When To Add More Food To A Worm Bin

Worm Composting...

“I do have a question. The worm bin is new, and the bedding, shredded newspaper that is damp is all new. I have been cautious about adding “food” to the bin as I did not want to over feed. The bin smells good when I dig around. What is the best way to tell when to add food?

Do I just keep adding to the topmost bin until all the worms move up there? Will they turn the bedding in the lower bin(s) to casting before they move on up to the next level? Thanks for any advice you can give.” ~ Karen

Hi Karen,

It definitely sounds as though you own some type of stackable flow-through worm bin. I also get the impression that you may have set up multiple trays at once (since you mention there being bedding in the ‘lower bins’), or you are at least adding new trays fairly frequently.

As discussed in our feature article this week, the stackable type of worm bin works best when you add one tray at a time. It is also helpful to make sure the materials in the active tray are fairly well processed (and nearing the top of the tray) before another one is added.

I think people often assume that ‘full’ simply means when the bedding/food has reached the top of the tray. Really, if you think about it, this could easily happen when you set up the first tray, since fresh materials tend to be quite bulky.

Obviously, there is a pretty good chance that there will be at least SOME unprocessed material left in a tray when you add the next one (in fact, this material can actually act as a ‘bridge’ from one tray to the next), but it should also contain a fair amount of vermicompost by then as well. Some worms will certainly linger down in the lower tray(s) for a period of time before moving upwards, and they will help to take care of all the remaining unprocessed materials.

As far as deciding when to add food, I always recommend letting your worms be your guide. Never assume that they will be able handle all your kitchen scraps, or exactly 1/2 their weight in waste per day etc etc. Especially when just starting up a new system, your ‘cautious’ approach is indeed the best way to avoid getting yourself into trouble.

Monitor the food materials you’ve already added and try to get a feel for how quickly the worms are consuming them. You don’t need to wait until they’ve completely vanished before adding more, but don’t keep adding new material if you notice that food is being processed relatively slowly.

One thing I should mention though – it IS important to take into consideration what types of food you are adding. For example, if you are adding fresh, unchopped cauliflower and carrots and your worms are taking forever to consume them, it obviously doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t hungry. Do try to help the process along whenever possible – freezing, cooking, chopping, grinding – these are all ways to accelerate the break down of food wastes.

Hope this helps!

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