Is it a mistake to put food waste in with leaf bedding?

TrpnBils(6B)December 15, 2013

So I started a bin about a week ago (30x18x12 with only labout 6" of bedding) and ran into a question. I know that it might take some time for the worms to start actually breaking down to food scraps I put in (how long of a time is that, anyway?), but just to see what they'd do I have a small amount of lettuce and part of an avocado skin in the bin right now. It's been a few days and I've checked it probably four or five times now and haven't seen any kind of activity near it. Food scraps are setting on top of the bedding, by the way...should I slightly bury it?

My main question is this: I know worms will eventually compost the leaves that I'm using for bedding. Is that going to take away from them breaking down food scraps, or will they still break them down as fast? If I were to switch to cardboard bedding, could we compost more food scraps? We don't produce a ton of food scraps, so it would be nice to compost all of it if I could.

Or is this just a matter of them needing to "settle in" longer?

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Boukmn(10b)

The number of worms you start with IMHO, will largely determine how swiftly food scraps are attacked. My own view borne from my experience is keep the worms in compost or horse manure beading and let them multiply to mass levels. Only then would I try them on small amounts of fresh veggie / fruit scraps.

Fresh veggies / fruit scraps added to less than a thousand worms will increase the likelihood your bin will become unstable, attract fruit flies or both. I have noticed that even when I blend the veggies / fruit scraps with coffee grounds and egg shells, the worms leave it alone for a long, long time till it starts to really decompose. This is the hint that I took that finally got me to keep my fresh veggies / fruit scraps in my outdoor compost bin.

To illustrate this, I will post a few recent pick to show how the worms break down Moringa leaves.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 12:57PM
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Boukmn(10b)

This is the fourth day when the leaves naturally begin to break down:

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 1:03PM
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Boukmn(10b)

On day 5 is when the worms even begin to notice the fresh food:

This post was edited by Boukmn on Sun, Dec 15, 13 at 13:20

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 1:06PM
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Boukmn(10b)

Day 6:

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 1:08PM
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Boukmn(10b)

The point is, MY worms prefer the material pre composted or at least "rotted" before they engage. It may be important to note, the vast majority of my actual worms are Perionyx excavatus, not Eisenia fetida though I have some in there as well. I prefer Perionyx excavatus because I live in hot South Florida, they multiply way faster than Eisenia fetida and are much more aggressive eaters of food material. By day 7, the leaves are gone! I mean gone it castings. I am now a convert to feeding the worms an exclusive diet of sifted compost and horse manure. Send the food scraps to the outdoor compost bin, not the worms.

Finally, DAY 7:

This post was edited by Boukmn on Sun, Dec 15, 13 at 13:29

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 1:19PM
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Boukmn(10b)

I would say it is a mistake to put fresh veggie / fruit waste in the bin, period. Especially if you are a newbie.

What is the point to adding fresh food waste to the worm bin anyway? Because all the worm-bin-advert-hype says that's what we should do? On the contrary....

Adding fresh food waste to a bin means:
1. You must add a heavy layer of beading material atop the waste to minimize fruit flies. This is a waste of bin space and is almost always ineffective.
2. You greatly increase the chances your bin will heat up, become acidic, unstable and drive out the worms to their deaths.

You can avoid these worm losses and waste and go straight to enjoying a large population of active, veracious worms producing really great quantities of castings quickly by working a traditional compost bin and / or horse manure with your worm bin.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 2:10PM
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Boukmn(10b)

I would say it is a mistake to put fresh veggie / fruit waste in the bin, period. Especially if you are a newbie.

What is the point to adding fresh food waste to the worm bin anyway? Because all the worm-bin-advert-hype says that's what we should do? On the contrary....

Adding fresh food waste to a bin means:
1. You must add a heavy layer of beading material atop the waste to minimize fruit flies. This is a waste of bin space and is almost always ineffective.
2. You greatly increase the chances your bin will heat up, become acidic, unstable and drive out the worms to their deaths.

You can avoid these worm losses and waste and go straight to enjoying a large population of active, veracious worms producing really great quantities of castings quickly by working a traditional compost bin and / or horse manure with your worm bin.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 2:21PM
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sbryce_gw

Another point of view:

Your leaf bedding is high in carbon. To break down efficiently, there needs to be some nitrogen in the bin as well. Your food scraps will supply the nitrogen.

Your bin is still new, so things will be happening slowly for a while. Give it time.

Yes, your food scraps should be buried slightly under some bedding.

Avocado skins break down very slowly, even in a well established bin. Aim for softer and wetter foods, like apple cores, pear cores, melon rinds, etc.

