Last week we scored on a big bag of banana peels. The first thing I thought of was, “The worms in our worm bin would love this.” We are currently responsible for 6 bunnies, 8 chickens, a 9-year-old boy and countless red wigglers…worms…yes worms. Worm Composting is different than regular composting; worm composting is super charged composting.
Here on our homestead, we throw very little away. Sure we recycle and have weekly trash picked up but seldom does our trash can smell. We rarely throw food away. Our motivation is not the small portion of the 165 billion dollars we’d save if the the rest of the world began vermicomposting; our motivation is the volume of nutrient-rich compost we can make and use to grow more food. We use worms to “process” our food waste and the end result is a nice volume of vermicompost…or worm poop for everyone who does not know what vermicompost is.
If you compost it, they will grow.
First and foremost: Worms. You’ll need worms and a worm bin to create vermicompost. And not just any old worm will do. You’ll need the good old Eisenia Fetida (also Eisenia Foetida) or better known as the Red Wiggler. There are other names you’ve likely heard of as well such as redworm, brandling worm, panfish worm, trout worm, tiger worm, and the red californian. Red Wigglers (as we’ll refer to this worm as) is an epigeic. The terms epigeal, epigean, epigeic and epigeous are biological terms describing the worm’s main life’s activity to be above the soil surface (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisenia_fetida). The red wiggler is a species of worm adapted to consuming decaying organic material (“organic” in terms of being biological in nature rather than the USDA definition). They consume the rotting parts of the food you put in the worm bin and leave a fresh surface that will rot and mold. This new rotten and moldy surface is “cleaned” by the red wiggler and the cycle continues until the food scraps are consumed…first by mold…then by the worm.
Regular earthworms will not do well in your worm bin. Though the Red Wiggler and the Earthworm are both worms, they differ in their scientific classification somewhat (thanks Wiki!). The earthworm is a tunneler. The earthworm works the ground deep and mixes the soil all about like a tiller with much less disruption to the soil’s structure. In contrast, the red wiggler is a surface dweller. I say “surface.” The red wiggler will “work” between the thatch of decaying surface materials and the soil itself. Some will dig a bit down into the soil but for the most part, they dwell at the top. Red Wigglers have thinner skin compared to their earthworm friends. This limits the depth they can tunnel and thereby making them poor soil aerators. But, they are the KING of vermicompoting.. Top-feeders are what you are looking for in your worm bin. With all that being said, if you get an earthworm in your bin…it’s A-OK. Take him out; leave him in. Either way, you’ll be OK.
Here’s how you set up a worm bin tray, bucket, container or any other contraption you are keeping your worms in:
Step 1: Bedding.
Consider anything that can maintain moisture and will not pack. Dirt / Soil is not a good bedding base for you worm bin. It will dry and pack. Use things like coconut coir or newspaper (not the glossy paper). Cardboard chunks will work too. Keep in mind that paper and cardboard are just materials made from fibers of cellulose pulp derived from wood or grasses. (Moisten the paper until it will not wring out any more water (well…maybe a drip or two)). You want the material to be moist but not soggy. If the worm’s home is too wet they will move out. Some folks use peat moss, aged compost and other organics. I’ve even used aged horse manure and done quite well.
Step 2: Grit. Worms have a crop and a gizzard.
The red wiggler’s digestive system has many parts. From the mouth, the food moves to the pharynx, then through the esophagus. The food then enters the crop where it is stored for a bit. The food then moves to the gizzard. The muscular gizzard uses little, tiny stones that the earthworm pulls out of the soil to grind the food completely before it moves into the worm’s intestine. In an artificial environment, like our worm bins, there are no tiny stones. A bit of sand can be added to the bin. However, sand does not have the “aeration” properties that pumice has. We also use finely ground egg shells. Will eggshells change the pH? Maybe a bit but I wouldn’t worry about it. Egg shell take the pH one way and fruit takes the pH the other way. So, we’ll just go with it and not overthink it. The food then moves into the intestines. We all know what happens when it leaves the intestines because that “end result” is what we are looking for. It’s the black gold. The jewel of the rectum. The poop that propagates. Okay…I’ve gotten carried away with it. The flourishing feculence for the fit field. Okay, I’ll stop.
Step 3: Mineral / Rock Dust.
