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Vermicomposting:

A comprehensive guide collated from info around the web


2016

Introduction
It is highly advisable you read this guide at least TWO WEEKS before
you take delivery of your first worms in order to prepare properly.
This document is a collection of useful information on worm
composting from around the web. It is compiled as a single PDF to
facilitate comprehension and understanding, particularly for newbies
who may not know where to start.
Please refer to the weblinks for the original material and click through
to give them traffic for all this fine work.
Note: this does NOT include instructions on how to build or choose a
worm bin. It is focused on worm care.

Background
I started worm composting with a commercial home bin and a
purchase of worms from a local supplier. From the beginning it was a
disaster: there was a mass exodus and the following morning over half
the population was encrusted on the floor below the bin.
The worm supplier was not helpful and the guide that came with the
bin did not address my crisis. There was massive amounts of info online
but it was scattered everywhere and some of it was contradictory.
My worm population has since recovered, slowly, and I have learned
that tending them is part art, part science. There is a lot of trial and
error. In hindsight, believing I could take delivery of worms and a bin
and start compositing immediately was foolish.
This compilation of info is the guide I wish I had read before I started. I
may not have avoided all my worm problems but I could have side
stepped a lot of the obvious pitfalls.
I hope you find this useful.
@missbossy
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Contents
TYPES OF COMPOSTING WORMS ................................................................... 4
EPIGEIC WORMS ................................................................................................. 5
Red Wiggler .............................................................................................. 5
European Nightcrawler ............................................................................. 5
African Nightcrawler ................................................................................. 6
Blue worms ............................................................................................... 5
CREATING THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT............................................................ 7
BIN STRUCTURE ............................................................................................. 9
BEDDING...................................................................................................... 10
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD BEDDING .................................................................... 11
TYPES OF BEDDING ........................................................................................... 11
PREPARING THE BEDDING ................................................................................... 12
WHEN TO ADD THE BEDDING ............................................................................... 13
FOOD ........................................................................................................... 14
FOOD PREPARATION & FEEDING .......................................................................... 14
HOW MUCH FOOD? ......................................................................................... 15
FEEDING SCHEDULE........................................................................................... 15
VACATIONS ..................................................................................................... 16
FOOD CHOICES ................................................................................................ 16
GRIT ............................................................................................................. 19
HARVESTING CASTINGS ............................................................................... 20
STARTING A NEW BIN .................................................................................. 21
TROUBLESHOOTING..................................................................................... 22
GOOD HABITS .............................................................................................. 27
FAQ.............................................................................................................. 29
WHAT IS A PH BUFFER? ..................................................................................... 29
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE BIN IS TOO ACIDIC? ............................................................ 29
CAN WORMS EAT COFFEE GROUNDS? ................................................................... 30
HOW MUCH WORMS SHOULD I GET? ..................................................................... 30
WHAT SIZE BIN SHOULD I GET? ............................................................................ 31
WHAT IS WORM TEA?....................................................................................... 31
MORE RESOURCES ....................................................................................... 33
LINKS USED IN THIS DOCUMENT .................................................................. 34

Types of Composting Worms


https://sites.google.com/site/alphaglobollp/home/about-us/all-about-vermicomposting-1
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/218.html

Types of Earthworms
Not all earthworms are suitable for composting. There are 3 broad
categories of earthworms:

Anecic worms (rarely seen)


Capable of burrowing to depths of 6
Build permanent burrows into the deep mineral layers of the soil
Drag organic matter from the soil surface into their burrows for food
Not suitable for composting
Endogenic worms (usually seen after a heavy rain)
Build extensive non-permanent burrows in the upper mineral layer
of soil
Feed on the organic matter in the soil
Live exclusively in soil and usually are not noticed, except after a
heavy rain when they come to the surface
Not suitable for composting

Epigeic worms (used in composting)


Live on the soil surface in the top 10 to 20 cm
Form no permanent burrows
Feed on decaying organic matter

