For the past couple of weeks, I noticed that I was not seeing much liquid in the bottom reservoir of my worm bin. There are a lot of misconceptions about the liquid that settles at the bottom of a bin and the popular natural fertilizer, worm tea. They are not the same and the liquid at the bottom of your bin can in fact be toxic. That being said, a lack of this liquid could indicate a problem with your worm farm. So if your bin isn’t producing liquid, it’s important to understand why.
Why is your worm farm not producing liquid? A worm farm not producing liquid is usually the result of one or more of the following:
- Evaporation/lack of moisture
- pH imbalance
- Clogged drainage filter
Specific steps can be taken to evaluate and correct each of these issues.
Just like gardening, worm farming is more than a one-step process. Let’s learn more about vermicomposting and some clever tips for troubleshooting your lack of liquid. We’ll also learn how to correct issues with a few simple and easy solutions.
Distinctions Between Worm Leachate And Worm Tea
The term worm tea is often used when referring to the liquid that settles at the bottom of a worm bin. But that liquid is actually something called Leachate. Worm tea is an end product that can be produced with worm castings and can provide valuable nutrients for your garden, flowers, or plants. So, while many vermicomposters use the term worm tea interchangeably when referring to leachate, it is not the same.
Reasons A Worm Farm Might Not Produce Liquid
The truth is, your worm bin should not produce excessive amounts of fluid. A small amount of liquid seeping through to the reservoir below indicates a healthy moisture level in the bin. But it’s really about balance. Too much moisture and a lack of sufficient drainage could result in worms drowning. Too little moisture and the worms can dry up and die. So, if your worm bin doesn’t seem to be producing any liquid at all, consider these possible causes:
Evaporation & Low Moisture Levels
Some worm farmers find that in high heat/low humidity the liquid will actually evaporate back into the air before they have a chance to harvest it. Desert climates are especially challenging for worm farmers. Along these same lines is the problem of a bin being too dry. If the bin lacks sufficient moisture, any liquid produced by your worms will be absorbed back into the bedding before it can drip into the lower reservoir.
Monitoring moisture levels in your farm will help you gauge what is going on in there and let you know if you need to adjust moisture up or down. You can purchase an inexpensive moisture meter (link to Amazon) or just poke around with your fingers to make sure the bedding is nice and moist.
If it gets too dry not only will your worms appear to stop producing tea, they could die as stated earlier or may start trying to escape their bin.
The pH Level in Your Compost Isn’t Correct
Other than evaporation and low moisture being the source of your problem, there also can be signs that point to a chemical imbalance. Check on the PH levels periodically to make sure they are between 6.0 and 7.0. Your worms can tolerate up to 8.0 but I have found that aiming for 6-7 is the sweet spot.
You can review our recommended composting products to see pH meter that can be used to monitor your vermicompost.
Carefully monitor the amount and types of food scraps that you are putting into your bin. Giving them too much food can cause rotting if they cannot eat it quickly enough, producing an imbalance in their environment.
Remember: Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Give your worms enough food that they can consume it within a few days before it begins to rot and smell.
Clogged Drainage Screens
Depending on the style of the worm bin, a screen or holes are usually found in the bottom which allows for excess fluid to drain away from the bedding. These can be become clogged when wet cardboard and shredded paper becomes compacted as a result of excessive wetness. Be sure to check this and if you see that paper products are clogging the drains, consider easing up on the amount of moisture added for a few days. It’s best to spray water into the bin, not pour it.
How Much Liquid Should A Worm Farm Produce?
This is a difficult question to answer since the size of your bin and the number of worms all play a role. However, as a general rule, your worm bin should produce enough liquid that it is necessary to empty the fluid at least once every few months. If you have a large bin that holds a substantial number of worms, your farm will produce significantly more liquid (source).
Generally, you can increase liquid production to some degree by ensuring that you are keeping your bin moist and providing adequate amounts of water-rich foods such as melon. But remember, you should not be seeing a lot of fluid seeping from your bin. If you do, it likely indicates that the bedding is too wet.
