Problems With Composting Worms

If you open a worm bin and find that your red wiggler compost worms have moved up the sides, clustered under the lid or have actually escaped on the surrounding floor, it's time to figure out the problem. Such attempted breakouts indicate a problem in the bin, where the worms will happily stay without roaming once you, their wrangler, troubleshoot what happened to their habitat. Move your worms to a new emergency bin if they seem to be in great distress. A clean trash can or Styrofoam chest can work while you straighten out their main bin.


Don't overfeed your worms. This is the most common problem for gardeners who have started vermicomposting, according to Rhonda Sherman, extension specialist at North Carolina State University. The bin should have an earthy smell to it, and any other unpleasant odor often strongly indicates overfeeding. Place the worms' food in a pocket of bedding and bury it. Examine whether the food is gone before adding a new pocket of food. The strategy must be to let the worms dictate how much and how often you feed them and not to rush a backlog of kitchen scraps into the bin; these, instead, can be chopped and frozen or put in an outdoor compost pile. Chop kitchen scraps roughly into ½- or 1-inch cube-sized pieces. Freeze the chopped scraps to break down the plant cells, defrost and add to the bin in modest quantities. This speeds decomposition and improves access for the worms' tiny mouths. While some worm hobbyists report pureeing food scraps, large quantities of pureed food can turn the bin rancid quickly and kill the worms. If you notice an unpleasant bin odor, remove some of the uneaten food and add several handfuls of mostly dry bedding, such as shredded paper or torn newspaper, to absorb excess liquid, which is likely to be present.

Types of Food

Don't feed your worms citrus rinds (lemon, orange or grapefruit), meat or dairy products, onion or garlic or leftover hot, spicy foods. Add acidic foods such as coffee grounds in moderation. Wash banana peels before adding to the bin to rinse off pesticides that have been identified as the culprit in some collapses of worm bin populations.

Types of Bedding

Keep chemically treated papers, such as those used for credit card receipts or fax paper, out of the bin, tempting as it might be to shred these and recycle them for worm bedding.


Measure the moisture in the bin to keep a healthy supply so the worms do not dry out or drown. Use a moisture meter, available for under $10 (as of 2010) at a garden center. Spritz the bedding with water from a spray bottle if it is too dry, or below 70 percent moist. Add dry bedding if the existing bedding is too wet, or above 80 percent.


Extreme temperatures can harm the worms, so place the bin where it will stay between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally 72 to 74 degrees, Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor state in "The Worm Book." Add insulation in the form of hay or Styrofoam panel to keep an outdoor bin warm; place the bin in the shade to keep it cooler.

Keywords: worm bin problems, composting worm problems, troubleshooting worm bins

About this Author

Rogue Parrish has written two travel books and edited at the "The Baltimore Sun," "The Washington Post" and the Alaska Newspapers company. She began writing professionally in 1975. Parrish holds a summa cum laude Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.