Epigeic worms
There are 4 types of epigeic earthworms used in composting and they
are as follows:
Red Wiggler
aka Eisenia fetida (eye see ne ah fet e da)
This species is the most popular due to their ability to withstand
temperature fluctuations and their big appetite! Although this hardy
worm will survive temperatures close to 4 degree Celsius, the optimal
temperature for reproduction is between 20 to 30 degree Celsius. The
usual life span of red worms is around 4 years and they grow up to 3
inches. When roughly handled, they extrude a pungent liquid as a
defensive reaction to void off predators.
Identification: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yorcjo3zQJ0
Blue worms
aka Perionyx Excavatus
This species is commercially produced earthworms and have a violet
sheen to its skin under bright light. They are more temperamental than
the more tolerant Eisenia fetida because they may leave their bins for
no apparent reason. It is common that blue worms will invade the red
worm community and overtake them. The way to distinguish blue
worms from red worms is the violet sheen and also the clitellum of the
blue worms is flushed with the body while that of a red worms bulges
out. Blue worms move with a quick snake-like motion.
More info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUqX_mRPtBQ

African Nightcrawler
aka Eudrilus eugeniae ( you drill us you gen ee eye)
This is a tropical worm species which is largest of the 4 species and can
tolerate high temperatures. The optimum temperature for growth is a
range of 22 to 32 degree Celsius. The African Nightcrawler is more
sensitive to cold temperatures and may not survive below 7 degree
Celsius.
More: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vHHiMPI_z4
European Nightcrawler
aka Eisenia hortensis (eye see ne ah hor ten sis)
This species is larger than the red worms and has a pinkish colour on
the front end of its body and it is mainly greyish in colour. They make
great fish baits due to its size and ability to live longer on the hooks in
salt water. Similar to the red worms, they can survive in extreme
temperature but optimal reproduction temperature will be from 20 to
30 degree Celsius.
More: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzM1ITkuRRY

Creating the Right Environment


In order to create the right environment for worms to thrive, you are
trying to control for these factors:
1. Moisture - a function of bedding condition, food choices, aeration
and drainage. The ideal moisture content range for materials is 70 to
80 percent. With the exception of extreme temperatures, lack of
enough moisture will kill the worms faster.
2. Aeration - a function of the right bedding, bin type and food choices
& abundance. Worms needs oxygen and cannot survive in anaerobic
conditions. Meat and greasy food wastes combined with excessive
moisture and poor aeration will cause the system to be anaerobic.
3. Temperature - a function of bin type, climate, food & bedding
decomposition. Some worms are more resilient to temperature
extremes (red worms in particular) than others. Know what
temperature is ideal for your worms and monitor the bin from time
to time.
4. Acidity - a function of food choices & buffering agents. Worms can
survive in a PH level of 5 to 9. However, they will prefer a PH of 7 or
slightly higher (7.5 to 8 will be optimum). PH can be adjusted by
putting crushed egg shells into your bins. Salty food wastes should
be avoided.
5. Microbes - beneficial bacteria kick start the decomposition process.
The worms will not eat the food until microbes have broken the
material down somewhat. The earthworms then ingest the microbes
with the food and it becomes part of the worm's digestive system
helping it to break down material further. Microbes also provide
nutrients. If you introduce worms to a sterile bin environment, they
will have extreme difficulty eating the food and may not consume
much until the microbe population picks up. This is why preparing
the bin in advance is important (see Good Habits).
6. Light - a function of bin system, artificial lighting and harvesting
method. Worms do not like light. One hours exposure to ultraviolet
rays causes partial or complete paralysis and several hours can be
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fatal for the worms. However you may find the use of light useful
when first getting the worms to settle in (see trouble shooting:
escaping worms).
7. Other Creatures - Your worm bin works efficiently when there is a
diverse web of organisms working together to decompose the
organic material. You may notice potato bugs (sow bugs), mites,
millipedes, small white worms, or "pot worms," and tiny white
insects called "springtails." These creatures are an important part of
the composting process. The only creatures that may be present and
pose a threat are centipedes, which eat worms.
8. Stocking density - Stocking density is the initial weight of worm
biomass per unit area of bedding. For example, when you start with
a 1kg of worms and put them in a bin with a surface area of 0.2
square meters, then your stocking density is 5 kg per square meter.
Starting with population density lesser than 2.5 kg per square
meters will delay the onset of reproduction and at very low density,
it may even stop completely. The worms need a reasonable chance
of meeting each other so that they can reproduce. Stocking density
of higher than 5 kg per square meter will begin to slow down
reproduction because competition for food and space increase. It is
most common to keep the densities between 5 to 10 kg per square
meters.
When you feed your worms, check and see how things are going and
adjust accordingly. Once your compost bin is up and running, it
requires little maintenance until little or no original bedding is visible
and it is time to harvest the castings.

