What is pH?
pH, also known as power of Hydrogen, is a measure of the acidity of a substance. It is measured on a scale from 0 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline). A substance with a pH of 7 is considered to be neutral.
The farther an item’s pH is from 7, the more reactive it is, with the most reactive substances having a pH of 0 or 14. These substances are strong enough to cause severe burns on the skin. Naturally, a chemical property that can cause burns should be carefully monitored to ensure the health of your worms.
What are the dangers of mismanaging my bin’s pH?
A mismanaged worm bin pH can be disastrous to your worm population. Minor pH issues can lead to sour odors coming from your worm bin, much like the smell of vinegar.
If conditions continue to worsen, your worms will begin to show signs of “protein poisoning.” Worms with protein poisoning will crawl along the surface of the bin instead of burrowing within their bedding. When conditions get bad enough, your worms will become scraggly and deformed, and eventually die.
You can tell that the conditions in your worm composting bin are becoming problematic if you notice your worm population trying to crawl up and out of your worm bin with no noticeable cause. You may not be able to immediately pinpoint the specific issue that needs to be dealt with, but you will at least be alerted to the fact that something is not right, and corrective action needs to be taken.
What pH is best for my worms?
It is good for the pH in a worm bin to be pretty close to neutral. A properly maintained worm bin should have a pH measurement between 6.0 and 7.0, which is perfect for many types of composting worms. Most species of composting worms can handle pH conditions up to 8.0, but its always best to play it safe and try to maintain a pH in the 6.0-7.0 range.
How do I check the pH in my worm bin?
It is surprisingly easy to check the pH in your worm bin when you have the proper equipment. You can use a pH meter like the one offered here to quickly and accurately test the pH in your bin. Simply insert the probe into your worm bedding and wait a few seconds. The pH measurement will display on the top of the meter for easy reading.
You should make sure to test the level in a few different locations within the bedding, in order to account for the potential existence of small acidic pockets in the worm bin.
If you don’t have a pH meter, or you need to check conditions right away to handle a worm emergency, you can always rely on a simple smell-test. Does your bin smell wet, musty, rotten, or mildewy? If so, you very likely might have pH issues.
Note that the mere presence of odors in your bin is not a sure sign that your bin’s pH is the issue. Odors can also be caused by overly-compacted bedding material or excessively moist conditions inside the worm bin.
Handling problematic pH conditions
When dealing with problematic pH conditions in your worm bin, there are a few different corrective actions you can take.
The first course of action you should take is to sprinkle some crushed eggshells around your worm bin. The eggshells are pH neutral and will help to bring your overall bin pH closer to optimal levels.
NOTE: It is important to bake your eggshells in the oven in order to remove any pathogens that may be present on the shells. I like to bake mine at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. It also makes the eggshells easier to pulverize into bits that are small enough for your worms to ingest.
Crushed limestone can also be added to the worm bin in place of the eggshells if you happen to have any lying around. Crushed limestone is NOT to be confused with hydrated lime, which WILL kill your worms.
If your issues cannot be resolved with eggshells or crushed lime, there are a couple emergency steps that you can take.
- Improve airflow in the bin by removing the lid if applicable and placing a fan nearby.
- Mix some fresh bedding into the existing bedding to bring the pH closer to the neutral level of the fresh bedding.
- Aerate your worm bin by turning the bedding and breaking up any compressed pockets that you find.
With these steps, you should be able to solve any pH issues that you may face. Your worms will be much happier and healthier with a properly managed worm bin! If you know of any other techniques to help neutralize the pH in your worm bin, please let us know in the comments section below! Happy composting!
Article by Donny B