How to Take Care of Compost Worms

We’re probably at the halfway mark in the first compost worm series. If you’re new to this site, you can catch up on the series with the below links.

14 Reasons to Have Compost Worms
DIY Compost Worm Bin
How to Acquire Compost Worms
Feeding Compost Worms (What, How, and When)
How to Take Care of Compost Worms

To keep red wigglers and other compost worms alive and healthy, there are only a few things that must be done:

  1. Feed them properly;
  2. Keep their bedding moist;
  3. Ensure good air flow within the bin and bedding;
  4. Keep the bin stored in the right temperature range; and
  5. Keep the inside of the bin dark (i.e., little to no light).


Proper Feeding

Proper feeding was explained in this post.

Moist Bedding

Having a slightly damp, but not too wet, environment is critical to worms’ survival, as critical as us having oxygen.

Worms breathe through their skin. They have a mucus substance on their skin that allows oxygen to pass through their skin and into their circulatory system. Without enough moisture worms will suffocate.

I keep a large spray bottle of water next to my worm bins. When I feed them, I spray down their bedding.

HOWEVER, while worms require water to breathe, they CAN NOT survive if submersed in water. They’ll drown. That’s probably why worms can be seen all over sidewalks after a heavy rain. They’re trying to escape the rain-saturated ground and standing water.

Two things are needed to keep food scraps from getting smelly while they break down, in addition to having the food covered: low moisture level (some use the analogy of a wet wrung out sponge) and good air flow. Aerobic bacteria (NOT smelly) help break down the food for worms. If the bin does not have proper air flow and/or is too wet, anaerobic bacteria (SMELLY) take over.

Good Air Flow

There are two areas of concern for good air flow: the bin and the bedding.

To aid the flow of air in the worm bin, holes can be drilled in the sides and top of the bin; or a cloth (e.g., a towel) can be used as a lid.

It also doesn’t take long for the bedding to get compacted, which will prevent good air flow inside the bedding. To remedy this compaction tendency, the bedding should be turned or “fluffed” often. Once or twice a week should suffice, which is about the frequency of their feeding. So, it’s a good time to turn/fluff and moisten the bedding at each feeding. Refer to this post where I mention gloves I use.

Right Temperature Range

Red wigglers and other compost worms need an all-year temperature of 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, the temperature should be closer to 55-77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Little to No Light

Worms don’t have eyes, but they’re still sensitive to light. It’s very important to keep their bin dark. Refer to this post.

I’d love to hear from you.

Have you been thinking about getting compost worms?

If you have some already, what have you found to be important in taking care of your compost worms?

This was shared on the following blog hops or link-ups:
EOA Link-Up
Homestead Barn Hop
Simple Lives Thursday
Simple Living Wednesdays Link-Up
The Morristribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival
Your Green Resource

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.

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24 comments to How to Take Care of Compost Worms

  • Melissa

    I’m so excited, next sat we are going to take a class about worms and getting some too. These blogs have been so helpful.

    • Holly

      That IS exciting! Let me know how your class goes and your new adventure of worm farming. :)

      I’m so glad these posts have been helpful. It encourages me to hear that.

  • I’ve had a homemade worm bin for many years and love seeing how quickly they grow and breakdown the food. I’ve found that you can’t put in too many large scraps or they won’t break them down quickly. Occasionally I will give them egg shells instead of feeding them to my chickens because the worms need the calcium and they also tend to mate in them when they are not crushed up.

    • Holly

      It is a neat hobby. :)

      Yeah, I usually tear the food into small pieces, too. I’ve heard of people giving clean, crushed eggshells to compost worms, but I’ve not tried it yet. I ought to, though.

  • Amber

    I’m envisioning a drowning worm… “Save yourself, get to the sidwalk!” :D

  • Hi Holly! I just found your blog through Red and Honey’s feature from the link up. I will be adding your blog to my reader as I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. I’m a Christian living in Indiana, who gardens and has a doberman. :-) Thanks for the great info. Worm composting is something I’ve been interested in, but haven’t taken the plunge into, yet.

