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First harvest has mites, can I use the compost?

May 31, 2005


This is my first posting here, though I have been lurking for months. Thank you for all the information you've provided. You are just great!

I have a Worm Factory that I got at the Gardeners Supply warehouse here in VT. I actually went to a seminar they had on vermicomposting and I was sold! I just did my first harvest and got a fair amount of vermicompost.

However,there are lots of red mites (I'm assuming this is what they are) in the compost. I've read through the forums about the mites, but haven't been able to find if it's ok to use the vermicompost that has mites in it. Will the mites eat the roots of the plants I put them in? I do lots of container gardening (I'm on the fourth floor, no yard - just decks). It's finally planting time here and I'd love to incorporate the new harvest in my containers, but I'm scared that these mites will harm the plants. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.


Comments (17)

  • Kelly_Slocum

    You can relax and enjoy using your vermicompost; the mites will not harm your plants at all. Consider that these mites developed in a bin full of decomposting organic material where no plant roots are present. There are relatively few omnivors in nature, her preference being more specificity in species food choices. Thus, nearly all of the organisms living in a worm bin are there either because the feed on decaying organic material, or because they feed on the other critters feeding on the decaying organic material. Were these critters interested in living plant tissue they would already be in your garden feeding on those living plants as opposed to in a worm bin where no living plants are present.

    The vast majority of the reddish or tan-colored mites you see in a worm bin or compost pile are either some species of tortoise mite, a wonderfully beneficial decomposer of dead OM, or they are predatory mites (Hypoaspis mites, which feed on fly larvae, being among the most common) which feed on other small invertebrates, helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

    If the mites remain a concern for you consider freezing your vermicompost for about a week prior to use in the garden or potting mix. This will have no negative impact whatsoever on the quality of the material or on the beneficial microbial population associated with vermicompost, but will usually kill all the visible organisms in the stuff. Again, this is not necessary from a plant health point of view, but is a perfectly reasonable step if if makes YOU feel more comfortable.

    Make sense?

    Kelly S

  • pscan

    Hi Kelly:

    Thanks for the excellent response. It makes total sense and I feel much more comfortable now. I have no problem using the vermicompost with the mites in it, but thanks for the freezing suggestion.

    This whole thing has been very fun, and I get a kick out of people sitting right by the worm bin and not even knowing what's in there. This is a perfect way to compost when you live in an apartment.

    Thanks again!


  • PuffyJBo


    I noticed that you are in northern Vermont as well. I live in Waterbury, and it's nice - if rare - to see another from my area on forums :-)

    You should check out "Worms eat my compost" .. It's a book that tells everything the casual composter would want to know about a worm bin including a whole section on what critters live in it. They have it at Barnes and Noble in Burlington and just about any other store or library should be able to get it for you. A lot of people here suggest libraries, but when I got it I went digging through my bin, book in hand, to identify the critters.. it turned out fine, but it's not something I would do with someone elses book :-)


  • pscan

    Hi Jim:

    Cool, another Vermonter! Nice to meet you! I'm in downtown Burlington and believe they have that book at Fletcher Free library. I'll check it out. I did look at it once, in the library, but you're right - maybe I want to buy it.



  • PuffyJBo

    If you want to treat your worms, stop at one of the starbucks up there.. they give away their coffee grounds which worms love. Of course you might just have your own too I suppose, but I like that program so felt like mentioning it :-)

