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TOO Wet! TOO Dry! What should the bedding in my Worm Bin look like??

The last couple of days, I have got some emails with some really good questions about taking care of the worm bins, some of the questions included.1) How do I tell if the bin is wet enough? 2) when should we harvest the worms? 3) What does the bedding look like when its time to harvest the Worm Castings?
In this post I will try to answer all these great questions and provide some pics of the bedding in the worm bins through to the finished (completely composted bedding)

Here are some questions from a customer of mine, here is what Ed asked!
I read that it should be “like a damp sponge”. I also wonder if I actually have enough worms…In time , I’m sure I will. Would it be possible for you to take a few pics of one of your bins so I may guage conditions? Maybe lift some cover to show conditions inside the pile? Should I rotate the bottom to the top or occasionally break up to aerate?

1) How wet should your worm bin be? well the wet sponge idea is the safe zone, not much will go wrong if you follow this tip. In my opinion your bin has to be a little more wet then the wet sponge idea, So that your moisture is almost wet! if you are using a plastic bin, you should see moisture on the sides of the bin, European Nightcrawlers like the bin with more moisture then the Red Wigglers do.You need the moisture for the bin to operate properly, in quoting my wife (Lorie) she tells our customers that in time after buying worms and or a complete bin from us, That taking care of the worms just starts to come natural to you, you soon start to learn how much to feed the worms, what food waste the worms just love, and what food takes a while to break down so the worms can consume that food.

2) Should I rotate the bedding in my bin bottom to top?
Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty in your worm bin, moving the bedding around in the bin doesn’t hurt, it gets the air moving in your bin, but you don’t have to do this, the worms will work all the bedding in the bin like little plows, the worms soon turn all the bedding into Castings(worm poop)

I hope Ed that these pics of my worm bin gives you an idea of what the bedding the bin should look like.

In my next post! I will answer these great questions from Gwen.
I too am interested in worm farming. I live in Central Oregon which is a great place to raise worms. I have started 3 bins, 2 plastice bins that are each 5 levels and one 30 gallon tub with lid. I am wondering how do you know when it is time to harvest worms and start a new bin? Seems simple, I get how to separate them , feed them and all but how do you know when to harvest? Should the bins be overflowing with worms??? Should it be when the composting is complete?? I feel silly not knowing but in all the books and websites I have visited this is not clearly addressed….. HELP!!!

Gwen

check back soon!

Jeff

Written by Jeff on August 18th, 2008 with 31 comments.
Read more articles on About Earthworms and Composting with composting worms and News and Reader Questions and Worm Stories.

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31 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Nolan
#1. August 28th, 2008, at 7:34 AM.

Got one question.

My bin near the end of completion (like 3 months in) always starts to get REALLY wet on the bottom. Actually to the point that when i try to rotate the bin’s contents, its got a wickedly bad odor.

Is there anything i can do to prevent this? (An older bin i put in bottom holes, but with this new recycled plastic bin, i dont want to) Should i just keep adding in more and more shredded paper/bedding to soak and rotate?

Thanks

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#2. August 29th, 2008, at 1:05 AM.

Hi Nolan

The smell is because of a lack of air in the bottom of the bin, So! if you don’t want to drill holes in the new plastic bin, Yes you are going to have to rotate your bedding a little to keep the air flow to stay away from the odors in the bottom of the bin where there is little air flow. I would use a different bedding try mixing cardboard and shredded paper together, this bedding has a little more bulk to it and the air will get to the bottom of the bin, some what better then just shredded paper.

Thanks Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jc0225
#3. January 11th, 2009, at 8:08 PM.

Why do my red wigglers and euros seem to migrate to the bottom of my bins when I am adding compost to the top??

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#4. January 19th, 2009, at 12:01 AM.

Hi there

Worms are light sensitive, so this could be one of the reasons, also any source of heat in food that was just added could also cause the worms to migrate to the bottom of the bin, even if you can’t feel the added heat from the new food or bedding, the worms know there is alittle heat there. We know that there is not enough heat there to kill the worms, the worms don’t know that. so they will stay away for a day or two. just to be save..

