Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moisture Level in Your Worm Bin: Vermicomposting in the Philippines

Today I'll talk a little more about worm bin moisture.  What is the proper level of moisture?  How can you tell?  What happens if the moisture level is off? 

I've been vermicomposting for about seven months now.  It doesn't seem like a long time, but I have seen a good number of bin conditions.  I've had content worms and restless worms.   Let me share a couple of things I've observed over the months. 

I had a small bin before that was really wet.  The contents were minimal but water puddled at the lower end (the floor was slightly tilted I guess).  Guess where the worms stayed?  They stayed in the wettest part of the bin.  That tells me that worms are not averse to moisture per se.   I also have a big aquarium that has some leftover water.  It's flooded but I do have paper sticking out about 5-6 inches above water.  The worms are thriving in that aquarium.  In both bins, worms didn't try to escape.  

So is excess moisture always good?  Let me answer it this way.  I also have a couple of bins with excess moisture where worms escape on a daily basis.   The difference I believe is the amount of content.   In the bins where worms tried to escape, I had hundreds of worms inside aside from being packed to the brim with lots of paper.  My best guess is that in these bins, the packed paper combined with the excess moisture limited airflow within the bin. 

So how should you manage the moisture content in your worm bin?  The fuller the worm bin, the less moisture you're allowed, especially if the contents pack together.   You need a few holes for bins with limited content;  you need a few dozen more for bins with more content.   Check the sides and the lid for moisture.  If there's condensation, you can either add some dry bedding or leave the lid off (but keep the lights on).  In my case, I add dry bedding, leave the lid off in the daytime and I turn the contents to keep the contents from packing together. 

These days, I hardly even add water.  The food I put in is usually enough to keep the contents wet.  Sure the top dries out and I get worried.  But when I check the bottom, the vermicompost is usually not fluffy.  That means it's still wet.  I just turn the contents.   Since I have small bins too, I sometimes turn the bins upside down so the moisture goes down to the dry contents.   I wonder if my worms get dizzy when I do that. 

A cool thing I've also discovered is that I add dry whole paper just below the lid so there's a paper filter between the bin and the lid.  It discourages the worms from crawling out because they'd have to crawl through dry paper.  It also helps absorb excess moisture.  How do I know?  Even if the piece of paper doesn't touch the contents, it'll be soft due to moisture by morning. 

That's it for now. I've already said a mouthful.   Happy worming!


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