WHAT IS THAT CRITTER?
Worried that your worm farm is inhabited by more than just the average worm? Concerned you might have become a breeder of nastiest along the way? This blog identifies the most common creatures living in your worm farm, and explains how you can prevent them from conducting a hostile take over.
Before I launch in to the creepy crawly details, it is important to highlight that your worm farm is a rich eco-system comprised of thousands of microorganisms, that is, other living things. Most critters in your farm are not harmful, indeed they are helpful to the decomposition process. On this basis, my overarching advice is to embrace the diversity in your farm and recognize that critters are an important part of a thriving eco-system.
That said, critters can tell you important information about the conditions in your farm so it’s good to know what’s hanging around. It’s also useful to know how to keep critters in check if you get a little squeamish at the site of them or if they start terrorising your worms.
For a pictorial identification guide, check out the BugFiles database!
Also known as white worms these are tiny little worms that you may have mistaken for baby red wigglers and given yourself a pat on the back for being an exceptional worm breeder. They’re not, but don’t let that hard news diminish your prowess as a composter.
Pot worms are a common sight in worm farms. They are not harmful to your red wigglers, and will in fact assist the decomposition process. What you need to look out for is a sharp increase in pot worm population. I usually notice this if my farm is getting too wet, but it is also a sign that your farm is becoming a little too acidic. While an increased population of pot worms won’t hurt your red wigglers, the increased moisture and acidic conditions might. Worms thrive in a damp environment but if it gets too wet, their population will decline. Worms also like a neutral pH (between 6-7). If it dips below that, the acidic conditions will likely kill off some of your worms.
Hold off on feeding for a few days to allow your farm to dry out. Adding some dry bedding to your farm will also help decrease moisture. Dry bedding can be shredded newspaper, dried leaf mulch or garden waste, compost, coconut coir, straw or wood chips.
To neutralize your pH levels, eggshells work a real treat. Crush or grind them and add them to your farm. Dolomite lime is a good alternative. You can find dolomite lime packaged as compost ‘conditioner’ at garden outlets.
Mites are always present in my farm. They are tiny red, brown or white balls that you might see gathering in small masses – I usually find them gathering on my hessian worm ‘blanket’ on top of my farm.
There are several different varieties and colours of mites, most are harmless to your worms and some should even be encouraged because they will feed on other unwanted pests in your worm bin. If they get too populous though, the competition for food might put your worms out of a meal and stall their population growth. There is also one variety to be concerned about – the red mite. These guys are parasitic and will feed off your worms and their eggs.
To be honest, while I often see mites in my farm, I’ve never noticed them doing any harm. On this basis, I would advise not to be too alarmed by mites unless you notice a change in your worm population. If you do think they are becoming problematic, there are some simple tricks to be rid of them.
Like pot worms, mites are attracted to wet conditions so remedy the situation in the same way you would remedy a problem with pot worms. Another effective remedy for mites is to place a piece of melon rind in your bin. The mites will be attracted to the rind and you can then remove it in a day or two with mites attached (potato peel also works – it’s the sugar that attracts the mites).
In my opinion, flies are the most annoying of worm farm critters. It’s not that I’m concerned they are killing my worms, I just have an issue with them hanging around. And it makes me worry that my composting venture has inadvertently turned into a breeding ground for flies. Not ideal.
I find that in the warmer months, my farm might start to attract fruit flies or vinegar flies. You might also notice black soldier flies in the mix. Flies are not harmful to your farm. In fact, the black soldier fly larvae is an excellent composter in its own right, but like mites, they provide unnecessary competition for your worms and they might diminish the quality of your vermicompost (and again, if your like me, you just don’t want to create a breeding ground of flies!).
You can set traps for flies but in opinion, the best way to reduce flies is to ‘bury’ your food scraps in your worm farm. Flies are attracted to smell and burying waste will remove that attraction. Flies also like to lay their eggs in a food source so, again, burying your food scraps removes any incentive for flies to visit your farm. Gently work your food scraps into your bin with a garden fork. This will have the added benefit of aerating your farm so it’s an all-round useful activity and only takes an extra minute of your time.
Ants are the biggest problem in my garden at the moment. There are tonnes of them and they have seriously wreaked havoc on my pepper plants this season. I don’t have a problem with them in my worm farms, but I’m always wary of allowing them to build nests and get out of control. There are also a couple of predatory varieties (fire ants, carpenter ants, army ants), which you should be wary of.
There are a couple of organic solutions for ants, and I usually try a combination of them all to cover all bases.
- A vinegar/water mix (1:1 ratio)
- boraz and sugar mix (1:3 ratio)
- coffee grounds
Thankfully worms love coffee grounds, so you can scatter them directly into your farm. Spray vinegar/borax solutions around the outskirts of your farm to detract ants from gaining access.
These guys are just a cute pleasure to have around. In my opinion, they are an indication of a good healthy eco system. If you see these guys, give yourself a pat on the back and leave them to continue their good work.
Tiny white insects that are a very common sight in composting systems and can be quite numerous. Like the sow bug, they are a friend of your farm and should be left to contribute to the happy ecosystem.
I get slugs in my farm here and there and they fall into the same category as ants for me: that is, I remove them because they eat my plants and I don’t want them to populate.
The fun thing with slugs is that you can set beer traps for them. Place a shallow dish of beer in your garden and they will be drawn to that instead of your precious plants. Vinegar spray also works, as does salt but it also kills them.
I’ve luckily never come face-to-face with a centipede in my farm, but they are reportedly bad with a capital B. They will prey on your worms and should be removed immediately.
Millipedes on the other hand are worm-friendly. If their similar appearance presents somewhat of a conundrum in what to do with the critter, the difference is all in the legs: as their name suggest, millipedes have more legs. They feature two sets of legs per segment to a centipedes one set per segment. If you’re still struggling, the BugFiles should help!