Why are your vermicompost worms dying, and what can you do about it?

Seeing an unusual number of dead worms in a Vermicompost bin is a terrible experience for most people. When I saw my bin filled with dead worms for the first time, I was agitated. It takes a lot of time and care to have a thriving worm bin, and watching it all go down is not a good view. I did a lot of research on it and deeply explored all the causes and solutions. I am happy to share my experience and findings with you, so you don’t have to go through the same experience, and if you face the same problem, what can you do to alleviate it.

So Why are your vermicompost worms dying? The common causes of worm deaths in vermicompost bin include unsuitable temperature, unregulated moisture levels, lack of oxygen, toxic food and unchecked feeding. The pests and diseases could also be responsible, but these are pretty rare.

Causes Of Worm Deaths

Let’s explore these causes in a little more detail and the remedies associated with each of them.

1. Unsuitable Temperature

The ideal temperature for the worms to thrive is between 77°F and 55°F (25°C and 13°C). If they are exposed to temperatures slightly above or below these ranges, they can quickly die. A minor variation once a while is acceptable, but regular fluctuations put a lot of stress on worms. Depending on where you live and the position of your composting bin, Your container can get too cold or too hot for the worms

Solution

  • Keep a thermometer handy and regularly measure the temperature of the vermicomposting bin. Plastic bins tend to get quickly heated up in the summer months.
  • If the sun rises directly over your bin, you need to move it to a shady place.
  • If you live in a cold area, you should consider indoor composting. The well-regulated temperature inside your home provides thriving conditions for the worms.

2. Unregulated Moisture Levels

Most living things on this planet need water to survive, and worms are no different. In fact, they need it more as water helps keep their skin moist, which allows them to breathe. The recommended level of moisture in a worm bin is between 70% and 90%. This translates to the consistency of a wet sponge. Vermicomposting containers need more water than conventional composting. If the levels drop below 50%, the worms start to die.

If you add too little water to the pile(Both directly and indirectly), the worms(And microorganisms) perish dehydration.

If you add too much water, it will clog up the air spaces, reducing the oxygen supply and eventually choking the worms.

Solution

  • Many fruits and vegetables can contain upto 90% water, and it’s easy to raise the moisture levels without even realizing it. If the bin is too wet, reduce the amount of high water content materials in the bin
  • Check the drainage holes for blockage. They can easily get blocked by worm castings and scraps, resulting in the accumulation of water
  • You can also add some dry bedding made up of straw or cardboard to dry up the pile
  • If the bin is too dry, spray some water evenly on the top. Try not to add too much suddenly
  • You can also curb dryness by adding water-rich fruits and vegetables

3. Lack Of Aeration

Insufficient oxygen is one of the most common causes of worm deaths. Even if your bin has circulation vents, they can still prove to be inadequate. Many people are afraid that if they add in too many holes, the worms will crawl out and spread all over their homes. Well, I can assure you that it won’t happen. And if you do see worms escaping, that is certainly some other stress and not the holes.

Sometimes the bedding gets congested with little to no air in between.

Solution

  • If the reason for worm deaths in your bin is oxygen deficiency, you need to add more holes in the bin
  • It would be best if you also turned the pile at regular intervals to introduce fresh air to the lower and middle parts of the bin

4. Harmful Bedding

Bedding is a part of the worm diet. If it is of lower quality, it can hurt the worms. While cardboard and sawdust can increase the quality of the compost, sawdust from treated wood and glossy paper covered with plastic can poison the pile.

Solution

  • Ensure that bedding materials are not treated with harmful chemicals
  • If you are adding sawdust or ash, it should only be derived from natural, unprocessed wood

5. Too Much Or Too Less Food

Worms can consume food equivalent to half their body weight in a day. As the number of worms increases, they can process more significant amounts of food.

If you observe uneaten scraps in the pile days after you added it, you are feeding the worms too much food. This can result in a worm bin filled with moldy food. Even though worms can process stale food once in a while, but doing it again and again negatively affects their health.

On the opposite end, if you feed them too little food, worms starve and start consuming their castings, which is poisonous for them.

Solution

  • You have to reduce the amount of food being added to the bin if you often see uneaten and moldy scraps in the bin
  • If you observe that food is vanishing quicker than usual, you are feeding them too little

6. Protein Poisoning

If you keep adding high protein foods into the composting bin, you will notice that worms are starting to die with their bodies deformed into segments. This situation is called protein poisoning, sour crop, and the string of pearls.

High protein foods tend to increase the acidity of the composting pile. Worms, like birds, have grits in their gut which uses calcium to churn the food. This calcium also neutralizes the acid. When the amount of acid is too much, worms can’t neutralize it, killing them from inside. This is not a contagious disease, so you don’t have to worry about affected worms spreading it. There are a few things that you can do to control this situation and prevent worm deaths.

Solution

  • First, you should immediately stop adding high protein foods into the bin. Protein itself is not harmful; it’s that excess that makes it fatal.
  • Add calcium carbonate to the pile. It helps in neutralizing the pH of the bin. It also provides calcium to the worms that they can use in their guts.
  • If you have another bin, you can temporarily transfer the worms there.
  • You can also add a large quantity of fresh bedding and remove the undigested food.

Can Ants Eat Worms?

Ants and earthworms generally live pretty close to each other, and they rarely interact. Most ants don’t eat worms, and worms don’t eat ants either. However, some species of ants like army ants, red fire ants, and carpenter ants can attack worms.

The ants and worms generally compete for similar bits of food. Scraps of food in the composting bin which worms consume are also a treat for the ants so that they might end up in your vermicompost bin. In most cases, they will not hurt worms. Though you have to watch out for the species, we mentioned above.

Stinky bin

If you recently suffered a worm tragedy, then your vermicompost bin might be filled with dead worms. Often people complain that corpses of dead worms tend to produce foul odors. If you are in a similar situation, here are a few things you can do

  • Add some cardboard and paper bits to add space for fresh air to circulate in the worm bin.
  • Stop adding new food in the bin until the situation gets back to normal.
  • You might see some eggs in the compost as well. Mostly, these are mites looking to clean up the mess. These are generally not harmful. Do make sure that the pile is not invaded by other pests and animals looking to feast on dead worms.

Final Thoughts

Worm deaths can be tragic for any worm bin owner. But if you follow the solutions mentioned above, you can have a fully functioning worm bin in no time. And, keep other advice in mind to avoid a similar situation in the future.

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