Composting III: Feeding Your Worms

Now that you've built your composting bin and introduced your worms to the bin and allowed them to adjust to their new surroundings, it's time to make them fat and happy.  They will start turning their bedding and food scraps into compost immediately and after several months you will be able to harvest some compost for your flower and vegetable garden.  It won't take long before you notice the increased growth and vigor of plants treated with your homemade vermicompost. 

Your worms will eat most anything that was once growing.  I've included a list of items below that are compostable but it's in no way a complete list.  You will soon learn what your little buddies like to eat best and how quickly they can process the amount you are giving them.  I keep a one gallon resealable container in my refrigerator that I add my food scraps to as I'm preparing dinner and I'm honestly amazed at how much stuff I collect in a week that would normally go straight into the trash. 

A few tips to keep in mind when feeding the worms: 

You don't need to feed your worms every day.  I've started out feeding once a week and will adjust accordingly as I see how quickly the worms process.  If you have a foul odor or notice flies, gnats, or maggots in your bin, that is a sign that you are feeding too much/too often and your worms cannot keep up.  You will notice other insects in your bin and that's totally fine.  The more the merrier when it comes to breaking down the items into compost.  Do make sure your lid stays on tight (consider a bungee strap if there is a chance it could easily be removed) to prevent intruders such as raccoons, opossums, etc. 

When collecting your vegetable/fruit scraps, chop them into smaller bits so it's easier and quicker for the worms to work through them.  When adding the food to the bin, don't just scatter it all over the top of the bedding as worms will migrate to the source of food so the idea is to get them all to migrate to one area of the bin at the same time and have them all working together.  If the food is scattered, your worms will be scattered and it will take longer.  Work your way around the bin by feeding in each of the four corners and then in the middle of the bin each time you add food.  Raise the bedding just a bit and place the food just under the shredded paper and cover it back over.  Worms like to burrow into darkness and won't be too happy to have to rise to the surface for food.  Remember to check the bedding for moisture and use a spray bottle to wet it if it's drying out.

Compostable Items

Fruits
Vegetables
Newspaper
Cardboard
Office paper
Coffee grounds
Tea leaves/bags
Paper towels/napkins
Leaves
Grass clippings (avoid if you have your lawn chemically treated for weeds)
Sawdust (non-treated, non-aromatic woods only)

Do not include items such as meat, dairy products, oily foods, spicy or salty foods.  Some citrus is okay, but don't add alot at one time.  I read that it can have the same effect on the worms as the feeling of getting lemon juice into a cut on your skin.  OUCH! 

The easiest and best way to use your compost is to top dress the soil around your plants with a thin layer of the castings.  A 1/4" deep layer on top of the soil has been proven to increase plant growth by as much as 25%.  The castings can also be added to water and used as foliage spray and has been shown to drastically reduce plant pests, including aphids.  To make the worm "tea," add about a cup of castings to a gallon of water and allow to steep for 24 hours.  It can then be sprayed on the leaves or used to feed/water the plants.  You should see results in about 3 days. 

When I first started this project, I was afraid that the thought of hundreds of worms in my backyard would freak me out.  But if I had to be honest, I now worry about my worms almost like I do my dog.  Are they too hot or cold outside?  Are they happy and well fed?  I check on them daily and will continue to sporadically report their progress as my project moves along.  If you are also vermicomposting, please leave me a comment and let me know how it's working for you!


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