And you can never go wrong with compost and horse manure in the bin.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 5:06PM
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TrpnBils(6B)

So in all the reading I did prior to setting this up, I was under the impression that you "could" add horse manure to the bin. Now, based on these replies, it seems like it's a mandatory staple of sorts?

Boukmn - What's the point in adding food to the bin? Almost every post on this forum seems to suggest that it's one of the main things people do with their bins. If you can't add occasional food scraps, doesn't it basically just make this an unnecessarily elaborate, living cardboard recycling program?

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 8:45PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I haven't vermicomposted in 8 years or so, due to divorce, move, etc. But, when I was vermicomposting, I used exclusively shredded newspaper and fresh kitchen waste. I had a very successful, long-term bin for 4 years or so. Never overheated, never smelled, never had escapees or die-off, and produced tons of castings for the garden. I wouldn't bother with worms if I couldn't put in fresh waste. I actually came back to the forum because I miss my worms and want to start up again. I probably should wait until spring, when shipping won't freeze the poor worms.

Martha

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 10:07PM
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sbryce_gw

Horse manure is not a mandatory staple. It is simply one of the best things you can feed your worms. Your bin will be fine without it. It will be wonderful with it.

The point of adding food scraps? The bin needs a balance of nitrogen and carbon. Bedding is high in carbon. It will break down faster if there is nitrogen in the bin. Food scraps supply the nitrogen. In an outdoor composting bin we try to balance the carbon and nitrogen. Composting happens quickly and there is heat. In a worm bin we start with a lot of carbon (bedding) and add nitrogen (food) gradually.

Horse manure is a perfect balance of carbon and nitrogen by itself.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 10:56PM
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equinoxequinox

That avocado skin will live to see many moons. The lettuce is probably gone by now.

Many of us vermicompost as a way to get a second use out of kitchen scraps by turning them into castings. Castings have different, better, properties for some needs than compost.

"In an outdoor composting bin we try to balance the carbon and nitrogen. Composting happens quickly and there is heat. In a worm bin we start with a lot of carbon (bedding) and add nitrogen (food) gradually." Nice description, sbryce.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 12:44AM
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Boukmn(10b)

For TrpnBils & DocMom;

The point I want to emphasize is that food waste is a risk in a new bin, especially for a newbie. I am not saying it can't be done. My argument is save the food wastes for a mature (read: months old and at least 2,000 worms) bin and the compost and horse manure for the new bin. Horse manure is not mandatory. Instead, regard it as a "no-brainer", no-risk, perfect food/beading choice.

My argument is food waste should be kept to a minimum proportion vs-a-vi the mass of worms and bedding even in a mature bin.

My argument is fresh food wastes in a worm bin is a less efficient more risky means of generating only small quantities of vermicompost than when regular compost is added to the worm bin.

As I demonstrated from the images, worms seem to prefer their food to achieve at least some decay before actually invading it so why waste time adding it fresh to the bin attracting fruit flies for the week it takes to rot?

Remember, I even used a blender (food processor) on my veggie waste and the fresh stuff was void of worms for at least a week. This finally convinced me to rot it first in an outdoor compost bin where I can add lots of fresh waste, create partial or full compost in a few weeks and have a LOT of ready worm food to add all at once to my worm bins that is converted to a LOT of worm castings in just a few days!

This post was edited by Boukmn on Mon, Dec 16, 13 at 4:06

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 3:45AM
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chuckiebtoo

Another thing about all this:

There is no "right" way, or "wrong" way....as long as moderation is used. When adding something you've little experience with, a little dab will do you and with observation you'll only kill a few worms if you've added toilet bowl cleaner or something.

Another thing missing sometimes.....using whatcha got. Conservation and thinking "green" used to be one of the basic foundations of vermicomposting. That's the reason I got into it, but the art of it has evolved into something else.

As a matter of principle, I would never buy commercial products to enhance my bin activity. There is more than enough in our garbage pickup every week to satisfy every worm you got. The most abundant of those: food (veggie) scraps.

Chuckiebtoo

Ever experimented with dryer lint?

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 8:53AM
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sbryce_gw

Boukmn's method is a good one, but, as Chuckiebtoo says, you use what you have, and not all of have the luxury of a horse nearby or an outdoor bin. And not all of us want to bring horse manure inside. The worms want some nitrogen in the bin, and for most of us, that means kitchen scraps.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 9:06AM
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hummersteve

Certainly some aged horse manure would be a great bedding but everyone does not have that availability so we use something more practical to us.