Bin Structure
There are various bin designs. The most common for home use is a
stacking structure where food is layered between bedding. As the
worms finish processing the food, they climb upwards to the next level
of the stack leaving behind castings which can be harvested. A bottom
layer ("liquid collection tray") collects the leachate ("worm tea") which
is drained off with a tap.

Source: https://growingarden.wordpress.com/tag/bathtub-worm-farm/

Source: http://interiorsforhealing.com/review-of-3-worm-composting-bins/

Bedding
http://www.gardenteacompany.com/advice-for-vermicomposting/
http://www.vermicompost.net/natural-worm-bedding/
https://sites.google.com/site/alphaglobollp/home/about-us/all-about-vermicomposting-1
http://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/2010_worm_bin_basics.pdf

The selection of bedding material is a key to successful vermicomposting worms can be reproducing at a very productive rate if
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conditions are good. Bedding provides protection from temperature


extremes, the necessary consistency in moisture and an adequate
supply of oxygen.

Characteristics of good bedding


Absorbent: Worms breathe through their skins and if their skins dry
out, they will die. Therefore the bedding must be able to absorb and
retain the water fairly.
Good bulking potential: The bedding should not be too dense and
packs closely because this will reduce air flow.
High carbon/nitrogen ratio: High protein or nitrogen levels in bedding
will result in rapid degradation and increase heat within the compost
pile. Heating can occur safely in food layers but not in the bedding.
A good C:N ratio (chemical composition and not weight) of 30 is
advisable. When too little nitrogen is available, decomposition will
happen too slowly.

Types of Bedding
Usually common terms used will be browns and greens. Browns will be
the wastes which are rich in carbon such as dry leaves, newspaper,
cardboard and papers. Greens will be vegetable scraps, fresh grass
clippings, and coffee grinds/ tea bags.
Shredded newspaper is a readily available source of bedding, is
odourless and have a C:N ratio of 170. When you hand shred the
papers, ensure that they do not clump together and moisten the
paper before adding into the worm bins. One of the advantages of
paper is that worms can survive in it without adding any kitchen
scraps. However this diet is not sufficient and the worms will be very
skinny and malnourished. Note: Dont include paper with coloured
printing on it. Many coloured inks are toxic to worms.
Peat moss has good absorbency and an C:N ratio of 58. The moss
has to be soaked until completely saturated and then squeeze till it
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feels like a damp sponge. However peat moss can be acidic - you
may need to add a pH buffer to offset the acidity. Note also that
depending on where the peat moss is sourced, it may have negative
ecological implications (peat is a non-renewable, mined, resource.).
Peat is sterile and needs to be inoculated with compost or compost
tea prior to use.
Corrugated cardboard are also worms favourite hiding place, has an
C:N ratio of 563 and is also a material with good absorbency.
Coconut fibre is also a common bedding material because it is clean,
odourless, retains moisture well, and it is a renewable source. Note
however that wet coconut coir is hard to tell apart from worm
castings so may make it difficult to know when all the bedding is
processed
Dry leaves & lawn clippings Dry leaves that are moistened and
added to the bin provide worms their natural habitat. Using fresh
leaves that have been sitting outside for a week is fine, but know
that you may introduce unwanted organisms into your bin. Straw
can also be used as bedding. It is best used in combination with
finer-textured bedding materials
Office paper can be used in small quantities. The chemicals used to
process office paper may irritate your worms so only use mixed with
other materials.

Preparing the bedding


Diverse worm bedding consisting of multiple items above, together
with diverse bedding sizes is ideal. Try shredding, ripping, tearing, and
cutting various materials to create different sizes of worm bedding
materials.
Before you put these materials into you worm composting bin, be sure
your bedding materials are properly moistened prior to putting it in
your worm bin. Bedding should be thoroughly damp, like a wrung out
sponge. Soak bedding materials in water overnight, to allow complete
absorption and then wring out as much water as possible.
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Some suggested combinations:


A 50-50 blend of shredded paper and coco-coir with a light
dusting of grit.
25% shredded paper, 25% shredded leaves, 25% coco-coir, 25%
manure or mature compost along with a light dusting of grit.
Microbes
When starting a new worm bed, it may take several weeks for microbial
populations to grow large enough to breakdown food waste for the
worms. Preparing your bedding materials several weeks in advance will
help ensure a highly active environment prior to introducing worms.
Adding one cup of cornmeal, oat or wheat flour to your bedding will
help to increase the microbial activity within the materials. Likewise a
light spray of diluted molasses on the bedding will encourage microbes
or spraying with EM1 (Effective Microorganisms).
Another way to encourage faster decomposition is to inoculate your
bin with worm castings, worm tea or another mature form of compost.
Place a small amount on the bottom of the bin and blend a few cups
with your bedding materials. This will help inoculate the new bedding
materials with active organisms as a starter, much like yeast to a batch
of bread. This can also be achieved with the use of compost teas. This
pre inoculation will reduce the transitional stress associated with
starting a new worm bin.

