Red spaghetti at rim of compost bin

kebleFebruary 19, 2009

There are so many red worms congregating at the top of my compost bin that it looks like spaghetti. I've done a search here and read the 'too many worms' thread. Another post mentioned excessive dampness as the cause of the worms gathering at the lid so I have been conscientiously dumping more browns in there. However this past weekend a gardening Q+A column in an English newspaper explained that the worms come to the top when the bin is too hot and the recommended action is to leave the lid off for awhile. I thought heat was desirable and in fact was on the verge of wrapping a bit of old carpet around the bin until I read that. So my question is: is my red spaghetti a bad thing? I've been flipping the tangle of worms back into the bin but my son thinks this is cruel as they're obviously trying to escape......

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Unless you are vermicomposting, using red wiggler worms to digest your material worms are not a significant part of the digestions process. If your are vermicomposting and the "bedding" is getting too warm for the worms there is not sufficient moisture in the mixture.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 7:06AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

If you are hot composting in a bin, I'd remove those worms and put them in the garden bed. They come to the top to feed, especially if it's dark(they avoid light). As mentioned above vermicomposting and hot composting are very different. I see a few worms in my hot compost pile when I turn it, but I know they can escape back to the soil or at least retreat to a cooler area.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 7:26AM
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keble

Thanks for the replies! No, I'm not vericomposting - or at least, that wasn't my intent....kimmsr, if my mixture isn't wet enough then I should stop adding extra browns, right? ( which I was doing as per the advice of a previous posting which explained red worms at the surface as a result of a too-wet bin...) Yes, my bin is dark - it's a black round plastic bottomless bin, set on the ground, with a cover. the kind our local council subsidizes for us. This is my second year of composting and I've gotten great stuff from this bin - just don't remember all these worms. rj hythloday - your posting reinforces what our local paper said: bin is too hot so the worms rise to the top to get cool - so perhaps I should leave the lid off more...will keep experimenting. bottom line seems to be that worms are good!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 9:06AM
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annpat(5-Maine)

Where did the worms originate from? Did you seed them into your bin? If they're living there, in a bottomless bin, of their own accord, I'd leave them alone. If they really wanted to escape, wouldn't they leave via the bottom? That's how my worms come and go.

Just how red are British red worms anyway? Tomato sauce red?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 10:46AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Yep, I was assuming a tumbler, since it's open bottom I'd just leave the worms, they'll come and go as they please and can escape any extra heat. They come to the top to feed, or at least as high as it's dark. My worm bin has no lid and a light always on to keep the night crawlers from crawling away, the reds don't wander as much. My hot compost bins get worms in them but I rely on the microbes of hot composting to break things down.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 11:47AM
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keble

No, I didn't seed the worms. They just appeared. I agree - if they really wanted to get out, why not burrow through the soil at the bottom? When my son accuses me of cruelty for flipping the 'escaping' worms back in the bin, I explain that I am really helping them as they are trying to get IN not OUT. He doesn't buy that though.

How red are the Brit worms? A pale tomato sauce - more tinned spaghetti than a hearty Italian bolognaise. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 12:44PM
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nancybeetoo(wOR USDAz8)

keble: A few questions:

How hot is your pile? Can you borrow a kitchen thermometer to stick in the middle? If it's much over 100F (38C) then the worms might indeed be trying to get away from the heat.

If the bin is cool, then try digging into the top to see if the compost is swarming with worms. If it is, then I would say "Yipee my compost is vermicomposting excellently". The worms at the top may be just excess population looking for another food source. Scoop them up and give them to a friend.

And a third question. Does the compost smell bad. I mean really bad, like rotten eggs. I assume it doesn't smell rotten or you would have mentioned it already. But if it did, then the worms might be looking for clean air and oxygen. Leaving the lid open or at least cracked open will help them. Bad smells go with too wet and letting some of the moisture evaporate will help.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 3:48PM
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annpat(5-Maine)

Oh! Good point.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 4:10PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

keble - you have brandlings. They will arrive by themselves and leave by themselves. They will sort out the heat issue without your help. You don't need to do anything. They are not the same species as the common earth worm (Lumbricus terrestris) so there is no point putting them on the garden. They will not be happy there. Here is a link (the picture is not as red as they are in my compost heap.) I know what you mean about spaghetti - they can form huge writhing clumps. Just try opening up the heap when there's a robin around.