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John Massey
#5. July 4th, 2009, at 9:09 PM.

Hi,

I am a total beginner. What should I use as bedding? Is cut up newspaper alright? I have what I think is worm castings. Its pretty wet, like really black mud. To harvest, should I not put food on one side, so that the worms move over to the other side where the food is? then, when the worms have vacated, take out the worm castings and dry them. This is where I am in the process. I am not sure how to render the castings into a dry-ish material for use in the garden.

John

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Deb Malgeri
#6. July 16th, 2009, at 7:18 PM.

I have had my 4 drawer worm composter for about 6 weeks now. I ahve 2 ibs of worms.The bottom 2 drawers have dark compost a bit moist and still have worms in them. I have been putting my food wastes in the third drawer and the worms are up into that one already. How soon do I begin to put compost in the final drawer? How will I know when to harvest the dirt and how do I get the worms out. I have been afraid to put too much in the drawers. I can’t figure out how to gage the amount of compost to put into the drawers for the worms to eat.
Also, the worms in the bottom bin seem smaller that the worms in the top. are they starving or are they maybe new worms?
I am unsure when the compost is ready for use. I have drained off some tea about 4-6 ozs twice now. Is there a formula for a ratio of tea to water that works best?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#7. July 20th, 2009, at 1:51 AM.

Hi Deb

If the vermicompost in the bottom 2 drawers is a nice dark colour, it is time to harvest those drawers. it seems like most of the worms are now up in the drawer with the food in it. if you are adding this finished vermicompost to your outside garden, you don’t have to harvest the small amount of worms left in the lower bin. just add worms and all to the garden. If you do want to use the vermicompost on indoor plants and you don’t want any little worms in the house plants, you can use a screen to screen out the pure castings and save the little worm eggs and little worms and add them to the drawer with the food in it. you can.
The (tea) is NOT tea.. this is leachate. and just out of the worm bin can sometimes not be good for plants.. I would make a compost tea. and that is made by using yiur finished compost at a ratio of about 1 cup (8 oz) of vermicompost to 4 litres of water. let this soak for a day or too, then its ready to use.

hope this helps..

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com May
#8. September 10th, 2009, at 7:38 PM.

Hi :)
I started up a worm bin about 3 months ago, and I’m not sure when I should harvest the castings. Every time I add food, I add a layer of shredded paper so the bin doesn’t get too wet. Now, the paper (matted) is mixed up with what I think are the castings. I also feed my worms a lot of coffee grinds, and I’m having a bit of a problem differentiating the castings from the grinds. I’ve read that worm castings can become toxic for the worms, so I don’t want to leave them in there too long but there’s still so much bedding that hasn’t been consumed! What should I do?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Elliott
#9. November 17th, 2009, at 6:25 PM.

The material in my top drawer has become very wet and my red worms seem to be disapearing and being replaced by litle white worms (not pink). How can I fix this and not have it happen again?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#10. November 18th, 2009, at 5:46 AM.

Hi Elliott
Your worm bin is TOO wet, Those little white worms are not redworms.. Those little white worms only appear when your bin starts to go acidic. and the redworms are passing on!! you need to get that bin dried up by mixing to get air in, and adding some shredded cardboard and shredded paper to absorb all that extra moisture, Red worms are hard to save at this point, so act fast, and get this fixed red worms can’t take these changing environments like the European Nightcrawlers can..
Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Elliott
#11. November 18th, 2009, at 1:41 PM.

Thanks. Jeff– Mixes some in and we’ll see how it goes. If I have a full collapse what are the chances that there are enough surviving eggs for the bin to come back without adding additional worms. Will the conditions have destroyed the eggs as well?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#12. November 18th, 2009, at 2:17 PM.

Hi Elliott

If you have a full collapse (all reds passing on)You should have enough worm eggs to have a go again without having to buy more worms. The conditions in the bin WILL NOT destroy the worm eggs.

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com courtney
#13. February 2nd, 2010, at 3:09 AM.

