Worm Movement In A Can-O-Worms System

“My friend Charlie gave me your email address so I hope you can help me. I have had my worm farm for just on a year now and it was going find until a few weeks ago. The problem is that my worms keep going down stairs into the very bottom tray instead of going upstairs into the next tray.

I have a Can-O-Worms system. I haven’t watered them for some time but they seem very very moist what is going wrong and what can I do to rectify the problem?. Would much appreciate some advice.” ~ Barbara Wyeth

Hi Barbara,

Just to clarify for everyone, you have a can-o-worms system which is a continuous stackable wormery.

It is composed of a bottom unit, which is to collect the leachate liquid and has an attached tap to run it off. On top of the bottom unit are trays which can stack on top of each other, with each tray having a perforated base.

The idea is that the 1st tray will contain worms with the organic material mixed in with it. The worm will start decomposing the organic waste into wormcast. Once the 1st tray is full, a second tray will be added on top of the 1st tray, and once again food will be added.

What will start to happen is that the worms in the 1st tray will run out of food, and the natural response for worms is to start climbing up in search of a new food source.

Worms are very flexible, and will start to squeeze themselves through the holes of the 2nd perforated tray base to reach the next level of food. What you are left with is the 1st tray full of wormcast separated from the worms.

Now your problem seems to be that the worms are not going to the next level up, but instead the next level down. Without seeing your wormery I can not determine the reason why they are doing this, but there are a few common explanations.

First of all, worms don’t usually go back down to the wormcast they have created. Wormcast is slightly toxic to them and therefore encourages them to move away to create wormcast somewhere else. So one of the reasons is that there is still more food in the 1st tray, therefore the worms have no incentive to leave and migrate to the second tray to look for more food.

Have you also checked whether the base of the 2nd tray is touching the surface of the organic material in the 1st tray?

It is a common mistake that many people leave a gap between the base of the 2nd tray with the material in the first tray. Worms cannot jump, and therefore they won’t be able to reach the holes and get through them.

When they find out that there is no way to go upwards and that there is no food source above them, their natural reaction will be to travel everywhere else to look for food, even back through their wormcast and further down. This is why they may pass through to the tray underneath.

The 2nd tray needs to be resting on top of the organic material, this way the worms will moves very naturally upwards through the holes into the 2nd tray as they need to find more food.

The last potential reason for your worms adventure downwards is that they don’t like the new food or new environment in the new tray, even though they it might be the same type of food you feed them every day!

The new tray will be really fresh in bedding and organic waste. Even the microbe levels will be much lower compared to the 1st tray. To help ease your worms to the next tray try mixing some of the 1st tray materials with the new bedding in the 2nd tray (don’t worry if you bring some worms along with it).

What this will do is to recreate their current environment in the new tray so that your worms will not think they are going into uncharted territory. As they ease their way through upwards through the holes, they will be introduced back to a similar environment, they will probably believe that they had never left!

Hope this helps!

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