Monday, May 7, 2007

Worms gone AWOL

The honeymoon was short. After our initial rocky start (documented here), I thought we had an understanding. I chopped up my banana peels and leek leaves, fed them every few days, and sprayed the bedding when it seemed too dry. And in turn, they behaved and stayed alive.

I won't say I totally overcame my fears of their sliminess, but we were cohabitating, or so I thought. Then, last week, I got back from a long weekend and found a grisly sight on my balcony. I shudder to think of it now. Eek. There were a few dozen carcasses strewn all over my balcony. At first glance, I thought they were plant droppings, but within a few seconds, the disturbing truth set in: My worms were escaping, dying and shriveling up on my balcony. How horrible is that?! I mean, first of all, that can't be a pleasant death. And so dramatic! What it said to me was that the conditions in the little world I created for them were so bad that the better option was to fling themselves out of the air holes I had drilled. Agh! I took on the responsibility of life and clearly was a terrible steward of nature. For the last few days I've been walking around with a cloud of guilt above my proverbial head. I finally mustered the courage to check out what was going on in the bin (sounds lame, but remember how long it took me to open the box they came in?) and although I saw some live worms, I also saw uneaten food, which is not a good sign. I've been convinced that the worms that didn't jump to their deaths must have just resigned themselves to a less dramatic end, kind of like that old couple in "Titanic" that stays in their bed (that was the one scene that got me in that movie). Anyway, today I finally did what I should have done a few days ago and actually did some research. There's lots of composting troubleshooting info out there. The good news is, I might not have killed all my worms in a few short weeks. But now, I have to figure out exactly what was wrong in the bin. From the symptoms and my own guess-work, I've surmised that I let it get too acidic (too many coffee grinds and orange peels), and that because the weather has gotten hotter, I should have been keeping it moister. So...I'm going to buck up, figure out what I can do, and attempt to salvage the rest of my little friends. If there are any composters! (Practical advice and moral support both greatly appreciated!). I'll keep you posted...


Molly said...

First of all, I'm sorry for your loss, and for theirs. But buck up, tiger! I have two suggestions that may help avoid such meaningless death in the future:

1) Buy pH strips that will allow you to test the acidity of your bin on a regular basis.

2) When you go out of town for more than two days, get a sitter! Since I don't live in LA, I'm turning to all you faithful readers:

Who can be called on in a pinch to be a worm-sitter for Sara? I'm sure she'll do the same for you when you get your worm bin.

Chris said...

Hey Sara,

Thanks for sharing your adventures with the worms!

The Wikipedia article you referenced mentioned how conventional banana peels may be a problem since they have high pesticide residue. But maybe yours were organic.

Can't wait to hear the continuing adventures. Doing something is better than doing nothing. I can't wait until I get my worms set.

nicholsphotos said...


I found this blog entry in a search for answers about what is going wrong with the worm bin I am "babysitting" for a friend who is out of town for 6 plus months.

For the past month or so, the worms have stayed in the bottom of the bin, where they are not supposed to be, among the casings that are supposed to be close to harvest ready.

Nothing I do on top, in terms of type or presentation of food, has enticed them back up, and as it's gotten smellier and smellier, I've noticed that the worms I am seeing are very skinny and sluggish, and indeed, may be dying off.

So I come on the internet and find that there can be all kinds of causes, from too wet to too dry, too hot to too acidic. (I live in New Mexico and the weather has been in the high 90s).

It may not be too late to save the worms that are still alive, but I am at a loss as to how--It feels like shooting in the dark to sort among the possible causes, and then to know what to do about it.

Since you wrote this a couple of months ago, I'm hoping you've found success and that you might have some tips for me from your experience.

If you do, I would so appreciate it. And thanks for writing this piece.