When to add the bedding


When you start your worm bin, and at each harvest time, fill or top off
the bin to about three-fourths full with dampened bedding. Add a few
handfuls of garden soil or previously harvested castings to provide
bacteria and add grit to help worm digestion. Maintain a 2- to 3-inch
top layer of dampened bedding at all times. This also will help keep
down odors and flies.

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Food
http://www.recycleworks.org/compost/wormfood.html

Food Preparation & Feeding


1. Select foods that are suitable for worms (see list below).
2. If you want to speed the decomposition process, it is best to chop
the food scraps into smaller pieces to increase the surface area. The
smaller the pieces, the more surface area there is for bacteria to start
breaking down the food, making it easier for the worms to consume.
Some people put their food scraps, including eggshells, into a blender
and make a slurry. The worms will love this, but it is not necessary.
3. Let the food age a bit first for new bins. Worms tend to like decaying
organic wastes best. They do not always wiggle to the newly added
fresh food waste. They like the bacteria, fungi, and protozoa to break it
down first. Letting fresh waste decompose in the bin is not a problem
once the bin has been started and worms already have decomposed
food they are working on.
Notice how in this video, the worms do not start on the fresh material
on the top layer until day 15 when a significant amount of breakdown
has already occurred:
Worms At Work - 20 Days Time Lapse Of Vermicomposting
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9Mnf9ysNSs
4. Always keep the worms and food covered with 2 to 3 inches of damp
bedding. Newspaper or bedding helps keep the bin dark and moist and
discourages fruit flies. Other organic material such as burlap or
shredded cardboard or paperboard can also be used. The worms live in
these materials and they also eat them.
5. To feed the worms, place the food under the newspaper in a
different part of the bin each time. Do not bury the food in the castings
or make a salad of the bedding and food.
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How Much Food?


Worms need to adjust to their new home and new foods so do not
overfeed them the first few weeks. In addition to the food you are
giving them, they're eating their new bedding. Once they are settled,
comfortable and happy they will quickly munch through their food. The
bin will require more food as its population grows.
Happy redworms will eat half their weight in food every day. That
doesn't sound like a very large quantity of food because they're so
small, but when you get a few thousand worms living in a bin, food
disappears rather quickly.
You want to feed the worms just ahead of their rate of consumption.
Before adding new food, consider:
Have they had enough time to consume old food?
Is there food remaining because they do not like it?
Has the food not been broken down enough by bacteria for the
worms to consume it?
If there is a little food left and the worms are eating, additional food
can be added. But if food is left due to one of the other reasons, cover
it with newspaper and don't feed again for a week or remove the food
from the bin.
Note: Be sure not to fill the bind too high with food and bedding, or it
will pack down and may become anaerobic.

Feeding Schedule
Unlike other critters, worms don't demand to be fed on a schedule
though doing so will make it easier to monitor and determine how
much food they can process.
Its best to feed worms once a week in small amounts. If you feed them
more than they can process you will end up with a stinking compost bin
as the garbage literally backs up.
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If they are eating too slowly, chop up vegetable matter, which is easier
for them to eat and gives new meaning to the term fast food. If the
chopping doesnt help enough, reduce the amount of organic matter
you are feeding them.

Vacations
You can go on vacation for a month without worrying about them. Just
give them a regular amount of food before you leave and place plenty
of shredded newspaper, cardboard or paperboard on top of the food.
Make sure you leave the bin in an area where the temperature will not
get too hot (not over 90) and the cover material is wet enough that it
will not dry out.

