Guide to the 6 Most Common Worm Farm Problems (and How to Solve Them!)
Red wigglers and compost worms can be incredibly easy to take care of when they are happy and healthy.
When things are going well in your worm compost bins, red wigglers need to be fed 1-2 times per week, watered occasionally, and harvested every few months.
There's really not much to having a thriving population once compost worms get settled.
Problems can arise, however, and it is important to act on them quickly!
Worm farm problems that usually occur range from simple problems like odor and bugs to more serious issues like worms crawling out of the bin or worms dying.
It' important to note that all worm bin problems are caused by human error and mistakes, so most issues are easily fixed with the right know-how and a little extra effort.
With the above in mind, here are the 6 most common worm bin problems, their likely causes, and steps to resolve.
Worm Farm Problems: Odors
When managed correctly worm bins should not stink or have any odor other than an earthy, soil-like smell.
If your worm bin starts to smell like a teenage boy’s bedroom, the most likely culprit is rotting food.
Over-feeding, or feeding the wrong foods like meat and dairy, can easily lead to rotting or moldy food, which can lead to bugs, critters, and odors in your worm farm.
To determine if food is the source of the problem, dig around in the bin and give a few areas a sniff test.
If you find rotting or older food, remove it and try to determine why the worms didn’t eat it (was it buried, or was it something they did not like).
Try a light feeding with a new food source (fruit like bananas, berries, and avocados are always a beloved food of worms. For a more complete guide on feeding compost worms, check out our detailed guide here).
If rotting food is not the problem, then the smell may be coming from dead worms (even a single dead worm can emanate a terrible smell!).
If you find dead worms, there is a serious issue in your bin that needs to be addressed immediately. We highlight the key steps in this article on worms dying in your bin.
Worm Farm Problems: Worms Not Eating
Red wigglers and compost worms should finish each feeding in 48-72 hours. If the worms aren’t finishing each feeding in 2-3 days, then there are a few simple things to check:
|Worms Not Eating Possible Issues
|Wrong Type of Food
|Too Much Food
|Moisture in Bin
|Worms are Sick or Dying
Worm Bin Problems: Fruit Flies, Mites & Bugs in Your Bin
Worms and other insects have lived in harmony for millions of years, so a few insects and flies in your worm farm is usually not a problem.
However, large quantities of fruit flies or mites indicate a problem with your bin.
Fruit Flies in You Worm Bin
Fruit flies are attracted to food and fruit in your bin, so the best way to discourage their interest in your bin is to feed amounts that the worms can finish in 48-72 hours (if the worms finish the food quickly the fruit flies won’t appear!).
In addition, it is ok to sprinkle a little bedding over the food in your bin, which makes it a little harder for the flies to find.
Just don’t bury the food or the worms may not eat it!
Mites in Your Worm Bin
White and red mites are common in many worm bins. White mites are not harmful and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
Red mites are more active and are considered to be parasitic to worms and their cocoons. That said, they are not incredibly harmful to your worm bin so although they are annoying there isn't a reason to panic if you see red mites in your worm farm.
Red mites are attracted to acidic pH and moist conditions, so if red mites appear in your bin here are a few things to do:
- Water a bit less so that your bedding is lightly moist and
- Add crushed, rinsed egg shells to the bin.
- Add in a few handfuls of shredded corrugated cardboard
These steps will create more adverse conditions for the mites to thrive.
Worm Bin Problems: Worms Escaping or Worms at Bottom of Worm Bin
Having a few worms leave the bin on occasion is normal and shouldn’t be a reason to panic.
A few worms crawling out of worm bin is usually ok!
However, if worms are crawling out consistently and "en masse", then there is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
There are 3 main reasons that cause worms to leave a worm farm:
These are all avoidable problems and the best option is to prevent these problems from happening.
If temperatures outside, in a garage, or in a storage area are too hot or cold for your worm bin, you will need to move it to a better location or better protect the worms from the elements. There are no other great options here unfortunately.
For overcrowding or food and moisture issues, reduce competition for resources by moving some worms to a new tray or bin, and ensuring there is an adequate amount of food and moisture in the bin.
For bedding, fully composted fruits, vegetables, leaves, or manure are great options for bedding.
Coconut coir, peat moss, or shredded cardboard. A mix of these materials works well too, and we sell a blend of bedding materials that is ph balanced works very well in home worm bins.
When in doubt about a material for bedding, we recommend testing it first or just not using it at all. Remember, “maybe” is usually no when it comes to bedding and feedstock for your worms!
If the worms are already in the bedding and you believe the bedding is the source of the problem, try extracting the worms from the bedding.
