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Composting with Worms: Don’t Make These Five Mistakes

composting mistake banana peelComposting worms speeds up the composting process. New worm bin owners tend to make mistakes. Once you get the hang of vermicomposting, you will love it! Reducing trash, saving the earth, and creating free fertilizer makes worm composting worthwhile. Your household might even adopt the worms as members of the family! Watch out for these five common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Overfeeding

Enthusiastic worm bin owners toss every available scrap into the bin. The worms cannot keep up. The bin starts to smell terrible!

In theory, worms can eat their weight in scraps per day. However, that number might be lower, depending on air temperature and other factors. A fool-proof method is to feed them every 2 to 3 days. Be conservative in the quantity. Soon, you will get a feeling for how much food they can handle. They should start eating one feeding before you add another. An entire feeding should be completely gone in 1 to 2 weeks.

Mistake #2: Wrong Foods

Worms need a healthy diet in small pieces. Whole cabbages and watermelon rind halves will take too long to break down. Processed food, meat scraps, salty snacks, spicy foods, oily sauces, yogurt, pineapple, and bushels of tomatoes can spoil the bin. Most non-food items are also bad ideas.

The ideal diet for composting worms is non-acidic fruit and vegetable scraps. Grains, bread, coffee grounds, tea bags, and pasta are also fair game. Aged grass clippings, hair, and herbivore animal manure are compostable. Add shredded black-ink newsprint in moderation. Torn or shredded brown corrugated cardboard is acceptable. Clean, crushed eggshells add grit and calcium. All items should be small. Larger items should be cut up or run through a food processor. Smaller pieces break down faster. This reduces odor and discourages pests.

Mistake #3: Too Wet or Too Dry Composting Bedding

The over-enthusiastic worm bin owner pours gallons of water on their worms. The negligent owner lets the bin dry out. Too wet, and the bin becomes stinky and the worms might drown. Too dry, and the worms dehydrate, cannot breathe, and can’t tunnel effectively.
The easiest way to check worm bin moisture levels is by picking up a handful. Squeeze it. If water comes out, it’s too wet. Worm bin bedding should have the feeling of a wrung-out sponge.

See our instructions for drying out a wet worm bin. Also find out how to keep the bin moist.

Mistake #4: Forget to Harvest Worm Castings

Avid gardeners eagerly look forward to removing finished compost from their worm bin. Fresh “black gold” is the best organic fertilizer to make plants grow. Gardeners mark the days until the worm castings are ready for harvesting.

However, non-gardeners typically focus on reducing trash and odor. For them, the worm castings are a side-effect. Their worm bin eventually fills up with worm castings. Adding more trays or getting a larger bin puts off the inevitable.

Harvesting finished compost means separating worm castings from the worms. You will leave bedding behind for the worms to live in. Using a screen should only take 30 to 60 minutes. Making mounds takes a day, mostly waiting time. Tray-based composting bins might only take 10 minutes.

Compost can be harvested:

  • at the start and end of the growing season
  • whenever it is getting full
  • as needed, if the worms have been in the bin for at least three months and there are extra worm castings inside

If you have more “black gold” than you need, donate it to a local gardening project or neighbor.

Mistake #5: Too Hot or Too Cold

Just like people, composting worms have an ideal temperature range. The worm bin and bedding help regulate the temperature. When the air temperature is below 54 degrees Fahrenheit, worms slow down. Below freezing, they can die. Above 84 degrees can cook the worms.

Do you live in a climate that has temperature extremes? See our tips for keeping composting worms cool in summer and warm in winter. Bin location is the primary issue. You can mitigate some of the temperature hazards using ice, bin blankets, insulation, relocation, and moisture regulation.

At Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, we offer expert information about managing your vermicomposting bin. Peruse our blog, check out our product descriptions, and read our Frequently Asked Questions. We are the #1 supplier of composting worms in the USA.