In trying a similar experiment I viewed on you tube but I changed it up some. I have a 19gal tub, started with a layer of cardboard egg shell case -then a layer of mulched leaves-- then two butternut winter squash sliced in half belly down seed removed. On observing this [about 1000 worms in this bin] I found the worms quickly went to the squash, in fact day or night upon checking I never see a worm on the walls of the tub- one issue seems to be keeping the leaves moist as they tend to dry out quickly[this is an inside bin]. Im thinking I may have put too many leaves in maybe a 2" layer on top of cardboard. Anyway my goal is to see how long this would take and to get as near 100% castings as possible. Anyway it has now been 1 month since the start worms seem happy working 24-7 on the squash with its slow decomposing. Nothing else has been added only water. Im guessing this might take more than 2mo to finish which is ok. Any thoughts or suggestions or comments are welcome.

start--11-14

1week--11-22

11-22

3 weeks--12-07

1 month--12-15

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 12:45PM
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PCinDC(7)

I wouldn't have a bin if I couldn't add food waste to it. As was noted, the lettuce is likely gone and the avocado peel will be around for a looong time (I break mine up by hand after they've been in for a while and just treat them as compost). In the interest of learning, I would suggest adding more food waste than your worms can handle so you have a sense of how much that is. Just make sure you check on them every few days or every week to make sure they aren't all crawling up the sides if your bin trying to escape. To keep flies out I cover my bins with old towels. They let air in but not flies. It's hard at first to know how much and what to add but with experience you'll figure it out.
PC

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 1:44PM
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hummersteve

With my bin I have a lot of holes in the sides for aeration but none in the lid and like I say they worms are not complaining- obviously there is enough as I never see a worm on the walls or lid day or night.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 1:54PM
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equinoxequinox

"Ever experimented with dryer lint?" No. If I owned only 100% natural fiber clothes maybe I would. With non natural fibers like I have, that is for making fire starters.

hummersteve: Great close up picture of juicy, happy worms. Great time lapse squash pictures. Ummmmm. Where is the top of the squashes? Usually the part you fed the worms, we eat. The top, seeds, guts, skin and two week old leftovers the worms eat. Probably squash was on good sale. Any left over, frozen on the step pumpkin? They might want some.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 9:46PM
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Boukmn(10b)

PCinDC added;

"I would suggest adding more food waste than your worms can handle so you have a sense of how much that is. Just make sure you check on them every few days or every week to make sure they aren't all crawling up the sides if your bin trying to escape."

Can this strategy work? Yes. Is it more risky? Yes. Is the reward worth it? Some people would not do vermicomposting if they couldn't add fresh to the bin, so for them, yes it is. I'd make sure I've added enough bedding so my worms have a place to hide if something goes West. However, if your goal is maximum productivity (castings) in the least time per ratio of input? No. To each his own.

As was brought to my attention in another group, I'm in Florida and running an outdoor compost in DC or Mn this time of year would make even myself rethink the cost-benefit equation!

"To keep flies out I cover my bins with old towels. They let air in but not flies. It's hard at first to know how much and what to add but with experience you'll figure it out. "

Did that too. Florida Fruit flies laughed at my efforts and the worms ate the towels.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 10:38PM
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hummersteve

equinox-- Well Im not a squash eater. I cut off the very tops of what Im assuming is winter butternut squash. I removed all the seed I could but still had one sprouted that I missed. This is all just an experiment for me but the worms are kept busy as I mentioned so far no roamers. I like how you can see the worm castings even after 1 week in the worm closeup. I just hope this can help anyone else that might have questions or an urge to try something similar.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 12:14AM
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hummersteve

I dont have any pumpkin but I do have some frozen watermelon which I have cut up in my freezer and give them a treat ever so often. I put that in another bin I have going besides the tub with squash.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 12:46AM
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TrpnBils(6B)

Steve was that a new bin you put the squash in or was it an established bin with just a new layer of bedding on top of existing castings?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 6:46AM
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hummersteve

Trpn Bils

This was a new bin which I only had the items I described, cardboard, leaves, and squash, and obviously the worms.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 10:46AM
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TrpnBils(6B)

Interesting... that does give me some hope then. I checked again this morning and everything is still there just like it was when I put it in...lettuce and all. I did bury it under a layer of leaves two days ago. Room temp is 70 degrees (I'm a reptile breeder and the bin is still in the reptile room where I can keep the temps up higher than my 55-60 degree basement for awhile) and there's no appreciable heat coming from the bin. Leaves and cardboard were soaked prior to putting them in and wrung out. As a little test I left the bin tilted a little for a couple of days to make sure no water was pooling at the bottom.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 11:30AM
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hummersteve

Trpn Bils

When I feed veggies and fruit and whatever else I like to process the mix thru blender , juicer and save the pulp in another container for a few days. I drink the juice , especially of the fruit - yum yum. I have a hamilton beach big mouth juicer which works really well but Im sure any decent blender could do the same . The idea is with the food broken down like that the worms can eat it quicker although as we know it takes the microbial breakdown of the food that is actually eaten and by pulverizing the food this can happen quicker- anyway thats my two cents worth.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 12:14PM
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gerris2

I love this thread, gotta read it again and again.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 5:12PM
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gerris2

I love this thread, gotta read it again and again.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 5:14PM
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jasdip

The sole reason I got into worms in the first place is to reduce the waste going to the landfill. If I couldn't feed them food scraps, I wouldn't have worms.