If extraction is difficult (and it can be), then mix in as much of a good bedding source (from the list above) as you can, and then put a 2-3 inch layer of the new bedding on top of the existing bedding.
Worms may still flee for a while but they should eventually settle in with the new bedding mix.
Worm Farm Problems: No Babies in Worm Bin
If you aren’t seeing cocoons and babies in your worm bin, don’t panic! Many factors can influence worm reproduction, including:
- Worm density in the worm bin
The #1 factor in seeing more baby worms and cocoons in your worm bin is the season. Red wigglers and compost worms mostly breed in the spring (late Feb-May) and the fall (Sept-Nov).
During these timeframes you should say swollen clitellums (a milky ring) on the worms' necks as well as cocoons (tiny yellow-brown, lemon-shaped capsules) in the bin.
If you aren’t seeing swollen clitellums on the red wigglers or cocoons in the bin during the spring and fall, verify the worm population looks healthy (e.g., feeding on the surface, active when exposed to light, etc.).
If the worms aren’t healthy this can impact their breeding activity. The tips on troubleshooting worm farm problems in this article should help resolve most problems.
Otherwise, be patient! Healthy, active worms have evolved to breed prolifically and they will start as soon as conditions are good.
Worm Farm Problems: Why are My Worms Dying?
Similar to worms escaping the bin, worms dying in the bin is a reason for immediate action!
Death will present in 3 ways:
- Worms are dead on the surface of the bin, or
- You notice the red wiggler population in your bin has decreased considerably.
- Worms will develop "string of pearls"
If worms are dying the most likely reasons are temperature (too hot or cold), moisture (too dry), or bedding in the worm bin.
For temperature and moisture, simply relocate the worms to a better environment and ensure the bedding is moist like a wrung-out sponge.
Bedding issues include pH issues or bedding that is fully processed into castings.
Worms can not live in their poop for too long so if they have processed all of the original bedding into castings, they are likely ingesting their castings during their daily routine.
This will kill worms quickly so it is time to start a new tray or bin, or at a minimum mix in “a lot” of new bedding and add a new layer of fresh bedding on top of the existing bedding.
Worms may still die for a week or so after you mix in the new bedding, so be patient and this issue should resolve itself over time.
Frequently Asked Questions: Worm Bin Problems
How to tell if a worm is dying?
To tell if a worm is dying, look for lethargic or minimal movement, no food being consumed in the worm bin, very bad odors in the bin, and dead worms that are discolored or have "string of pearls". Healthy worms like red wigglers are typically active, reddish-brown, and live and feed on the surface of the worm bin.
How do I know if my worms are happy?
To determine if your worms are happy, look for signs of active feeding, reproduction (presence of cocoons and baby worms), and active movement within thee worm farm. Healthy compost worms will have a bright, reddish-brown color and they should consume 1/3 of their weight every 2-4 days.
Why are there maggots in my worm farm?
Maggots in a worm farm often result from houseflies attracted to excessive moisture, improper food balance (like meats or oily foods), uncovered food scraps, or poor ventilation. To prevent maggots in your worm farm, adjust moisture levels, avoid meat and dairy, and cover scraps with bedding Regular bin maintenance is key to avoiding infestations and ensuring a healthy environment for your worms.
Are there disadvantages of vermicomposting?
There are not may disadvantages to vermicomposting. A few disadvantages are that worm composting requires semi-regular maintenance, the right balance of moisture and temperature in the worm bin, and careful feeding to avoid attracting pests. Additionally, vermicomposting is not great for processing all types of waste, such as meat or dairy products. That said, the benefits of worm composting far outweigh any drawbacks.
What do worms eat?
Worms eat and thrive on a diet of organic materials, including fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, crushed eggshells, and shredded paper or cardboard. Worms also love manure and compost. Avoid feeding worms meat, dairy, oily foods, or spicy items. It's also important to not overfeed worms, they can usually eat about 1/3 of their weight every 2-4 days.
What happens to worms when they die?
Worms are 75% water so when worms die, their bodies decompose rapidly and become part of the soil. Dead worms have a foul odor but within a few days the worms harden and resemble small sticks. The dead worms blend into the soil or bedding in a worm bin and become part of the organic matter in the bin.
Worm Bin Problems - Summary
Just remember that most problems in a worm bin are caused by human error and mistakes! If problems arise, simplify feeding, address moisture and temperature problems, and add in new bedding. These simple steps will address most problems in your worm farm!
Thanks for reading! For more information, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the other troubleshooting worm bin problems in this series: