When something goes wrong with your worm composting bin, this Troubleshooting Guide can help! Bookmark this page and return whenever you think something is amiss with your worm bin. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm is the #1 supplier of composting worms in the USA. We’ve been growing and selling worms for more than 40 years. Click on the problem to see solutions.
In most cases, your nose alerts you to worm bin problems. Vermicomposting bins should have an earthy smell. Bad odors emanating from your worm bin mean something is wrong. Regular “hot” composting without added worms is usually malodorous. Worm composting includes making a loving home for thousands of worms. Worm bins break down the organic more quickly than hot composters. Therefore, the worm bin should not stink.
HTML does not have odor tags. Therefore, we cannot give you direct olfactory insight into types of worm bin smells. Suffice it to say that if the worm bin smells yucky, something is amiss.
To troubleshoot foul odors:
- Is the odor coming from rotting food? Dig around and give it a sniff. If there is a large amount of undigested organic matter, take some out. You might be over-feeding the worms. Too much food replaces air in the bin, creating an anaerobic environment. Vermicomposting is aerobic, requiring oxygen. You might be feeding the wrong types of foods. For example, oily foods, meats, and dairy products will make your bin smell.
- Is the bin too wet? Squeeze some bedding in your hand. The bedding should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. To bring down the moisture level, sop up puddles with paper, paper towels, or cloth. Or add small rolls of newspaper throughout the bin. Make sure the drainage holes are not clogged. If the bin has a spigot, open it to drain the water. Don’t let rainwater in — put on a lid and place the bin under shelter. You can add more bedding such as pure peat moss, coconut coir, or shredded black and white newspaper. Stir gently. If you cannot address high moisture quickly, you may need to transplant the worms to a new bin and start over,
- Is the bin too dry? Pick up a handful of bedding and squeeze it. Does it feel like a wrung-out sponge? If it feels too dry, judiciously add water. Ideally, dechlorinate the water first by leaving it out overnight. A clean watering can that has never contained chemicals is perfect, or just pour on a little at a time. Stir gently. To keep the bin moist, keep the lid on and consider adding a worm bin cover.
- Is the pH off? The bin should have a neutral pH of approximately 7. It’s difficult to tell the pH by looking at it. An inexpensive pH probe will help. Limestone makes an acidic bin more alkaline (raises the pH). Adding more acidic or alkaline foods also changes the pH in the bin.
Too Much Food Left Over
Do you see a lot of food in the bin? You may be feeding the worms too much at once.
- bury the food so it’s easy for the worms to find
- feed them an amount they can handle every 2 to 3 days. Feedings from 1 to 2 weeks ago should be completely gone.
Insects & Fruit Flies
Most of the time, insects in the bin are nothing to worry about. Many insects help break down the food faster. Burying the food scraps will discourage pests. However:
- If the bin is indoors, watch out bad house guests such as cockroaches. You might have to move composting outdoors until the cockroaches have been eliminated.
- Centipedes can eat worms. They should be removed and stomped on outdoors.
- A few mites will make their home in the worm bin; large amounts of mites are not healthy. Red mites are parasites to worms. They love moist environments. Therefore, make sure your worm bin is not too wet (see “Odor” above”)
- Fruit flies are annoying indoors. Set traps near the bin and places where they congregate.
- If an ant colony or other insect family tries moving in, remove the lid for a day or two. They might not like the light.
Raccoons, rodents, and other local furry pests might stop by your bin for a bite to eat. This is not a major problem unless they are doing damage. For example, hungry raccoons will eat nearly anything. They might resort to raiding or knocking over your bin to get at food scraps and worms.
Most of the time, pests are attracted by the strong odors of oils, meat, fish, and dairy products. These foods should never go in a worm bin.
Bury scraps to cut down on odor.
Keep a lid on the bin. Hold it down with bungee cords, rocks, or bricks.
Worms that are comfy and cozy will stay put. Uncomfortable worms may start trying to climb out. If you see more than a few escapees, consider this:
- Something might be wrong in the bin – follow this troubleshooting guide.
- Worms don’t like getting moved around or put into a vehicle.
- Adult worms may try to flee when babies hatch. Force them to stay, and the population will balance itself out. Or, move some of the adults to a new bin.
- If they are climbing up the bin walls and this bothers you, shine a light on the bin. Remove the lid. They will dig down in minutes because they don’t like the brightness.
Too Hot or Too Cold
The ideal operating temperature for a Red Worm bin is between 57 degrees Fahrenheit and approximately in the 80’s or 90’s. Worms will start to die under 40 degrees. Too hot, and they start to cook. At the change of seasons, consult our articles on preparing worms for the Winter and the Summer.
Happy worms will reproduce. Take good care of them and they will lay egg-filled cocoons. If the temperature is right, they hatch in 3 to 4 weeks. If you have not seen baby worms in the bin, be patient. They will come along when conditions are right. Note: the problem is not gender imbalance. Worms are hermaphrodites, so they have both male and female traits.
Take care of your worms, and your worms will take care of you. They will munch contentedly on your vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and tea bags. In return, the worms will create valuable fertilizer, and cut back on trash. Just open this guide when something goes amiss in your worm bin. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm is here to help! Got questions? Connect with us on social media. Our blog has valuable information for getting started and sustaining your worm bin. We offer Red Worms for composting; European Night Crawlers for fishing, aerating the soil, and composting; mealworms for pet food and science experiments; and a large selection of convenient composters.