    Have a great day!
    Pam

    • Holly

      Hi, Pam! I’m so glad you stopped by (and let me know how you found Your Gardening Friend).

      A Christian woman, Hoosier, gardener, AND a doberman mommy?! I’m sure we could talk for HOURS. :)

      I encourage you to prayerfully consider starting a little worm farm of your own soon. It’s SUPER EASY. It’d be a great homeschooling science project. ;) It’s one of the things I mentioned in 14 Reasons to Have Compost Worms.

  • Hi Holly! Thanks for sharing at Your Green Resource this week – I featured this post in today’s round. Have a great day!

    http://redandhoney.com/2013/01/your-green-resource-week-69/

    • Holly

      Beth,

      Thanks for choosing this post for Red and Honey’s featured post this week!! What a WONDERFUL surprise it was to learn this was your chosen post.

  • Melissa

    OK i found the worm post, so this past weekend we went to the seminar. They told us pretty much what you have said. I do have a question tho, is it ok to feed everyday or is it better to feed every 2 weeks(a big bunch of food)?

    • Holly

      I was thinking about you recently, wondering how your worm class went. I’m so glad it went well.

      In my opinion – I don’t claim to be an expert, though – I would recommend giving them enough food to last about 3 or 4 days, maybe a week. Have you had a chance to read “Feeding Compost Worms (What, How, and When)”? You might get some helpful tips in that post. (The link to that post is in the body of this post.)

  • Melissa

    I have read and re-read all your posts. Mom and i are concerned about the worms already. We hadn’t checked on them since sat. They are very sluggish. We have paper, wet paper, food, coffee grounds. I cracked the lid for them tonight. The food we put in there isn’t real old or decaying, wonder if thats it? The worms are on one end of the bucket and the food at the other. Tonight i put the food right next to them. The other thing is the bin is huge, could that be it? OK i’m rambling, any help would be great. Thanks

    • Holly

      Melissa,

      Hmmm … I’m not sure what’s up with the worms, but I do have a few thoughts.

      1. If the worms have gone a REALLY, REALLY long time without food, they’ll appear sluggish. I’m embarrased to say that happened to my worms. Your description of “sluggish” behavior is a perfect description of what I witnessed. I would assume your worms were well fed before you got them, but hard to say.

      2. They need a little air flow. Does your bin have holes in the top of the sides? Mine does not, but it’s somewhat shallow, and I use a towel as a lid. The towel allows air into the bin. (I also fluff the bedding.) You mentioned you cracked the lid, which is good. (You might eventually end up with some teeny, tiny flying bugs, though. So, you might want to try a towel.)

      You referred to their home as a bucket. A cracked lid is good, but if it’s a deep bucket the air might not get into the bucket as easily as it would for a shallow or short bin.

      3. Be sure you bury the food under the bedding.

      4. Is the bedding at least 6″ deep? If it’s just a thin layer of paper, you’ll want to add a whole lot more.

      5. While worms will quickly shrink back into their bedding when you peek in, in general, they’re pretty slow critters. Maybe what you’re thinking is sluggish behavior is normal for a worm. ;) It’s hard for me to say without observing them.

      6. Are you pretty sure they’re compost worms, and not just the common earthworm (i.e., the kind someone would dig up out of their yard)? The garden worm would NOT like the set up that a compost worm needs. I doubt this is the problem, but just sharing all my thoughts.

      Please let me know how the situation progresses.

  • Melissa

    OK so we decieded not to touch the bin till friday. Maybe they need time to get use to our house…and yes we have red wiglers. And yes they came from someone elses bin at the botanic gardens in ft worth tx. I’m thinking we need a smaller bin and more paper. Do you have a fb page, i could show you a picture of the bin?

  • I have enjoyed reading your site.I have tried 2 times to start with a worm farm, but I have lost them both. I lost one to the heat of a eastern north carolina summer and one to a surprise cold winter day. Suggestions to maintain constant temperature?

