Behavior Of Worms Within A Stackable Worm System

“Hello, I do have a couple of questions: We have a couple of tubs where a few worms are escaping out of the bottom holes. We have never had that problem before and wonder if its too cold or warm, wet or what might be the problem. Also We would like to start raising wax worms. Can they be shipped this time of the year with freezing temperatures? Thanks so much” ~ Kathy Hennings

And…

“Hello Worm Experts, I am a novice worm farmer. It’s been easy and amazing. I use a 4-tray method. I’m finally on the last tray and I look forward to harvesting the bottom tray in the spring. I regularly use the drainage from the faucet at the bottom to miraculously rejuvenate my plants. In the spring, I plan to put a cup of “golden brown substance” in a nylon sock and suspend it in a few gallon of water for a day with an aeration pump then aerate and spray the mixture in my garden. Sound ok?

Now, my second question… I live in Florida and it has been cold here and I am surprised that there is so many worm balls in the top tray. I am also surprised to find many worms escaping through the faucet and in the collecting jar… What’s going on? The temperatures have been from 20’s to 50’s for over a week here in St. Pete. Thank you for all your very interesting emails” ~ Barbara

Hi Kathy, Hi Barbara,

We have two very similar questions today, and so I will group them together and answer them at the same time.

Barbara seems to be making her own worm compost tea through aeration. As long as it is kept aerated, I believe you will have very vibrant garden in the coming spring and summer!

I am also glad that your worm leachate is providing benefits for your plants. Sometimes for inexperienced users, leachate may do more harm then good. But knowing that they rejuvenate your plants means that you are using it correctly with the correct dilution.

So thanks to both of you for an interesting question about the natural reactions and curiosity of worms!

Worms are great natural explorers, and do like to migrate and move especially when in search for new food or to find a better environment if the current one is unfavorable.

But don’t worry, as long as there isn’t a mass exodus of worms, having a few worms coming through the holes or appearing underside of the lids does not mean your worm bin environment is unfavorable.

Worms don’t mind moving to new places and are adaptable, so even when conditions are right, a few worms may go out and ‘explore’.

You haven’t seen this happen before, so why is it happening now?

Too be honest, worms coming through the holes is a very common thing when you have a stackable wormery. However a big possibility why you are seeing this happen more frequently can be due to the cold weather (although it is spring, some places are still very cold!)

In cold weathers, the natural response for worms is to find a warmer spot, and this place is usually deeper down in the soil, because there is more insulation. There are many pockets of air in soil which traps heat, and there is more shelter from winds making the depths of the soil a warmer place compared to the surface.

So what worms will do to prevent freezing is to naturally dig down.

The same will go with a wormery, worms will dig down in colder weather and with most wormeries being quite shallow no doubt they will reach the bottom of the tray. If it is still cold they will carry on migrating down and eventually move through the holes into the next tray on the bottom. This is why for Barbara you see many worms in the leachate collection tray and through the faucet.

There will also be ‘warm spots’ with the wormery, due to some food being worked on by micro-organisms a little more, and this is where worms will gather.

Although worms do not produce heat (they are cold-blooded) for them to bundle up will may also help them keep warmer and prevent themselves from freezing into worm icicles. So it will be of no surprise to see bundles of worms when temperatures are cold, it is their natural survival instinct.

So having a few worms going through the bottom holes or in the bottom tray is not a big problem and is due to low temperatures, but it will become a problem if temperatures go below freezing point because there will be no place for the worms to run to escape it.

If you start seeing many worms migrating downwards through the holes into the bottom tray and you know that temperatures are going to drop to freezing point, then do add some insulation to help the poor worms go through the harsh and difficult times.

What if temperatures are cold but are not at the freezing level?

In that case, how can we tell when there is actually a problem with the environment in the bin?

You will know that there is something wrong with the bin environment when you see crowds of worms all over the place (including the underneath of the lid), but none or very little in the organic matter. When this happens, it is an early sign there is something wrong with the feed and conditions.

If the situation is not rectified immediately then very soon you will see no worms at all within the wormery system.

The conditions you will need to check here will be:
– pH levels (is it too acidic or alkali for the worms to live in?)

– Oxygen levels (sometimes they might just need some fluffing of the bedding by hand)

– Moisture (too wet will cause anaerobic conditions / low oxygen, drain the liquid and add more absorbing materials such as paper)

– Dryness (Worms needs to be moist to breathe! Keep the bin moist but not waterlogged!)
Regarding wax worms, the ideal storage temperature is about 50°F/ 10°C

Here they can be stored for quite a few weeks due to a stasis state that they are in. Once they get to room temperature (80°F/ 25°C), they will be a lot more lively, making them a good for breeding and as a treat for pets such as lizards and geckos.

Unfortunately for wax worm breeders, freezing conditions are also unfavorable to the wax worms, and it will be best to avoid sending the worms during these times.

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