which is stackable trays) and then small about of soil which the worms came in. The worm farm size is also about 1.5 feet x 2 feet.

I was also wondering if it is okay to put dog poo in the tray? I read somewhere that it is okay as long as the dog hasn't been dewormed recently. I did throw a few small droppings in the other morning. Hoefully that was okay, too!
So much to learn about all this worm business. I appreciate very much these forums :-)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 4:06PM
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Animal feces (manure) from herbivores are generally accepted as good vermicomposting bedding and food. While dog poop is going to be accepted by the worms, when dealing with carnivores and with pets like dogs and cats, there are issues with the risks from any parasites or other pathogens. Especially if the finished compost is going to be used to fertilize fruit or vegetables. I've heard of people using a separate worm bin for this purpose and then using that compost for trees, ornamental plants and that seemed like a reasonable measure.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2009 at 5:40PM
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