Side Projects

An update to my Red Wiggler worm colony with tips for success

Here is an update to my two-month-retroactive post on establishing the colony of red wigglers.

I have separated my colony into two now and have a few tips to offer:

If your Red Wiggler worms are trying to escape: 

  • It could be nothing. There will typically be a few (5-10% of colony) adventurous worms that wander up the sides, underneath the lid and into any nook and crevice they can find. If they do not return to the bedding to feed and breath, their adventurous gene will be removed from your colony’s gene pool.
  • If your colony is new, it is almost certainly nothing. The worms have had a traumatic shipping experience compounded with a drastically new environment. Give them a week to settle in before trying to diagnose and correct issues.
  • If excessive amounts are trying to escape, it indicates something is not right in the bedding environment. In my case it was too much moisture. Rubbermaid containers don’t allow for any drainage so the moisture in food scraps accumulate water levels. I keep extra bedding on hand (or in the bin of the paper shredder). A few handfuls of new dry bedding on top the the existing bedding corrected the problem every time.
  • Another factor that could be causing the worms to flee the bedding is too much or too densely distributed food which creates heat as it decays. If there are any rotting smells coming from your colony, stop feeding until it is gone. Also try to break up big clumps of food scraps if they are rotting.

Feeding amounts:

  • I have actually found it impossible to overfeed the worms with reasonable additions. I started with weighing the scraps to stay close to the recommend ratio of 2:1 in worms:food per week. Then I started bumping up the feeding amounts anticipating that it will be too much. To my surprise there was not a single worm on the sides of the bin and they were all happily feeding under the bedding.
  • I have also found the dangers cited by acidic foods to be non factors. Granted I don’t eat much tropical fruits like citruses, etc. but the few lemon and lime scraps I’ve included have not posted an issue. Coffee grounds with filters make up about half of my kitchen scraps. While there is some debate to whether grounds are acidic or if it is just the liquid coffee, I have seen no negative effects from feeding lots of coffee grounds. However the coffee grounds make it hard to identify castings!
  • Basically, keep it diverse and reasonable. Avoid huge additions of scraps and avoid additions that are primarily acidic fruits.

Smells:

  • Healthy colonies will smell like damp earth. Specifically to me, it smells like forest leaf litter or well aged compost.
  • If you smell anything that resembles decaying food scraps (like a garbage smell), it indicates that the worms cannot feed fast enough to keep up with your feedings. Back off on food additions until the smell is gone
  • Excessive heat is another indicator of too much food too fast that can send the worms out of their bedding. Same as the previous point while also ensuring the scraps are evently distributed instead of clumped.

Evidence of other life in your bin:

  • Molds or fungus spores/sprouts may be spring up from time to time. Have no fear, these microbes aid the decomposition process and in turn aid the worms.
  • Other bugs may take up residence in your bin. Most are like the molds or funguses that help the decomposition process. While the critters may not be attractive to non-etymological oriented minds, springtails, millipedes, fruit flies with larvae and flies with maggots are all helpers. Although the last two may indicate too much moisture. Centipedes are predatory however and a problem for the worms.

Multiplying the colony

  • I’ve only done this once so what I can offer is limited. Unlike bees who start brooding new queens to indicate they are preparing to swarm, the worms will just die if competition gets too great when they reach their carrying capacity. When I started to notice most of the bedding moving due to the buried worms, I figured the population had reached its limit in my 18 gallon rubbermaid tub. I split the worm colony into another tub.
  • 90 days is the often cited figure for when the worm colony will double under good conditions.

One last tip I have is the more “mature”, which is a euphemism for rotten, the food scraps, the better feed quality for the worms. I’ve noticed they prefer aged scraps from a cummulative bucket in the garage to the fresh scraps right from the cutting board. If your space and smell tolerance allows a place to age scraps before adding them to the bin, try it out. Otherwise you can get along just fine with fresh scraps.

Here is what a mature colony looks like when the casting are ready for casting harvest:

IMG_20150324_122646

Compared to a fresh unpopulated habitat:

IMG_20150320_150041

And before I harvested casting, I demonstrated what my typical bedding additions look like when the moisture levels get too high. Complete with a fresh feeding of slimy spinach:

IMG_20150320_150050

That is all I have for now! If you have any issues or questions that I did not cover, please comment and either I or one of my more experienced readers would be happy to help. If nothing else, I can consult the various resources I have amassed to find an answer.

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2 thoughts on “An update to my Red Wiggler worm colony with tips for success

  1. Great post! Your worms must be happy. I get happy just thinking about worms. On coffee grounds, when I was a boy one of my neighbors kept his supply of fishing worms in pure used coffee grounds. One other thing I’ve noticed is that the coffee grounds I get free from Starbucks are noticeably drier than my own. Not sure why, but I’ve started putting my own grounds on the garden and using Starbucks grounds in the worm bin to help with moisture. They deserve the high class stuff anyway 🙂

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    • Great tip! I came to the same conclusion in my kitchen so now I’m even more excited to get coffee shop ground! For now I have started letting my grounds dry out in the aero press before emptying while I collect my mom’s drip machine grounds in a bucket for a few days. It also makes cleanup on my press much easier…well its a trade off: more crumbly but none sticks to the plunger!

      Liked by 1 person

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