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Do’s and Don’ts of Composting Worms

By Kristina Mercedes Urquhart, Urban Farm contributor

worms in compost bin

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Worms can be picky, too!

While your compost worms can survive on a limited diet, the larger variety of food you provide them, the more diverse and nutrient-rich their castings will be. Not to mention, they’ll be healthier, too. Follow these feeding do’s and don’ts for safe vermicomposting and happy worms.

DO keep your "greens” (nitrogen-based) and "browns” (carbon-based) in check. Much like traditional composting, you can give your worms kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, plant waste, tea leaves and bags and veggie peels and cores (all considered "greens”), but they will need some "browns” too, such as shredded newspaper, copy paper, egg cartons and cardboard.

DO add more "browns,” if the bin is too moist.

DON'T feed plastic, glass, metal, foil, glossy paper or grass clippings from lawns treated with pesticides (or anything treated with pesticides for that matter!).

DO chop up large pieces of fruits and vegetables for easy work for your worms and faster breakdown. The worms actually eat the bacteria and fungi in decomposing food, so the older the food and the more exposed to air, the faster it will break down and get "eaten.”

DON'T feed fresh (or "hot”) manure to your worms. The heat from uncomposted animal manure will create too hot of a climate for your worms.

DON'T feed your worms pet waste.

DO keep an eye on where you place certain food items in the bin and how long it takes for your worms to consume it. This will help you get into a rhythm and learn just how much they need and when. Mark it on the calendar, or keep a worm journal with your list of garden chores.

DON'T overload the bin with food. Start with a small amount (about 1 cup every two days) for the first four to six months, depending on the size of your bin. Check frequently until you know how much the worms need and if the growing population needs more.

DON'T feed your worms foods that are very salty, oily or highly acidic (like fresh pineapple), dairy/meat products or seeds. Dairy and meat products will begin to smell quite rancid, especially if yours is an indoor worm bin. Also, seeds take a very long time for the worms to break down and they often sprout in the meantime!

DON'T make a staple out of garlic, onion or citrus. These foods may not appeal to your worms, so feed in small amounts.

DO take a whiff. If the worm bin begins to smell bad, you may be feeding too much.

DON'T worry about other bugs, such as fruit flies or vinegar flies, as they assist in the decomposition process, too. If the population is overwhelming, you may be feeding too much; try reducing the amount of fruit you feed. Alternatively, you can bury the food scraps under soil or brown matter, such as newspaper shreds. Ants appearing in the bin may indicate that it is too dry.

DO try new foods in moderation to see what they like. Worms can be picky, too!


Give us your opinion on Do’s and Don’ts of Composting Worms.
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I've had such a skunk problem here. Sometimes possums too. They dig down around the compost bin base until they can reach under and pull out my composting bugs from the bottom. I've put heavy rocks around the base, and that seems to deter them most of the time.

We use our compost for our vegetable garden, but sometimes I have so much compost that it also goes into the landscape too. The landscape soil here is really sandy, so this has made a huge difference int he quality of the soil.
Sarah, Santa Monica, CA
Posted: 2/24/2015 8:22:34 AM
Use Bokashi composting for meats, oils, bones, etc. Then you can put it in your worm bins in a few weeks.
deborah, montgomery, AL
Posted: 2/20/2015 11:30:38 AM
Another "Don't" - if you opt to stop using your bin, please do not dump them in forested areas. While the red wigglers are generally not invasive, there is another species that is often mixed in with them called Asian Jumping Worms that are highly invasive and will destroy forests. Earthworms are not native to many parts of the world (like the Midwest/Great Lakes region) so please help prevent further introductions.
Emily, Minneapolis, MN
Posted: 10/14/2014 2:57:09 PM
I've been told no meat. What about fish. I have some fish in the freezer that needs to be tossed. I thought fish was good for compost. Other then that I love the tips.
Nancy, Ozark, AL
Posted: 10/14/2014 11:35:52 AM

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