  • carnationman

    Hello there the answer that Kelly gives is very detailed and more than likely correct, I do have doubts about what she says in this case if only from my own experiances.I run an outside bin and use it to compost all our organic material both from the garden and all our kitchen food scaps and for the most part the worms do a very good job
    I started to use worm compost in my growing mixes for growing greenhoue carnations and at first I was impressed. then discovered red spider mites on allmost every plant and certainly on all that had recieved the worm compost. I do believe that the compost started the epidemic. my reasons for this belief lies in my own composting methods and the fact I recycle all my garden greenery. We are told that fruit fly hatch from the eggs laid on the skins we place in our bins I think also green fly and aphids might also breed in there I don't know about America but in England the so called red spider mite is avery persistant pest and very difficult to get rid of so if we place infected plants into the bin then to me it follows that when the eggs hatch we just increase the infections on any plants where the infected compost is used. Lesson learned I now micro wave any greenery I suspect of having red spider and I burn any plant thats not healthy also I have now reverted back to my original compoct mixes sterilized garden soil with peat and fish blood and bone added I still use my worm compost all round the garden Just remember that just as the worm "eggs" live on in the compost so do all the others as well as un wanted seeds which seem to sprout allover the garden

  • jajm4

    I have an indoor bin that now has white mites. At least, I think they're mites. They look like tiny white dots, which can walk.

    I only put kitchen waste in there, but there must have been eggs on the peelings of something.

    I am also worried about using the castings in my houseplants and am looking for addition opinions and reference materials to help me make my decision.

  • ladymorgahnna

    Those are probably the worm "babies"-they are teeny-tiny white-ivory colored, usually clustered together on something nice and "composty"

  • fayrehale

    how have things been going?

    I want to start a system in my kitchjen when we do it over, have looked on line and have met the "Worm Ladies" in the NEK.

    Think it the best solution for kitchen waste. Anyone else have one inside?


  • Jasdip

    Hi Jim,
    The vast majority of people have bins indoors. A lot of people keep bins in their basement of their houses. I live in an apartment, and have 4 bins in my spare bedroom.....all active and thriving.

    The key is not to overfeed. This will eliminate smells, pests (for the most part) and a wet bin.

  • heatherlorsong_gmai_com

    I started indoor composting a few weeks ago and the worms seem fine, however, I just noticed today that there are about a million little spider mites in the bin. There are some red ones but mostly a million little babies. I set the bin outside today as I want to keep my home mite free. Any suggestions on getting rid of these?
    Also, I noticed a very slight musty odor and some of the worms migrating to the top of the bin. My bin is a larger size bin with 1/4 in holes in the bottom and top and a collection bin underneath.


  • susanfromhawaii

    The mites help the process of decomposition. So they're fine in the bin. They occ go through a population explosion if the bin is really wet. As Kelley's answer to the first person said, they're not harmful. None of the various critters that inhabit a worm bin will survive outside the bin. They don't escape unless they're the flying kind and that's a whole different problem.

    As for getting rid if them, I don't think you can (or need) to. I've heard of people starting new bins with all fresh bedding and food, and then washing the worms from the bin with mites before putting them in the new bin. Even that didn't work.

    If the odor is unpleasant, it may mean there's not enough air flow or too much food all at once. If the 'musty' is forest floor, then it's perfect.

  • rosepetal0415

    I am really new to composting, I started a bit back. Did a little research and than took to it hoping for the best, at first I had too much bedding(newpaper) now I dont think I have enough. But a section is covered in a multitude I mean tons of small white bugs with legs, I think mites but am not sure. The worms so far seem fine I mean they have gotten quite fat and I see a lot of the pods. So I think they are good but the "mites" are multiplying rapidly. Its getting intense in there. I want to try to "dry out the bin"? but how do I go about doing that without harming worms. When I open the bin I get a nice like what I remember to be just after rain in a campground smell. LIke good dirt smell, but I am sure wet. Should I add lime? Also I put eggshells in my compost but I clean them out first with water, Sometimes I see a maggot here or there, is that because of the egg? I do not use dairy or meat. Also I am not sure if the maggot is actually a fungus gnat and maybe than the "mites" are the Hypoaspis miles who are feasting on the other stuff because there arent many of the gnats? I would love some advice here, I really like this composting. Its kind of fun, my daughter helps me put food in mix it up and stuff and she loves holding the worms she says when she is big she will have a compost like mine! I love it I would hate to mess this up. Thanks.