We also have a Hamilton Beach juicer, Steve and I've fed the pulp to "the lads" when I wasn't using it in meatloaf, soups, etc.

I keep bags and bags of chopped potato skins, broccoli ends, carrot peelings, etc etc in the freezer to feed them any time.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 7:49PM
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chuckiebtoo

Juicers are a great tool, and blenders too, but it's also a good idea to put in some foods in chunks (cantaloupe, pumpkin, etc) to avoid the excess liquids of purees and stuff.

After horse manure, cantaloupe and pumpkin are my favorite condiments for the worm bed.

Chuckiebtoo

Patience, Moderation, Diversity

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 9:22AM
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jasdip

Has anyone put pineapple rinds in their bins???
I never have, but maybe I could. I picked up a pineapple on the reduced rack, to make into a smoothie. Can the rind be chopped and put in? I'm reluctant, because of the thorns, but I may be wrong.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 11:55AM
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gerris2

I put pineapple in my bin. I lay the cut surface down and covered it with bedding. It took a while for the worms to come to it, probably because it is on the acid side (?) but at some point they were all over the cut side of the skin. The outer pineapple surface does have thorns, but if you don't disturb the initial placement the thorns stay away from where the worms are working the food.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 12:10PM
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jasdip

I just did a search for Pineapple, and the consensus is not to put fresh pineapple in the bins. I usually do a search before asking, but I didn't this time.

I wonder if you're lucky, Gerris, or use just a small amount that it doesn't have any negative effect on the worms.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 2:09PM
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hummersteve

Canteloupe has about the strongest smell of anything Ive put in my bins although not a bad smell. I dont put it in my bins anymore.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 2:35PM
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jasdip

Wow, Steve, You're the first person I've heard that doesn't put cantaloupe in their bins. Melons are heaven on a stick for them. I like putting grapefruit in mine, the whole thing smells so fresh and citrusy!

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 3:27PM
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hummersteve

jasdip

Well, I do give my worms watermelon they seem to love it. In fact I buy it in the summer , slice it up and freeze it for winter feeding. I think as you go along you try different things that will work better or just a little variety - after all isnt that the spice of life.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 5:18PM
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gerris2

Was there a bad effect on the worms when they were given pineapple, jasdip?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 6:28PM
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jasdip

I'm putting the link here to the small discussion.

Reading it, and another thread again, I think I would use it........I'll just put a small amount in, one area, so that the worms can get stay away from it until they feel it's ready, if at all.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pineapple discussion

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 7:38PM
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equinoxequinox

The reason I put food in in chunks of whole is first off it is the worms job to do the work not mine. Second the moisture is released slowly into the bedding. This should let the right microbes grow just as needed. It is not the thorns of the pineapple that is the issue but putting a lot of it in the bin reminds one that pineapple is a meat tenderizer. How tender do you like your worms? Given enough bedding and an area to escape to non massive amounts of pineapple should be fine.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 10:33PM
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PCinDC(7)

My data point: I put pineapple in the bins frequently. My wife slices off the skin and top, I freeze, then add. No chopping or blender. It doesn't disappear right away (especially the green tops), but it does disappear. I also tend to add pulverized eggshells once in a while as a buffer to keep the acid down.
-PC

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 9:15AM
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rou1

If you want your worms to eat fast try blending their scraps. I place my scraps on top of the pile and mix with a small amount of dirt and then place a piece of wet cardboard over the food.The worm should start eating it within a day or two.The faster it molds the better. Worms love mold.Do not bury the food.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 11:07AM
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jasdip

I put some pineapple rinds in one corner. I checked it today and they are squirming all over it. So I deem it a success!

    Bookmark   December 24, 2013 at 4:11PM
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sbryce_gw

I'm surprised about the pineapple. But I have fed worms citrus and onions with no problems. Pineapple is supposed to be toxic to worms, but so is citrus. Perhaps the toxins in pineapple break down in the bin like the toxins in citrus do.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2013 at 8:22PM
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