    • Holly

      Thanks, Sheryl. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the site, and, I assume, the compost worm series.

      That’s unfortunate about your worm farms. Since the worm farm demise both times was due to extreme weather temperatures, here are my suggestions:

      Is it possible to keep your worm bin(s) inside? That’s, by far, the easiest solution.

      If an inside worm bin is not an option, then I’d suggest the following:

      In both the summer and winter

      Make sure they have EXTRA, EXTRA bedding. The thick layers of shredded paper, cardboard, etc. will probably act as an insullation.

      In the summer

      Keep the worm bin under a shade (at ALL times), maybe even on the north side of your house/shed/garage, if there’s all-day shade. Also, make sure the bin is adequately ventilated. Otherwise, you might create a suana environment. Not a good thing. ;) On extra hot days, consider having a fan blowing on the bin (if it can be safely done, so as to not create an electrical hazzard – out of rain, etc.).

      In the winter

      Reduce the ventilation/air flow, and try to find a way to block the wind. (They always need some ventilation. In the compost worm series, I explained the reasons for good ventilation.) Again, the extra bedding, I would assume, is of paramount importance.

      I hope that helped.

      I look forward to hearing from you again!

    • Holly

      I thought of another possible solution. You might try a styrofoam cooler. It will still need adequate venting, but the styrofoam can serve as an extra insulation from the extreme hot/cold days.

  • Hello Holly,

    I enjoyed your posts and agree with you that Styrofoam is one of the solutions to protect worms from extreme temperatures.

    There are many ways you can go about protecting your worms from extreme hot temperatures in summer.

    You can place bins under trees, in a garage, a store room under a sun roof, in an alley that gets only very little sun or any other place on your property that gets exposure to the sun for a limited time, either in the early morning or late afternoon when the impact of the sun is not that strong.
    Should you not be able to make use of any of the above mentioned options which are basically free of charge, than you should provide your worms with some custom built sun protection.
    Second hand carpets on top of a strong plastic sheet are a good and inexpensive solution. Old wooden boards might do as well. Flattened cardboard boxes may also be used but they will decompose with time and become food for the worms. They will obviously need to be weighted with bricks in windy climates.
    Another possible alternative is to set up a roof of shade cloth that you can purchase from most large nurseries and garden suppliers. This is obviously a more costly solution and in my opinion not needed if one takes advantage of one of the no cost or low cost environmentally friendly recycling solutions mentioned previously.

    Winter protection will obviously differ quite a lot depending in which climate zone of the earth you are living and intending to keep your worms.

    In mild climate zones that never really experience temperatures below Zero degrees Celsius / 32 degrees Fahrenheit it is quite simple to keep your worms safe.

    If you are living in one of those areas then just ensure that all your worm bins contain enough bedding and food to give them a protective barrier against the cold of at least 30cm / 12 inches from all sides.

    This will give your worm herd the chance to crawl towards the center of their bedding which will act as an insulating material in case of low temperatures outside.

    An additional carpet or blanket as cover over the top and sides of your bins will help as well and that is usually all it takes apart from your usual routine to get your worms safely through winter.

    All the best, blessings and happy worming

    • Holly

      Thanks for all the tips. I found the tip, “If you are living in one of those areas then just ensure that all your worm bins contain enough bedding and food to give them a protective barrier against the cold of at least 30cm / 12 inches from all sides” to be especially helpful.

      So glad you stopped by.

  • Only a pleasure Holly I am glad I could be of assistance. I am passionate about compost worms and their important and positive impact on our wonderful planet!

    Blessings an happy worming.

  • Jody

    just wondering if I can feed worms honey by any chance?

    • Holly

      Hmmm … that’s a GREAT question. I can’t say that I know the answer to it.

      My initial thought is no. My concern is whether the little guys could push honey through their intestines. I don’t think they can, but that’s just based on my little brain’s thought process.

      Wow! You guys come up with some great doosies. I love it. :)

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