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2 months on with my worm farm and hit trouble  RSS feed

 
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Hello there,

First post here, thought of asking for some advice with my worm farm, one of those regular stacking tray systems. It's been 2 months so far, and I think the bin is suffering from too wet conditions and Ph balance issues. This can initially blamed on my because of overfeeding at some point. Yep, lesson learned!

If I squeeze a handful of castings I get more than a few drops from it.

Then I noticed:

* Worms a bit pale in colour
* Other worms getting what appears to be protein poisoning.
* More than usual number of potworms (those small white worms).

I turned over the content of the bin to try improving air circulation. There was also some newspaper blocking the drain holes. I also remove a lot of damp cardboard pieces, thinking that it contributes to the wet conditions (although now I think it may have been a mistake, as there were lots of worms on them).

I couldn't find a huge amount of decomposing food... just a bit of an apple here and there. Now I can see lots of worms going down through the drain holes of the tray. I can save them and put them back in, but that tells me something still isn't quite right in the bin.

Do you have any advice?

Perhaps adding more bedding material?
Add some lime powder to help with the Ph? - I need to get a Ph meter to confirm my theory.
Keep stirring the content?
Dry the content a bit?
Withhold the food for a couple of days?

Thanks much in advance!
Andrew.
 
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Possibly add dry shredded paper.  Then mix in with what you have.
 
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I don't have much experience here, but my gut tells me that I would consider adding some carbon-rich material like leaves or straw.  This will add air, roughage, and more minerals.  A handful or two of fertile soil might help to innoculate the system further with good microbes and aggregate for the worm's guts.  
 
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Does you vermicomposter have any drainage? What are you using for bedding? Use a blender to grind up the food and then let it drain for an hour or two in a strainer to get rid of extra water before adding it. Dig down a bit and put the blended food on a layer of shredded cardboard, and add another layer of shredded cardboard on top of the food. Adding some peat moss may also help.
 
Andrew Finn
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Hello there, thanks for your time!

@Jim, I cannot longer tell the bedding from the casting! The bin does have drainage and I did collect a lot of tea in these past months, probably half a litre or even more. Check out the bin in the attached photo. When I started the bin, I put a flat newspaper covering the base, therefore covering the holes. I think this contributed to the wet conditions I see now. What do you think? Is it common to place a flat newspaper like this when you start a bin? I also left the bin outside underneath an eave, although not exposed to the rain.

Now I moved the bin to the garage, I added some more straws, a bit of fertile soil (I liked this idea, thanks @Roberto!) and more shredded empty toilet rolls my worms really loved the past two months.
Today I did notice there were fewer worms in the tea tray, so hopefully conditions are improving, so I'll let it sit for a while before more drastic changes. @Michael, thanks... I mixed everything with what I have as I don't want to start over if I can avoid it.

Dry out the food is a good idea, thank you! I was adding the food so far on top of a handful of shredded cardboard, which in my head that was contributing to the wet conditions, which now I see it was wrong!
Also... food with the blender, you get some puree food... wouldn't this risk anaerobic conditions a bit?

It's been two months only, so not a lot in worm's-time and I have to say, for the quantity of tea I collected so far, the tens of dozens of cocoons I saw there and some more baby worms, it may not be that bad!

Happy to hear more advice.
IMG_20181015_173537_v1.jpg
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My bin
 
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Perhaps the mix is too acidic and needs a bit of lime added to sweeten it - dolomite lime.
 
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With the temperature going down, the bacteria that actually process the food scrap aren't as active.
The 1 liter of moisture that you got out of the system is actually a sign that your bin is too moist.
Its not the end of the world but the goal is to get zero moisture leaking out.
You can make proper aerated worm tea with the completed compost later.

Traditionally this time of the year have alot of holidays/festivities that are harvest related (food heavy) so you might find yourself with extra food scraps.
I also like to give the worms some diversity with one corner too high in carbon/dry and then have the rest of the box regular.
When I have my heat on in the winter the worm box dries out faster, and in the summer my windows are always open and humidity is okay.
But in fall and spring. I find that mirrors, windows, worm bin, 'fog up' more readily and I have to adjust stuff accordingly.
 
