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Composting With Worms: Common Problems and How to Fix Them

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Problems composting with worms

So you’ve finally decided to set up a worm farm to start composting with worms. You’ve done your research and you’ve purchased everything you need to get set up. Your new worms are in and you’re feeding them their first meal of food waste. Everything is looking perfect.

This is going to be a breeze for you! We’re sure you’re going to be great at it! But just in case, we’ve got a quick little guide to help out with the most common problems people encounter when composting with worms, and how to fix them. 

RELATED: Best Worms for Composting

Composting With Worms: Bedding Issues

composting with worms

Worm bedding is the most important part of composting with worms. If there are any problems with the bedding material the production of your farm will drop. Good worm bedding should provide a nice comfortable space for your worms to live as well as provide them with a good portion of their diet. 

Moisture Retention

Bedding material should retain moisture, but not stay too wet. A great way to gauge if your bedding is at the correct moisture level is to grab a handful and give it a good squeeze. If only a few drops of liquid come out then your bedding has the right amount of moisture. If a lot of water runs out then your bedding is probably too wet. To fix this, simply add some more carbon like shredded newspaper or cardboard. If the bedding isn’t holding enough moisture, then your worms can dry out and be more susceptible to changes in temperature. You may need to give it a light spray with some water every now and then to keep it moist.


It should also allow good airflow, and be free of rough edges or surfaces. To ensure that no unwanted smells develop in your worm bin, you should give the bedding a good mix every now and then. This will ensure that it doesn’t get too compacted and prevent air from getting in. Smelly bins are often a sign that anaerobic (lacking oxygen) decomposition has occurred. By aerating your bedding regularly, you are allowing oxygen to enter as part of the aerobic decomposition process. Another thing to note about bedding material is that it must be free from any chemicals like bleaches, inks, or oils that could harm your worms. 

If the bedding isn’t right in your container, worms can’t move around freely to access their food. The best bedding material is made from torn newspaper and cardboard, straw, coir block, or leaf litter. Even better is mixing a bunch of different bedding materials together, so that you have a variety of habitats for your worms to choose from depending on the conditions. Just make sure that you have a good thick layer of bedding in order to keep your worms happy. 

Composting With Worms: Food Supply Issues

composting with worms

Worms are surprisingly picky eaters. Unlike normal compost piles where you can compost anything organic, composting with worms can only be done with certain organic waste. Fruit and vegetable waste and material like leaf litter, straw, or newspaper (and all the things we recommended for bedding material) are primarily what your worms need to eat. You can add things such as horse manure to worm bins provided that the animals haven’t been fed deworming medication.

Underfeeding Your Composting Worms

Underfeeding your worms is not a huge problem as they’ll likely just concentrate on their bedding material instead. However, if you don’t keep replenishing the bedding material (or the food), then this can mean they have a less comfortable place to live. Unhappy worms are less productive and may even try to escape in order to search for more food. This often leads to a very messy situation and doesn’t end well for the worms.

Overfeeding Your Composting Worms

Excessive feeding can also lead to pH imbalances in your worm bin. Highly acidic environments can result in bad odors and more unwanted pests in and amongst your worms. If your bin is starting to smell, ease off on the food scraps and add some more carbon, such as shredded newspaper, to the bin. You can also regularly use pH balancing conditioners such as dolomite lime to prevent the bin from becoming too acidic.

Keep in Mind the C:N Ratio…

The ratio of nitrogen to carbon is also really important in worm farms. You want it at 1:1, which means an equal amount of food and bedding material being available to your worms, so always make sure your bedding is topped up. You will often hear people refer to “greens” and “browns” when talking about c:n ratios. What they’re referring to is nitrogen (greens), and carbon (browns). Too much nitrogen and the bin may become more acidic. Too much carbon, and the bin may dry out. A good trick to keep on top of the c:n ratio is to always add a bit of carbon (such newspaper, cardboard, straw or dried leaves) to your worm farm when you add your food scraps (greens). If in doubt, add more carbon.

How Often Do I Feed My Composting Worms?

Ideally, you’d want to be adding food to the pile every week, but it will depend on the size and amount of worms you have. A handy tip is to keep a diary of when and what you fed your worms for composting, and how long it takes for them to eat it. This will help you decide how long between feeds depending on what they were given last. 

If you find rotting food in your worm farm, then you’re overfeeding them and should ease off a little bit. To fix this, simply mix the excess food into the castings in the bin to make it easier for your worms to access it. Once they’ve processed all the excess, simply start feeding them again as you would normally but in smaller quantities. You can also freeze your food scraps to store them for later use if you need to let your worms process what’s left in your bin.