  • chevere33

    Who knows how many answers you will get, since this was added to the end of a thread that already has lots of responses.

    I am new to vermicomposting, and had a mite "bloom" about a month into the process. I read that I could add either lime or pulverized eggshells; I chose the latter. I also took the bin outside for about an hour a day and left it in the sun. I also left the lid off and put the bin under lights.

    They say when the conditions are too wet, mites thrive. Now that it's dried out, the mites are gone (that I can see), and so are all but a few of the pot worms, which appeared after the mites. My redworms seem quite happy and are laying LOADS of eggs!

    Hope you fix it!

  • acenjason

    less food more bedding

  • xoxdanni_hotmail_com

    Hi, I had a mite issue too. This is what worked for me in less than two days. First, I took out the old bedding, and wiped the sides of my bin. I put in new newspaper bedding on the top, and then cut up four good sized slices of cucumber -- placing one piece in each corner of my worm bin (on top of the newspaper bedding). About 1 1/2 days later - the cucumber slices were covered in mites, and I simply removed them plus some of the bedding from the bin. Now I am mite free, and my worm bin is back to normal. I am sure that cucumbers would work with a 'harvest' as well. It appears that the mites can indicate that a bin is too acidic... in my case the mites arrived after I had given my worms a little too much tea (from used tea bags). Hope this helps.

  • steveinaus

    To those that said they have a heap of tiny white things in their bins, do they look like this? : http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=620706
    A lot of these turned up in my bins when I spread some rotten pear scraps in them and they have since multiplied. I did a bit of research and it turns out they are white "springtails". They are much smaller than the brown ones you see jumping around when you pick up some garden soil and they seem to just be helping to break down the compost, like the brown ones do (I love the brown ones, I spread them around all over the place, as they make the soil so light and friable- just cover the soil with something and they'll go to work underneath it). The white ones don't spring (jump) around though, in my experience. They get to the food first, then the worms take over. The easiest way to get rid of them I've found is to soak some paper towels/tissues/toilet paper/cardboard in some blended vegetable scraps, or rotten fruit liquid and lay them down in the bed. Within 24 hours you can bet that they'll be covered in these little white guys and you just pick the paper/cardboard up and put them out in the garden, in the rubbish bin, or whatever. Or you could just put them in your pot plants, as I don't believe they'll damage the plants at all and will just continue to improve the soil/potting media in them, as composting worms would/do.
    Some made their way into some of my potted roses and they don't look to have done any damage whatsoever (been in there about 3 months). I'm pretty sure they just help to break down the top layer of the potting media.
    I also put composting worms into my pots, as they seem to eat the potting mix and convert it into rich castings, dramatically improving it's richness/quality/moisture retention. This means the media stays "fresh" and doesn't dry out anywhere near as much, as potting mixes tend to do after a couple of years. I just cover the top surface of the potting mix with some cut up old carpet and feed the worms under it as I would if they were in the worm farm. As well as making it more moisture retentive, they will help the mix to get heavier and more compacted though, so if you need to keep it more free draining, it's wise to add some washed horticultural sand, or small rock type things like scoria, or the very small stones used in some potting mixes, when you're initially potting your plant up. That way, when the mix gets more compacted and heavy the sand or small rocks will stop it getting too compacted and wet.
    I learned this scoria tip from someone who told me his exhibition roses were growing in pots (that aren't even all that big) and that some of them had been in those pots for up to 15 years (most will tell you to re-pot every 2-3 years). He makes his own mix of 1 part scoria (which is apparently used for potting bonzai's) one part rich/aged compost and one part something else (may have been two parts compost). He reckons the roses grow extremely well, with very thick canes and bud unions and that if he took them out of the pots the worms in them would be as thick as your finger. I was amazed and I have started using the scoria in mine now, when potting up. I potted up some bare-root roses with scoria in the mix about 3 months ago and they're going really well (it's now 3 weeks into spring) and their first buds are coming out.

    Here is a link that might be useful: White springtails

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