Here is a link that might be useful: brandlings

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 4:38PM
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keble

More replies! Thanks, everyone. Nancy - I don't know how hot my pile is but there are worms twisting around all the way through. And there is no smell at all.. Flora, as you're in the UK too, maybe you saw the newspaper gardening Q+A I mentioned: it was Stephen Anderton in last weekend's Times: http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/gardens/article5724913.ece - it's the first Q after that witch hazel article. He's saying the worms just want a bit of air - which seems to be the consensus here. So I guess I've succeeded in vericomposting? I'm tempted to set up a separate vericomposting bin, scooping a big plate of 'spaghetti' into it and then see what happens with my 'hot pile.' Oh, and off topic but Flora, how did you figure out w hat zone you were in??? I put myself down as USDA zone 6 for outskirts of London but it's just guess work.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:41AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Sorry Keble, not a Times reader so didn't see that letter.

As to the zone question I don't really remember it was so long ago. I think I had an old gardening book with a map in the front. But essentially zones are not a meaningful concept in the UK. I decided on 8 because it was roughly right based on Winter minimum temps. However, in the US zone 8 gets much hotter summers than we do. While we happily grow rosemary and bay trees through the winter, which many US gardeners can only dream of, we have trouble ripening peaches and peppers which they find trivial in their hot summers, even in places with cold winters. I find these forums very interesting because gardening is so different in the US and people are dealing with such a wide range of conditions. Even the idea of what 'a garden' is seems to be different. I find it fascinating.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 2:11PM
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shebear(z8 NCentralTex)

I've noticed all my outdoors worms seem to "come to the surface" in the early spring. I'm thinking it must be the desire to procreate that does it.

Really makes me happy to see all the nightcrawlers I have in the spring. I don't see as many the rest of the year but in the spring I think every one is within 6 inches of the surface. Big ones, little ones and middle sized ones!!! Talk about lots of worm poop.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 6:03PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Worms, no matter which, need a very moist environment to live and work in, so the presence of worms indicates that your compost is too wet, they would not be there if it was only moist enough for the aerobic bacteria to work. Add dryer material but be sure the C:N ratio is roughly where it should be.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 7:57AM
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keble

Can the compost pile be both too wet AND too hot? Those aren't mutually exclusive conditions, are they? I will up the browns, as per kimmsr's suggestion, and also try to leave the lid off a little to cool things down. How about if I add a lot of bread? (I've just stumbled across that very long thread on newbies which inspired me to search 'bread' in this forum - really enjoyable reading!)

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 8:04AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Yep, I've thought about posting pics of compost pron featuring lots of soggy moldy bread for annpat. I've got a few loaves that need to be cleaned out of the cupboard today infact.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 9:50AM
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annpat(5-Maine)

What in the name of heaven is wrong with you two!?!! It's not even noon (not even breakfast in some places, I've heard) and you're making everyone sick.

It's Saturday. What is wrong with you, rj, that you want to generate such universal stomach churning on a nice day? (It's sunny in Maine today, and everything was going swell.) You had a bad Friday night, didn't you, and now you're going to make us all miserable?

And keble, you're no better.

Here is a link that might be useful: keble's compost pile

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 11:54AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Sorry, just having fun. I did make a contribution to the cp when cleaning the cupboard today though.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 12:11PM
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annpat(5-Maine)

Fun?! Fun?!
That's your idea of fun?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 12:38PM
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keble

Hee hee (the polite English lady version of LMAO). No, I don't have any planarians in my compost - I ran right out and checked after I read that hilarious thread. You do have a phobia, you know? A little desensitization therapy might work wonders - Just teasing you in Maine, all the way from Surrey, England. And I'm sorry, I know phobias aren't funny. Son - he who speaks out for escaping worms/brandlings - is scared to death of velcro.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 1:59PM
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