Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How much food is too much food?

It has been a super long time since I have had the opportunity to add a new post to the website and when you wait this long it seems like the topic has to be extra special.  Over the last year it seems that the most common question I have gotten is how to feed their worms.  Clearly people are hearing the feeding caution so as not to over feed… but what exactly is too much food?  Or how do you know when to add more food? 

 There are many factors that influence how much a worm will eat and as a general rule, under ‘optimal conditions’ a worm will eat half its body weight per day.  However these optimal conditions can be quite illusive especially in a brand new bin.  A new bin may require additional moisture be added where an established bin may be too wet.  If it is hot or cold the worms will not be eating as much as they would if the temperatures were more moderate.  Then there is also the food that is being added to consider.  Is it nice wet mushy melon rinds or are we talking about carrot tops and potato pieces?  I am hoping the following will help the new vermicomposter feel confident feeding their new worm bin.

For this example I am going to assume you started your bin with 1 pound of red wigglers in a Rubbermaid type of bin.  If you started with more or less please modify the feeding volumes appropriately.  After you first add your worms to your new bin you may not need to feed them for 3 for 4 days.  When you set your bin up with layers of food and paper products then let it sit a few days you have pretty much spread out a huge banquet for your new friends.  It will take them a little while to catch up on the volume of food you gave them.  Like any of us, the worms are going to eat the best stuff first so the food scrapes that are harder to eat are going to be ignored until they get good and rotten.  Carrot tops are a perfect example.  Carrots are very dense so unless they are chopped very small it takes a lot more time to decay than something that is much softer.  Not that adding dense food is bad; it just takes longer to decay. 

Paper Pulled Back and Food Spread Out
Your first feeding after adding your worms should be fairly light.  I would suggest just one double handful of food or approximately two cups of food.  The idea is that we want to add more yummy stuff so that the worms just go easily from the buffet to their normal eating routine.  To feed the worms pull back the paper that is covering them and spread out the food as evenly as possible.  The idea is that there are no big clumps of food in one spot.  Since they are going to just be slurping off the edges, the more surface area we can give them the better.  After the food is spread out, cover it back up with the moistened paper and you are done.

Unrecognizable Food - Time to Feed
I would check on the worms in about 2 days to see how they are doing.  If the food is still recognizable then give them another day or so.  Remember they still have a lot of food choices so they may not jump right into the new food like they will when your bin is more mature.  

Two Week Old Bin - Just Turned Over
When the food doesn’t look like food anymore it is time to add more.  I would suggest that this is a good time to turn the bedding a little bit.  After you pull back the shredded paper mix up the bedding/worms/old food mixture a little bit.  This will give you an opportunity to check the moisture in the bin and add any if necessary.  Turning will also add oxygen and keep the material from getting too compact.  This is an aerobic process so air is good.  After turning the material add another double handful of food to the bin, spread it out and put the shredding paper back over the food.

Two Month Old Bin - Almost Time to Harvest
What is going to happen is that over the next few weeks you will see the bin material turn from just worms/food/paper to include a lot of castings that look like dirt.  You will also be able to feed the bin more food or feed it more frequently, whatever fits your schedule.  We feed our bins two heaping double hand full’s of food every 3 days but if you wanted to push it to four days it would likely be fine, the worms will just eat more of the shredded paper in your bin.   

If you ever need additional help please feel free to email us at
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Brenda says...

Worm Fancy is the greatest place to get your worms in the Sacramento area. They have the best customer service!

Doug and Tammy, Yuba City

Tammy and I would just like to thank you for your professionalism and patience in answering all our questions about vermiculture. We are very interested in the difference it will make in our garden this year. Even our son will be using the new Worm Factory 360 in his science fair project that compares plants with and without worm castings. We're already noticing the better health with it. Our time with you was pleasant and we will be sure to return! Thank you again and we'll keep you posted. composted. :D

Scott R. from Sacramento

I picked my worms today and it sure looks like a lot more than 2 pounds worth. I ordered a pound from another vendor and you gave me 5 times more than they did.