I am just starting my first worm bin. 2 days ago I added one pound of worms to my 10 gallon container with damp paper and soil some of my worms were trying to escape today. I am worried that I did not start with enough bedding and I may have squeezed too much water out. Is half full enough for a 10 gallon plastic bin? And should I not wring out the newspaper shreddings after I soak?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#14. February 2nd, 2010, at 6:22 AM.

Hi Courtney

It is normal for some worms to try and escape the first couple days after adding them to a bin. Its sounds like you have enough bedding, did you add some food waste as a food source for the worms?? if you haven’t this could be why the worms are still exploring! (or trying to escape) they could be looking for food..
if you have already added the food waste, then leave the lid off for a day or so with light above and the worms should settle in a day or two…

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John Koskinas
#15. February 4th, 2010, at 7:18 PM.

Is it ok to save harvested castings in an open container until spring planting – and then make “tea” for the garden? Or is there a loss of potentcy when the castings dry out? Should stored castings be kept wet? or can one brew tea and store the tea?
Thanks

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#16. February 5th, 2010, at 6:20 AM.

Hi John

You will loss potentcy if you leave the worm castings to dry out.. you don’t want to store them wet!! but not dried out.

Store in dark containers and out of the Sun. Worm tea needs to be used within days after brewing.

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com michelle
#17. July 3rd, 2010, at 2:15 AM.

Hi Jeff – I just got a new worm farm. I soaked the brick sized block of coir for bedding in a bucket of 6-7L of water according to the instructions but I mistakenly thought I had to mix it all around and use the mixture as bedding. It was the consistency of very damp/moist soil. I think that I was supposed to squeeze out the water first. I’ve already put all the worms into the worm farm. I don’t know what to do to save it!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#18. July 3rd, 2010, at 2:23 AM.

Hi Michelle

I am sure you are going to be fine.. is there water sitting in the bottom of the bin?? if so, get something to soak up the extra water, leaves,shredded cardboard,shredded paper. add to the bin in wet areas…. then let the bin sit for a few days then see how wet the bin is.

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com michelle
#19. July 3rd, 2010, at 9:42 AM.

Hi Jeff – thanks so much for your superfast response. I lined the bottom of the perforated tray with cardboard before putting the bedding down so that should soak up some of it. I’ll wait and see how it goes.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John Reehdy
#20. November 14th, 2010, at 3:11 AM.

Thanks for all the advice you guys are giving. I have been having problems with my worms.
I also saw some good info at http://gardeningwormcomposting.com/2010/11/10/making-a-worm-bin-composter/ This is a non-commercial page where this woman, Sandie has been figuring this stuff out. I liked her take on the problems with different worm bins because she is so down-to-earth (pardon the pun) in her writing style.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Andree
#21. November 23rd, 2010, at 3:35 PM.

We are a small preschool with a couple of classroom worm bins. We are wondering what it should look like when we open the bin. We are trying to figure out how much food to add, and how to know if we are adding enough, or too much. It is an 8 gallon box. We are using uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, all chopped into smallish pieces. We use a spray bottle to keep it moist, but we don’t know how wet it should be. They are plastic bins with a lot of holes drilled around the top and in the lid. We cover the surface with damp newspaper. (If the fruit flies get bad we will probably be asked to stop the project)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#22. November 25th, 2010, at 4:09 AM.

Hi Andree

To keep the fruit flies away make sure you don’t feed the worms too much and make sure the food waste is buried very well. only feed the worms food waste that the worms can eat up in a few days, and don’t feed them again till then, your bin will be almost on the wet side, other wise the food waste will take forever to rot.

Hope this helps

Jeff

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jerzy
#23. January 14th, 2012, at 3:56 AM.

Hi,
I just started my first worm bin. I just added pound of red wigglers to the bin with shredded moisten newspaper and couple of banana peals in the corner.
After a day passed I looked into the bottom container and it had a lot of worms in it. No water in bottom container, just about 40 worms. I looked and there is bunch in the food and bunch in the dirt they came in. With this speed they will go in couple of days. :(
Did they just wondered around looking for food or unhappy?

