Anybody who wants to start doing organic farming or permaculture should really look into vermiculture (composting with worms). I recently bought Californian red worms which are great for processing organic material into liquid and castings called humus. The first thing I had to research was what to feed compositing worms.
It is important to feed composting worms the correct food since they process organic waste in their intestines and digest it to transform it into humus which is rich in potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. Other types of worms are also super useful since they can process even industrial and sewage waste. There are thousands of different kinds of earthworms, but only the red worm can eat between 50 to 100 percent of their body weight in food every day.
To feed composting worms you need to know more or less how many you have. The easiest way to do so is to weight your worms. 1 pound of worm (16 ounces) is about 1,000 worms, so you will need to feed them half of that per day. You can average how much organic waste you are producing daily and get double that weight in worms. Keep in mind that red worms reproduce quite fast if they are place under the right conditions.
How to Feed Composting Worms
Do not overfeed your worms, especially when starting. Give them time to settle into their new environment. Monitor your worms to see how they are adapting and watch how fast they eat the small amounts of food you provide them. Once you know their appetite level you can predict how and when to feed them. Always keep adding bedding material (dry materials and plants). As a general rule, you should add equal parts of brown (rich in carbon and carbohydrates) and green (adds nitrogen and protein) foods.
Red worms do not like soil, since they are composting worms. They prefer rotting and composing organic matter like vegetable scraps, chopped dried material and manure. You should put just a little soil in their bin to ease their digestion.
To feed composting worms it is best to age the food waste before. This is because their nutrition actually comes from the microorganisms that grow in organic fruit and vegetable waste. Composting worms will not eat scraps immediately, they will wait till the microbial content is high enough.
Food should be soft and somewhat moist. It is best to bury food in the bin, just bellow the surface. Cut food into small pieces with a knife or food processor. If you place food on top make sure to cover it with a layer of bedding to avoid pests or bad smells.
Best Food to Feed Composting Worms
Organic fruit and vegetable waste, including peelings, cores and rinds are suitable to feed composting worms. Vegetables can include carrots, celery, pumpkin, corn, spinach, beans, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, peas, and squash. You can feed composting worms almost any vegetable that is not spicy or gaseous.
Feed composting worms fruits such as watermelon, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, melons, mango, peaches, tomatoes, apples, pears and grapes.
Crushed egg shells provide calcium and help worms reproduce. You should wash, boil or bake them to prevent diseases. They also make their digestion easier by providing grit (worms have no native grinding abilities) and increase the pH level of the worm bin.
Some starchy cooked food can be added in moderation, including pasta, oatmeal, bread, rice, and pancakes. Coffee grounds (use sparsely because it can change the pH of the bin) and tea leaves can be added as well. Commercial worm food is also available for sale for those people who have limited organic waste.
Dry Material and Plants
Start with a layer of bedding, which can be shredded newspaper or paper (no color ink), cardboard boxes, brown paper bags, egg cartons, dry leaves, straw and sawdust. Glossy or coated paper are not suitable since they are processed with chemicals. White bleach office paper or bleached coffee filters are also not acceptable.
Pre-soaked peat moss and coconut coir can be used as worm bedding. Add a little soil, just make sure it is not of the clayey or sandy types.
Do not feed composting worms sawdust or wood chips from treated wood that was stained, painted, varnished or pressure treated since it has cardiac and arsenic. You can add small branches, not large ones since they will take for ever to break down. It is best to mulch them tree branches. Wood is a good source of carbon which can balance the nitrogen from food and vegetable scraps.
Plants or grass clippings that have been treated with fertilizers or pesticides will be toxic. If you use plants or grass clippings let them turn brown before adding them since they can generate too much heat when decomposing, which can kill your worms.
Do not feed composting worms dog or cat poop. These animals are omnivorous or carnivorous and their feces can contain viruses, toxins and parasites. Also they may be treated with anti worm medicine (like other species of animals) which can hurt or kill your red worms. Only vegetarian species are acceptable, so this means horse, cow, chicken and rabbit manure. Let the manure mature for a while before giving it to your worms.
Worse Food to Feed Composting Worms
After finishing making French fries, I put aside the potato peels to feed them to the worms. Thankfully, I decided to look up if this was suitable food for them, and it is not! Some food should be thrown into the hot compost pile rather than the worm bin. Potatoes are high in solanine which is a toxin which composting worms avoid. Although it will break down, it it could inhibit the microbes that worms need in the bin. Sweet potato does not have solanine, so they are a good option to feed compositing worms.
Do not feed composting worms fatty foods, including meat, eggs (egg shells are fine) and dairy products. These types of food will cause strong odors when they decompose stinking up the area. They will also attract all kinds of pests you do not want including maggots, fruit and house flies. Processed foods are also not suitable since they contain oil, fats and salt. Oils (including olive and sesame oil) and butter will slow down or even stop the composting process. Spice and salty food are not processed by your worms and salt (in large amounts) can even kill them.
Another thing you should avoid is all citrus, including peels since they are quite acidic. Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits contain a chemical called D’limonene which is used for insect control. Some people place small amounts of citrus in their bins, but it is not really recommended. Pineapple is very acidic, like tomatoes in high quantities.
Peppers, leeks, onions and garlic are another of those debatable foods since they can stink pretty bad and worms do not like this. Some people add them in small amounts, which is fine, but large amounts can change the pH balance.
Non biodegradable material, such as metals, fold and plastic, should not be added to the worm bin. While they will not harm your worms, they will never degrade. Fruit and avocado pits take too long to break down so don’t include them either.