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Environmental Considerations for Healthy Composting Worms
If you’re dabbling in vermicomposting, it might seem like a really simple affair. Just throw some worms in a properly constructed box, and you’re good to go, right? Well, actually there’s a number of things you’ll need to take into consideration involving these useful little critters if you truly want them to thrive. It really is a simple matter overall, but it’s always good to keep their health in mind since die-offs tend to occur exponentially in worm colonies. Let’s take a look over some of these factors, and what we can do to ensure the best environment possible.
Keeping your composting worms within an ideal temperature range is actually quite important. For this reason, a lot of people recommend keeping your worm bin somewhere indoors if you live in an extreme climate, too low or too high will start killing off the wiggly little guys and that’s not good for either of you.
Keep in mind that the temperature you’ll need to be checking isn’t the ambient temperature but instead the temperature of the bedding itself. Decaying organic matter generally raises the temperature a few degrees, as anyone with a regular composting bin could tell you.
The ideal range for your worms is between 55°F and 75°F. They can tolerate temperature ranges a bit outside of that range, but they won’t thrive and if you get under 40°F or over 85°F for very long your worms are going to start to die. This will usually result in the colony collapsing entirely even if the initial temperature only kills a portion of them.
For too low of temperatures, you’ve got a number of options. Insulation is a good one, and so is a heat lamp. A less often considered option, however, is to feed your worms foods high in nitrogen during cooler weather, the nitrogen breakdown causes an exothermic reaction which will help to get the temperature back up.
Higher temperatures can be a bit more problematic. Sticking your composter in a shaded area if it’s outside is one of the first precautions to take and adequate ventilation is another important precaution that may help to keep the temperature down in the first place. If the ambient temperature isn’t too far above 85°F, a fan may be of some use as well. Lowering the amount of nitrogen rich foods you feed is another important consideration in the summer, for the same reason upping it in winter is a good idea.
As long as you can maintain these temperatures though, you’re sure to be on your way to a thriving colony that will be producing high-quality castings for your garden.
The pH environment that your worms are kept in is another consideration that’s of the utmost importance. You want it to be as close to neutral as possible, this is why most guides will tell you not to feed too much citrus or coffee grounds into the tank. We highly recommend purchasing a soil test kit, it will give you the most accurate reading of what’s going on with the pH.
If you can’t find one, make sure to occasionally take a look at the behavior of your worms. This can be a great indicator of poor conditions, as they’ll often seek the surface of the bedding in order to avoid dying. They may not be the smartest critter on the block, but they still have self-preservation instincts.
In most cases, the bedding will have become too acidic for them. It’s actually rather hard to basify their environment with just foods. If this is the case, a bit of powdered limestone can be added to the bedding to neutralize the acidic nature of the soil. It really is ideal to have a pH tester on hand for this process though, as too much can render the soil alkaline which is just as, if not more, dangerous as acidic environments.
Be aware that some unsuspecting foods will lower the pH against what you’d think is common reason. One of these is wheat and corn products. It shouldn’t cause a problem as long as you’re not feeding them exclusively, but do keep it in mind.
The humidity of your bin is also quite important. Worms breathe through their skin, and they need water to do so. They can also drown if the humidity levels get too high due to this same process.
The ideal humidity in the bedding is about 80%. About the consistency of a wrung out sponge. Periodically squeeze a handful of bedding, if it’s too dry mist it. If more than a couple drops of water comes out, you’ve gotten things too wet and you can correct it by adding some more dry bedding to the bin and mixing it in.
This is one of the most important parts of a healthy colony, but unlike temperature and pH, it’s thankfully easy to correct.
Keeping your worms in a healthy environment is really pretty easy. Keep these factors in mind, and you’re sure to have an easier time with your vermicomposting venture. As long as the ideal conditions are met, you’ll have a thriving colony of worms in no time and the castings are sure to pay off for the effort you’ve put into making sure they’re in a healthy environment.