Every once in a while, in spite of your best efforts, your worm bin may fall out of balance. Read through our troubleshooting tips below, and if your problems aren't addressed, contact us . We'd be happy to discuss what's going on in your bin and hopefully we can give you some good ideas to bring your worm bin back into balance.
Your worm bin should always smell like fresh garden soil, and in fact, should produce no odor at all. If there is a foul smell coming from your worm bin, it's a clear sign that your system is out of balance. The first and most important thing to do if you have a smelly worm bin is to gently lift up the layers of food waste and bedding, enabling air to enter the system. Remember, worm bins need oxygen.
Dig around in your bin and investigate the source of odor. If you encounter something that smells bad, remove it and dispose of it in your green waste bin or your outdoor compost heap, if you have one. If the whole surface of the worm bin smells, then gently lift to add oxygen and add a generous layer of dry shredded paper or other dry begging to the top of the bin, and gently work some of this bedding into the lower layers. The extra carbon you add will help to balance out any excess nitrogen that's present in your system. If your bedding becomes quickly matted, add other dry carbon material to facilitate the flow of oxygen through the worm bin. You can even add additional dry shredded paper to your lower trays if you're using a tray system, which will help absorb excess moisture.
If you encounter water on the bottom of your worm bin, get rid of it! Start by removing any waterlogged castings from the bottom of the bin, and transfer to a container with holes so the castings can dry out and continue their aging process. Ask yourself how your worm bin got so wet in the first place. Did you recently add a lot of wet waste, like rotting tomatoes, watermelon rinds, etc. Remove some of the waste that is wettest and compost this green waste elsewhere for the time being. How humid is the environment where your worm bin is stored? Try adding additional air holes to your system. If you have a tray system, lift the trays and add a layer of dry, shredded paper between the trays to soak up the excess moisture. You could also try leaving the lid of your worm bin slightly open, to allow more oxygen to flow through your system.
If your worm bin is in balance, your worms will not want to leave their comfortable home with its steady food source.
When you first establish your worm bin, you may experience some worms trying to escape. This happens occasionally when worms are getting used to their new environment. Encourage your worms to stay where they belong by keeping a light on where you store your bin. Worms instinctively avoid light sources, so will not crawl if a light is on above them. If your worms still seem intent on escaping, it's because something is not right in your system. Worms will attempt to flee an unhealthy or toxic environment. If you've fed your worms too much by placing an excess amount of food waste, the composting environment will heat up, and will rise to temperatures that are too hot for worms to handle. Try removing some of this excess food waste and add extra dry shredded paper to your system. Did you add something awful to your bin? Remember, do not add processed food scraps, cooked leftovers or meat scraps to your bin. Worms are less inclined to eat this material and your bin will attract pests. Are your family pets or other animals disturbing your worm bin? If worms sense predators, they will attempt to crawl away. Keep your cat or dog (as well as outside creatures like birds or moles) away from your bin, and don't disturb it much yourself either - check your bin only before you add more food, and only add food when you see worms swarming in the last place you added food.
Harvesting Worms & Using Castings
Knowing when to harvest finished worm castings from your system is not an exact science, although your eyes and nose will tell you when castings are ready for harvest. Generally, your worm bin will produce finished castings in as little as three months, depending on how many worms you start with. If you have a tray-style worm bin, wait to harvest castings until all the trays in your system are full. The top tray is your working tray, and should contain decomponsing food waste and the majority of worms in your system. The ray directly beneath the top tray will contain some worms, but will be filled with mostly finished castings. Do not harvest the castings from this tray, however! There are bound to be unhatched worm eggs in this tray, as well as adult worms that have not made their way to the top. The worms in this tray are consuming the last of the decomposing feed waste, so leave this tray and go to the next. If you have a three-tray system, the castings in yoru third tray should contain no worms, and the soil should look black and rich. Better yet, by a fourth and fifth tray for your system and let the castings in the third tray age for even longer. If you wait 6 months or longer, and if you harvest only the castings from the very bottom tray, your finished castings will be fully broken down and filled with beneficial bacteria that are ready to go to work supplementing your soil and feeding your plant roots.
There are several common ways to separate worms from the vermicompost in your bin. The harvesting method you choose depends on the type of worm bin you have. If you have a tray-style system, like the one describe above, it's a siimple matter of lifting off the trays and removing the bottom tray. Harvest the finished castings from this tray and place the empty tray on the very top.
Dump And Sort
If your worm bin is a single plastic tote, then one way of harvesting castings from your system is to dump the entire contents of your worm bin onto a table or tarp. Place a light over the mound (or harvest your bin outside on a sunny warm day and let nature provide the light source). Remove the top layer of the worm bin, including very fresh-looking bedding and clumps of unfinished compost. Set this material aside and place back into your worm bin once your tub is empty.
Next, make many small mounds of vermicompost, and shine the light over top of the mounds. You should see the worms move downward, away from light, and bury themselves deeper in the mound. Wait 15 minutes to half an hour, and gently remove the outer layer of this mound. The "soil" that you are removing is actually finished castings. Let the worms continue to move downward, scraping off the top layer of soil until you're left with a pile of worms. Place the worms back in your bin, on top of the bedding and clumps of unfinished compost.
With this easy method, all you have to do is move all the vermicompost in the bin over to one side. Add fresh bedding to the other side and begin begin feeding there. Wait a few weeks to a month, giving the worms in your bin time to finish consuming the decomposing waste on the one side, and eventually they will begin migrating to the fresh food source. This is an easy method of harvesting finished castings, but it takes a long time, since you'll be feeding only one side of your bin.
Save The Worms!
If you do not use a tray-style worm bin, it will be difficult to avoid removing baby worms and eggs. You can save these babies by placing your finished castings in another container and place a small mound of green waste on top.
Remember, the more worms you have, the more green waste they eat, the more castings they will produce!
Using Your Vermicompost
From green waste to nature's best organic fertilizer, worm castings will benefit any soil environment. Whenever you plant seeds, move plants outdoors from inside, or whenever you transplant, simply mix a small amount of worm castings into your planting hole or row. A quarter cup per small plant will give them a significant boost. If you're supplementing older, established outoodr plants or indoor plants, you can top dress them with a layer of worm castings twice per year. Just break up the surface layer of soil and mix the castings in.