Possible mass death in the wormery - Help.

by Nick
(Sydney, NSW)

Compost worm on the surface of a worm bin

Compost worm on the surface of a worm bin

My worm farm has been successfully producing tea and compost for over 10 years and we've not really altered our feeding regime. In the last 2 days our worms and the mix has gone from vigorously active and working their way through everything in double quick time, to an inert, smelly dense mush, with very little sign of life. I've drawn off about 6 litres of tea, which may have been backing up into the middle layer of 3 to see if that helps drainage - I've occasionally (inadvertently) allowed the liquid bin to back up, but never with this effect. We're also in a bit of a heatwave (shade temps 35 degC plus) and just recently there has been some minor ant activity In and around they bin. Any advice gratefully received please.

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Jan 02, 2020
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Re: Possible mass death in the wormery - Help.
by: Stephan

Hello Nick,

first of all I want to wish you and your family a happy 2020.The way you described the situation in your worm bin it unfortunately sounds as if most if not your entire worm herd has died. This is evident in the fact that you can't find any worm activity inside your bin as well as the density of the worm bedding and most of all by the bad smell your worm farm is producing. A healthy worm farm does not produce bad smells and a bad odor as you described is usually the result of dead and decaying worms inside the bin. There are only a few circumstances that might lead to the sudden escape or mass death of compost worms in a worm bin.
Amongst them are

1. The invasion of Black soldier fly maggots into a worm farm which will drive the worms out. (For more information about BSF maggots have a look at my article https://www.worm-composting-help.com/how-to-stop-these-maggots-from-killing-all-the-worms-in-your-worm-farm.html

2. Exposure to extreme temperatures in the worm bin. (For more information about the protection of worm bins against extreme temperatures have a look at the following 2 articles)
https://www.worm-composting-help.com/Protecting-worms-in-summer.html

and

https://www.worm-composting-help.com/worm-farm-preparation-for-winter.html


The ant activity that you mentioned in your message is in all likelihood not the cause of the death of your worms as most ant colonies are rather interested in the worm food inside the bin instead of the worms.

Having your description of the circumstances I believe it is most likely that your worms have been killed by the heat.

Compost worms of the most popular kind (Eisenia fetida) known by many names including "red wrigglers" all over the world are pretty hardy creatures and can survive temperatures of up to 30 degrees inside their worm bin. However you mentioned that you experienced a heat wave of up to 35 degrees Celsius / 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This fact and the very high moisture content of the bedding inside your worm bin might have forced the worms inside your bin to either migrate out of the bin or perish. I would compare this situation inside your worm bin to that inside a Sauna. It feels quite warm when you sitting in the Sauna when the air is dry but as soon as you pore some liquids (sauna infusion) over the hot stones of your Sauna oven the resulting steam increases the humidity of the environment dramatically and the heat experienced inside the room feels much hotter and uncomfortable. Now I suspect that the backed up worm tea inside your worm bin might have heated the bedding (living space of the worms) to levels that were unfortunately lethal to your worm herd.

My suggestion would be to remove all the bedding from your worm bin, separate it into smaller piles and see if you can find any worms that are still alive. Should this be the case which I doubt, add more dry materials like shredded newspaper to the bedding to remove some of the moisture in the bedding before you add the bedding back to your worm bin.

Should you not find any worms that have survived you will unfortunately start your worm bin again with a new batch of worms.

I trust this information will help you. Please let us know once your worm farm is back up and running.

Kind regards and happy worming

Stephan Kloppert

Author of "How to start a profitable worm business on a shoestring budget"

Editor of www.worm-composting-help.com

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