DEAR NEW FARM:
I had a worm bin for two years, and recently I went to feed
them one week and they were there. I went to feed them the
next week, and they had disappeared entirely, with no trace
of a body anywhere. I checked the pH of the soil, and it was
8.4. Is there any other reason the worms might have disappeared
other than the pH was too high, and how can I adjust the pH
so I don't hurt my new worms? Thanks for helping me!
We asked our favorite worm expert Amy Stewart (author of
Earth Moved: on the remarkable achievements of earthworms)
for her advice on this one. Here’s what Amy had to say:
I am so sorry to hear about your worms! Without knowing
a little more about the conditions the worms were in, it's
hard to say for sure what happened. The most important conditions
for keeping worms healthy in a bin include:
• Moisture--The bin should be about
as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
• Temperature--Red wigglers, the
most common composting worm, prefer temps in the 50°F-70°F
range. While they can tolerate temperatures outside that
range, they won't reproduce as quickly, and extreme heat
or cold can kill them.
• Food--They need a steady diet of
organic matter. If you've had a bin for two years, you probably
already know what to feed them, but the basic rule is to
treat them like vegans: no dairy or animal products, and
no vegetable oils, either.
• pH--They do prefer a neutral pH,
and it sounds like the enviornment they were in was pretty
alkaline. Since most kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, etc.
that people feed worms are more on the acid side, I wonder
if something got into the bin to push the pH up to that
Regardless, the worms probably died (as opposed to escaping)--the
body of a worm breaks down very quickly after it dies which
is why you didn't see any bodies. My suggestion is to empty
the bin, wash it out, and start over again with a shredded
coconut fiber bedding, which you can buy in compressed bricks
at most nurseries. Introduce a new batch of worms to the
bin, let them settle down in the coconut fiber, and keep
them covered with a thick layer of shredded paper. After
a few days, add a little food--maybe a banana peel--and
gradually start adding as much food as they can consume
without it getting moldy or rancid.
For more on worm composting, you can check out my book
and download my worm composting handout here: www.amystewart.com/info.htm.
And always feel free to stop by my earthworm blog, Worms
of Endearment, where I post worm-related news and answer
us with comments, suggestions and questions.