So, you’ve spent a lot of time, money, and effort putting together what you believe is the perfect worm bin, full of composting worms ready to produce that nutrient-rich food for your garden.
You’re adding your fresh food scraps and think everything is going fine until you start finding dead worms in your composting bins.
What is the cause and what can you do about it?
That is what we are going to look at in the following post.
The most common causes why your worms died, and what you can do about it.
Why Do Worms Die in a Worm Farm?
There are a few key reasons why the worms in your vermicompost worm farm system are dying. These include:
Too much moisture or not enough moisture
Moisture is crucial for worms.
However, if you have too much or too little, your worms may not survive for very long. Moisture levels are crucial for healthy worms and worm compost.
Excess water and excess moisture may drown your worms or cause them to escape. (if you find worms escaping or a big worm herd in one space, this could be why!).
Your worm composting bin shouldn’t be soaking wet but if it’s too dry, your worms may also suffocate as they breathe through their skin.
Test your moisture level often.
If you find it on the wet side with too much water, add a new batch of soil or more bedding to balance it out.
Wild temperature changes
Worms do not survive in environments where there are violent temperature changes regularly.
If it gets too hot and then too cold, your worms could die, either by freezing to death or, essentially cooking to death.
Really hot weather? Move them to a more shady spot in a shaded area out of the sun.
Too cold? Move them indoors or add some heating to your set up.
Poor air flow and circulation
One of the most common reasons and causes of worm death in compost bins is air circulation.
Even if you invested in a worm bin with numerous pre-prepared air holes, these can often become plugged up over time.
Even if the holes don’t close up, your worms’ bedding could get compacted and prevent air from circulating properly.
Not Enough Food
Just like anything else, worms need food to survive.
The trickiest part, though, of keeping worms and ensuring they are healthy, is food.
If worms don’t have enough food, though, they will either starve to death, try to leave, or eat their castings, which may be poisonous to them.
Toxic bedding materials
On the subject of food, it’s important to keep in mind that your worms will feed on the bedding in the compost bin.
Therefore, you need to make sure that you use high-quality and worm-friendly materials that are not toxic for them, or they could eat the bedding and die.
Some options that could be causing them to die include any shredded paper that you have got from those glossy advertisements you get through the door. Shredded newspaper is usually fine.
They tend to contain harmful chemicals that can affect the health of your worms and the bin.
For the same reason, shredded cardboard from cereal boxes and similar, while usually ok, should be avoided too if you notice any weird behavior or dead worms.
Too much food
While you may think this isn’t a problem as worms can eat foods up to their own bodyweight in quantity a day, feeding them too much can cause shifts in their environment and an imbalance.
Particularly if you have added too many nitrogen based foods or carbon based foods. You can throw the balance out and they will not appreciate their new environment.
Too much nitrogen based foods (like coffee grounds) without carbon can also cause death via something called “protein poisoning” which causes our slimy friends a horrible death.
The gas build up causes them too explode leaving them in a state called a “string of pearls”, almost like they’ve been hacked into little bits.
Not a good way to go for your red wigglers or your composter of choice.
Be careful of overfeeding and if you have too many nitrogen based feed, you can pull it back with some egg shells, peat moss and other brown material.
Too much feed to the point they can’t eat food in time may also mean lots of rotting, smells and pests crawling around your worm factory or farm.
These pests could kill your worms too.
Too many worms can cause imbalances in their environment too and if you see them trying to escape into your garden or to find new soil, this could be the case.
New worms and baby worms appear at an insane rate in a healthy worm farm and this could force others out to “greener” pastures, either to find more nutrition or space.
What Do You Do with Dead Worms in A Worm Farm?
If you have checked them and are sure some of your worms are dead, you need to act quickly.
You want to save the remaining composting worms in your bin.
First, move them to a brand-new and clean bin.
Even if you don’t yet have another composting worms bin to use, just take any container at all you can and make sure it is clean and put the worms in it.
It is often a good idea, in the event of this very scenario taking place, that you keep a spare worm bin close to hand.
Do Earthworms Eat Dead Earthworms?
Generally speaking, no. But technically, yes.
The reason being is quite simple.
As earthworms, and worms in general, decompose at a very fast rate, and faster than most food scraps, it doesn’t take long for them to decompose until they are unrecognizable as worms.
Compost worms (and any earthworms really) will then eat that organic matter.
How to Help Prevent Worms Dying in Your Worm Farm?
Now that you understand why worms may be dying in your composting bins and what to do with dead worms, let’s discuss the various measures you can take to prevent premature worm death from even occurring.
- Maintain a temperature in your worm bin of between 55 and 70-degrees Fahrenheit and use a probe thermometer to monitor it. You should move the bin to a warmer or cooler area and use insulation to make sure the climate is balanced for your wigglers.
- Make sure your worm bin is neither too wet nor too dry. Ideally, worm bedding should feel similar to a wrung-out sponge. If you think it is too wet, soak the excess up with paper or cloth and use small rolls of newspaper to ensure it stays that way. Check that all drain holes are clear and working properly.
- You need to remember that worms need subterranean darkness that they are comfortable in, so make sure your worm bin is placed in a garage or dark basement to prevent too much light from causing them any pain or death. If the worm bin has to be out in the open, keep the lid closed, particularly during daylight hours.
- As noted, worms need good quality air, so you need to make sure the air can circulate properly through the bin. Make sure that the aeration holes in the bin are working and clear and if necessary, make more. You also need to make sure that the contents and bedding are not too compacted. Simply fluff up the bedding to make sure air can circulate it.
- You need to make sure your worm bin is stocked with enough food to prevent your creepy crawlers from eating their castings. Check the food supply in the bin regularly and top up as required.
- Make sure your bin is not too acidic or alkaline. You can check this using a pH probe and add either acidic food or alkalizing food if necessary. Lime is great for balancing the pH in composting worm bins.
- When providing water to your worms, make sure it is dechlorinated water. City tap water often contains chlorine and this is very harmful to worms. You can either buy dechlorinated water or dechlorinate the tap water by either boiling it or letting it sit out for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate.
- Although worms enjoy a bin full of scraps of food and bedding, they can still feel crowded. That is why you must be careful not to overfill your worm bin with food, bedding, or even the creatures themselves.
So, there you have it.
Worm death is ultimately, unavoidable. Everything dies eventually, after all.
However, if you notice your worms dying prematurely, you can use our guide above to help prevent this from happening.