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vermicomposting indoors: they're crawling out!?!

 
Anna Kleiner
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Location: Southwest Germany
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Hello all,

I'm a vermicompost newbie. I loved the idea, had a bit of space in a corner of my kitchen, and it does sound simple, easy and fun when you read about it online. So I set up a small box with bedding, worms, kitchen scraps, plenty of holes, and a container box with a cardboard lid two weeks ago (read it up in detail here). As far as I can tell, they should be happy and thriving in there.

However... they've been crawling out. Ever since. It took me a while to notice this, and I tried to make some changes right away: I watered the whole thing through, in case it was too dry (the container box would catch the runoff anyway), and I mixed the food scraps in well. But I still find two to five worms stuck to the kitchen floor every morning... and it really makes me sad. I don't want them to die! Why do they crawl out? Are there just too many holes? Should I add more bedding/food/soil/water/...? Is it not enough space (it's a rather small box)? What can I do??

I shall be really grateful for any ideas you might have. I wish I could keep them happily alive in that box.

Thanks already
Anna~
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 465
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Maybe sprinkle some sand around the container? It sticks to them and they don't like it. At least it will keep them contained until you can catch them.

there is also the electric fence thing that people use for snails. 2 strips of aluminium foil and a 9v battery.
 
Isaac Bickford
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Location: Okanogan County, WA
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In a previous worm bin, I found the worms would try to escape if really acidic foods were added. Make sure you're not putting too much (any) citrus or pineapple in there. Limit things like tomato.
 
mick mclaughlin
Posts: 200
Location: Augusta,Ks
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Make sure it is not too damp, too! Your material needs to be about the same as a squeezed out sponge. If they are consistently trying to get out, or are on the sides of the container etc... ya have a problem

but....

Sometimes worms just escape.

Make sure it is not too wet, actually more common then too dry. Only small amounts of citrus, no onions or peppers , no meat or dairy, not too wet.

Did I mention not too wet?
 
Mike Sved
Posts: 42
Location: Geraldton, Ontario -Zone 1b
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I'm 7 months into my worm farming learning and so far it's going well. I am very particular about what I feed them and definitely avoid citrus, peppers, onions, etc. Pineapple is deadly to them! I was surprised to read that recently.

Aside from diet, they need a stable, moderate temperature, good aeration/ventilation of the bin, moisture control, protection from light and a reasonably peaceful location. Similar to most humans.





 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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In my experience they tried to escape when it was getting too wet - you may nee more ventilation and/or more dry matter. We used to use shredded paper - a nice thick wadge of it (8 inches plus) and they will be able to find space in it that is comfortable for the.

I saw one design that used a bottom screen of fairly fine mesh supported by wooden slats. Moisture drains freely and can be collected in a pan beneath and there is good ventilation. Worms will tend to then stay in the top few inches where the food is.
 
Keith Odell
Posts: 60
Location: Indiana
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Most likely everything is just fine. I would leave the lid off and a light on for a few days. I would also fill the bin to the top with dry bedding.
Worms love it wet - they breathe through their skin and light is where their predators live.
So provided you haven't added too much or too acidic food, which you probably haven't otherwise you would have a jailbreak not 2 to 5, they are just not used to their new home.
They don't like light and they don't like dry. That should keep them home until they get adjusted. Also don't feed them anymore until the first food is gone.
That way you eliminate the overfeeding option.
Good luck.
 
Richard Gorny
pollinator
Posts: 243
Location: Poland, zone 5
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I had that problem with my first bin, it turned out it's been too wet for the worms. In my current bin I've been running for over half a year now, worms do not attempt to escape. In a bin, the deeper it is, the more moisture. Top layer is almost dry shredded paper - worms are never found shallower that 5 cm (2 inches) below surface.
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Incidentally - they don't like light. You can stop them crawling out by making the lid see-through. Hmm... except at night...

Well it would help part of the time at least.

You can use this trick to harvest them out of a pile of compost. Spread it out on a big sheet of plastic. The worms will retreat from the light into the deeper layer. After an hour or so rake off the top layer of worm casts to one side, exposing more worms to light. Repeat the process a few times and you can harvest almost worms free compost on one side and a nice bucket of grubs on the other.
 
Myron Weber
Posts: 67
Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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As others have commented, make sure it's not too wet. If it's dry, they are more likely to burrow in than climb out (not always, but in general).

Also, keep in mind they tend to (again, not always but generally) move up looking for more food. Yes, they can and do burrow down looking for food, but more often they tend to go up. I had a major escape event once when I fed them tons of veggie scraps (leading to population explosion) then went away for 5 days. They ate all their food and hundreds - maybe thousands - crawled up and out. Fortunately, this was outdoors and I still had thousands left in the bin to carry on the work. I guess my point is make sure there's something to eat at the top. I seldom mix the scraps in the way you describe - just toss them on top. Depending on how much I add, I might add some more bedding material on top to cover it.

I think some of my ideas here contradict what I saw in scanning the other responses - don't take my word on anything. I've been doing this for years, but I'm sure others have been doing it longer. Most of what I know (or think I know) is based on my experience with my system, which might be different from yours in ways that make my advice useless. The only advice I have that I KNOW is right is this:
Keep working at it, and pay attention to what works and what doesn't, and soon you will have a system that works for you in your environment.
 
Ronnie Ugulano
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Location: Zone 9, CA
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I've been keeping redworms for more than 20 years.

Worms try to crawl out during times of change, such as when you first start your bin, or when rain is expected. Sometimes they'll try to migrate if you feed them something entirely different than what they got where they came from. For example, if they fed them lots of squash, and you feed them the juice pulp from carrots. Worms like both squash and carrot pulp, but the fact that one is different from the other leads to a migration attempt.

