From the Rotline: Why are my worms trying to escape?!


Why are my worms climbing out of the bin and trying to escape?


The Great Escape by your worms means there is an imbalance in the worm bin. 

If your bin becomes too acidic, too moist, too dry, too compact, full of rotting food, full of food they don’t like, too warm, too cold, or they just organize an expedition, your worms can attempt an escape from your bin. Oftentimes, when temperature conditions are not ideal (optimal is 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit), the worms will make an attempt to escape the situation. This thwarted escape plan (if your lid is on tight) ends up with many worms in your bottom collection tray or on the sides and lid of your bin. For beginning worm caretakers, a common mistake we’ve noticed is to overfeed the worm bin before the worms have acclimated to their new home. Resist the urge to toss it all in! Be patient in the early stages of your worm home and observe their behaviors. You may notice a rancid smell when there’s too much food: this is considered anaerobic decomposition (without air).

Some pro tips: 

  1. Cut your food scraps into small pieces (the smaller the pieces, the easier for our team of decomposing microbes like bacteria, fungi, archaea, etc. to break down the organic material). This allows for food scraps to quickly decompose and accelerate the process. 
  2. Keep the moisture damp, but not wet. We encourage the contents to feel like a wrung-out sponge!
  3. Bury your food waste. This prevents outside pesky invaders from overrunning your worm bin (e.g., fruit flies) and laying eggs on freshly exposed decaying organic materials.
  4. When in doubt, add more bedding to bulk up the bin and create balance between your food waste and your bedding material. Some options for bedding include shredded newspaper/office paper, soggy cardboard/egg cartons, and coconut coir.

In the event that your worm bin has just gotten too wet and juicy, the bottom bin may have collected some rogue worms and a dark brown liquid, or leachate. To rectify this situation, add water to the collected liquid in order to dilute the sediment and ease its flow through the sieve.  Then strain the liquid through a sieve or small holed colander, rinse the collection tray out and reassemble the worm bin. Add the worms, collected in the sieve, back into your top working tray.   If you clean out the bottom bin regularly you can save all your wayward worms and keep the liquid fresh and in top condition. 

Dilute the liquid with 5-10 parts tap water before adding to your garden. Remove the chlorine from tap water by letting it stand in the sun for several hours.