Vermicomposting can be very easy to manage once you get the hang of things. But not everyone gets it right first time.
Worms trying to flee, or, sadly, dying? 💀
Problems with using the system and harvesting compost? 💩
A stinky worm bin, or flies coming from the composting system? 👃
These are all problems that can put people off this simple and very useful process.
But they are all avoidable. 👍
Get ahead of the potential problems and you will be able to create great compost with fun. So to help you make sure you avoid common issues, here are five common mistakes with vermicomposting that you should be sure to avoid:
1. Choosing the Wrong Worm Composter
Many of the problems that people encounter when they set up a new vermicomposting system revolve around their choice of worm farm. There are a number of different worm composter options you can buy... and even more you can make yourself. But materials choices and design features can make your life more difficult. If you have the wrong choices, that can be problematic for your red worms – and for you.
When choosing or making a worm bin, it is important, first of all, to remember that the red wiggler worms to be housed within it are living creatures. They need oxygen, water and food. I've heard of some terrible mistakes that people have made – including someone who accidentally added red worms to an airtight container and "suffocated" the poor worms!
Bought or made, a worm farm can also make life more difficult for you. The welfare of your red wigglers should be your primary concern. But it is also a good idea to think about practical features that will make things easier for you. For example, make sure the lid is easy to open and close, so it will be easy for you to add materials little and often. A faucet and drainage sump also make things easier, since you can easily drain off excess fluid. And a multi-drawer or multi-layered system like the Urbalive Worm Farm or the Worm Factory 360 makes harvesting the finished compost much easier, and means you won't have to spend time separating the compost material from the red worms.
Here's an example of a simple, cheap and effective worm bin made of 2 storage totes. Note that if you feel confident, you can use one storage tote without draining holes as worm composter, as long as you add enough dry matter (e.i. shredded paper/cardboard, egg carton) every time you feed your red worms. Also make sure liquid doesn't accumulate at the bottom of the bin. If so, add more dry matter and mix gently.
2. Letting the Worm Farm Get Too Hot or Too Cold
Where you position your worm farm can have an important bearing on how well the system works. Many common issues occur because red wigglers and the worm composter get too hot or too cold. Worms will work best between 15 and 25 degrees Celcius. And while materials will still compost at lower temperatures, worms won't work as effectively. At extremely high (around 35 degrees) and extremely cold temperatures (below freezing) they can die.
Think carefully about the climate and conditions where you live. Decide where to place your worm composter based on ambient temperatures inside your home or garage, or outside. Think about whether insulation will be required in winter, or whether space cooling/ice will be required in the hottest months.
3. Making the Bin Too Wet or Too Dry
Another common environmental issue revolves around how much water there is inside your worm composter. As mentioned above, worms are living creatures. They need some water/moisture to survive. A worm farm that is too dry can lead to worm migrations, or, in extremis, kill your little wrigglers. But a heap that is too wet can drown your worms, or cause them to want to flee. As mentioned above, add dry matter every time you add food to balance the moisture level.
4. Adding Too Much Food For Worms in One Go
Your red worms will thrive when you give them the right amount of food. But give them too much in one go and the system can easily become overwhelmed. Food scraps should always be added little and often. Over time, you'll get a much better sense of what your worms can deal with.
Add too many nitrogen-rich vegetative scraps in one go, and this can cause the vermicomposting system to overheat. If you do not add carbon rich cardboard or other 'brown' material at the same time as the food scraps, the composting can become anaerobic – creating a stink. Not covering food scraps with carbon-rich material (e.i. shredded paper/cardboard) can also make your composting system a breeding ground for fruit flies (add beneficial nematodes to prevent flies infestation). Any imbalance in the materials mix in your worm composter can cause worms to try to escape.
5. Adding The Wrong Types of Food Scraps
Finally, it is important to remember what you can add to your vermicomposting system, and which things you should not add.
- Don't add oil, salt, meat or dairy products (unless you've fermented them first with a bokashi bucket system);
- Don't add anything inorganic that will not decompose, or any large chunks that will not decompose or be broken down by worms quickly (it is better to chope your kitchen scraps);
- Don't add too much of anything that will alter the pH of the material and make it too acidic (you can add citrus as long as you balance it with crushed egg shells or calcium carbonate);
- Don't add too much cruciferous (e.i. cabbage) because of the strong smell it creates.
Bear these things in mind, avoid these common mistakes, and you should find that your vermicomposting system works well.
Contact us if you have any questions. Also, all orders include support by email in case you have any problem with your compost worms and/or worm composters. If you want a live personalized training, we also offer it.
Have fun with your new activity and congrats to start vermicomposting! 🎉