Below is a question I received via email, and thought I would share it.
Question from reader:
I have a problem with my worms and was wondering if you can help. I recently purchased a worm composter manufactured by Tumbleweed called Can-O-Worms. It has two working trays that have holes in them to allow worms to migrate upwards and also allows liquid to filter down into a collector tray. I have discovered that a lot of my red worms are dropping down into the collector tray and then dying. I also am finding several worms dying in the working tray (their bodies look as though they have been pinched). Have you ever heard of this? Is this a design flaw of my composter? I am very interested in worm composting and would welcome your advice.
I’m happy to try and help. You only have a problem if you are losing more than a few. It’s normal to lose a four or five every once in awhile, in the bottom tray. You’ll usually have a few curious worms, and they are highly sensitive to barometric pressure.
The pinching is not something I’m familiar with. The only predators are centipedes and moles. If you do suspect a predator, diatomaceous earth can be added to your bedding. This is safe for you and the worms but will kill insects and Arthropoda. You can find it in most garden sections, be sure and stay away from pool grade. The pool grade is too fine and can be ingested and can be dangerous. If your losses are more than a few, I might need some more info. What, how much, and how often are you feeding? Temp of bin? Is it too wet? What other critters do you see in your bin?
From reader: Thanks for your rapid response. After reading your email I immediately went out and cleaned the collector tray. I counted about 18 dead worms. Today (two days later) I only found 2 dead and one alive. I was pleasantly surprised with the few numbers. Maybe things are stabilizing. I’ll keep you updated. I can only assume that the pinching I talked about is caused by the worm trying to squeeze through a hole much smaller than it can manage. I have found worms pinched in half on the surface with guts exposed and bleeding. At one point I was wondering if maybe I caused these injuries by scratching the surface to see how the worms were doing. Are they so delicate that I should not be probing the bed? Maybe these last couple of days by leaving them alone is the result of the few casualties. But then I wonder how is it possible for your worms to survive the tumbling action of your worm harvester? As for centipedes, I don’t know. I haven’t seen any. I started this worm composter about two weeks ago. So far I have only fed the worms the original coir bedding, lettuce, banana peels and coffee grounds. Today at 3:00 PM the temperature of the bed is 70F. The instructions of the bin calls for flushing the bed once a week with a pail of water. Since the water freely drains into the collector tray I didn’t think things could get too wet. What is too wet? Thanks again for all your input,
Good, those numbers are more like it. 2 rather than 18.
The worms should not be pinching themselves trying to squeeze, and are
not going to get killed by you scratching the surface. The only thing
I can think of on the pinching front, is if you might by accident be
clipping them with the tray? They can also be gripping when the tray
is pulled off and be getting pulled apart. I am pretty gentle when
pulling them out of the screen. They wrap up and coil to hang on, I
will have to unwrap them sometimes because they will hold on tight.
The weekly flush I’m not familiar with? Why do they want you to flush
it? The flush could have sent some of the 18 worms to a watery grave.
Holes can get stopped up with castings, real wet bins get real fudgy.
Too wet will clog drainage holes and make harvesting more difficult.
Hang in there, we’ll get you rolling, and it will be a breeze.