Keeping Earthworm Beds Healthy | Control pH, Moisture, Aeration and Temperature

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Managing Worm Bed Overall Health

The Way To Healthy Worm Bins and Beds

Knowing when a problem is occurring in your worm beds or bins is a very important bit of information, but knowing how to keep your worm farm healthy from the beginning will bring you peace of mind. Understanding how a worm lives in nature helps us to better know how to provide a similar if not exact environment for them in worm farming beds or compost bins.

How Do Worms Survive In Nature

If the soil where a worm is residing within in nature becomes to hot or cold, the worm can cool or heat itself by burrowing deeper into the soil. If the soil becomes too acidic they wiggle away to a less caustic location. When we place worms in a restrictive bed or bin, these conditions are inescapable for your worms. So it is up to you to keep the home your worms live, in a comfortable and productive state. If the condition within the bins become too uncomfortable for the worms, they can go into shock becoming sluggish stop eating and neglect breeding. The recovery for a worm who experiences shock can be lengthy, and even fatal for the worms. For this reason it is vital that you measure your bed conditions regularly, this way you can maintain a healthy living environment for your worms rather than deal with fixing an unhealthy one.

To help you in your quest for healthy productive worm bins and beds i will be sharing with you the four vitally important elements that will keep your worm farm (of any size) in high production and health. These four vitally important elements are pH, Moisture, Aeration and in my opinion the most important thing for good worm conditions, Temperature. Let's get rolling.

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The lower the pH the more acid is in the soil. The higher the pH, the more alkaline.

Controling Worm Bed pH

Measuring pH is as Easy as Counting to Seven!

"Potential hydrogen". This is the chemical term for pH, which is the measurement of acidity or alkalinity, and resides on a fourteen point scale. When reading this scale, the number 1 indicates the most acidic measurement, whereas the number 14 would indicate the most alkaline measurement; with the number 7 smack-dap in the middle yelling, "neutral zone!" Allow me to define this a little more clearly for you; If a sample of soil measures at 6.5 pH, this would indicate that the soil is slightly acidic. If you have one or know someone who has a swimming pool you have done this measurement or have possibly witnessed it being done.

The majority of plants and animals live within the 6 to 8 pH range, with anything higher or lower proving to limit reproduction, health and quality of comfort. Not surprising, this includes worms as well. A blissful worm is a worm who resides in the neutral zone of the magic 7 or better known as neutral . This is where you want to maintain your worm beds and bins for optimum health and productivity. The reality is that, this can become tricky depending on living conditions and the type of food you have fed your earthworms, as each of these variables will impact the pH measurements of your worm soil causing a fluctuation to occur. The easiest way to manage the pH balance within your worm farm is by using a pH meter. You can purchase them for very little money and they are worth their weight in gold,...well worms anyway. You can also buy chemical test kits but you may find them to be a little more difficult to use because they can be messy, and if you make one small error the test is void and you will have to start over. So, my recommendation is to stick with an easy to read, low cost pH meter and you will be finding that managing the pH level within your worm beds is as easy as counting to seven!

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Want to Grow Vegetables in great pH nuetral soil? Learn how here. (3 min. 5 sec. video)

70% to 80% Moisture Content is Recommended

Control Worm Bed Moisture Levels

Moist Worms Breathe Easy

A worm needs to be moist to breathe properly. Unlike humans, worms breathe through their skin by taking in dissolved oxygen through it. Their little bodies are made up of about 75% to 90% water. These are the primary reasons why water and moisture content in your worm beds is of critical importance. If a worm dries out, it can not breath and will die. Fishermen will tell you that a worm can survive completely submerged under water for over an hour, and this is no fishtail! Scientists have conducted studies on this very subject. When a worm was placed in oxygen-rich water, it survived for every bit and more of an hour, but when the oxygen was removed from the water the worms die. This proves that the little guy wasn't just holding its breath for a really long time, but rather breathing in the oxygen within the environment through its skin.

