Leaves & Yard Waste as Worm Food
Here is a question from Armand:
Hi. I am looking into getting some worms, primarily to do
something useful with the piles of yard waste I generate. I mulch to
no end but I still end up with piles of leaves in the end. I think
some worms may help me out if I start to compost them. she thinks
worms are very interesting. So the question is: would worms eat up my
leaves & how much should I buy? Currently I have about 3 cubic yards
of yard waste. Thanks
This is a great question since it addresses something a lot of people are likely wondering about – namely, “can I use composting worms in a regular composter to process my regular waste materials?”. I talk so much about “worm bins” (and Worm Inns – haha), and don’t really discuss the use of Red Worms in a normal composter all that much.
The good news is that composting worms can be VERY effective in a backyard composting system – and in fact, I would highly recommend that people add them to these systems since they can help to greatly speed up the process.
There are some important things to keep in mind though. You need to stick to the fundamentals of worm composting (thereby providing at least the minimum requirements of the worms) in order to be successful. You can’t just pile up a bunch of leaves and grass and weeds, then toss in some worms. First and foremost, I would recommend creating a high quality worm composting “habitat”. In order to do this you will need some absorbent bedding materials and some “food” materials.
If you happen to be able to get some well-aged livestock manure (preferably from a farm – not a garden center), this would be the ultimate material to get started. Alternatively, you could mix up some “homemade manure” instead, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on the bedding materials (than suggested in the video and my other homemade manure posts). Once you have a good food-rich (and well moistened) environment for the worms, you can basically toss in whatever you want (within reason, of course). Fall leaves are excellent once moistened and starting to rot. A really great mix is mulched leaves and grass clippings – just lay the leaves out on the grass and run over them with the lawn mower. I would also continue to add water-rich food wastes to a composter containing Red Worms since these materials will not only provide food but they’ll also help to keep things moist.
With backyard systems, one of the things you will definitely want to avoid is adding too much material all at once, since you don’t want the system to overheat and kill off your worms. If you DO have a large volume of material, I recommend doing some “pre-composting” (hot composting for a short period of time) before starting to add the material to the system with the worms.
In terms of how many worms to buy – with outdoor systems there really isn’t any minimum in my mind since it’s not a big deal for everything to sit and decay before the worm population becomes well established. Unless you are pretty savvy with setting up a good composting worm habitat, I would actually likely recommend starting small – since adding a lot of worms to an improperly prepared outdoor system can often result in a lot of worms leaving in a hurry (meaning that most of your money spent has been wasted). A great way to stock an outdoor system is to buy worms that come with their own habitat material – this way they are more likely to settle in and stay put. You might think about putting an ad in a local classified site (Kijiji, Craigslist etc) to see if you can get a small amount of worm-rich material from someone in your area (who is also keeping composting worms).
Anyway – I hope this helps!