Worm Bin at 2+ Months: How To Kill Most of Your Worms

This is the second post in a series about life with a worm bin.

Read the first post, How To Set Up a Worm Bin, here.


Worm bin set up in kitchen

This article could have the alternate title of How to Screw Your Karma Approximately 3,000 Times.

We assembled the worm bin in May, and they were doing great. So many new worms and lots of worm eggs. The booklet they came with said that after two months in ideal conditions that they multiply to around 3,000.

Only minor problems so far…

Problem #1: I think the cup of compost we brought in from our outdoor composter had fly eggs in it. Two days after setting up the worm bin, we noticed several slow flies buzzing around the house. So slow that I could catch them in mid-air. We’d kill them, and the next day there would be four or five more. This went on for about a week.

Problem #2: And this is a common problem, my friend Joy assures me: After about a month, the worms had eaten through the soggy newspaper lining the bottom of their tray and were falling through into the liquid collection tray. Every week or so I’d have to get a big spoon and scoop them up and dump them back in the processing tray. Apparently when you add a new collection tray, they begin migrating upward and stop falling through (as much).

Not many problems at all!

Near the end of June it was time to add a new processing tray. I followed pretty much the same procedure as with the first tray. Only I didn’t have to lay the bottom layer of newspaper down because I wanted the worms to migrate upward.

About two weeks later I prepared the worms for our long trip to Maine by giving them lots of food. Many of them had moved into the top tray and were munching happily. And then we drove to Maine.

While we were in Maine, the day we left, actually, until the very day we returned (all 9 days), temperatures outside reached 98 degrees or above with no rain and almost no clouds at all.

Our kitchen is uninsulated. And on the second floor.

The kitchen roof is almost flat and faces southwest. And there’s a wall of windows facing west in the sunporch attached to that kitchen.

We arrived home on July 8 at 12:30am to 78 degrees outside and 98 degrees inside our kitchen. We had shut and locked every window before we left, so there was no ventilation for that heat to escape.

WARNING: If you can’t handle the death of innocent creatures, here’s a recipe for Harvest Soup. It’s much easier to digest than what happens next.

So as we’re sweating, frantically opening windows and strategically placing fans on barely working legs fresh from an 18-hours-in-one-day road trip, all while trying to keep two little kids as asleep as possible, I saw something that made me sick. Little black lines radiating out from the worm bin under the kitchen table.

I didn’t say a word, but kept at the task of cooling the house so the incredibly upset kids would go back to sleep. And at 2:30am, when my head finally hit the pillow, I shoved those lines as far out of my mind as I could.

The next morning, I went in for the inspection. And I found nothing alive. Those squiggly lines were worms that were trying to escape and ended up baked onto our kitchen floor.

The only time worms will try to leave the bin (they don’t like light, after all) is if the bin becomes uninhabitable. I’m guessing a steady temperature of 100 degrees meant uninhabitable.

I took the black bin to the backyard and left it by the compost bin, lid on, for two days. It was hot, sunny, and around 86-89 degrees. I just couldn’t face cleaning it out. I felt so horrible, so guilty, for not thinking to take the worm bin to the basement before we left town. I called Joy, my personal worm bin guru who taught me everything I needed to know when I was deciding whether or not to take the plunge, and cried in her ear. I moped. I made many sad faces and left the crispy worms stuck on the floor, a memorial to my once thriving community of eating and crapping worms. I made Jason a little crazy.

Finally, on the third day during nap time, I tackled the very smelly job of cleaning out the worm bin. Smelly because it was full of 3,000 or so decomposing worms. Cleaned it out while moping and feeling guilty, I’ll have you know.

And what do you know, what do you think I found? Right in the bottom tray, the first processing tray, right in the very middle of the tray was a group of live, wiggling worms in an area about the size of a baseball. They were all small worms, but they were packed pretty tightly together. My theory is that they had hatched fairly recently and their location in the middle of the bottom bin meant that they were the most well-insulated from the heat.

I celebrated! I called Jason, my mom, and I may have called Joy, but at the very least I emailed her. I smacked myself for leaving the worm bin out in the direct sun for another two days. And then I celebrated some more!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Now that you mention it, I did stumble upon a fascinating and humorous video recently…I think it’s called Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUPQ2u4M2h4&feature=g-all-esi

  2. Posted by JP on October 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Tragedy strikes! (er, struck!) Yeah, pretty much the only way to kill all your worms at once is to bake them — it does make you wonder why pretty much every catalog-order worm bin you ever see is black. Sorry you had to learn this lesson the hard way, but still so glad you did have some worms survive! (For the record, I think you did call me to celebrate! 🙂 )

    And, nine days of 100-degree heat? How very bizarre. If only there were some explanation for why we would have such extreme heat, and something we humans could do about it.

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