What to Feed Your Red Wiggler Worms
Keep Your Red Wigglers Healthy
Having a worm compost bin is like having a new pet, er more like a 1000 or so. Red Wiggler worms are very hardy creatures, but still need to be taken care of. You won't have to spend much time worrying about them once you learn the right foods to feed your worms. Just like humans they need a balanced diet, and want to live in a stable environment. Check out this lens if you are interesting in vermicomposting, and I'll show you the best way to take care of your wiggly little friends.
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A Red Wiggler Worm's Diet
Red Wiggler worms like to eat any organic material, but prefer a more vegetarian diet. It is best to give the worms small quantities of new items, so you can see if they enjoy them or not. Here is just a short list of what you can feed your worms:
~ fruit & vegetable scraps, stems, peels
~ egg shells
~ grains, cereals, bread, cornmeal
~ beans, rice, pasta
~ coffee grounds & filter
~ tea bags (remove staple first)
~ dead or wilted flowers
~ dry grass clippings & leaves
~ newspaper & junk mail
~ cardboard & paper egg cartons
~ hair, dryer lint, vacuum cleaner dust
A quick note about egg shells ... it is best if they are cleaned out and crushed up before adding to your worm compost bin. Egg shells provide calcium for the worms, as well as grit to help them digest their food. However having a few large egg shells pieces is good to have in your worm farm, since it provides a great habitat for baby Red Wiggler worms.
Potato peels are also great to add, but since they can sprout eyes you may begin to see plants in your worm compost bin. No problem, just pull the plants out (including the roots) and put back in your bin for the worms to feed on.
Treats For Your Red Wigglers
Red Wigglers are not particularly picky eaters, and will devour most anything your feed them. However, there are some foods that these little buggers are very fond of:
~ cantelope rind
~ mango skin
~ banana peel
~ avocado skin
~ corn on the cob
Red Wiggler worms definitely have a sweet tooth. Adding naturally sweet food will bring the worms closer together, which means they'll reproduce faster.
What To Keep Out Of Your Worm Compost Bin
Even though Red Wigglers will eat most organic matter, there are some foods you should avoid feeding your worms. Since the worms are living in a confined space it is important not let the pH level of the worm compost bin become too acidic. Also, since worms breathe through their skin it is bound to become irritated when coming into contact with certain food. Finally, some foods will go rancid and smell, which can attract all sorts of pests.
Don't add these items to your worm compost bin:
~ meat, poultry, seafood, bones
~ dairy products (butter, sour cream, whole eggs, cheese)
~ oily or salty foods (peanut butter)
~ acidic foods (pineapple)
~ sauces or processed foods
~ citrus (lemon, lime, orange)
~ onions & garlic
~ spicy foods & chili peppers (jalapeÃ±os)
~ plants or grass that has been sprayed with pesticides
~ poisonous plants
~ glossy paper or with colored ink
~ glass, plastic, tin foil, metal
It is important not to add anything that is not biodegradable. It will not be digestable and could harm your worms.
How Much To Feed Your Worms
Red Wiggler worms on average can eat half their body weight in one day. Under optimal conditions they can eat as much as their own body weight. Red Wigglers are most active when the temperature stays between 60° - 80°F. If the temperature is too hot or too cold, they become sluggish, eat less, and could potentially die if it is too severe. Red Wigglers also like a moist environment, but this does not mean they like to swim. Have you ever noticed after a heavy rain, there are worms crawling across the sidewalks? This is because underground where they normally live has become drenched or flooded. The worms are coming up for air, since they breathe through their skin. An ideal worm compost bin will stay in the temperature range of 60° - 80°F, with bedding that is moist like that of a damp sponge.
Under these conditions and with a balanced diet, you can count on your Red Wiggler worms eating at least half their body weight each day. So if you have 1 pound of Red Wigglers you can feed them about 1/2 pound of food a day. When starting out it is best not to overdo it. First see how your worms are adjusting to their new environment and if they like the food scraps you are giving them. Once you get into the swing of things, you can feed them every few days the appropriate amount of food. Your worms don't like to be disturbed too much, to it is best not to feed them everyday, or it can slow down the process.
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How To Feed Your Red Wigglers
If you want your worms to be able to eat the food quicker, it is best to add as small of pieces as possible. Small pieces of food will rot quicker which will allow the worms to eat more, and compost faster. One way to make the food smaller is to chop it up into little pieces before adding it to your sealed container that you keep your food scraps in.
Another way is to use a food processor or a blender to make it very easy for your worms to eat. Red Wiggler worms have very small mouths, so the smaller the food is the better. It isn't vital to chop up the food scraps, but it if you don't it will slow down the whole composting process. You can also freeze your food scraps then allow to thaw, so they will soften up and be easier for the worms to eat.