Thanks for advice

Jerzy

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Alex
#24. January 16th, 2012, at 7:06 PM.

Hi Jeff,

Many thanks for all the great advice.

I am having the same problem as Jerzy — a good number of worms seem to be migrating to the bottom try used to catch worm tea. Is this normal, or is this indicative of a problem?

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Alex

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#25. January 17th, 2012, at 4:00 AM.

Hi Jerzy and Alex

In Jerzy’s case just adding the worms could be why they are in the bottom part of the bin. what type of worm bin are you using? Worm Factory? if so, I have not had worms in this bin, I am guessing that as the worms are wandering around they are ending up in the bottom. I don’t think there is a problem with the bin. I have made a wooden upward flow bin for myself, in the first tray I put down some small screen then add the bedding, food and worms. then if the worms do some wandering they don’t end up in the bottom of the bin.

hope this helps..

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Deborah
#26. April 10th, 2012, at 3:19 PM.

Hi Jeff,
I started my worm bin a few months ago and although i have very dark compost right now, It appears to be very wet and I can still see chunks of fruit and some egg shells. Should I just screen this out and separate the worms into a new bin?
I do not have any bad smells — just very wet compost!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jay
#27. April 20th, 2012, at 4:40 PM.

Hey!
I just started my worm bin yesterday and was wondering, if i don’t have enough food scraps, can i just feed them shredded newspaper or paper?
Thanks!!!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Kelli
#28. April 27th, 2012, at 4:22 AM.

Hi Jeff. I started my worm bin a little over a week ago. I am using two plastic bins, one on the bottom to catch any excess water or worms, and one on the top that has the worms and bedding. The main bin has holes in the lids and sides, as well as a few drainage holes in the bottom. For bedding I am using shredded cardboard. I had a light on the bin for the first few nights but didn’t have any issues with worms trying to escape. This morning I woke up to a dead worm on the floor, then tonight I opened my bin to see two or three rogue worms climbing up to the sides. I started with 1 lb of worms. I gently looked through the bin and there are worms in every corner but most are on the bottom. The bottom did look to be a little wet so I checked my bottom bin for water to see if maybe my drainage holes were blocked. There is a tiny bit of water in the bottom bin so I know some drainage is getting through. I did add some dry bedding in the corners of the bin as well as the top of the bin. I do not have any foul oders either. I guess my question is, should I be worried that I have a few suicidal worms if the rest of the bin seems content?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Jeff
#29. April 27th, 2012, at 5:05 AM.

Hi Deb
The wet compost is ready to harvest, you take it out, when the bedding gets used up, it is hard to keep the bin from getting too wet, and the finished vermicompost is very wet, you can take it out and let it dry for a few days before you use it as fertilizer,it will be much easier to use dryer!! not wet.
Hi Jay
Yes you need to feed food waste as well as paper and cardboard, the worms do eat this stuff but for the most part it is bedding.
Hi Kelli
your bin sounds fine at the moment.. yes some little worms do get out of bin and die. this is normal. you will see one on the outside of the bin every now and then.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com natalie
#30. December 5th, 2012, at 3:54 PM.

Hi, I just got a worm bin, two of them made holes on bottom, and sides. The top cover is covered with holes, the very bottom is for the tea run off. How often do I feed the worms the scraps that I accumulate. I started it with shredded paper on bottom added a little soil, scraps from lettuce, egg shells, celery, tomatoes. put the worms in the bottom, covered them with shredded paper, I moistened it first, but I am not sure how much moisture to put in and how often to feed them scraps. Thanks for your help. Natalie

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com kit
#31. December 11th, 2012, at 5:33 AM.

Hi, I was wondering about all these little white worms that I have found in my worm bin? I thought they were baby red worms but I read in an earlier post that it was not. I found thousands of them and I’ve only had the bin for about 3 or 4 months. They look like red worms (they even have a segmented band on them) except for the lack of color. What are they and are they harmful?

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