How many worms to purchase for your home bin

gmw1November 29, 2009

Found this today and thought I would share. It's certainly a good guide to how many worms one needs immediately.

How Many Worms Do I Need?

from The WORM BOOK; Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor;

Ten Speed Press, 1998

ISBN -10 0-89815-994-6

pp 39

Worms eat approximately 1/2 their weight in food every day, depending on temperature, humidity, etc.

Weigh daily your amount of kitchen waste/composting materials, and average them over a week. Some days will by higher amounts than others.

Divide the amount by seven, number of days in a week.

If your kitchen averages 1 lb. waste per day, then you need 2 lbs worms to compost your waste materials.

So-now you know how many pounds of worms to get for your bin!

If a pound of worms takes up one square foot, you will need about 3 square feet in your bin for your two pounds of worms, perhaps more. (Don't forget the bedding!)

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I think you can start with many fewer than this recommendation as long as you don't overwhelm them with food in the beginning. They naturally adjust their population to the amount of food they're getting and the size of your bins. The important thing is not to overwhelm them with food until they have time to adjust.

I started with about a quart of compost plus worms from a fellow vermicomposter's bin. The mixture of soil microbes that you get from another compost bin may be almost as important as the worms.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2009 at 10:56AM
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I would tend to agree with rickd. You can start with fewer worms and let your population grow.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2009 at 6:36PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Although this formula may hold true under certain conditions, I would point out some caveats. First, don't expect most foods to disappear in a day. A pound of worms, even under ideal conditions, may take three days to process three pounds of food. That's different than giving them a pound a day. Second, that food needs to be somewhat worm ready. A fresh, whole head of lettuce will take much longer to disappear than one that has begun to rot and is torn into pieces. Third, worms and the microorganisms they feed on are more active when warmer. For red worms that would be in the 70-77ºF range. Last, a pound of worms in a 1'x1' bin will probably process food faster than if they were in a 4'x4' bin. They'll almost certainly reproduce faster in the smaller bin.

If you've got money to spare, then by all means buy enough worms to process your food scraps right from the start. If your goal is to process the most food & produce the most compost, then over 1 lb. of worms per sq. ft. of worm bin area is better. I would love to see what 5 lbs. of worms in my 2.3 sq. ft. bin would do. One would still need to avoid overfeeding, but it's much harder to overfeed that large a squirm.

The more I read about beginner's mistakes, the more I think it's best to start with a pound of worms in a small bin. A 10 gal. storage container has less than 2 sq. ft. of area. Not only does the smaller bin encourage worm reproduction, it discourages overfeeding. If the bin is well tended, then the squirm can quickly grow to 2-4 several months. The beginner can then build a larger bin or spin-off some of his squirm to start a new bin.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 12:50AM
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these are excellent points and I am enjoying this discussion very much. It's what I hoped for when I quoted from the book.
That being said, I think her argument for a certain number of worms for a certain amount of waste composting is a cogent one.
Naturally one does need to begin smaller, imho, as there is a learning curve in caring for one's squirm. I am very glad I can only accidentally kill half a hundred worms if something goes wrong in my bin right now! Later I will feel much better prepared for what might happen, but I am very happy to leave my bin growing the way it is.

But~ the one thing this material is letting me understand is how much I can actually feed my ounce of worms! It's much more difficult to overfeed if one understands this basic principle of about half the weight in worms a day, weather and conditions permitting.

Don't you agree?

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 7:30PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Hi, Gina. I do agree that "half the weight in worms a day" is good information to have. I just remembered my own disappointment when I checked my worms and discovered they had not eaten the food I'd given them the day before. I knew about the "under ideal conditions" phrase and had given the worms half the amount suggested by the rule of thumb. They still didn't finish it! What's wrong with these worms? I must've bought deficient worms or something. :-)

So my caveats were just a heads up for beginners to moderate their expectations. There's quite a bit that goes into "under ideal conditions" and it's probably better to begin feeding much less - maybe half the weight in worms per WEEK. If enough bedding is provided, the worms will not starve and the beginner can slowly ramp up feeding as they observe how much their worms actually process.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 11:37AM
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To say that 1 pound of worms will eat 1/2 pound of food every day is not to say that 1/2 pound of food placed in the bin will be eaten in one day. The worms eat the food as it decomposes, which can take several days. As the worms are working on the food you fed today (which isn't likely, it could take a few days for the food to decompose sufficiently), the worms will also be eating the food that you fed yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 1:14PM
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This is an interesting thread and I'm very glad to see other's thoughts on the process. In my bins, I find that the larger the bin for the amount of worms you have leaves you more room for error. I start with lots of bedding, make sure the food additions are mixed with even more bedding, and I seldom have overfeeding problems. Remember that the worms are not the only decomposers you have in the bin and in case you over feed slightly, using a good mix of bedding and foodstock, compost will happen in any case. Don't get me wrong, I am fairly careful about not overfeeding, but I think in a larger bin, no matter the population of worms, within reason, your food will break down very well using this method. Your worms should multiply like crazy and before you know it you'll stick your hand (or fork) down in there and pick up a huge squirm, something resembling a miniature brain. I love worms. steve

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 3:36PM
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I think all your thoughts on this topic have reinforced my belief that I should only feed once or twice a week, especially until my worm bin holds the two or so pound of worms I will need for our kitchen garbage.

I waited until the bin had warmed up once I had brought it in, and fed again, about 1/2 cup plus coffee grounds, (about a tblspn-ful) on the premise they really needed to wake up properly before feeding them. I noticed that they are still wading thru the leaf litter/newspaper shreddings, but since I began feeding close to the half a cup a week that this consumption of bedding has slowed down some. Good thing, too. Our daily has shrunk to nothing, it seems. It takes a month of Sundays to get enough to replenish the bin!

I suspect my half cup a week is approximate to the amount my small herd would consume daily, but plus coffee. I don't include the coffee because it does not seem to me to behave the way other foods do. One doesn't see black flies around coffee grounds. So--adding coffee is sort of like a treat, like dessert, to the regular 'meal'. Even if they like it enough to consume it first, it's not going to take away from the nutrition they get with the regular foods. And, it certainly has cut down on the amount of bedding they want to consume, so I guess they are getting something out of it.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2009 at 6:14PM
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