Worm's Aren't Eating (part 4 of 4)

If you've farmed compost worms or managed a worm bin for a few months or more, you have likely encountered a situation where your worms aren't eating. In many cases there may be nothing wrong with the bin, but in other cases uneaten food can be a sign that something is wrong in the bin. 

If the bin is a new one you recently set-up, keep in mind it can take worms 3-7 days to get acclimated in their new home and interested in eating. Also, their bedding serves as a food source so it's unlikely the worms will die of starvation within a week or 2. We recommend being patient and adding only a small amount of food (e.g., 1/5 pound of food per pound of worms) to the bin.  Within a few days the worms should show interest in the food and begin their feasting. If not, see below for additional steps you can take.

If you see an established bin (a month or more in age) of worms suddenly lacking interest in food, there are a few simple items to check to get things back on track:
  • Temperature: Worms like the same temperatures that humans do, so if the temperatures in/around the bin are too hot (greater than 90 degrees) or too cold (less than 60 degrees), compost worms may slow their eating process. If this is the case, reduce the amount of food until the worms start eating again and move the bin to a more optimal temperature range (e.g., 60-90 degrees).
  • Moisture: The moisture level in a bin can also impact worms eating habits. If there isn't enough moisture, worms will become lethargic, start to dry out, and may not be as interested in food. If the bin is too moist, especially at the bottom of a bin or tray, the worms may stay in the bedding and not surface to eat as much. It's important to remember that worms are attracted to water, so a bin should be the most moist on the surface, and then get gradually drier further down in the bedding.  If the bin is too dry, mist the top of the bed thoroughly to add consistent amounts of moisture to the bin. If the bin is too wet or has standing water in the bottom of the tray, remove all food and mix in additional bedding to absorb some of the excess liquid. This can be tricky as you do not want to mix in totally dry bedding, so very lightly mist the new bedding, leaving some ability for it to absorb the excess water in the bin.
  • Feeding Practices: "How" and "what" worms are fed can impact their feeding patterns. It's important to make sure the menu you are serving is something worms are interested in. The good news is that worms can eat just about anything, so finding something they will eat is usually not too tough. That said, if they aren't eating try feeding them small amounts of fruit (no citrus!) like melons or chopped-up apples. And when feeding the worms, gently place the food in 1-2 areas of the bin and spread it into a thin layer. You shouldn't cover the entire surface area of the bin, but rather place the food in a few areas of the bin and gently spread it around that small area. This gives the worms more surface area to feed from, which is easier for them than a tall pile of food.
If the bin is established and temperature, moisture, and feeding practices are not the issue, there may be something more serious going on inside the bin.  These issues can include pH problems, anaerobic conditions, or sour crop. If you suspect these conditions are to blame, we recommend the following steps:
  • Be patient: Over-watering, over-managing, or over-feeding your bin will only make the problems worse!
  • Remove all food from the bin.
  • Mix a batch of new bedding (around 1/2 what is already in your bin or tray). Lightly water the bedding so that when a handful is squeezed, only a few drops wring out.
  • Add crushed egg shells (or a very small pinch of agricultural lime) to the bedding.
  • Mix the new bedding in with the existing tray or bin. 
  • Wait 1-2 days and then apply a small amount of feed to 1-2 areas to the surface of the bin.
It may take several more days for the worms to begin feeding, but they should begin snacking away again in short order! 
If the above doesn't address the issues in your worm bin, try the other articles in this series on troubleshooting issues in your worm bin and common worm composting problems:

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