One of the most common fears of vermicomposters is their African Nightcrawlers escaping the bin. However, there are a few main reasons why this happens. Below are some of the most common issues encountered by vermicomposters.
1. Too much moisture
This is the number one cause of worms leaving worm bins. It is very common for people to drench their bins in water, then find a pile of worms on the ground the next day. Also, too much moisture would result in mushy vermicompost instead of the sought after crumbly and airy characteristic of vermicompost. Worms are more tolerant of dry conditions than thought to be. Keep the bedding material as moist as a wrung out sponge. If you don’t know how it should feel, if the vermicompost you produce isn’t crumbly, it’s probably too wet. A remedy for this would be to add more dry bedding, or place a dry piece of newspaper on top of the existing bedding. This would soak up extra moisture that would have ended up on the sides of the bin. The dry sides of the bin would then discourage the worms from escaping.
Probably the biggest mistake every newbie worm farmer makes. There is no such rule as “one pound of worms consumes one pound of food everyday”. It is more likely that they eat a third their body weight in food and another third of their body weight in bedding. It is so much easier to overfeed than to starve worms. You could keep a worm bin unfed for weeks and still see many healthy worms. On the other hand, an overfed bin can become smelly and toxic to the worms, and crash very quickly. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feed your worms at all. Instead, let your worms be the gauge of how much you should feed them. Start off with half a handful of greens. If the food seems to deplete quickly, increase the feeding amount or frequency. However, if even after two feedings, much of the previously placed food still remains, try cutting down on the food. It is recommended to feed the worms once or twice a week. Any more frequent is unnecessary and stresses both you, and the worms out. In the end, you want a setup that is effective and doesn’t require much intervention.
3. Hot Bedding (High Nitrogen)
Organic matter that quickly decomposes produces heat and toxic substances like ammonia. These drive worms away from their beds and kill those that can’t escape. Make sure you use only high carbon materials as bedding (slow-rotting) or thoroughly decomposed high nitrogen bedding. If you observe that your bedding is heating up, add as much carbon-rich bedding as needed to the system, and regularly aerate the bedding in order to facilitate the dissipation of heat from the system to its surroundings.
4. Stressed Worms
When you first purchase your worms, the delivery process often stresses them out. You might notice they tend to leave their bin more. Don’t panic! In 3-5 days, they should start to settle in. For the meantime, leave the bin cover off, and place the setup in a lit room at night. If some worms do escape, they usually will not leave in large amounts. Most people, especially first-timers, think rummaging through the worms’ bedding would help them. However, all this does is stress them out. Try not to meddle with the setup too much; the worms will appreciate it. Checking the worms every few days is fine, but don’t overdo it.