Food Choices
Use lots of these:
Fruit (except citrus)
Veggie scraps and plant material (except onions & garlic)
Use Caution When Adding These
Breads can attract red mites
Potato skins, onions, garlic, ginger get consumed slowly and
can cause odors
Coffee grounds too many will make the bin acidic
Cereals and grains oatmeal, pasta, rice, nonsugared breakfast
cereals, corn meal, pancakes. Note: Acid forms in the worm bed
when too much grain or wheat based foods are fed to the worms.
Try to use scraps of food that do not contain wheat or pulverized
corn products.
Herbivore Poo rabbit, goat, horse. Be sure it doesn't contain
any drugs.
Pineapple - highly acidic and some people report that it repels
their worms. Probably better to age it first before adding to the
bin.
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Do Not Feed
Meat, poultry, fish, dairy protein attracts rodents
Potato chips, candy, oils worms do not like junk food and these
attract ants
Oranges, lemons, limes citrus has a chemical substance
(limonene) that is toxic to worms
Nonbiodegradable materials that do not belong in your bin
include plastic, rubber bands, sponges, aluminum foil, glass, and
dog or cat faeces.
Things you can include which may surprise you:

old natural fibre clothing (old t-shirts, socks, boxers, etc)


natural yarn, twine and string
feathers and hair (human, cat, dog, etc.)
dryer lint

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Grit
Because worms have no teeth, they need to
take in grit with their food. Similar to chickens,
worms have a gizzard where they "chew" their
food using external grit.
Rock dust or crushed oyster shells offer grit
for their diet and can also help correct
problems if you've added too much food to
the bin. These can be purchased at most
garden stores. To add these powders to the
bin, sprinkle a small amount on the food
scraps once or twice a month.
Pulverized eggshells are an excellent source of
grit. If you are adding eggshells to your bin
you probably won't need to purchase other
types of grit. Other sources are azomite or
zeolite.

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Harvesting Castings
http://www.planetnatural.com/worm-composting/
http://makedirtnotwaste.org/sites/default/files/wonderfulworkingworms2010.pdf

Dump and hand sort "Light harvesting": Dump all worms, compost,
and bedding out onto a tarp and sort out the compost from the
worms. The worms will go down in the pile if you expose them to
light. After a short time remove the top layer of the bedding up to
the point you encounter worms. Wait a short time, and continue
removing the bedding. You will end up with lots of worms in a small
pile. This is fairly time consuming, but you can retain the most
number of worms. Do this 1-3 times a year depending on your
number of worms. Note: Do NOT leave your worms exposed to
sunlight.
Turbo Light Harvesting: this is a variation on the method above. See
here: https://youtu.be/h6h3N8OIQYM
Divide and dump: Take out half the compost and worms and put it
in your garden. Add some new bedding, and the other half of the
worms will repopulate the bin. You lose some worms but this
method takes very little time.
Migration method: A more common way to harvest is to move
everything worms, castings, bedding, food to one side of the bin.
Pick out partially decomposed materials and push to the other side.
Place some food on top of the partially decomposed materials.
Replace the lid and leave it alone for a couple weeks. During that
time, the worms should migrate over to the new food. Once theyve
gone to the other side, harvest the castings from the side without
food. Make sure you dont remove any worms in the process. Then
give the worms new bedding mixed in with some residual compost.
Let it all go to compost: Stop feeding the worms. After 6 weeks to 2
months, the worms will have eaten all their food and bedding, and
eventually become part of the compost. You lose all your worms and
you would have to find a new way to take care of your food scraps.

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Starting a New Bin


Follow these simple steps to minimize issues when you start a new
worm bin:
1. Prepare the bedding 1-2 weeks in advance (see bedding) and
inoculate with microbes. Microbes are essential to worm
digestion.
2. Likewise prepare your food scraps a week in advance so that
some are already starting to decompose indicating good microbial
action. Adding a bit of compost, dirt or active worm tea can help
this process along.
3. Chop up the food into small pieces or in a food processor
maximising surface area for microbes and worms to eat food.
4. Mix a grit in with the food. The worms need this to "chew" their
food.
5. Initially underfeed the worms: give them less than their body
weight for the first few feedings then adjust.
6. Put the food on one side of the bin so that if they don't like it,
they can move to the other side and won't simply leave the bin.
7. Put a light over the worm bin at night for the first few weeks to
discourage worms from crawling out.
8. Don't mix the bedding and food together like a salad: the
materials should be layered with a good 2-3 inches of moist
bedding covering the food.

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Troubleshooting
Problem: Mouldy food
Solution: If you have fed the worms too much, the food might become
mouldy. Remove mouldy food as worms are unlikely to eat it and it
makes the system vulnerable to infestations from other
microorganisms.

