Over the last few years I have taught quite a few vermicomposting classes and certain things come up as common concerns. I have detailed them here for you and added some troubleshooting tips. Let us know if you have any questions or concerns that are not addressed here and we will try and answer them for you.
Common questions and concerns:
- Can my worms live inside? YES – in fact they are great room mates. They make no noise and won’t raid your fridge.
- Will it smell? – NO – worms themselves have no smell, and a properly maintained bin will not have any odors. If your bin does have odors (inside or out) see troubleshooting.
- I don’t like the idea of worms in my house – can I put the bin outside? – YES, but there are some considerations. Worms are sensitive to really hot or really cold temperatures, particularly if your bin is small (doesn’t have a lot of material volume). They are far more flexible in a large bin that allows them to dive low or toward the middle to escape heat and cold. Mine are outside in large bins and do very well year around with very hot summers (over 100 F) and cool winters (down to 30 F). I am not sure in temps that stay much lower than that during the winter.
- Do they require a lot of maintenance? NO – I consider myself a lazy composter – I usually tend my bins one time per week. Sometimes I skip a week – no harm done. It takes me about 15-20 minutes a week to tend 2 large bins.
- I am afraid I don’t produce enough waste to keep them fed – Be assured, you do. The worm population will adjust to the available food. Plenty of food and they will reproduce like crazy, not much food and the population will stay lower. Even if you don’t produce much in the way of fruit and vegetable waste from your kitchen, worms LOVE paper and paper products like cardboard and paper packaging. They use it as nesting material and it breaks down and they consume it. You can always have your neighbors add to the bin!
- I’m afraid I will hurt them by giving them the wrong thing – there are a few do’s and don’ts that apply to utilizing vermicomposting vs. standard composting, but it is simple – see below.
- Can you put rotting food in a worm bin? – YES. Clean out that fridge! Rot is the beginning of the breakdown process – worms don’t mind.
- I don’t want to go out to the bin every time I have to throw something away – NO problem! Counter top bins are readily available, or make your own. I keep 2 by the sink in the kitchen. I like the stainless ones with the carbon filters – no smell, no fruit flies. I also know people that keep a bin in their freezer and just add to it. Coffee cans or any other airtight container works fine. I dump mine once a week while tending the bins.
- Will the bin attract rodents? NO – a properly maintained bin will not attract rodents, and it is not difficult or time consuming to maintain.
- Do I need to buy an expensive bin? – NO – many people I know make their own from wood or re-purposed plastic containers.
- Use a cover on the bin. Worms don’t like the light, and it will keep your bin moist longer conserving water.
- Put your food waste in there – mold, rot is ok.
- Make sure you cover the food waste with paper or the contents of the bedding to keep away flies and prevent smells. This is not a big concern if your bin is covered, outside, and larger volume.
- Make sure you aerate your bin, particularly if it’s a large volume bin. The worms and your waste need oxygen to keep the process moving forward.
- Keep the bin contents moist – the decomposition process will be stopped and your worms will die without moisture. It doesn’t take much even in the summer when you keep your bin lid on. Locating your bins in the shade helps.
- Make sure you have adequate drainage at the bottom of your bin. Worms can’t swim – if things get too wet they will try and escape, most will drown.
- Keep bins in a relatively convenient place for tending, near a water source.
- Add meat or dairy to your bin – these decompose in a different way and will cause your bin to smell bad. See BOKASHI for a process to divert this type of food waste.
- Add oils – worms breathe through their skin and oils will impede this process.
- Add too much citrus – citrus has a substance that inhibits bacterial growth (think orange or lemon cleaner). Since worms have no mouth, they rely on bacteria to break down the food waste into a liquid form that the worms then slurp up.
My bin smells
- Too much food waste and not enough worms. Remove some food waste. If this is an ongoing problem you may need a bigger bin or add another bin. Add more worms!
- Ensure you are not adding meat or dairy products
- Your bin may be too wet and/or have inadequate drainage
Nothing is happening – things are not breaking down
- Not enough moisture – the bacteria will not reproduce and do their jobs without moisture
- You may not have enough worms for the volume of waste you are inputting. In time they will reproduce enough to compensate, or you can add more worms to your bin.
- Ensure you are turning the bin once a week or so. Paper in particular will clump together, and in larger bins the compost will compact under weight and water and needs to be aerated.
- Consider breaking the food and paper products down into smaller pieces before adding. The smaller they start out, the faster it goes (CAUTION – shredded paper may clump).
- Soak the paper products in water before adding to the pile. It will help start the breakdown process, and help conserve moisture in your pile.
My worms are trying to escape!
- They become flighty when things get really moist – rain if they are outside or too much moisture added to the inside bin. Ensure adequate drainage.
- Too much nitrogen – if you add too much nitrogen rich things like coffee grounds, the pH shifts to an uncomfortable level for them. Coffee grounds are good, but not too much especially in a small bin.
Don’t be afraid to start small – try it out and see how it goes. I started with a small bin outside, then moved it inside, then moved to large outdoor bins. Ask for help if you get stuck, and don’t be afraid to try again!