Learning to compost, part 4: worm food

In my last update, I wrote about putting together a stacked tray worm bin. Once the container was ready, the next step was to transfer the worms to their new home and start feeding them our kitchen scraps. As we dumped the worms from the bucket into the new larger tray system, we noticed that a large amount of compost had already accumulated over the last year or so. In order to start separating the worms from the compost, we decided to start feeding the tray above. As the worms migrate upwards to the fresh food, they will leave behind the tray of compost for us to harvest.

We started collecting food scraps in a bucket under our sink. From my reading I learned that, in addition to vegetables of kinds, worms can eat other common scraps such as egg shells, stale bread, grains like rice or oatmeal, tea leaves, coffee grounds. Crushed egg shells are especially good to feed your worms because they aid in the worms digestion process, provide a source of calcium and lower acidity in the bin (which is convenient since we eat a lot of eggs). Some things that worms should not eat: meat and dairy products, fats and oils, overly acidic things like citrus.

The fats and oils issue is a bit of a bummer. We often have to throw out cooked leftovers from the fridge, but I’m afraid to feed these to the worms since they usually contain at least some amount of oil or butter. Oils are dangerous to the worms because can coat their skin and prevent them from breathing. I wonder though, exactly how sensitive of an issus this is? For example, this week I hesitated about whether to feed the worms some leftover oatmeal that had only a tiny bit of butter. I’ll need to do some more googling about this… In any case, worms cannot eat everything, which means that if we want to eliminate our food waste completely were going to need to be more careful about finishing leftovers.

Here you can see our first batch of worm food, which we accumulated over about 4-5 days. It includes a lot egg shells and tea leaves, some stale bread, and a bit of mustard greens that had started to wilt in the fridge.

In addition to food scraps, there is another crucial element that needs to be regularly added to the worm bin: bedding. Bedding material provides the worms with a comfortable environment to live in. It insulates, provides a source of moisture and also allows airflow. Worms will also eat the bedding, so it needs to be replenished over time. One of the most common bedding materials to use is shredded paper.

Saumya and I seized the opportunity to turn junk into a resource and began shredding our dreaded pile of junk mail to use as a worm bedding. There is some deeply satisfying in shredding junk mail and feeding it to worms who eventually transform it into rich black compost. We soaked the paper in water and then wrung it out in order to provide the right amount of moisture in the bin. The bedding goes on top in order to keep the food buried and discourage fruit flies.

I covered the bin with an old towel to keep it dark, insulated, and ventilated and put the bin in our basement. Worms are supposed to thrive in temperatures from 55-77 F, and our basement is currently around 60 F. Hopefully, this won’t drop too much over the winter.

There you have it. The worms should be pretty well taken care of at this point. All there is do is wait and let them do their thing.

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