Composting With Worms: Temperature Problems

composting with worms

Your worms like a nice comfortable temperature of around 15-30 celsius or 40-85 Fahrenheit. If the temperature strays outside these ranges, your worm farm production can suffer. Some worm species thrive better in warmer temperatures than others, and vice versa. It’s important to choose the correct species of composting worm to suit your climate. Eisenia Fetida (red wriggler) is a great beginner worm species due to its ability to withstand a wide range of temperatures.

You can source your composting worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm here.

Extreme Heat

Extreme hot days can literally cook your worms. Heat also makes your worms sluggish, so they’re less likely to eat food, which in turn can rot and cause issues. To ensure you maintain the right temperature for your worms, you need to consider where you’re going to place your worm farm. If you live in a location that has hot summers and mild winters, then place it in a spot that is shaded from the hot direct sun. Good access to water and airflow to help cool the farm during these hot days is also a must. You may need to frequently spray your bedding with water to help keep the worms cool. Additionally, placing your frozen food scraps in a hot bin can also help to cool it down. As the food scraps thaw, your worms can begin feeding. 

Composting With Worms in Cold Weather

On cold days, your worms can also get uncomfortable and reduce their production. If you live in an area that has extreme cold days, consider a location that gets warm winter sun and is protected from cold winds. You can also look into ways you can wrap your farm up to insulate it or consider a portable option that you can move indoors and out of the cold. Placing your worm bin in the garage or basement is a good option.

Your worms will slow their production and may even reduce in numbers over the winter months, particularly in extremely cool climates. Don’t fret though, as the weather warms up, you will slowly see your worm populations start to increase. There are often a few worm eggs that survive and once they hatch, they will bring new life to your bin once again. Be patient though, as this can take a while.

Composting With Worms: Moisture Problems

composting with worms

Worms need a specific amount of moisture and humidity to survive. Too little and they can dry out and your composting worms will struggle. Too much moisture can result in various issues such as disease and anaerobic decomposition. Worse still, your worms may even drown if submerged in water for extended periods as they breathe through their skin. 

Regularly check the moisture levels of your farm and keep your bedding material moist but not soaking wet. Ideally, you want to be able to squeeze a handful of bedding material with only a few drops of water coming out. You can use a small spray bottle or the spray setting on a hose to lightly water the bedding. If your worm bin has a spigot attached to it, make sure it is open so that excess water can drain away and be collected.

Drainage is the final consideration here. Good quality bedding material will hold moisture, but also be free draining. If you’re finding your worm farm is consistently wet, then consider improving the drainage out the bottom. Drill some extra draining holes, and prop your farm up off the ground using bricks or timber. You can also purchase ready-to-go worm farms that have legs so that they’re already elevated.

Finally, you can add more carbon such as cardboard and newspaper to reduce the moisture level of your bin if it’s too wet. Cardboard and paper will soak up excess water and help dry out your bin. Also, avoid adding in food scraps that are high in water content like watermelon.

Final Thoughts on Composting with Worms


Composting with worms can be a fairly easy process until things start to go wrong. It’s important to be able to identify some common problems and be able to fix them to allow your worms to return to doing what they do best.

A well maintained bedding is essential in order to give your worms a comfortable place to live. It needs to be moist without being too wet and allow good airflow to prevent anaerobic decomposition. Materials like shredded newspaper, cardboard, and brown leaf litter make great great bedding for worms.

Avoid overfeeding your worms, as this can lead to odors and higher acidic levels in your bin. You also want to ensure that you feed them enough food so that they don’t deplete their bedding. Keeping a feeding diary can help you keep track of how often you are feeding them.

Most composting worms prefer temperatures in the range of 40-85 Fahrenheit. On hot days, you want to keep your worm bin in a cool, shady spot. Keep the bedding material moist to prevent it from drying out and making the worms uncomfortable. On cool days, you may want to move your worms indoors or insulate them using a large blanket.

Whilst you want to keep the bedding material moist, you also don’t want to over water it. If you only get a few drops of water after squeezing a handful of bedding, then the moisture level is about right. If it’s too wet, open the spigot if your bin has one to let the excess water drain out.

So there you have it, some common problems when composting with worms and how to fix them. Armed with this new knowledge, you will be well on your way to worm farming success!

RELATED: Worm Farming for Beginners

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