Feeding Your Worms - worm composting
Your worms will happily consume just about any decomposing food and other organic waste that you feed them. They are big eaters, and will be even more productive the smaller and more broken down the food waste is that you feed them. Worms get their nutrition from the microorganisms they eat, and not particularly from the food waste. Instead of eating the food waste immediately, they wait until lots of tasty microbes have begun to grow on its surface.
DO NOT feed your worms meat, dairy products, processed or fatty foods, which produce an odour when they decompose and cause an environmental imbalance in your worm bins (attracting fruit flies, moisture problems, etc.).
DO feed your worms a rich assortment of the following fruit, vegetable, and organic waste, including:
- Fruit and vegetable peels, rinds and cores
- Egg shells
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Aged manure from any vegetable-eating animal (rabbits, horses, cows, llamas, etc.) NOTE: Make sure that you do not use manure that contains de-worming medication, which could kill your worms!
Avoid feeding your worms too much citrus at one time, since citrus peels contain a harsh chemical. In small amounts, it is fine to add citrus, but just keep an eye on the amount. Also, avoid feeding your worms any waste that is salty, as salt is harmful to worms.
If you’re just starting out with a new worm bin, it’s important not to over-feed your worms in the beginning. Worms have to wait until the microbial populations slowly accumulate, so feed them lightly during the first few weeks, until they are settled into their new environment.
If you’re purchasing worms locally, you can buy them in buckets containing worms and their host environment. It’s important to remember, however, that natural vermi-composting environments will become very warm places, and worms cannot travel in their bed material over long distances, or stay in containers that do not have sufficient oxygen. As active compost decomposes it heats up and consumes oxygen, which in turn overheats and suffocates the worms. This is why at All Things Organic, we strip away all of the bedding and parent material from the worms we sell before we ship them to our customers to ensure the worms will not heat up during shipping and transport.
When to Feed Your Worms
Your worms and their ecosystem are healthiest when you feed them just enough food. How do you tell how often you should feed your worms? Look in the area where you fed them last. If worms are into the food in large numbers, they are ready to eat again. Don’t wait until they have eaten all of the food waste before feeding next time, as this will result in your worms not having enough nutrition to support a healthy, growing population. Feed them a small handful of food waste at a time, and check them every day or two; when you see them writhing in the last batch of food you fed them, it’s time to feed them another handful.
It’s completely natural that worms avoid the food waste you’ve just added. They will move into the food once the other micro-organisms in the bin have had a chance to begin breaking it down.
The One Spot Rule
At All Things Organic, we recommend you feed the worms in one spot, typically in the centre of your bin. When you purchase your worm bin from All Things Organic, we include additional feeding instructions that expand on our “One Spot Rule” method. Contact us for more information.
Worm Bin Care and Maintenance
So it's been a few weeks since you first got your bin, and you have fed your worms at least once. How are they doing? Very well, we hope.
Here's what to look for:
- The bed you set up before you added worms should be mixing and settling, establishing a homey environment for your worm community
- Your worms should start to visit the pocket of food waste you have placed in the bin. If you dig around gently in the area, lifting the food that you've placed, you should see worms congregating toward the food source.
You should also see other insects and activity in your bin. Remember, your worm bin will house a complex food web, nourishing life in some of its most elemental forms. When fully balanced and working productively, a worm bin is home to an array of insects and micro-organisms. Not to worry; every single one of those creatures prefers to stay inside the worm bin. If you worms do feel the urge to wander when they first arrive, leave a light on overhead, and they will happily stay put.
The dry shredded paper that you added when you first set up your worm bin should be absorbing some of the moisture from the fruit and veggie waste that you have placed in the centre of the bin. Resist the urge to add water, even if the bin is looking dry. Instead, try running your fruit and veggie waste through a food processor, breaking it down and making it available more quickly to the worms and other micro-organisms. Remember, for best results, feed your worms according to All Things Organic's One Spot Rule.
The Life of the (Worm Bin) Party
As your new bin becomes established, the number and diversity of organisms living inside will increase. Don't be alarmed if you see tiny creatures at work in your bin - these creatures - and more that you can't see - are integral to the composting food web.
The micro-organisms that live inside your worm bin will not attempt to escape, and why should they? They have everything they need inside your worm bin. They need the dampness of the bin, and they need a steady food source, and will not venture out into the sterile and dry territory of your home.