39 comments on “Composting with Worms: Don’t Make These Five Mistakes

  • Peter Kautsky says:

    I used large bins with combination of mulched cardboard and fresh greens. I constantly had the problem of worms wanting to escape. They would be happy for a while and then they would be crawling up the sides of the bin and getting out. I just could not get a median environment to keep them in there.

    Reply
  • Normally the lower portion of the worm bed is more wet then the top half. Keeping a packing-cardboard sheet on the top and spraying water with a spray bottle can address the problem.

    Reply
  • John Hartman says:

    my first season using worms for composting was , for me , a huge success. During the cold months I kept them in the basement. THey consumed all the table refuse we gave them. Now i have them in an outdoor raised bed . I am going to let them enrich soil for a few weeks , then move them.
    , rotating the locations in the beds. John

    Reply
  • I live in a city where temps have been over 100F daily. My worm bin is in my garage but have found by adding frozen water bottles (capped) daily keeps the worms comfortable and happy. The condensation keeps the bedding watered perfectly. They are doing great and are not water drenched from loose ice, another idea for those hot summers.

    Reply
  • Michael Kordus says:

    Put a LED note light over the top of them . they don’t like light . cover the top with something that they won’t eat . cut to fit a plastic place mat tape together to fit and lite over top.

    Reply
  • hey peter
    those plastic bins, especially in winter months will tend to sweat on the inside if not properly ventelated, sending panic to the worms they will drown. when i started out, i had 5000 worms trying to escape the bins i thought i had set up right. because it was freezing outsude i had placed bin in guest bathroom. as soon as i added enough ventalatiin to stop condensation from forming, they stopoed. so there is a fine line you will determine, to much air flow drys everything quickly, too little and your redworms will migrate to seeminly better location. 5000+ migrating redworms at xmas while your inlaws are visiting was not a pretty site.
    even though artificial light would have remedied problem temporarily it is not getting to root of problem.

    Reply
  • I’m using a Worm Factory three tier worm bin and find that a lot of the worms stay in bottom tier the compost. Not all leave to find more food in the next tray up. In fact I regularly find a lot of worms in the bottom pan that drains the “tea” out via the spigot. The next layers up have plenty of worms and food. Why don’t all the worms leave when their kitchen scraps are gone? How can I get the worms to migrate without picking them out one by one?

    Reply
  • So, even though you’re supposed to put fresh trays on top, I actually put my newest tray on the BOTTOM. I usually only have two trays going. As soon as one tray is mostly “full,” I will start the second tray with a bunch of bedding and some food scraps and put this on the bottom. I will them put the “full” tray on top. This solves several problems. The extra liquid from the full tray seeps down and keeps the bottom tray moist; I never need to water. The top tray acts as a moisture barrier instead of needing to keep a moist newspaper or other covering on top, and it will keep out bugs, etc. Finally, the worms do go DOWN and seem to be quite happy down there. After a little bit of time, the top tray will be “finished,” and I can then harvest the castings (literally scoop them out, no worms, no waiting for worms to move since they are all in the bottom tray). This might not work in all setups, but definitely works in a two-tray setup in the worm factory. Also, extra liquid can still seep out the bottom so there’s no problem with that. I do make sure to keep a good amount of bedding, so there is good aeration for the worms.

    Reply
  • Barbara Wilsher says:

    DAY 1 AND MY WORMS ARE TRYING TO ESCAPE – They are in full shade, temp outside is between 7 deg and 15 deg Celcius for our winter.

    Reply
  • I have two 50 gal. bins an a 18 gal. bin. In the winter I use seed heating mats to keep worms an bedding warm. IPOWER carries the mats an thermostat.

    Reply
  • One time I tried to be extra nice to my precious worms and ground their food in my Vitamix. The lucious, liquid mixture composted too quickly, raised the temperature, and the worms were escaping the heat.
    I’ve read here that we should cut their food into small pieces, but don’t blend it into a liquid.