Red Wiggler worms will thrive in your worm compost bin if they have a balanced diet. They can't just live on food scraps alone (nitrogen), but also need to have some carbon in their diet. This can come in the form of paper, cardboard or dead leaves. Once you've got your food scraps ready, you'll want to also prepare some paper scraps. Dry items, like cardboard or paper, need to be soaked in water first. Worms cannot eat dry food.
If your tap water is chlorinated, it is best to let the water sit for 24 hours in a bucket before soaking the paper products. This will reduce the chemicals used to treat the water. Worms prefer organic matter, and these chemicals can harm your worms. Alternatively you can use rain or well water to soak the paper food. Just like the food scraps, the paper food will need to be shredded or torn up into very small pieces. After soaking you should wring the paper food so only 1 or 2 drops come out, like a damp sponge.
Now you are ready to feed your worms. Your worms should already have some bedding in their worm compost bin. This bedding should consisit of any or all of the following:
~ dirt, soil, sand
~ egg shells
~ shredded moistened newspaper
~ coir (coconut husk fibers)
Adding a bit of crushed egg shells, sand, or dirt will aid your worms' digestive process. Since worms have gizzards, this grit will help break down their food. Soil will also give your worm compost bin beneficial bacteria that will help the composting process.
Now you get to add the food, finally! The best way to add the food is to bury it in one or two spots of the worm compost bin under the bedding. Alternatively you can add the food scraps on top of the bedding in a few spots, then cover thoroughly with the paper food. Covering the food waste will help reduce fruit flies. The next time you add food be sure to add it in different spots, so you keep the worms moving around the bin.
After your worm compost bin has been going for a while, you may notice some bacteria, mold and microbes. Not to worry! This is a good sign ... it means that they are helping break down the food waste, which makes it easier for the worms to eat. Additionally, they contribute to the compost. Great compost is full of these organisms.
A Balanced Red Wiggler Diet
So what exactly is a "balanced Red Wiggler diet"? Well the short answer is having 50% "greens" and 50% "browns". Now for the detailed version:
"Greens" are high in nitrogen, where "browns" are high in carbon. Red Wigglers need to have an equal amount of both in their diet in order to be happy, reproduce and compost!
~ fruit & veggie peels
~ green leaves
~ human or pet hair
~ moldy food
~ weeds without seeds
~ non-meat food scraps
~ coffee grounds
~ dried leaves & grass clippings
~ coffee filters
~ corn cobs
~ cotton or wool rags
~ cotton string, rope
~ dryer lint, vacuum cleaner dust
~ egg shells
~ grain & peanut hulls
~ newspaper, paper towels, tissues
"Browns" also include some materials that appear "green", like broccoli and sunflower stalks because of their rough texture.
The following items you should not normally feed your worms but in small quantities can be okay:
~ Citrus peels
Too much of these foods can lower the pH making the environment too acidic for the worms.
Can You Feed Your Red Wiggler Worms Pet Poop?
There is much debate about this subject. Some people feel that the cat and dog poop is too dangerous to use as food since there are bacteria like E. Coli present. However, you can feed Red Wigglers pet poop, but the catch is that you should not add them to a worm compost bin that you are using food waste in. Also if you have a worm compost bin for just pet poop, it is recommended that you only use the compost (worm castings) on decorative plants, and not on garden plants just to stay on the safe side.
Additionally, you will want to take extra care when handling the pet poop and the worm castings. Be sure to wear protective gloves, so you don't come into direct contact with any potential harmful bacteria.
Red Wrigglers actually love manure and dog droppings. The worm castings made from dog poop is very rich in nutrients and safe to use on non-garden plants.
~ Feed your worms a balanced diet
~ Worms work best in the proper temperature range
~ Keep your worms moist, not drenched
~ Have fun!
How Many Red Wiggler Worms Do I Need?
Generally 1 pound of Red Wiggler worms is about 1000 worms. In order to figure out how many worms you need for your worm compost bin start collecting food waste, and see how much you have at the end of one typical week.
4 pounds of food waste per week = about 0.57 lbs / day
You will need to add the same amount of paper food (newspaper, cardboard) to your worm compost bin, which is another 0.57 lbs / day. This means that on average you will be feeding your worms 1.14 lbs / day. Under normal conditions your worms will eat half their body weight a day. So 2 pounds of worms can handle 1.14 lbs / day.
Need More Information On Worm Compost Bins?
Check out this site for more helpful information about Red Wiggler worm farming: WormComposting.us
I would love to hear about your Red Wiggler worm composting experiences. Please feel free to ask me any questions you have.