These organisms are not interested in feeding on your house plants -- in fact, they're only capable of consuming decomposing organic matter.
Following are the organisms alive and thriving in your worm bin -- the more of them, the healthier your bin and more productive it will be in decomposing your green waste:
- Springtails (Colembola family) White, grey or brown in colour, springtails have six legs, three distinct body segments and two antennae. Their most striking feature is a spring-like organ that they use to catapult them forward.
- Sow or pill bugs (Isopoda), so called because of their tendency to roll up when threatened, sow bugs shred and consume some of the toughest materials, which are high in cellulose and lignins. They have a segmented, armored shell, seven pairs of legs and two antennae.
- Mites (Acarina) are typically the most plentiful and visible inhabitants of a worm bin, feeding on decaying organic matter, fungi and other organisms. They are generally found on the surface amongst the upper layers of the bedding.
- Potworms (Enchytraeidae) or white worms are white, threadlike worms which many people frequently mistake for baby redworms. Don't be fooled! Baby red wigglers are red and look exactly like their parents. Potworms thrive in moist areas, so the wetter your worm bin, the more white worms you will have. If you see an over-abundance of white worms in your worm bin, the environment is likely too wet. Add paper to absorb excess moisture and lift the bedding in your bin to bring more air into the system.
- Fruit flies (Diptera)! Yes, like them or not, fruit flies are also valid members of your worm bin composting community. These tiny flying insects produce larvae, which are voracious decomposers. Adult fruit flies are attracted to the acids in decomposing vegetative matter.
- Millipedes (Diploda) are long, slow-moving, wormlike animals found in small numbers throughout your worm bin. Millipedes are long and segmented, with two pairs of legs per body segment and two antennae.
- Centipedes (Chilopoda) Centipedes resemble millipedes, although they have only one set of legs on most body segments and a large pair of pincers. Generally reddish, they move fast and are the only worm predator you're ever likely to ever see in your bin. If you see one, remove it carefully by hand. Careful - they pinch!
- Bacteria are by far the most numerous organisms in your bin, along with molds and fungi. They all feed on decaying organic matter, and produce enzymes that break down and simplify the organic matter.
Tips On Good Worm Bin Care
Worm bins are not difficult to maintain, but if you follow these tips, you should be supporting a healthy, productive composting environment.
Do not add water to your worm bin unless a large part of the bin material is extremely dry to the touch. Some worm bin manufacturers suggest you add water to increase production of "worm tea." The liquid that drains from your worm bin is actually leachate, and is highly concentrated - in fact, can kill plants if not substantially dilute with water. If you are collecting a lot of "worm tea" your worm bin environment is likely too wet. You should add lots of dry, shredded paper, lifting it into your worm compost to bring additional oxygen into your system.
Lift up the dry shredded paper or bedding every few weeks and gently dig to the bottom of the tray, taking care not to disrupt the worms too much. If the material at the bottom of your tray or bin looks wet and smells a little, these are signs that you need to add air to your system and improve the drainage, so excess fluid has a clear path out of your bin.
Let your nose be your guide. Every time you feed your worms, lift the lid and take a big whiff. Maybe you added green waste that is producing the odor, or maybe your worm bin is becoming anaerobic. Lift up the bedding and underlying material to bring air into the system.
Keep your worm bin in an environment with a fairly constant temperature that is neither too hot nor too cold. Never keep your worm bin in an area that receives direct sun exposure, or in an area that will become colder than 5 degrees Celcius.
If you keep your worm bin outdoors, watch for worm predators. Moles, birds and even some dogs love the taste of worms! Keep your worm bin inside, preferably, if if that inside place is in your garage. As long as the environment is not too cold and not too warm.
Amendments: Is There Anything Else I Should Add?
Some worm composters add amendments to their bins, which contain lime, oyster shells, rock powder and egg shells. These amendments require additional knowledge and understanding of how additive ingredients mix into the worm bin environment; too much of one element can send your bin out of balance.
All Things Organic is developing a new product called Vermi-Booster/ATO Worm Treat, which is an additive food supplement for your worms and worm composting environment. We are in the process of field-testing this new product to ensure it yields maximum results. Stay tuned, and visit us often to learn more about this exciting new product, which will greatly improve productivity in your worm bin.