Problem: Offensive odor


Most likely the odor is from rotting food because you are giving your
worms too much to eat and food is rotting.
Solution:
1. stop adding food waste until the worms have broken down what
they have.
2. remove any foods that the worms cannot eat (like meat)
3. add rock dust or crushed oyster shells to help the worms digest
the food.
4. try stirring the contents of your compost pile. Uneaten food may
have become anaerobic. Stirring will allow more air in, which can
also reduce odors.

Problem: Centipedes.
Millipedes are a welcome inhabitant in your bin but centipedes are not.
You can tell centipedes and millipedes apart by looking at how their
legs attach to their bodies. Centipedes have only one pair of legs per
segment; millipedes have two pairs.
Solution: If you notice a decline in your worm numbers, manually
remove the centipedes. If the infestation is overwhelming, you may
need to harvest your worms and start over.

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Problem: Ants.
Ants tend to be attracted by sweet food wastes. Ants are usually an
indication that the material in the bin is too dry. Generally the ants
dont bother the worms and they actually benefit the composting
process by bringing fungi and other organisms into their nests. So if the
ants aren't bothering you it is OK to leave them be.
But they can be an annoyance and they may eat the food which is
meant for the worms. If so, there are steps which will discourage them.
Solution:
1. To encourage them to leave the bin, moisten and turn it or stir it
with a trowel to disrupt their colonies.
2. Reduce sweet foods (fruits/sweet veggies)
3. Try to keep the PH of your bin above 7
4. Put the bin on blocks of wood set in dishes of water.

Problem: Fruit flies.


There may be excessive food which is not well covered giving fruit flies
an easy place to lay eggs.
Solution:
1. Make sure there is a generous amount of damp newspaper or
cardboard placed over the food
2. Consider keeping a plastic sheet or a piece of old carpet or
sacking on the surface of the compost bin

Problem: Excessive Mites.


A small population of mites is normal in worm beds, but a large
population can indicate a high acid condition.
Solution:
1. Reduce inclusion of acidic foods
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2. Add pH buffer to food

Problem: Too Wet / Too Dry


If the bedding is wet, give some additional paper bedding to soak up
the excess. (Remember that the bedding should be moist, not
dripping.) If the bedding is too dry, use water from a spray bottle to
moisten it.

Problem: worms crawling to the top of the lid.


This is normal - don't be alarmed! This is common because they like
moist conditions and condensation has occurred at the inner walls of
the container and grooves of the lid. Check that your bedding is not too
dry and spray as necessary.

Problem: Worms are escaping


http://www.redwormcomposting.com/general-questions/why-are-my-worms-trying-to-escape/

1. Stragglers
If you have a handful of worms crawling up the sides and lid of the bin
with perhaps a few ending up dried up on your floor, you are probably
ok! Especially if your system is brand new.
When worms are added to a new vermicomposting system they are far
more likely to wander a little before they settle in. The new system will
be very different than the one they are used to and some will try to
"find their way back."
How you set up your system can help reduce this problem.
Ideally, set the bin up a week or more before the worms arrive, so they
have a microbially active habitat.
Aside from preparing the best habitat possible, you can also encourage
your worms to remain down in the bedding by shining a light over top
of the bin for the first few days.
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Alternatively, put a LOT of dry bedding at the very top of the system this helps to keep the sides and underside of the lid really dry, thus
discouraging the worms from roaming up there.
Generally, after a few days (probably no longer than a week at the
most) the worms should be quite used to their new home. If you are
using the light technique, turning the light off for short periods of time
to see what happens start with 10, 15, 20 minutes and go from there
if they seem to be staying down.
2. Mass Exodus
If your worms are indeed trying to escape from your worm bins en
masse, you have a serious problem that needs to be addressed right
away.
If the worms are all balled up together in various spots in the bin, or in
the handles (in the case of Rubbermaid-type bins), or they are escaping
via every possible route youve made available (even the smallest air
holes), then it is likely more than just being unsettled and needing time
to get used to their habitat. Almost certainly, something you have
added in the bin is causing them harm.
Possible problems:
Moisture problems
Bin may be too wet or too dry. Add more dry bedding if too wet, or
moisten bedding if too dry.
Acidity Problems
Bedding can become too acidic if you add too much acidic food scraps
such as orange peels or even coffee grounds. Try reducing the amount
of acidic organic matter that youre putting into the bin and/or add a
pH buffer like garden lime or crushed egg shells.
Aeration Problems
Worms need oxygen. A bin that is too tightly packed or without air
holes will discourage the bin from "breathing." Remove the lid and
loosen the bedding with a trowel to introduce air.
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Temperature Problems
Some bins are designed to keep heat inside to protect the worms in
cold climates... but using those bins in a warm climate can cause
problems. Likewise if the bin is put in direct sunlight, the interior
temperature can rise to the point of baking the worms. The opposite
can also be true if the bin in outside in the winter. Measure the
bedding temperature to ensure it is hospitable for your worms. Be sure
to place the bin where it is not exposed directly to the elements.
Bedding problems
1. using potting soil with inorganic fertilizer salts
2. using bleached office paper
Food problems
1. Too much food & not enough oxygen
2. Too much Nitrogen-rich waste (e.g. grass clippings)
If your worms seem to be extremely stressed out, consider a major
overhaul of your system.
Set up another bin using lots of moistened bedding (shredded
cardboard) and any good rotting material you can get your hands on
(leaves, compost etc), and transfer as many worms over as you can.
You may not need to chuck out the contents of the first system
(assuming the issue isnt a nasty chemical of some sort), since these
things tend to work themselves out over time. since these things tend
to work themselves out over time.