About The Liquid in Your Worm Bin
The liquid that seeps to the bottom of your worm farm is usually brown in color which is why so many people mistakenly refer to it as worm tea. This liquid is often thought to be a great fertilizer but in reality, it can be toxic to your garden.
The reason for this is that the liquid seeps through the bin collecting harmful pathogens from decaying food which can result in contaminated soil in your garden (source).
True worm tea, on the other hand, is a complete fertilizer, meaning it needs nothing else. It is packed with all the nutrients and goodness that your plants need to thrive. That being said, you can multiply the benefits to your plants by combining the nutrient-rich power of worm tea with worm castings. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Arizona found that worm tea increased the production of seeding during their testing. When combined with worm castings, the benefit was further enhanced (source).
How To Use Worm Tea
This video outlines the process of creating true worm tea from worm castings.
If you cannot use the worm tea right away, you can add a teaspoon full of molasses and leave the lid off of the jug for ventilation. This doesn’t have any preservatives like the store-bought brands, so it won’t last for more than a day or two. Best practice though is to use it the same day.
The brands on store shelves are often made with preservatives, which supposedly make it last longer. But they rarely work as well as the home-brewed stuff, and you are possibly polluting your garden with all their added preservatives. If you are striving for organic gardening, this may be an excellent fertilizer choice.
Dealing With Unwelcome Guests in Your Worm Farm
You have a box full of decaying food scraps, worms, and dirt. It is bound to catch the attention of at least a few unwanted guests, especially if your bin is outside. The smells and promise of a good meal can attract all sorts of pests such as:
- Flies and Fruit Flies (eventually maggots)
- Bees and Wasps
- Ants and Other Insects
- Stray Cats and Dogs
- Crows, Hawks and Other Birds
- Lions, Tigers and Bears-Oh My!
Unwelcome guests can ruin your worm farm if you don’t get ahead of them. Not only will they eat up your worm’s food scraps, but they may also go after your worms. They can contaminate the soil as well.
But here’s another issue: If pests are getting into your compost bin, your worms may be stressed and not composting your kitchen scraps because they are focused on survival. This results in food scraps not being eaten, which causes even more smells and attracts additional pests.
So how do you stop them? A lid for your farm can be a good place to start. Cut off their access points and stop the havoc before it even starts. Your lid can be made out of whatever material that works best for you. Just make sure that there are sufficient air holes in the bin. Putting these holes along the side is usually recommended to prevent drenching from rain.
Diatomaceous Earth (link to Amazon) is an all-natural powder made from soft sedimentary rock. Using it around your worm farm can be a very effective method for keeping out critters. Be careful not to get any into your worm farm or it could exterminate your worms, too. Wear a face mask and gloves when working with DE powder.
Finally, you may consider just keeping your worm bin indoors, either in your home or in a shed or garage. This provides a level of control not only with pests but also moisture and humidity levels. This is ultimately what I decided to do. It’s also a great solution for composting through the winter when you keep them out of the elements.
Your worm farm should not produce an excessive amount of fluid but if there is none at all it could indicate the issues we’ve outlined. Monitor moisture levels and pH and keep critters away.
Award-winning farms have all the best elements and produce top-notch tea. Although I’m not trying to win any awards with my worm bin and doubt you are either, we can still steal the best practices from those who have come before us:
- Quality of Farm Placement – Choose the best place in your yard or indoors.
- Quality of Worm – Purchase composting worms from a trusted source. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm has sold red wiggler composting worms for years (link to Amazon).
- Quality of Food Scraps – You get out what you put in. Feed them scraps that they can consume and that will add nutrients to your soil. If you are vegan, be sure to read our article on “Is vermicomposting vegan?“
- Quality of Climate – You can’t always control the weather, but you can monitor and adjust moisture properly.
- Lack of Pests – Keep out the critters for a clean, healthy and thriving worm farm.
And finally, in the end, don’t make this harder than it has to be. I overthink these things so that you don’t have to. Use some common sense and keep your bin in balance. If you do that, your worms should grow, thrive and produce valuable natural fertilizer for your garden or plants.
To truly understand the factors of maintaining a successful worm bin, be sure to read How Long Can Red Wiggler’s Go Without Food? where we break down the five key elements of a balanced vermicomposting bin.