Like I mentioned, the worm bin is an artificial environment. Whatever you put into your worm bin is what you’ll get out. Paradoxically, what you do not put into the bin will not come out. Unlike the outdoor compost pile, worms can not venture in and out and gather the needed elements that the compost pile may be lacking in. Rock dust (also known as rock powder, rock minerals, rock flour and mineral fines) adds many of the minerals that our worms need to stay healthy. Rock dust also will keep our plants healthy as well. It’s like a two-for-one. The worms use the minerals for a bit. Then they poop them out (or the worm dies and renders the nutrients to the soil) and then the plants take them up. Guess what? We eat the plants. That would make it a three-for-one. Isn’t it awesome how that brown powder is poured on the worm bin surface and we end up eating that very same stuff? The macro-compounds, trace elements and micronutrients enter the worm bin in this rock powder, it is eaten by the worms, travels all the way through the worms and is pooped out. The plant absorbs the minerals and we eat the plant. Mind blowing!!
Step 4: Food.
What do we feed the worms? Worms can eat just about whatever we can eat. There’s a caveat to that. Worms cannot eat everything we eat in the form we eat it in. Salts and fluctuations in pH can really challenge a worm habitat. Processed foods are often discouraged as worm food. Have you ever poured salt on a snail? Shame on you if you have. Worms are no different and trying to compost a bag of Fritos ® would definitely “mess things up” for your worm bin. Aside from sodiums, consider the pH of your worm bin. Worms like a nice pH neutral home to live in. Certain foods are more acidic or more alkaline than other foods. Some are way more acidic / alkaline than other foods. Consider an orange and its pH of between 3 and 4. The orange has the ability of lowering the pH of the worm bin significantly. Likewise, too much food on the alkaline side may have a negative effect as well. We had been given a bunch of banana peels for our worm bin. Banana peels have a pH slightly on the lower side. We used some egg shells in our bin to “kinda” off-set that acidity. Things could get real technical in regards to what to feed or what not to feed our worms. I don’t like technical; you don’t like technical. Let’s not get technical. Here’s a general (semi-complete) list of what NOT to feed your worms. For the most part: if it’s natural and has not been processed, it’s okay for the worm bin.
Don’t Feed The Worms
Meat or dairy products 
Citrus Fruits and avoid Pineapple all together 
Onions and garlic 
Fats or Oils
Salted or Pickled foods.
House plants that are Toxic
Fresh cut grass 
Fresh sawdust 
Just for kicks, let’s look at just a few goodies the worms CAN eat:
Salad Greens and Vegetables (A bit of dressing is OK but not too much).
Potato and other Peelings.
Fruit except for that mentioned above 
Egg shells 
Moist Paper / Cardboard
100% Cotton Material
Cereals and Grain 
Tea Bags and Coffee grounds
I will be happy to add to both of these lists. If you see something that needs to be added or taken out, feel free to comment below and I will modify the article (and give you credit for the idea).
We are usually motivated by anything that gives us pleasure and satisfaction. If the pleasure we gain is higher than the suffering we endure, then we’ll do it. Many are worried about the environment. Other’s could give a rat’s “you-know-what.” Either way, I think we can all come to some sort of motivational reason to begin vermicomposting or composting with worms.
About 30% of any given meal by any given will end up in the trash. If you normally “clean your plate,” that’s great. But have you ever thrown out something that spoiled? Thrown away the clippings and skin peelings of fruits and vegetables? Sure you have. On average, the world population throws away ⅓ of the food we grow / buy. That estimated 1.3 billion tons ends up as waste and that waste has to be stored somewhere. What does that cost? If you look at just the US, we spend a ton of money producing the food and a ton of money…actually…181,880 tons of money to throw it awaythat’s what $165,000,000,000.00 would weigh).
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 Worms will eat meat and they will benefit from dairy. However, the fats in these will go rancid quickly and stink up the bin. This “stink” will attract rodents and other stink-seeking bugs like house flies.
 Pineapple has an enzyme that may kill your worms outright.
 Onions and Garlic are often used to repel insects. Though worms are not insects, they as susceptible to the same components even the natural ones.
 May heat up initially and “cook” your poor worms. Compost the grass first before adding. Some hardwood sawdust may be toxic to the worms like oak and cedar.
 Too much fruit parts and you bin may become a bit too acidic. Crushed egg shells can help with this.
 Be sure to crush the shells as finely as possible.
 The high sugar cereals in moderation (for you AND your worms).
 We only use well composted manure and only during the summer AND in moderation for smaller bins. Most of the manure we use is mixed from the compost pile.