Jim Guinn
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You need something at the bottom of the bin so the worms don't get down into where the liquid collects. I actually think newspaper would retard drainage. I use something similar to a weed blocking material. It lets liquid through, but not the worms. Keep in mind, no matter what you use at the bottom will eventually allow less and less drainage as the fine particles tend to collect on it, and they will collect on it faster the wetter your bin is. The key is to get as much water out of your food scrapes as possible. (Blending also physically breaks down the food and makes it more readily available to all the microbes and worms that much faster.) That is why I blend my scraps first and then let them drain in a strainer. Freezing the blended scrapes solid and then letting them thaw will also allow more water to be removed. Freezing before feeding also has the added benefit of killing any fruit fly or other pest eggs before they become a nuisance. As far as pH, I would NOT add anything to your mix before you test your bin. You can buy a simple meter that will measure moisture and pH at the same time for about $20. I bought mine here: https://shop.thesquirmfirm.com/worm-compost-ph-moisture-meter/

I also used to have moisture problems when I first started, and I can relate to not being able to tell the bedding apart from the castings because it was just one big mud pie. That was when I use shredded paper and cardboard exclusively. I eventually learned from someone to use peat moss (with no additives or fertilizers - use Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss) with shredded cardboard...a 50/50 mix. (You want a 50/50 mix to avoid protein poisoning which will occur if you use 100% peat moss) However since peat moss is acidic, you have to soak it in a bucket for a day or two and then rinse it thoroughly. After that, you can squeeze a lot of the remaining moisture out or spread it out until it is just moist...use the meter to test. You then add shredded corrugated cardboard (the worms love the "glue" that is used to make corrugated cardboard). I'm not talking about simply ripping the cardboard up, but shredding it down to 1/4" x 1" strips. (Use a 20 sheet office shredder for this). When feeding, dig down into the bin on one side. Lay down a thin bed of shredded cardboard, add the food, and cover with another thin bed of shredded cardboard. Cover all of that with the bedding you moved over when you dug down. Alternate sides of the bin when feeding...it makes the worms travel back and forth through the bedding.

Worm_Compost_Moisture_pH_Meter__75545.1392517652.1280.1280.jpg
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Worm Compost pH + Moisture Meter
 
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Yeah I stopped using newspaper. It tends to turn into paper mache and clogs everything up. And it effects Ph.

You know you have a major problem when the worms start escaping the system. They will literally up and crawl away. The chances are things are a bit wet, but don't stress too much just yet. You have turned the pile, unclogged the drains, not let the worms finish things off. They're pretty good at keeping house.

I also wouldn't stress too much about pale worms. Like people, they tend to range in color. My worms tend to be pasty but they are healthy and happy as far as I can tell.

You'll also get fungal blooms, the odd fruit fly infestation, all sorts. That's also normal. Just let the system self adjust. Like someone said, you should be aiming for no leachate. I have a stacking pail system and the sump needs emptying once every 6 to 9 months. It holds about 2 gallons. I wish it were less but that would require a considerable upgrade to allow for more airflow and evaporation. And like I said, the worms are happy where they are so I'm not about to fix something that isn't broken.

I'm telling you all this because I remember stressing when I first got my worms. I'd add bedding, and mist the compost every day. Drain all that leachate out regularly... Every time I had a mold outbreak, or a large weather front came through and the worms all migrated to the top of my tower I'd be concerned that the system was failing and all my little workers were gonna die. It took a while to realise that they are capable and hardy. And that they prefer to be left to do what they do best.
 
Jim Guinn
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Nick Kitchener wrote: I remember stressing when I first got my worms. I'd add bedding, and mist the compost every day. Drain all that leachate out regularly... Every time I had a mold outbreak, or a large weather front came through and the worms all migrated to the top of my tower I'd be concerned that the system was failing and all my little workers were gonna die. It took a while to realise that they are capable and hardy. And that they prefer to be left to do what they do best.



Laughing! I remember being a new "worm parent" too...was afraid I would kill them off.
 
Andrew Finn
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Thank you all for your responses! I did enjoy reading them very much and thought it was time for a little update:

I switched the pile to the other container, this time with a weed mat at the bottom to prevent worms from falling. Here's the report on what happened during the process:

- I squeezed A LOT of liquid from every handful of composted soil I was moving to the new container.
- I added more brown stuff.
- I found A LOT of worms, baby worms and cocoons. YAY!
- I had amazing help of my 2 and 4 year old kids.
- From now on, the white worms will be known as the "bad worms" (as named by my kids). Way cooler than _Enchytraeidae_
- I took out most of the _bad worms_, although their population was not out of control.
- It is a very very bad idea to leave your compost opened with no lid and go to the kitchen for a glass of water. You could come back and find a couple of birds having the best time of their lives!

Now a couple of days after this operation, I found just a few worms that made their way through the weed mat by going underneath it.
Most of the worms may be happy with whatever bedding they have, as I cannot see many of them coming to the surface.
I am now keeping a closed eye on the food quantities I provide, always trying to freeze and thaw before adding.
Given now I have the weed mat to prevent the worms from falling, I guess will collect more moisture, but I'll worry about that when the bin gets full and need to move the worms to the next one. I.e. follow your advice and try not to stress too much about it!

I am waiting for the pH meter to arrive... Overall the bin looks OK now and on its way to become very productive!

Thank you all!

 
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