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Good Habits
https://sites.google.com/site/alphaglobollp/home/about-us/all-about-vermicomposting-1

Wash your hands.


For hygiene reasons, after working with your compost, you will have to
wash your hands. Individuals who have allergic reactions to moulds and
fungi should try putting on gloves when handling the compost and
putting food waste into the bins.

Determining how much food the worms can eat.


1. Feed on a schedule.
This will allow you to monitor food consumption and determine
how much food the worms are eating. Once a week is
recommended.
2. Measure/weigh the food before adding to the bin
3. Put the food waste in a corner of your bin so that if they are
overfed, they are still able to escape to other areas of your bin.
4. At the end of the week, dig into the same corner and check
whether the wastes have been consumed
From this, you will be able to know how much of waste they can
handled each week. If you are feeding something which you are unsure
whether they are suitable, you may wish to put them in a different
corner and check whether the worms are migrating to that corner to
consume them.

Put a light over your bin at night - at least for the first few
weeks
During the settling in period for your worms, a light over the bin will
discourage them from climbing out at night. Once they are used to the
environment, a light should not be necessary.

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Prepare your bin 1-2 weeks before the worms arrive


When starting a new worm bed, it may take several weeks for microbial
populations to grow large enough to breakdown food waste for the
worms. Preparing your bedding materials & scraps several weeks in
advance will help ensure a highly active microbial environment prior to
introducing worms.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1pPH97_3DA

Keep records
Keeping a diary of feeding, harvesting and observations will help you
identify problems and make it easier to optimise the composting
process.

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FAQ
What is a pH buffer?
A pH between 6.0 to 7.0 is a good pH for worms. Compounds that
offset acidity in the bin are sometimes called "acidity buffers or pH
buffers."
This includes

crushed eggshells (calcium carbonate)


crushed oyster shells
powdered limestone aka garden lime*
rock dust
zeolite
dolomite

Typically you will already be including at least one of these in the bin as
grit.
Note: Make sure that the lime is mixed in well and is moist. Dry lime
can burn your worms.
* When purchasing your lime, look for a Ca CO3 of at least 95%. The
wrong type of lime could kill your worms.
How To Apply Lime, Dolomite (PH Buffers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrX407reTaA

How do I know if the bin is too acidic?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2w1rmW5nxc

The best way is to use a simple garden pH meter. If you are adding a
buffer regularly and the worms seem happy, then you probably don't
need to worry about it. But if the worms are not thriving, get hold of a
meter to double check.

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Can worms eat Coffee Grounds?


http://forums.gardenweb.com/discussions/2195576/can-i-feed-mostly-tea-bags-and-coffee-grounds

Some people find including coffee grounds is fine, others that it


increases acidity in a way that upsets the worms. The different
experiences may have to do with other bin contents or even brewing
methods. Mixing in a pH buffer with the coffee will ensure this is not an
issue.

How much worms should I get?


