Can I overfeed my worms?

teaal4June 8, 2010

I was just wondering if it's possible to overfeed them. How often and about how much should I be feeding them. I will tell you that I do blend most of the scraps for them. I have about 75 worms in my Rubbermaid container.


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Overfeeding is relative to the size of the container of worms. I have put 2 gallons of slop in my 4x3x2 box by spreading a 2" deep layer on ½ of the surface and then covering with shredded cardboard. Two weeks later I emptied the freezer of all the frozen worm food that had accumulated in the freezer. That material was placed as frozen chunks on the other half of the worm box and sprinkled with shredded cardboard. I could never get away with that in a tote.
Problems of overfeeding small systems:
Protein Poisoning or Sour Crop: worms eat too much food and not enough microorganisms so the food rots inside the worm, gases are produced, and the worms pop or develop "string of pearls" effect. Cure- mix your food with a small amount of "finished" VC and let it sit a couple days before feeding the worms (give the micro-herd a head start).
BSFL: If excess food is left exposed in the worm box, BSFL invade and take over a box. Basically they will eat all (and I mean all) of the food put in the box before the micro-herd even starts and create a liquid that will drown your worms (then they eat the drowned worms). This process really stinks and BSFL are almost impossible to get rid of. Cure- always bury the worm food under shredded cardboard. If the worm box is already infested with BSFL, only feed shredded paper. The BSFL will go dormant and the worm box can be harvested as normal. Worms will survive on shredded paper alone, BSFL will not (they will eat the glue in cardboard). If you ever feed the infested box with regular food (i.e. table scraps, manure, etc.) the BSFL will be back three-fold. I had them in my 4x3 box and had to repaint the inside with fiberglass resin to get the BSFL smell out of it (the smell attracts more BSFL, but discourages all other flies).
These were the only 2 problems I felt needed to be addressed, as others had already mentioned stink, heat, flies, ants etc. If you have more food than worms, split the bins or totes, and pre-rot the food. The worms will quickly fill up the new bins (spring=warm growing time) and in 2-3 months you will have twice as many worms.
With new worms the easiest way to mess up is overfeeding. We believe that a pound of worms can eat ½ pound of food a day. Actually, the worms eat the micro-organisms that are breaking down the food in the normal course of decomposition. It does take some time for this micro-herd to reach full efficiency. Patience is required. Air holes, moist bedding, 65 to 75 temps, and darkness are real easy for us to do.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 5:14PM
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Two comments on steamyb's post:

1) If I spread a two inch layer of food on top of the bedding in my bin, it heats up and won't cool off for almost a week.

2) In 2 or 3 months you have twice the biomass of worms, not twice as many. You will probably have more than twice as many, but most of them will be juveniles.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 6:15PM
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75 worms will only eat about a spoonfull each week. See if you can get some more worms. Seriously. :)

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 4:26AM
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I think overfeeding worms is a misnomer. What you are doing when you overfeed is disrupt the environment of the bin itself. You are making that bin too hot, too acid, too anerobic etc.

It is a small contained environment and the worms can not escape. In the wild if a load of fresh manure is dumped on some old pile where worms are thriving, those worms will simply move a short distance to where the conditions are right for them then move back as conditions improve.

Alot of animals will overeat. Some dogs will eat a whole bag of dog food if it is left out. A cow that gets into a field of fresh corn will eat alot and then bloat. But I seriously doubt a worm will eat something it should not.

One of the things we do in our bins is actually cold compost the food/bedding. How much the worms are actually eating is a little difficult to really determine. What I mean by this is if you put in 5 pounds of 'recognizable people food' and cardboard and two weeks later you look in and only see a few scraps of wet cardboard and alot of brown stuff, you might say the worms ate it. But unless you actually sift it and see how much is castings, you won't know just how much actually passed through a worms digestive system. Alot of what you are seeing is probably simply the work of microbes- basic composting.

Does it matter? Probably not if you want to dispose of scraps. So my idea is to slowly add stuff continually to avoid disrupting the status quo (don't pollute the small ecosystem)and let my worm colony build in numbers.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 9:47AM
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You can but you shouldn't.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 12:27PM
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I keep my bin in a perpetual state of overfed.

I would use the "frozen chunks" too and not defrost especially in summer.

"Protein Poisoning or Sour Crop: worms eat too much food and not enough microorganisms so the food rots inside the worm, gases are produced, and the worms pop" SteamyB youÂve been holding out on us. I do not think you are a professional researcher. However your theory seems good to me. IÂm believing it unless something better comes along. I have been wondering if the "throw it in a bucket and let it rot first" folks were onto something. I do not want to wait but to throw it on the bin right now. I was thinking about a sort of above the bin 9-inch wide tube the food could age in as it falls towards the bin. I usually wrap each offering in newspaper and set them in the flow thru. At any time there may be a few layers aging in place which the worms are not in yet. IÂm not sure how I feel about it. I so agree with adding finished, or wet, or not yet finished, or larger pieces of vermicompost back on top of the bin. "(give the micro-herd a head start)" I like the picture this conjures up in my mind. Racing micro-herd, worms in hot pursuit. I can hear the race announcer. BSFL "(then they eat the drowned worms)" LOL.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 6:36PM
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I agree with the cold composting happening in our bins comments.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 6:41PM
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