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Composting FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

worm eggs

What do baby worms look like?

Look for these worm cocoons in your bin.

They contain 10 eggs - about 3 babies survive.

See your worm population grow.

You will be raising worms in no time. Look for these worm cocoons in your bin. They contain 10 eggs - about 3 babies survive. See your worm population grow. You will be raising worms in no time!

How should I monitor moisture?

Worms need moisture to breathe through their skin. Worms are made of approximately 70% water, and they like their environment to be moist too.

The moisture in your bin will depend on what food you feed it. To check the moisture, squeeze the soil and you should one to five drops of water drip from your soil clump. If the soil is too wet/mucky or there is a smell, add shredded paper.

(We also use and sell moisture probes if you don’t want to get your hands dirty.)

Worms do not like lots of water. If it’s very humid out or your bin is very wet, you will see them on the lid, up the sides and down in the well.

Should we worry about worms getting out?

Don’t worry, they will not escape the WormWatcher if there is food present and adequate moisture, they won’t want to migrate.

How much fiber do worms need?

Like us, worms like and need fiber. By fiber, I mean newspaper. You can substitute cardboard or white paper, but it breaks down more slowly. The carbon/cellulose in the paper is an energy source for the worms.

If the paper has disappeared, it's time to add some new fiber to help aerate the soil, absorb extra moisture, and provide nutrition. Paper shredders make this so easy! I suggest 1-2 inches of shredded paper on top for extra food coverage. As you recycle your paper, you will be creating a playground for the mating worms.

Remember: healthy composting should be odorless. Add more fiber if you detect any smell. Sometimes when I leave food on the surface, there can be an odor - but the odor immediately vanishes once you bury the food with soil and/or paper.

What does worm movement mean?

Our guesses include relative humidity, barometric air pressure, oxygen levels in the soil, or ions in the air (a suggested hypothesis by a well-known local meteorologist). Depending on the amount of food, the water in the soil and air varies. This seems to affect worm movement. We sometimes see:

  • Cloudy bins: These bins are very wet when opened and you will see worms on the lid. If so, try leaving the latch open to decrease the air humidity. If you see this developing, try opening the latch overnight. So far, no worms have escaped and it makes the them return to their home for food.
  • Wet bins: Worms tend to move along the bin sides when the bins are wet. Make sure the soil is not too wet and air pockets (paper/fiber) are present to keep oxygen levels high in the soil. We want to keep the worm home healthy and avoid anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions! If you see the soil becoming mucky, add paper. The worms often travel around the bin when it's wet as well. Sometimes, the bin is dry and they take a "bath," moving to wetter areas. This helps them breathe, because they need moisture on their skin.

Worms are happiest by food and soil, so vermicomposting very rarely results in worm escapes -- usually only during major storms. We always want to know when this happens, so please let us know. If you try reducing the humidity in your worm bin by leaving the latch open overnight, it is very unlikely that worms will escape. The worms prefer to stay in the soil when they have a happy home.

ball of worms

When do I harvest my worms?

If you have been composting over 30 days, dig around in the soil once in awhile to see how your worm population is doing. If you see lots of worms, consider harvesting them for the garden.

Do not feed the bin for a few days. Add a very ripe melon or any juicy treat to the top and leave overnight. The worms will gradually move towards the food and make a "ball." Several of you asked what a worm "ball" looks like. Here is one we harvested for a teacher:

  1. Move the content of the bin to one side.
  2. Put in fresh, moist bedding (I recommend shredded newspaper) and food in the other half of the bin. Worms will gradually migrate to side of bin with new food and bedding.
  3. Harvest your vermicompost (worm castings or worm compost.) Don’t worry if you have a few stray worms left in the compost.

Remember that worm castings are very high in nutrients. Numerous ways to use worm castings include:

  • Potting soil (10-15% castings recommended by VA Extension Service, 50% by WormWoman)
  • Fertilizer for starting seeds - sprinkle lightly in seed beds or A pots/trays.
  • Fertilizer for transplanting plants - put small amounts in planting hole
  • Top dressing in garden (1/4 inch layer)

worms for teaching

How can I use composting for teaching?

  • Life Cycles
    • Check out the worm babies and sprouting plants.
  • Population Patterns
    • Study how different amounts of food affect worm populations.
  • Scientific Investigations
    • Learn to measure, observe and collect data. Experiment away!
  • Sustainability
    • Create odorless, black fertile soil right inside your classroom.
  • Energy and Nutrient Cycles
    • Talk about Carbon and Nitrogen Cycles.
  • Chemistry
    • How pH of soil and food changes over time.
  • Waste Reduction
    • Weigh how much waste you compost in a year!
  • Basic Needs of Living Organisms
    • Identify what are the basic requirements for worms to live.

fly trap

What if I find fruit flies in our worm bin?

Sometimes, someone forgets to bury their food and fruit flies appear. A few (less than 6) is manageable – just scrap off the top few inches ofcastings and add fresh dirt (chemical-free). This trap is our favorite – cut a plastic bottle top off and invert the top to make a funnel. Add apple cider vinegar and the trap is made. If the bin is very infested, refresh your bin by sorting your worms, adding fresh newspaper and dirt, and be careful in the future when you bury your food. Some folks cover the top of their dirt with solid moist layers of newspaper. We have lots of bins in our office – so we stand behind
our experience.

The Do's and Don'ts of Vermicomposting

worm watcher

DO put in your bins:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Cardboard
  • Shredded paper

DON'T put in your bins:

  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Pineapple
  • Large amouts of citrus (lemon, orange) or acidic vegetables (onion)
  • Large amounts of grass clippings

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