Vermicomposting, worm bin, composting with worms community and forums
Built my first bin in November, 2011, about 3.5 months ago. I put 2 lbs of EN in a 18 gallon RM tote from Wallyworld.
Initial bedding was peat moss, newspaper, and a little soil. Feed my worms weekly predominantly coffee grinds, egg shells, green table scraps and decaying leaves. Put all the food through a food processor before adding. Occaisionally, I will add a little cornmeal, which they love.
Until about 1 month ago, the bin was kept indoors. No foul smells and the worms seemed happy and lively. However, I had a pretty heavy infestation of fungas gnats. At first, I tried treating with diatomaceous earth. After one week, the infestation was worse. Then I added in some beneficial nematodes. The fungus gnat population continued to grow.
I moved the bin outside and quit adding in coffee grinds to their foods. The next week, the fungus gnats were swarming and the EN seemed lethargic. Since the worms didn't appear to be trying to escape their bin, I wrongly (I think) assumed this was due to colder temperatures (about 50 degrees) in the garage to where I moved their bin.
Last week, I gave them some more cornmeal, which was once one of their favorites.
When I did the weekly bin maintenance yesterday, I still had a healthy infestation of fungus gnats and I noticed the worms had not touched the cornmeal from the week before. I decided to dump the entire bin out to see what was going on.
When I dumped the bin, most of the worms just kinda laid around, very very lethargic. They didn't flee from the natural light as rapidly as they normally do. The temp yesterday was in the low 60's so I am pretty confident it was not temperature related.
I also noticed that on about a third of the worms, about a third of their bodies were a pale yellow color and all it was the tail end one third. These worms were more lethargic than the others. I think I have had quite few die as well because the final heap, after cleaning away all the bedding, was not even close to the size of my original two pound purchase. The good news is there were quite a few very small worms which tells me that at least some of the worms have been mating and laying eggs.
Any ideas on what I am doing wrong? Why just in recent weeks do almost a third of their bodies have the pale yellow color?
As an FYI, I threw out all the old bin material and yesterday put the worms in a bin composed of fresh bedding of peat moss, newspaper and decaying leaves, with just a little bit of food from the food processor.
Wow, that's disturbing and I have no clue what's is going on. I am subscribing to this to keep in contact.
I see that you do "weekly maintenance". I generally just leave mine alone and was wondering what it is that you do.
I hope you get this figured out.
I am of the opinion that unfortunately, it was a temperature related issue and there was absolutely nothing wrong.
I believe you mentioned that the temps were in the 50's and then the low 60's. These are temps where activity in a bin slows down as they do in a natural outside setting.
Your worms were mating as they felt the temps drop because outside this means it is time to die and we have to keep the population going. Make sense?
I think you had no problems at all. If you want to increase casting production, increase temps.
One more thing, worms do not like anything fresh. Bedding or food. I compost most things before they go into the bin.
Hope this helps.
Cornmeal at times can make worms sick if you overdo it,or stir it in the bedding.Not sure what all happens?But it likely makes a gas,or what you'd call sour bedding.Also the thing about Euros is they like to be deep in the bedding.So you need a compost thermometer to reach down deep to check the temps.You get some hot spots it will affect them.The other species take the heat a lot better.
Thanks all, I appreciate the input.
Harry, not sure I buy in totally to the temp idea. My best guess is that I have lost well over half of my original purchase. There are in an insulated, but unheated garage. The temps here have been like a roller coaster. I may have mislead you with the 50's comment. Its probably 50's at night but higher during the day. I am having a hard time accepting I lost over half my initial purchase in just three weeks because its been in the 50's. The bin temperature has been much higher than that.
Sick, I apparently read wrong or typed wrong. I certainly did not mean to imply that 50 degree temps would kill your worms.
""I threw out all the old bin material"" Did you mean you got rid of it totally? Or you meant you put it aside somewhere? You also mentioned that there was no foul smell. If that is the case, I wouldn't have thrown out that old bin material because it may have lots of cocoons. Even if it did smell, I would put them in a bucket (or even a plastic bag) and hoping for babies to hatch.
""worms do not like anything fresh"" - I agree 100% with Harry. How long before the worms arrived did you set up your bin? How old is the peat moss? If you have lots of decaying leaves, you don't really need to add peat moss or soil.
""Feed my worms weekly predominantly coffee grinds, egg shells ......"" I would hold back the coffee grounds until the bin is established. So, how much kitchen scraps do you have per week appr.? Worms do get stressed from shipping and change of environment and diet especially when the new home isn't "worm ready", teaming w. MO. It is also said that the 2nd generation will have a better tolerance to your bin because they hatch in that environment. I use cornmeal/oatmeal/worm chow as a light sprinkling on top and wait until all is gone before I add more. This is to prevent what GG called sour bedding.
""about a third of their bodies were a pale yellow color"". So are many of my worms and I thought that may come from the carrot pulp and pumpkins I have been feeding them. Somebody on this forum posted a picture of his worms that are on the yellow side too, can't remember who.
I read and re-read your post and the comments and from my own personal experience I think the temp got to them.
I killed a perfectly happy batch of EN's by moving them into a shed and keeping them in the mid 20's.... your hi 60's
"I lost over half my initial purchase in just three weeks because its been in the 50's. The bin temperature has been much higher than that".
Also, I think VC has a very high heat capacity, which means once it has warmed up, it is not going to cool down that quickly in a closed system, unlike a flow though. So it will ratchet up or down in temp depending on the season or ambient environment.
I have 2Lbs of EN's for over 5 months now, kept at approx 10C no more than 14C (your 50's) not,touched, messed with at all, just food and paper thrown at them and in a small bin. I think the population has exploded and I am itching to find out what is in there. Posted a discussion on this a couple weeks ago. (as an aside in a different thread).
You have an awful lot going on there, by that I mean a lot of things changing in a very short time to solve what is a fungus gnat (I dont know what they are) problem, maybe to the detriment of the worms.
There have been some great suggestions posted, all of them valid.
Now that you have a population in new bedding, I would put them somewhere cool and leave them alone for at least a month. Then make some more informed choices.
When my first rubbermaid bin went sour, I thought I had failed.I dumped the contents into a compost pile,2 months latter it exploded with worms.Since then I have plenty of worms everywhere.
I can tell you for sure its not a temperature issue. Euros stay quite lively down to 40 deg F. I can almost say for sure it is an overfeeding issue. When food is mixed into the bedding it removes Oxygen from the bedding and also gives off gasses such as ammonia. Also sugars can ferment and turn into alcohol. Worms are quite resilent creatures, but they still can only take so much Oxygen deprivation while being drunk and gassed :) lol
The cornmeal is a very concentrated food source and the worms will eat it a little slower. The fact that you had gnats also indicates overfeeding.
You did exactly the correct thing my removing much of the old bedding and adding fresh. Just remember that they will be a lot of worms hatching in the old stuff and they will most likely survive. It is a good idea to set the material aside and after a few weeks check to see if it has composted enough to add back to the bin. This will allow you to get your baby worms back into the worm bed.
Matthew My Worm Website
Thanks Matt, its been a while since I posted but I believe you are correct. My EN are back to normal and I have gradually added back in the bedding I threw out a month or so ago. It was a newbie mistake. Too much food and too much moisture. Things are back to normal now. Thanks for your input.