Knowing that worms do much better in moist oxygen rich environments, we can calculate that keeping the beds moisture levels around 70% to 80% provides an exceptionally good place to live, if you're a worm. This moisture-range percentage is referred to as, " the optimum moisture level". If you live in a really dry area, your beds may be a little drier, it just comes with the territory. Your goal is to prevent the moisture level from degrading below 60% and well outside the optimum moisture level. A piece of plastic provides a great way to contain moisture in the beds. Place it over the beds making sure plenty of air can still get to your worms. Making certain there are enough air hole in your bin or beds is vital when using plastic to retain moisture in your worm beds. I can't stress this point enough; MAKE SURE PLENTY OF AIR GETS TO YOUR WORMS.

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In outside beds or windrows (a worm bed that is in the ground) many worm growers recommend that the surface moisture level to be about 35% to 45%. This allows for a sufficient amount of air to be retained within the soil. But, some other worm farmers (and I am among this group) feel that an average moisture level of 55% should be maintained. It is up to you to decide what level is best for your worms. You can do this by testing your worms at different moisture levels (within safe perimeters) and log down the results: Are they eating enough, and are they reproducing? This will tell you what your worms prefer.

Moisture meters or moisture probes are easy to buy and are very inexpensive, and like pH meters are worth every penny spent. Every worm grower should have proper meters for measuring their worm environment!

In outside beds or windrows (a worm bed that is in the ground) many worm growers recommend that the surface moisture level to be about 35% to 45%. This allows for a sufficient amount of air to be retained within the soil. But, some other worm farmers (and I am among this group) feel that an average moisture level of 55% should be maintained. It is up to you to decide what level is best for your worms. You can do this by testing your worms at different moisture levels (within safe perimeters) and log down the results: Are they eating enough, and are they reproducing? This will tell you what your worms prefer.

Moisture meters or moisture probes are easy to buy and are very inexpensive, and like pH meters are worth every penny spent. Every worm grower should have proper meters for measuring their worm environment!

I Love Earthworms

Turning your earthworm bedding will increase the Aeration and oxygen deep in the bed.

Worm Bed Aeration

Aeration of The Good and The Bad Bacteria

Managing the quality of the worm bedding is one of the most misunderstood components in the worm composting and worm farming business (or home bin). Improper maintenance of the bedding is the main reason a new worm grower fails. The bedding must provide food, shelter from sunlight, consistent conditions (temp, air, moisture & pH) and mating partners. All of these components must combine to allow the worms to thrive, and to thrive your worms must have excellent aeration within the bedding material. As the bedding material decays— broken down by good bacteria (aerobic) we must be certain that the bad bacteria (anaerobic) are not allowed to take over.

In the worm bin our goal is to keep oxygen level high to help keep the aerobic bacteria in eating mode and happily consuming the organic material at all times. Our worms also require a good amount of oxygen to survive and thrive. For a worm to breathe, the oxygen has to be broken down so it can dissolve in the mucus of the worm's skin. Without oxygen, our worms will obviously die, and along with the death of our worms comes the death of the aerobic bacteria. This is an open invitation for the anaerobic bacteria to scamper in and set-up shop in your worm bins or beds. If you have an unpleasant odor coming from your bins, you have an anaerobic bacteria party going on, and you need to break-up this gig quick!

If you can manage to keep the bedding material loose and provide plenty of air and enough drainage holes in your worm bins and worm beds, you can all but guarantee that adequate oxygen is getting into your worm bedding. I find that turning the worm beds over (handling with care so not to damage any worms, a broad forked pitchfork is the perfect tool for this) every so often will introduce extra oxygen into the deeper layers of the bedding. If you feel the bedding is looking a bit "tight" or compacted, I would advise you to do the same.

