Worm Composting; Mites & Other Critters

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“I probably introduced mites by adding old grass clippings that I dampened before adding to the bin. I started the three section Can O’ Worms a month and a half ago and just started seeing mites about a week and a half ago, after adding the grass. We fertilize the grass organically so I thought it would be a great idea. I tried putting a dampened piece of newspaper on top of the food and then a few watermelon rinds to attract the mites, with the intention of scooping them up and getting rid of them before the worms gravitated to the rind.

The worms beat me. At this point I am afraid that the mites will get on me if I try to remove the worms. My obvious question is how do you get rid of the mites without hurting the worms. Should I take the bin out of the basement? Are mites attracted to humans? And am I creating a situation where I will need an exterminator? Will it help to open the bins to the sun for a short time? Thank you” ~ Connie W.

Hi Connie,

I must admit that your questions made me smile a little. I’ve been fascinated with all manner of ‘critters’ for most of my life, so I often take for granted the fact that there are a lot of people who are less than thrilled to find some of these organisms in their worm bins.

Of course, it is perfectly normal to feel that way, but hopefully I can help to put your mind a little more at ease. 🙂

As I discussed in a recent newsletter, there is a vast array of tiny creatures (most invisible to the naked eye) at work in a vermicomposting system. It is only natural to assume that the worms are the only ones needed, but the fact is they aren’t even the most important organisms in a worm bin (microbes definitely own that title).

Regarding your questions…

Mites can be introduced into a vermicomposting system via any number of possible routes – very often they actually come with the worms themselves, but aren’t noticeable since they are either so few in number, or come in the form of eggs/juveniles.

Based on the fact that you found mites springing up very soon after adding grass, it is certainly reasonable to suspect the grass as the transport mechanism. That being said, it’s important to remember that the sudden appearance of various organisms can also simply be a response to the presence of a new food resource, or more favorable conditions in general.

For example, I’ve had bins that seemed to be free of mites, but as soon as I added some water-rich wastes, such as watermelon, cantaloupe etc, suddenly a population of mites seemed to spring up out of nowhere.

Attracting the mites with watermelon rinds (or other similar materials) is a great idea, but, as you’ve discovered, the worms are huge fans of these materials as well, so it will be tough to keep them away. I’ve found worms literally buried in rinds I’ve added to my bins.

As far as getting rid of mites goes, this can certainly be a major challenge. Based on my own observations, it seems that most of the ‘annoying’ varieties like really wet conditions. You might want to try leaving the lid of your bin off for periods of time and/or add some dry, absorbent bedding to help wick up excess moisture. In my exposed bins (i.e. the ones with a lot more air flow) I don’t find the mites to be nearly as abundant.

Your suggestion of leaving the bin in the sun is a good idea – just be careful not to bake the worms while you are at it. Hot summer sun can certainly heat up a black plastic bin in a hurry! Taking the bin out of the basement might not make much of a difference, since conditions inside the bin won’t really change. I’ve found them in warmer and cooler bins so I don’t think temperature change will make much of a difference.

In all honesty, you have absolutely nothing to be concerned about when it comes to these mites. There are a HUGE array of mite species in the world, and indeed some of them are parasites of one sort or another – perhaps some of them even parasitic on humans. BUT, be assured that the types of mites found in a worm bin are adapted for that (or a similar) environment.

Many of them simply consume decomposing organic matter, while others are predators, feeding on some of the other creatures that can be found in a worm bin. There are a few species of mites known to be worm parasites, but these don’t seem to be very common – especially not in small-scale home systems.

Mites definitely are not attracted to humans, and like the worms, would be more than happy to avoid all contact with us if at all possible. If you are creeped out by them, you should try wearing rubber dish gloves when working in the bin. There is certainly no shame in doing so – I prefer wearing them myself (although this is partially to save having to brush gunk out from under my finger nails all the time – haha).

Bottom-line, you definitely DON’T need to call the exterminator. I don’t imagine they would have anything specifically designed for worm bin mites anyway. 🙂

Anyway, I’m not sure that I’ve provided you with any peace of mind here, Connie! Hopefully the information I’ve shared will at least help you to gain a bit more perspective on your mite situation.

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