The best thing you can do is to take any lid off, and turn on a light over the bin, especially at night. This will make them stay put. Usually needing a light on is only a temporary thing. After a few days or maybe weeks, you can put the lid back on (if you were using one) and go about your business while they go about theirs.
 
Anna Kleiner
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Location: Southwest Germany
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Hello again,

first off let me say a big THANK YOU to everyone who's taken the time to reply here! It was good to read about your experiences, and I do feel reassured.

The escape rate seems to me to be a little lower at "the occasional worm now and then" now. I keep my eyes peeled for them (my boyfriend still hasn't noticed a thing, hehe) and by now I've really come to appreciate how beautiful they are when they're crawling about. Tiger stripes showing, then not, then stretching again... I've grown quite fond of them. Ronnie, I think you're right about their responding to change, and they probably just need some time to adjust. They do seem to be a lot like humans after all!

I'm glad I know now not to put in any pineapple, onion peels and suchlike, I'll keep that in mind. What's your experience with coffee grinds? I've been thinking that sizewise, this should be optimal food for them. Maybe I can pamper them a bit to help them settle into their new home?

And also, I do believe now that I didn't put enough bedding in the bottom. Can I just add some more on top, or would it be better to make a new box with lots of bedding and move them once more? What do you think?

Happy worms to you all
Anna~
 
Richard Gorny
pollinator
Posts: 243
Location: Poland, zone 5
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Anna, one more thing - how long it was between setting up the bin and stocking it with worms, two weeks? I have an impression that the bin containing bedding and food for worms needs more time to develop right coditions for them. Bacterial flora needs to develop and food needs to reach a certain level of decomposition before worms are happy to dig in. Anyway, I guess it will get better with each day, good luck with your wormery
 
chip sanft
Posts: 353
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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Anna Kleiner wrote:
What's your experience with coffee grinds? I've been thinking that sizewise, this should be optimal food for them. Maybe I can pamper them a bit to help them settle into their new home?

And also, I do believe now that I didn't put enough bedding in the bottom. Can I just add some more on top, or would it be better to make a new box with lots of bedding and move them once more? What do you think?

Happy worms to you all
Anna~

I've had my worm bin going for several years and coffee grounds are something I add regularly. The grounds are great food and, when you get them from the coffee shop, usually dry enough to help deal with any excess moisture. I've added wood ash when putting the resulting soil into our potting mix to counteract the acidity (I read a study that consistently adding coffee grounds will lower soil ph), but the worms don't seem to mind. I may be imagining it but they perhaps even get a bit peppier after a coffee infusion. A nice layer of coffee grounds also helped with a fruit fly infestation.

When adding bedding, I think the location depends on what you're trying to accomplish. To soak up liquid and prevent the problems that brings, I dig down to the bottom and put paper there -- rolled newspaper or whatever will wick up a lot of moisture, and you can take out the paper to easily remove water, or you can leave it to enter the mix.

If you're just adding bedding to get more in there, in my experience you can add it on top -- one of the things earthworms do is slowly churn the soil and pull organic matter from the surface down into the ground, or bin.

For what it's worth: I add any sort of plant matter waste from food I eat, including onions etc., and haven't had problems. It just takes a while to break down.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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Anna,

I've been vermicomposting indoors and outdoors for over 20 years. Worms will leave when conditions are bad. Never, ever mix feedstock deep into the bedding as it can cause the bedding to heat up as thermophilic bacteria process the material....and if the worms don't escape, they become part of the process.
You're better off to just cover the feedstock slightly. You may need to start the bin over with fresh bedding.
 
chip sanft
Posts: 353
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Generally speaking, adding carbon-rich material (paper, dried leaves, etc.) to a compost will slow -- and cool -- it down, while adding nitrogen-rich stuff will speed things up.
 
Leila Rich
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The only time I've seen worms really 'make a run for it', was when a bin was sodden.
coffee grounds... are great food and...I've added wood ash when putting the resulting soil into our potting mix to counteract the acidity (I read a study that consistently adding coffee grounds will lower soil ph)
from what I understand, the acid in coffee beans ends up in the coffee-grounds are basically ph neutral.
I think vermicast itself is pretty much neutral to slightly acidic, but I can't find relevant links at the moment.
 
chip sanft
Posts: 353
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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Leila Rich wrote:The only time I've seen worms really 'make a run for it', was when a bin was sodden.
coffee grounds... are great food and...I've added wood ash when putting the resulting soil into our potting mix to counteract the acidity (I read a study that consistently adding coffee grounds will lower soil ph)
from what I understand, the acid in coffee beans ends up in the coffee-grounds are basically ph neutral.


Yes, a lot of people on the Internet say that the acid dissolves out. However, the study I read covered scientific measurement of soil ph following the long-term addition of grounds. Of course now I can't find the link. But the other things I've seen -- if you read to the end -- note that the jury's still out. But adding limited quantities of wood ash seems like it should be positive, anyway, and I've had great results.
 
Michael Vormwald
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decaying organic matter is always slightly acidic...no worries as it settles out. I wouldn't be worried about coffee grounds, but I'd never mix food deep into the bedding.
 
Max Kennedy
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The key is light, even a tiny LED in the lid will prevent them from squirming out.
 
Michael Vormwald
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Max Kennedy wrote:The key is light, even a tiny LED in the lid will prevent them from squirming out.


That's correct, but you have to ensure that the conditions causing the worms to flee are corrected.

To the OP, you may need to start over and I'd use a very moist peat moss bedding and again, never mix feedstock deep in the bedding - the worms will feed on/near the surface.
 
Max Kennedy
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Location: Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada
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Even in perfect conditions worms explore the surface at night and some escape anyway. Not a prob unless it's a mass exodus.
 
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