To tell if your worms are alive use a small spade to move the top soil back. Live worms will quickly move away when touched or exposed to light. Worms that wriggle and move back into the soil are alive and healthy.
Easy steps to tell if your worms are alive
- Lift the lid of your worm farm to see if any worms are moving on top of the worm blanket
- Move the worm blanket back and expose the worms to light to see if they move
- Move the top soil back gently with a spade to find worms and see if the worms move
- Lift back any food scraps to see if worms are hiding in the scraps
- If you can’t find your worms, tip the worm bedding out into a wheelbarrow to check on your worms.
Do these steps in order because it is best to avoid disturbing your worms as much as you can. It is best to only tip your worms out as a last resort if you are really unsure if they are alive.
How to tell if worms are alive the easy way
It can be easy to tell if your worms are alive in the warm weather because they will quickly move away from you when you touch them or they are exposed to light. It the cooler weather they are slower to move and it can be more difficult to tell if they are alive or dead. Even slow worms will move when you touch them so you should be able to tell.
What to do if your worms are not moving
- If they are too dry add water with the spray nozzle on your hose
- If they are too wet, open the bottom tap and allow the water to drain out well. Don’t add any more food scraps until the worm farm dries out.
- Add sugar cane mulch to the top to absorb excess water.
- Keep them in a cool area: make sure they are in a well shaded spot and move them in a garden shed or under a shady tree.
How long do worms live in a worm farm?
Composting worms will live for around 1 year in your worm farm. They reproduce well if they are given the right conditions. Keep worms cool, moist, fed and with space to breed.
You won’t need to replace or add more worms to your worm farm if you have it functioning well. Worms will breed and produce a population above what you started with. If you have a tiered worm farm, you can buy more levels and provide more room for your worms. Worms will travel up to the higher layers to eat the food scraps and start to reproduce.
Your worm population is determined by the size of your worm farm and you won’t notice worms dying. Your worm farm as a whole will keep growing and living if they are kept moist, well fed and in a cool spot.
How to tell if worms are dead or alive
To tell if your worms are dead or alive, you will need to observe them moving. Moving worms are alive. If your worms are not moving at all and not crawling away from the light, they are likely to be dead.
In very cool weather worms will start to move slower and will head to deeper ground more slowly than in warmer weather. As long as the worms are moving they are still alive. If the weather is warm and your worms are still moving slowly, they might be unhappy.
Check the 3 factors again, food, moisture and shade. Most worm farms fail because of lack of moisture or getting too hot. Worms can actually live off of the worm farm organic matter for around 4 weeks without adding extra food scraps so it is rare that they will starve. Check warmth and water first and see if these are the issue.
Sometimes we can become a bit too enthusiastic and feed our worms too much. This can lead to too much moisture in our worm farms, and rotting smelly food. This will attract insects and create an unpleasant environment for your worms.
Adding coffee grounds might seem like a good idea but they can actually lead to worm death. Many worm farmers report success with adding coffee grounds to worm farms but studies have shown that this isn’t a great idea. Check out my previous article here for more on using coffee grounds in your garden.
How to tell if worms are happy
Happy worms will be breaking down food, laying eggs and reproducing. They will group together and eat food at the surface of your worm farm and eat food scraps and bacteria. You will see lots of small white eggs buried through the worm bedding and tiny baby worms that have newly hatched.
A happy, healthy worm farm will have a worms that are a range of sizes. This means that the worms are breeding and are happy. They will be producing worm castings or ‘vermicompost’ and there will be worm juice flowing through the worm farm out of the tap or hole at the bottom of the worm farm.
How to tell if a worm is alive or dying
To tell if a worm is alive or dying you need to see if it moves. A worm that is alive will move quickly away from light or movement. A dying worm will move very slowly or not at all. Very slow moving worms can be the first sign that your worm farm is not healthy. Although your worms are not yet dead, they might be struggling.
Unless it is very cold weather where worms will naturally slow down their movements it is a sign that you need do something to fix it. Here are some things to check to make sure your worm farm is set up for success and healthy worms.
- The worm farm is damp but not soaking wet
- The worms have food, food scraps or fall leaves to eat
- The worm farm is draining well, the tap is open at the bottom of the worm farm or the hole is clear and worm juice is coming out
- The worm farm is in a cool, shaded area. It doesn’t get too hot during the day.
- The worms have enough bedding, make sure they have at least 4-5 inches of bedding to live in.