    Reply
  • Megan Adler says:

    I just started my first composting “tote” this Summer. I was having so much trouble finding the bright brown/green ratio that it was obvious scraps weren’t degrading properly.
    We moved and I made my hunny lug the tote to the new house, lo and behold it is FULL of wrigglers. I think I threw a couple I rescued from day ground on there and they must have reproduced?
    Now the other question, how do I use my compost when its ready without filling pots with wrigglers? I grow cannabis (Oregon) and they won’t survive when added to the pots as they compress over time

    Reply
  • I am wondering if worms will eat municipal compost? I have been watching Dr Elaine Ingham’s videos and she has some data that shows how improperly composted biomass can actually reduce yields at least in the first year. I am thinking it might turn around if you could pass it through a worms intestines. Municipal compost is just so convenient and my own garden doesn’t generate enough on site, so the thought of a worm farm with a fraction of the food being sourced from the city is my thought on how to get a decent volume of better compost.

    Reply
  • We have a worm factory 360 we needed to add a new tray so we followed the direction but for some reason our dirt in the new tray keeps disappearing. What could we be doing wrong?

    Reply
  • How much does a worm factory cost. I am in in the 91750 area southern calif.
    I can buy the red worms here for $18.50 for 300 worms unless you sell them for less.
    How do I order the worm factory 360 ? From you.

    Reply
  • When and how will red wigglers be sent to my home? I live in MA where we have cold winters and warm summers. We are enlisting our church’s children in a composting project and would like to include the worms to enhance the progress of compost building.

    Reply
  • George Bower says:

    Try putting a low watt lamp near them. The light will tend to make them stay under the medium. This is a good way to keep them in their home.

    Reply
  • CannaTernal says:

    hey guys, it’s true your worms hence money will crawl away if you don’t built an environment your worms love. It took me less than an hour to realize that commercial so called compost bins are scam, why design garbage and never even test it? Well I tested it for them and it doesn’t work!
    Here is a simple and most effective way to keep your worms in place. First take a large fabric pot, I have 30 gallon one, fill it with mixture of coco coir,perlite and vermiculite. Add rotting material, I feed them with rotten alfalfa, don’t use cardboards, use dried leaves if you wanna grow all natural. Not even one worm crawled out or willing from my bin I built myself without all these geniuses pushing garbage that doesn’t work. If you want follow me on youtube my grow channel is coming soon, CannaTernal

    Reply
  • I’d lke to know more of the specifics when adding another layer to my worm farm. I’m assuming I add the next layer once the first layer is hitting the lid of the farm as it is? Then do I remove the worm blanket and start feeding from the new upper level and put the blanket there instead? Thanks

    Reply
  • Bruce Wilson says:

    What is the purpose of adding worm food/scraps in the corners of the worm farm? As apposed to spreading evenly over the shredded paper or shredded leaves of the top layer?

    Reply
  • I have a two layer plastic tote system for my worms. I used coconut coir, shredded paper, compost and a little soil in my bin for bedding. I put 500 worms in the bin in the beginning of April. The bin has no bad smell. I checked the PH of the bedding and it was around 7. I squeeze the bedding and do not get a drip of water. My worms are climbing up the sides of the bin going out the air holes and then down into the bottom bin and are in the leachate in the bottom bin. What’s up with that??
    Also the worms do not seem to be eating the scraps that I put in the bin. I use lettuce and other greens, carrot peels, cut up banana peels, cut up fruit, some coffee grinds and green beans They are not eating the scraps made by two people. What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
  • I grind our kitchen scraps in my Vitamix and then wrap the mix in newspaper prior to freezing. Through trial and error I came to the right “packet size” the worms can eat in a few days. Initially, I set the frozen packet on the very top of the bedding to thaw. Once thawed ( a day ), the paper is soggy and I slit the side exposing the food and bury it deeper. When burying the packet I walk each successive packet to a new location around the bin – corner, middle side one, corner, middle of side two, etc.