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Managing the Fire and Ice of Worms

Worm Bed Temperature

The Hot and Cold Facts of Worm Bedding

Throughout my Earthworm series we have talked about the correct temperature for worm beds and worm bins. We now know that they need to be kept between 55ºF and 77ºF, or in more global terms 15ºC and 25ºC. But, if we want to create the absolute optimum temperature environment for your earthworms, keep it between 72ºF and 74ºF (23ºC and 24ºC). Taking regular measurements in winter and summer will allow you to know just how hot or cold your worm beds are staying. Special compost thermometers are available which have stems that can be around two feet in length. These measure the true temperature deep inside the worm bed so you can determine the comfort you truly offer yourworms. As we have learned, a comfortable worm is a productive worm!me.

Redworms and Temperature

Redworms become far less productive and get sluggish if the temperature gets below 55ºF or over 80ºF. If the worm beds drops below 50ºF (10ºC) you will severely stress your worm herd.

The Cooler Side of Worm Farming

If you reside where the weather gets extremely cold in the winter, you want to think about bringing your worm bins indoors or adding extra insulation to the bin for the winter because freezing temperatures can actually kill your worms. If you have the room, putting the bins in a shed or out building would work very well. Hay Bails make super good insulation for your worms, but can be difficult to move as you tend to your stock. Keeping new or "hot" organic waste on the top of the bed helps because when it begins to decay, this causes a thermal temperature rise which warms your worms yet allows them room to move away if it gets too hot.

In very extreme conditions, you may need to resort to small heaters, keeping a close eye on moisture conditions (use a soil moisture meter, they are cheap and well worth the money). It is also good to know that the really cold weather can cause the beds to dry out some, and again temperature is a concern here. So, be sure to give your worm bed a good soaking (with proper drainage) before the heavy duty cold stops by.

A very good way to protect your worms from the cold is to make a blanket (of sorts) out of the organic "hot" material and cover that with a layer of straw or hay after making certain good moisture content is available. Your worms should be okay throughout the chilly months. But, you need to do this before the really frozen months arrive! It is important not to remove this blanket before the freeze threat is gone. After the freezing weather has gone and spring pops around, add some new bedding, a good feeding of fresh commercial feed, compost or manure and your worms will be very happy and active wigglers in no time.

Worm Composting Bin Layers

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On The Hotter Side of Worm Farming

If you reside where the weather gets really hot in the summer months, be aware that anything above 86ºF (30 ºC) can harm your redworms and if you reach a bedding temperature reading above 90ºF it is likely to kill all of your worms.

When you notice your bedding is getting to hot, look around and see where it is located. Is it in direct sunlight, low ventilation, do you have enough air holes in the bin for circulation or are these hole blocked with debris? You have to do some investigation to determine the cause of this extra heating effect in your earthworm bed. In an overheating situation you may need to consider moving the worms (if in a bin) to a back closet or basement.

Add extra bedding to advance the airflow in the system. The moisture in the extra worm bedding will evaporate with the advanced airflow keeping the temperature down with the creation of cool vapor during the evaporation process. Measure the moisture content carefully so you don't let the worm bedding get too dry, creating another problem all together.

In any event, make the proper measurements when working your worm beds and if you use a non-organic heat source in the winters cold months, be certain good ventilation is provided, because fumes from gas heaters or wood stoves can kill your worms. A good rule of thumb is; If it can kill humans, it can probably kill worms!

NOW GO MEASURE YOUR WORM BINS OR BEDS FOR EVERYTHING WE LEARNED TODAY! REALLY, IT'S GOOD PRACTICE!

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Comments for "Earthworms, Worm Bed pH, Moisture, Aeration and Temperature" 4 comments

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California Author

BobbiRant~Hi Bobby! SO nice to see you cruise over for a read about earthworms of all thing. Your point on worms as a kid vs adult is quite poignant. It can very lucrative for either! I appreciate your comments so much and am thrilled to see, it's been a while.

K9


BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

I used to love to sell worms for bait as a kid, you never think of it as a 'grownup business.' Great hub.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California Author

CHICKEN? With enough seasoning doesn't everything taste like chicken? You know Micky, I have several resipes for cooking up earthworms...not that I have shared these anywhere, but maybe a new worm hub? Thanks for the read my friend!

~Always choose love~

K9


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Yo K9 Brother! Do they taste like chicken? God bless!

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