citrus peels in vermicomposting?

plantnfoolDecember 12, 2007

I was given three bushels of grapefruit and oranges. I have been told that worms will not eat the peels. They do not decompose rapidly. I am tempted to put them in the garden to decompose in their own time but very unsightly and my wife hates that. (I do my worms in the garden and cut out the middle containers as such.) How about freezing the grapefruit rinds first? I hate to put all that organic stuff into the landfill. Any info? Thanks Plantnfool

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I use all kinds of peelings. Freezing will help.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 12:01PM
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emily_ak(z2 AK)

From what I understand, it is the oils in citrus that can be harmful to worms. If you think about it, some of the more natural grease-cutters contain orange oil, so this must be what affects the worms. I do feed my worms the occasional orange or grapefruit peel, but it's on the order of 2-4 per week. Three bushels-worth may be too much, even if it's added over a month or so.

One thing that you could try is zesting the citrus before you use it (and then give the remainder to the worms). I generally zest all my citrus, and if I don't have an immediate use for it, put it in a freezer bag and freeze it. I love to add lemon/lime/orange/grapefruit/tangerine zest to muffins, cookies, marinades, compound butters, or iced tea. The majority of the oil is found in the zest, so if you remove it, you should remove most of the problem.

One more thing to consider is that citrus waste may be quite acidic. Add more eggshells (I let mine dry at room temp until I've filled a coffee can, put them in a bag and roll them with a rolling pin into small pieces) to help buffer the system. Plus your worms will need calcium to reproduce and form their own egg casings.
Emily in AK

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 1:35PM
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I would be concerned about putting a large quantity of citrus in the worms' area. I do put in the occasional orange peel, but not a lot and not regularly.

Don't you have a place where you can just dig a hole and bury them, away from the worms?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 2:37PM
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Hole in the ground seems like the best bet. Pardon my lack of vocabulary Emily but what is Zesting of citrus? I assume it means to grate it or something. Thanks for the replies. plantnFool

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 5:43AM
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Zesting, If I remember my cooking terminology correctly. Is scraping the brightly colored glossy outside part of the Citrus peal off.. You will see the zest used on tops of pies or cakes as decoration or incorporated into certain foods, to add a citrus hint to deserts or foods.... but I could be wrong.. If so please correct me...

I do agree ( if I have the zesting thing right) that it would help the worms eat it faster if that part was removed. The oil in the stuff after all is flammable. (bend an orange peel inward in front of a candle to squeeze the oil spray into the flame once to try it)

That being said.... I would never add that many citrus (3 bushels) to my worm bin unless it was huge with lots of already happy worms. ( hey, I wouldn't add that much of anything to my bin unless it was bedding.)

One thought... If you have your worms outside can you find enough space to dump the oranges and just cover them with leaves or some sort of mulch for several months? Just to let them break down for a while hopefully breaking down some of that oil... then slowly fold some of the mushy product into the bin at a rate they will eat.

If you keep it covered would your wife let you get away with it? Kinda out of sight out of mind. The smell would be cut down too if you were diligent in keeping the pile covered. That might allow you to add it at a more reasonable rate for the worms.

Hope that helps! :-)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 6:57PM
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emily_ak(z2 AK)

Yep, "zest" is the brighly colored outer part of the skin. The orange part of an orange, the green part of the lime, etc.

Zest--noun--the outer part of the skin of a citrus fruit.
Zest--verb--to remove the outer skin of a fruit, esp citrus.

You peel or scrape off just this outer skin--when "zesting" you try not to get any of the spongy white/pale flesh underneath. (This is called the pith, and doesn't have a good texture--spongy--and has a bitter or non-existent flavor.) Easiest way to zest something is to use a vegetable peeler (to get strips) or a box grater (to get grated/shredded bits). Try it! Use a vegetable peeler to get some strips of citrus and put this in hot or cold tea, maybe 2-3 strips per cup. Let sit for a few minutes, and enjoy citrus-flavored tea. Or add grated orange zest to barbeque sauce over meat or vegatables. Just remember to share your tea bag with your worms!

    Bookmark   December 14, 2007 at 2:09PM
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My worm bin is my garden. I am a Ruth Stout fan. My whole garden is covered in mulch or a green manure. I don't have three bushels of peels all at once as we are eating the citrus at the rate of several a day. I will bury them in the garden a bit at a time and if they have not become soil by spring time I may just till that area up to break it down further. Thanks for the advice. Plantnfool

    Bookmark   December 22, 2007 at 5:43AM
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squeeze(z8 BC)

the problem with citrus isn't that it's 'harmful' to worms, it's that the limonene [zest] requires particular bacteria to break it down, and until that begins, the limonene protects the remaining organic components of the citrus from bacterial action, although fungul decomposition proceeds

I regularly compost - if you want it to decompose faster, chop it up well, the smaller the pieces, the better


Here is a link that might be useful: my food waste composting

    Bookmark   December 22, 2007 at 7:03PM
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What I've done with citrus peels so far is to tear them up, mix them with other material, and let them compost a bit before adding them to the worm bin. (Worms go after "pre-composted" material faster in general, anyway.) Citrus peels seem to disappear as fast as anything else, using this method.

One week I had a dozen rotting grapefruit salvaged from a food bank. I ground them up in the food processor, added some corn flour, molasses, and an apple, and let the mess sit (outdoors) for a few days until it got spongy and smelled nice (no longer rotten). Then I added it to the compost bin, where it decayed real fast.

Like squeeze and others say -- the smaller you break down the citrus beforehand, the faster it will decompose.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2007 at 11:23PM
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