Troubleshooting when problems arise

Each household provides a different atmosphere for the worms to work. Keeping a balance in your bin is important and there may be a bit of a learning curve when starting to compost with worms for the very first time. The balance may be affected by your unique climate, your household diet, and your bin maintenance and feeding schedule. If problems or concerns arise, don't worry; there are ways to resolve them. Just ask Urban Worm Girl!

Here are some concerns that others have experienced and the answers to help you resolve similar problems. Keeping your worms healthy makes them happy and very productive composters!

Why are there fruit flies and gnats swarming around my bin?

Though other small creatures find homes in the bin and contribute to the composting process, there should not be swarms of bugs flying around it. You may not be burying the food well enough in the bin. Flies lay eggs on exposed food as part of their reproductive process, helping their young to have an immediate source of food when hatching. If fruit flies become a nuisance:

  •  Stop feeding the worms for 1-2 weeks.
  •  When you resume feeding, take the time to bury the new food 1-2 inches below the bedding.
  •  Vacuuming remaining flying insects off the top of the bin is always helpful needed.

Mold is growing on the food in my bin, is this a problem?

Mold is a natural part of the decomposition process. Having said that, you will keep mold to a minimum by properly burying the food scraps 1-2 inches deep in the paper bedding. This will allow the worms to eat the food more quickly and it will also prevent pests. If food is exposed to air, it will be more likely to mold, so keeping it buried is helpful.

The worms aren't eating, are they sick?

The worms will let you know when something is wrong. Noticing their behavior is a key to a happy and healthy worm bin.

If your worm bin is new and you notice that the worms are not eating, don't worry! The worms often take their time settling into their new surroundings and getting used to your diet and feeding schedule. Give it time and keep watching.

If you have an established bin and you notice that the worms have stopped eating, let them catch up. Stop feeding them for 2-3 weeks, check to make sure that they are making their way through the food that has accumulated. Resume feeding them when you see that this food has been composted. You may be over feeding the worms. Though they work at breakneck speed for their size, they have no teeth and very small mouths. You may need to cut the scraps smaller to help speed up the process.

If you notice an odor in your bin and the worms are sluggish, the overall balance may be off. Worms like neutral bins and will be most productive when conditions are balanced. It is important to assess moisture levels, temperature, acidity and airflow in your bin. Adding newspaper bedding often helps to absorb excess moisture and increase aeration. The addition of crushed eggshells monthly will help to decrease the acidity level in your bin. Though red worms can tolerate a range of acidity, if the level is too high the worms will die. Also, minimize the amount of citrus food and avoid foods with vinegar and salad dressings.

My worm bin has a strange odor coming from it.

Odor can be caused by several different factors. A healthy worm bin should smell like soil, a pleasant smell to many. So be sure to check the balance of your bin as discussed briefly above.

If you are not sure if your bin is getting enough airflow, stir it up and mix in some additional newspaper bedding. Check to see that your air holes are not clogged. Anaerobic bacteria will not survive when oxygen is present.

If your moisture levels are too high the bin may not have sufficient oxygen levels either. In addition to the excess moisture producing an odor, the worms will be at risk of drowning. Soak up or drain off some of the excess moisture (compost tea). Dilute this run off with water and add to houseplants. Add fresh newspaper bedding and watch to make sure the moisture levels are decreasing.

Lastly, it is often the type of food that you are feeding that produces an odor. Avoid dairy and meat products as well as excessively oily foods. Some individuals are not able to tolerate the odor of broccoli in their worm bin either. Though the worms are perfectly happy to eat this healthy vegetable, it carries along with it a naturally strong smell that some find offensive.