Why your worm farm failed and what to do next
If your worm farm fails and your worms are dead worms this is a good opportunity to make sure that you are keeping a healthy environment for them, feeding them well and keeping them damp. Here are the man reasons your worm farm will fail and what you can do about it
Your worm farm is getting too hot
One of the most common causes of worm death is the worm farm getting too hot. Finding a shady spot in your garden or garage is important, especially because most worm farms are made out of black plastic. They can heat up to very high temperatures quickly when left in the sun.
Your worm farm is too dry
The next biggest cause of worm death is letting the worm farm dry out. Adding food scraps to your worm farm regularly will add a lot of moisture to your worm farm and it may be all that you need to keep your worm farm moist. If you live in a warm, dry area you may need to spray your worm farm down with water, especially on very hot days.
If you add water to your worm farm, you will find that you will get more worm juice as the water flows through the worm castings and catches some of the nutrients. Check your worm farm every day to see if it needs water added and this could save your worms from dying.
Cover your worm farm with a worm blanket, cardboard or newspaper. This will help to keep your worm farm moist and dark, making it a great environment for your worms. To find out more about worm blanket alternatives, check out this article.
Your worm farm is too wet
Another cause of worm death can be too much water. Worms can drown if you leave the tap closed on the bottom of your worm farm and it fills up with water. If you are expecting heavy downfalls of rain and there is poor drainage, your worm farm can become too wet.
Cover your worm farm with a tarp temporarily while the heavy rains pass. Make sure the tap is open and leave a container under the tap to collect the worm tea, this should save your worms from drowning.
Your worms are not getting enough food
If you don’t feed your worms enough food including worm scraps, fall leaves or mulch they can actually starve in your worm farm.
Your worms rely on you to give them all of their food and water. Make sure you pay attention to your worm farm and add food regularly. Small amounts of food given regularly is a good idea as you can work out how much food your worms are getting. If you add too much food, it can make your worm farm too wet, smell or attract bugs.
Your worms are getting too much food
If your worms get too much food they can die off. To help your worm farm and stop your worms from dying is to hold back on the food. While not feeding them enough can be a problem, often feeding worms too much is the cause of the in-balance in the worm farm itself.
If you have been giving your worms plenty of food scraps, hold back for 2-3 weeks to let them settle back in. There should be enough organic matter in the worm farm to keep them full for that period of time. This gives them the chance to recover and for moisture levels to balance out.
What happens to dead worms
Worms will naturally die over time in your worm farm but it is rare that you will see what happens to them. Their bodies are made up of 90% water so most of their body will return back into the worm compost. Worms will reproduce well if they are kept in the right environment so your worm population will grow over time.
As you provide the worms with more space, the population will grow. If the worms are kept in a limited space, the population will limit to the size and food given to them. For lots of healthy (live) worms, give them lots of space, food, moisture and keep them cool.
What to do if your worms are not moving
If your worms are not moving, do a check and see if their bedding is not too wet, not too dry and in a shady spot. If they haven’t had food for a few weeks, add more food scraps and fall leaves. If they have lots of food scraps then let them be for 2-3 weeks to settle out.
What to do if all of your worm farm worms die
If you find none of these solutions help your worm farm and your worms don’t make it through then it is best to tip all of the worm compost into your compost bin and start again. Don’t put new worms into the same mix. Clean the worm farm thoroughly with warm, soapy water and leave it to dry in the sun.
Get new worm bedding for your new batch of worms. I like to start them in coconut coir and then add old potting soil and food scraps after around 1 week. Check again that the worm farm is in a shady spot, is kept moist but not too wet, and you have the bottom tap or drainage open.
Worms are generally an easy pet to keep if you find the right spot to keep them. Adding a small amount of food scraps each week are all they need to be healthy and happy.
I have loved my Styrofoam worm farm that I made for free because it keeps the worms a perfect temperature and keeps the moisture in. I don’t need to add water at all to their farm because the food scraps add enough moisture.
If I want extra worm juice for my garden, I will just give the worm farm a quick squirt with the hose. This water will run through the worm farm by the next day and pick up the nutrients from the worm castings. This is my favorite way to add nutrients to my garden without disturbing my worms.
I have only had my worm farm for around 3 months and it has already reached 2/3 full. I think over the next 2 months I will have to think about adding another Styrofoam layer to encourage them to crawl down and leave the worm castings.
I found the last Styrofoam box in the bin near my house so hopefully I can find another one. Otherwise, I will have to make friends with a greengrocer to see if they will give me one.
Happy worm farming.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.