Help: My Worms
are escaping!

Many vermicomposters fear that their African Nightcrawlers might escape their bins. There are a few main causes behind their departure.  Below are some of the common causes of escaping composting worms:

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. Not only will your worms escape, but your vermicompost may end up muddy instead of crumbly, light and airy. Worms are more tolerant of dry conditions than thought to be. Keep the bedding material as moist as a wrung out sponge. If the vermicompost you produce isn’t crumbly, it’s probably too wet. A simple solution 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 otherwise end up on the sides of the bin. Keeping the sides of the bin discourages the worms from escaping.

2. Overfeeding

This is the biggest mistake most newbies make. There is no hard and fast rule as to how much your worms eat daily. In reality, the amount of food they need varies depending on the type of food you give them, as well as the conditions of the bin. However, a rule of thumb is: when in doubt, feed less. It’s 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 fruit and veggie scraps. 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. We recommend feeding 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 yet 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. Some examples of carbon-rich bedding include: newspaper, cardboard, leaf litter (dried, rotten leaves), peat moss, and coco peat-based bedding (such as CocoGro Bedding) 

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.

TL;DR

If you aren’t sure what the problem with your setup is, here are some safe steps you can take: 1) Keep the lid off your bin, 2) Add carbon-rich bedding to your setup (such as newspaper, coco peat), and 3) Reduce or stop feeding. Optionally, you can also place your setup in a lit room to as an extra measure to keep them in the bin.