There are a few considerations:
size of bin & stocking density
amount of waste food to be processed
availability & cost of worms
Stocking Density
Stocking density is how tightly the worms are packed in ie kgs per
square meter or pounds per square foot. It is the surface area that
matters and not the bin volume because the worms will mostly be
living near the surface.
In Mary Appelhofs Worms Eat My Garbage she recommends one
pound of worms for every 4 sq ft of bin space. So a bin thats 22 would
be stocked with 1 lb of worms. This is equivalent to a stocking density
of 1.25kg per square meter.
A can-o-worms has a surface area of approximately 0.2 meters
squared. So an ideal starting worm weight = 250 grams.
Food Processing
Under ideal conditions, worms can eat half their body weight each day.
So assuming you want to have them process, say, 2kg of waste per
week, you would need worms that could eat 290g of food per day
(~2kg/7) which is approximately 600g of worms.
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Availability and Cost of worms


In some parts of the world, worms are fairly cheap. Where I live, they
cost more than wagyu (S$300+ for 1kg). In such a situation, you may
prefer to opt for a small amount, set up a small bin and let the
population grow over time.

What size bin should I get?


Based on Food Processing Needs
The size of your container depends on the weekly amount of food
waste to be composted. The bin should provide a surface area of
approximately 1 square meter for each 4.5kg of waste per week (1
square foot for each pound of waste per week). This large surface area
helps prevent overfeeding and promotes air flow in the bin.
For example, if your family produces 4 pounds of food waste each
week, you will need a worm bin with 4 feet of surface area.
Based on Amount of Worms
If you have a limited number of worms, work backwards from the
stocking density calculation above.

What is Worm Tea?


Worm tea is used as a plant fertilizer and can also be sprayed directly
on plants to enhance leaf health and to be absorbed through leaf
follicles.
There are two different solutions referred to as worm tea:
1. Worm bin leachate - ie the brown water that collects at the
bottom of the bin and is typically poured out through a tap. Not
all worm systems produce leachate. Open systems tend to have
more evaporation and water does not drain off from the bottom.
2. Compost tea - this is more like actual "tea" in that it is made by
adding water to castings and letting it "steep". This method can
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be used when your system does not naturally produce leachate


and you want a soluble solution for your plants.
Some worm tea methods call for adding organic molasses or corn syrup
to the mixture in order to encourage beneficial micro-organisms. High
tech methods use air pumps to introduce oxygen into the solution but
simply soaking will also result in beneficial microbes if there is a sugar
solution for them to eat.
Note that "live" solutions like this need to be used fairly quickly
because the bacteria will die once all the sugar in the solution has been
eaten.
More:
http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Worm-Castings-Tea
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QFm0eAy8HI

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More Resources
Brian The Worm Man
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5xp0Vnet1ObHsaburv_cVA/feed

Facebook Vermicomposting Groups


http://on.fb.me/1ZN0CHg
Red Worm Composting
http://www.redwormcomposting.com/
Manual of On-Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture
http://oacc.info/docs/vermiculture_farmersmanual_gm.pdf
Worm Your Way into Composting Heaven
https://www.fix.com/blog/composting-with-worms/
How to Prepare Vermicompost
http://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-Vermicompost
The Five Step Success To Worm Composting
http://www.wormfarmingrevealed.com/five-step-success-to-wormcomposting.html
Pinterest
http://bit.ly/1Ra6fxz http://bit.ly/1Ra6clz

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Links Used in this document


Can I feed mostly tea bags and coffee grounds?
http://forums.gardenweb.com/discussions/2195576/can-i-feedmostly-tea-bags-and-coffee-grounds
Earthworms - Colorado Master Gardener Program
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/218.html
Advice For Vermicomposting
http://www.gardenteacompany.com/advice-for-vermicomposting/
Worm bin basics
http://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/2010_worm_bin_b
asics.pdf
Recycle Works
http://www.recycleworks.org/compost/wormfood.html
Why Are My Worms Trying To Escape??
http://www.redwormcomposting.com/general-questions/why-aremy-worms-trying-to-escape/
Worm Bedding
http://www.vermicompost.net/natural-worm-bedding/
All about Vermicomposting
https://sites.google.com/site/alphaglobollp/home/about-us/allabout-vermicomposting-1
Worm Farming - Meters
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2w1rmW5nxc
Composting with a vegetable and herb Garden Tower
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1pPH97_3DA

Cover photo by http://www.jardinsjardin.com/ via


http://www.urbangardensweb.com/2012/05/31/trending-from-paris-chic-combo-composter-cutting-board-andplanter/

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