Why are my worms trying to escape?

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes



Did you just open your worm composting bin to see all of your worms clinging to the side or the top of the container? Today I will answer the question many vermicomposter’s ask which is – why are my worms trying to escape?

The good news is, this is a very common problem and is usually quite easy to fix. When I first encountered this sight when I began composting, I worried my bin was overpopulated. I wasn’t sure what I did wrong to make my worms so unhappy that they wanted to leave.

Thankfully with a little research, I came to realize this is a very common problem.

Here are a few common causes that can cause your worms to climb the walls and solutions to help you fix the problem.



Common Reasons Why Compost Worms Escape

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Your Bin Is New

One of the main reasons why your composting worms will try to escape their bin is because it’s new. If you are like many beginner vermicomposters, you are excited to get your worms in the mail or from a local seller. You’ve excitedly your new composting friends to the bin and made sure they had a little food to snack on to help them feel at home. You close the lid to let them adjust to their new home and only a few hours later you find they are clinging to the sides and not burrowing into their bedding.

To solve this problem simply leave the lid off the container in a well-lit room. Since worms are light-sensitive, they will instinctively seek out the bedding. Often leaving the lid off for 24 hours helps your worms find the bedding and make the bein their new home. If you do need to leave the lid off, be sure to check the moisture of the bedding and that it has not dried out too much.

You Overfed Your Worms

The next most common issue that has caused your red wigglers to escape is too much food all at once. When food decomposes in your bin, moisture will start to release. If you do not have a plan to drain or absorb the liquid, your bin will become uninhabitable for your worms.

The excess liquid, called leachate, is especially can be especially problematic because it can actually cause your worms to drown. Worms actually breathe through their skin, and composting worms don’t live deep in the soil like earthworms. Unlike earthworms, composting worms stay close to the surface in the leaf litter.

To correct this issue, remove nearly all of the food items and add new dry clean bedding. The dry clean bedding will absorb the excess liquid. Wait a few days with the lid off the bin to help any additional liquid evaporate.

Worm Composting Containers tote bin with compost

Once your worms return to the bedding, and you’ve corrected the problem you can start adding food again. You can safely estimate that a worm eats around half its weight in food daily. Pocket feed your worms and take note of how much you are adding to the bin, and how long it takes to disappear. As you get to know the unique factors of your bin, you can increase feeding as necessary.

Your Worm Bin Is Too Acidic

Often your worm bin will become too acidic if you overfed your worms (see the previous step) or you have fed your worms the wrong food. Some types of foods are good, some are not, and can cause your worm bin to become too acidic. When your bin becomes too acidic your worms will try to escape by crawling up the side of the bin.

It is always good to give your worms a wide variety of foods to eat. After all the diverse foods means your vermicompost will have a wide variety of nutrients. However, you must keep everything in moderation.

For example, worms do love coffee, it adds grit and a lot of different nutrients. however, if you add too much coffee to your bin, you will raise the pH and kill your worms.

Most redworms prefer a pH around 7.0, but they can live in pH levels of 4.2 to 8.0 or higher. You must be more mindful of this when you are composting in a small space or apartment. In an outdoor bin, a worm can wiggle away from the problematic food. In a small bin, a worm’s only choice is to climb the sides to escape.

If you’re new to worm composting, here is a list of foods that worms do and do not like.

Foods worms want to eat

  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
    • Lettuce
    • Carrots
    • Squash
    • Leafy greens
    • Peas
    • Beans
    • Apples
    • Watermelon rind
    • Banana peels
    • plums & peaches
  • Eggshells, crushed in mortar and pestle or blender
  • Coffee Grounds and filters
  • Tree leaves
  • Garden Waste

Foods worms want to escape

  • Citrus fruits and peels
  • Meat & Dairy products
  • Oil
  • Human or pet waste

It’s important to note that redworms do love aged horse manure. However, you may not want to add it to your indoor worm composting bin.

I’ll let you decide if that’s right for you.

You don’t have the right bedding

Finally, it may be as simple as just having the wrong bedding. It is common that you create your first bin, and make some mistakes. Many people make the mistake of adding too much dirt, soil, and leaves from the outdoors. Often this is not the right bedding for apartment composting. Like we mentioned above, worms like to live in the leaf litter. While adding some leaves from the outside can be helpful, adding too much can increase your bin temperature, or add unwanted pests.

Instead of using found materials from the outdoors, consider using composted paper. It’s important to note that black ink on newspapers has been found to be non-toxic to red wigglers, you should avoid colored ink. Both newspapers and cardboard absorb a lot of liquid and prevent your bin from becoming waterlogged.

You can also add coconut coir, peat moss, old decaying leaves. Just be sure that they are not treated with any additional products. For example, read to ensure that the coconut coir is organic. As sometimes it’s used as a potting soil additive, and can contain plant fertilizers. In the case of leaves, pick them from the middle of the yard, not next to the road. This is because leaves next to the road have been exposed to more toxic car exhaust.

Summary of Why Compost Worms Escape

In the beginning, you will need to experiment a little bit. Don’t be afraid to act like a scientist and experiment until you get it right.

With a little testing, you will get your bedding moist enough that the worms can live, but not too much that they can’t breathe. Schedule regular pocket feedings, and figure out what they like to eat. And a good tip that never really hurts is just taking the lid off for a few hours and let the air circulate.

Thanks for reading, and happy composting!

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