    I like this freezing method because our kitchen scraps wax and wane depending upon the season and holidays.

    One last tip that works for me. I have one end of my bin propped up about 2″ higher than the other. This causes any excess water to pool on the lower end, leaving dryer spots for the worms. Most of the time, I can eliminate the excess water by simply removing the lid. As the top drys the water wicks into it. If the water is not gone in a day I add shredded toilet paper or paper towel rolls into the water pool. Too much moisture has not been a problem.

    Reply
  • Timothy Mcilraith says:

    Super Food Recipe For Worms. Collect fresh seaweed from beach. Rinse in fresh water to remove sand and salt. Cut into appropriate sized pieces and run through food processor adding water as required until a slurry as desired. Add to worms fresh or freeze for later. Use an ice cube container for easy retrieval and serve thawed – or frozen on a hot day. Also washed seaweed can be sun dried and cut into pieces and stored for later use.

    Reply
  • Caleb Thompson says:

    Proper ventilation is as important as drainage. worms need oxygen ! and will flee an anerobic bin .if your bin stinks it’s a sign of anerobic acidic composting not suitable for the worms. I avoid potato they stink and create a lot of heat because the worms don’t eat them fast enough .

    Reply
  • Kevin A. Barrow says:

    Hello, I just made a new compost bin and put store bought compost/ manure and garden soil mixture in the plastic bin. I drilled several holes in the bottom and lid and layered the bottom and lid with household screen. I put close to 100 worms on the bin a few days ago and when I just checked the bin I could not find any worms anywhere. Any suggestions as to what happened?

    Reply
  • Looking for some information, my work has a couple worm bins in the basement and they recently changed their paper for menus to waterproof, it has an acrylic coating of some sort to make so. they usually shred the paper and use in the bins, will this new paper be safe for them? i think not but again, not sure?

    Reply
  • Eric Botelho says:

    Hi,
    How can I harvest worms from my housing complex? Can I keep the ground water melon pulp in my backyard where we have very damp place?

    Reply
  • Josephine Britton says:

    I have x4 50L compost bins. I fill them with a ratio of 4carbon/ 1 nitrogen. I cover the top of each bin w layers of newspaper tucked in at the sides ( silly- but, like tucking a baby in).They have been doing well. I aerate the bin with a compost mate every 2 weeks.
    Recently there has been an accumulation of tiny white wrigglers (?white worms) & the red worms are trying to escape at the top.
    I will remove the top newspaper & just keep the compost blanket on top.
    Any other suggestions.

    Reply
  • Terry Terteling says:

    The most successful way I’ve found to separate worms from the bedding/castings is as follows:
    1) Use a large piece of cloth such as an old bedsheet or other cotton type absorbent material and spread it out on a paved or other hard surface ourdoors. Mist the cloth until it is wet but without water puddling.

    2) Spread the bedding/castings out on the material about 2-3 inches thick (in the sun works best)

    3) As the bedding begins to dry out at the surface the worms will migrate downward away from the light and dryness allowing you to remove the material at the surface which will almost entirely free of worms (except very small newly hatched ones). Be sure to keep the sheet/cloth slightly moist by misting if necessary

    4 When the material remaining is only an inch or so thick begin moving shaping it into small piles a few inches thick .. then as that dries again remove the surface material.

    5) At these remaining piles dry the now concentrated worms will be massed at the bottom often forming into “balls” of worms you can easily pick up and move to a new home or other use.

    This has worked for me far better than any other method.

    Reply
  • Frederick Zeller says:

    We have cut worm infestation into our two worm compost bins and would appreciate recommendations on how to:
    1) get rid of the cut worms, and
    2) restore the red wriggler worms (which seem to have been depleted)?
    Thank you

    P.S. Pease provide an e-mail address to send photo to confirm we’re dealing with cut worms

    Reply

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