Why my worms “escape”?

It is not uncommon to see worms gathering on the underside of the worm farm lid, or on top of your worm blanket, however it is generally nothing to worry about. They may not necessarily be trying to escape and may not be in any distress. In this article we look at various reasons why your worms are moving up out of the bedding, if and when you should be concerned and what to do if there is a problem. Most of the time they are quite happily moving around exploring and there is nothing to worry about.

worms on the rim of hungry bin worm farm

Why worms move up in the worm farm? Are they escaping?

Worms are nomadick, curious creatures and will often travel around the bin above the bedding and blanket and over the lid. This is quite normal and not a problem unless they are massed in a ball or big clumps, which means they are stressed. When really stressed they will exude an unpleasant smell and produce a froth. This is usually when the environmnet inside the worm farm, expecially in the area where the food is become toxic to them because of excessive food, acidity, heat or lack of oxygen.

Here are some factors that can motivate the worms to travel across the surface:

Humidity–  If it is very humid, or if the worms sense it is going to rain they may move to ‘higher ground’, which in a worm farm is the lid and sides. You will notice worms can sometimes be seen on footpaths just before it rains; they are doing this to avoid being drowned in their burrows in heavy rain (they are need oxygen to breath just like us).

Worms are over 90% water so if there is a lot of moisture in the air they are quite comfortable moving around. On the other hand, they will not survive long in dry air, especially when it is hot. When the rain passes or humidity decreases, they will move soon back down into the bedding.

Food quantity– If you feed your worms on a regular basis and suddenly stop feeding, you may also find that they wander to the top to check what’s going on after they finish their food. In fact, this is quite a good sign that your worms are active and have a good appetite.

They are creatures of habit and if the quantity of food they are expecting hasn’t arrived in time, they will just move up a bit to see if they can find more. Usually in this case, as soon as you start feeding them again, they will happily stay underneath the worm blanket (if you have one) and keep munching through the fresh goodies you have given them.

What should I do?

If your worms are moving to the top due to temporary change of air humidity or reduced food quantity mentioned above, then you do not need to worry too much.

However, if you see LOTS of worms gathering around the surface, especially in a big clump at the rim of the bin, they may be attempting to escape stressful conditions and it is the time to take action;

– Insert a thermometer into the centre of the feed layer and check if it is below 30oC (Check temperature in different places and depths.) If it is much higher than this, try adding a frozen bottle of water to provide a cool zone to cool it down. Watch the video and see Richard demonstrating the “frozen bottle” technique to keep worms nice and cool.

– In the case that the worm farm is not too hot, there may be rotting food in the bin from overfeeding, which is causing toxic conditions the worms are trying to escape from. Use a little garden fork or hand cultivator to stir and see if there is any bad smell coming from your worm farm. If that’s the case, remove any rotting food that hasn’t been consumed by the worms, mix in more brown material (shredded paper and cardboard) and give the feed layer (top 15-20cm of your worm farm) a good toss to keep everything aerated.

– Only add brown material and cease from feeding them fresh food waste until the smell is gone. You can also add in some ground eggshells or Wormlovers special worm farm conditioner to get the balance back to normal.

a green worm farm with lid open
It is quite common to see a few worms coming up to explore. But rest assured, they won’t come out of the worm farms.

They also move downwards sometimes…

In worm farms that have multiple trays with the worm juice compartment at the bottom, you may also find worms moving down to the worm juice tray on very hot days, as it tends to be cooler there. They can also find food and enough oxygen to inhabit the lower parts of the system for long periods of time. In the more advanced Hungry Bin Worm Farms, the bedding material and castings becomes compacted at the bottom, making it hard for the worms to go downwards.

Remember worms are resilient intelligent creatures that have evolved to a stable state of equilibrium with their environment and usually quite happy in a worm farm that is maintained within the wide survival threshold they are used to. By observing their behaviour over time you will attune to their needs and they will reward you handsomely.

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