The question of what you are and are not “allowed” to add to a worm composting system always makes for an interesting (often heated) discussion in the RWC Facebook group.
On the one hand, I agree these “rules” can be helpful for keeping newbies out of trouble, but on the other I feel it can send the wrong message…and lead to the proliferation of needless fear-mongering.
Nearly ALL forms of organic waste can be processed in a vermicomposting system – it’s usually just a matter of how! Different materials can require different handling/optimization practices for best results (or even to simply avoid killing your worms), but it really just comes down to learning the proper approach and easing yourself into it.
For a little while now I’ve been pondering the idea of getting back into (compostable) kitty litter vermicomposting, and also wondering what I should do with coffee grounds I’ve been keeping separate from my regular kitchen scrap waste stream (we’ll come back to this).
Having recently tossed some iffy scraps – the remains of a watermelon salad that contained a lot of feta cheese – into one of my backyard composters it finally hit me! I should create the ultimate “No No” system – and basically just add whatever I want!
What could possibly go wrong?!
I know, it sounds a little over-the-top, if not downright idiotic (lol). But I can assure you there is some method to this madness!
This bin is the perfect candidate for this experiment. For starters, it is a large, well-ventilated, outdoor composter. All I’ve done with it this season is add a bunch of bulky yard wastes – so it’s doubtful there is even any sort of worm population up in the composting zone.
These bulky wastes have reduced in volume by about 50% – so there is now plenty of room for new materials and there is a nice “false bottom” buffer zone in between the toxic sludge zone (kidding!) and the lower reaches of the system, where worms are likely hanging out.
Yesterday, I got things started by completely emptying out my cat’s litter box into the bin (FYI – I use chick starter crumbles as a clumping cat litter) , adding a layer of coffee grounds (with filters), and watering down.
Some of you are likely wondering about the coffee grounds – I mentioned earlier that I’ve been keeping them separate from the rest of my kitchen scraps. Just generally, it might seem strange that they are being used for this experiment. After all, they are so widely touted as a great addition to a worm bin – not something you should avoid.
No crazy claims or revelations to see here (lol) – it’s just a somewhat tricky material to work with at times and I happen to have an ongoing supply that needs a “home”.
The main reason I am keeping them separate from my other scraps is so as to avoid adding them to my “Super Simple Vermicomposting Pit Garden“. As touched on, I’ve become increasingly convinced that using too much of this material in the garden can seriously hamper plant growth (and maybe overall health), and in recent months they have made up a pretty significant proportion of my overall waste stream.
SO, what else should we add to this evil system of ours, to make this a really fun experiment?
Lots of different possibilities:
– Starchy wastes
I realize 4 of the 6 might seem perfectly reasonable – but key here is that they are all tricky in their own way.
Also, I do want to point out that the idea here isn’t to be as rebellious and ridiculous as I possibly can, regardless of consequences. On the contrary, I want to demonstrate that there are ways to effectively process tricky wastes in a vermicomposting system. Part of doing so involves responsible bin management practices. I already mentioned some of the perks of this particular bin (aeration, location, false bottom) – but I will also help things along by adding bedding and “living” materials. This will help to balance the rich foods and mask odors etc.
Still – I fully expect other organisms – such as various types of fly larvae – to take advantage of the nutritious buffet. And that’s totally fine!
One of the things I love about having systems like this (eg my kitty litter composters of the past) is that they can help to boost the growth of non-food plants – such as comfrey – that can then be used in my vermicomposting trenches (etc).
Anyway – I’m weirdly excited about this project. Not sure why! lol
Be sure to let me know what wastes you think I should add in the comments section.
And, as always, stay tuned!
** UPDATE – August 6th (4 days after original post) **
Just wanted to share a quick update about the other materials I’ve been adding to this system so far. It’s funny – I bought some oranges for the first time in a while and have started using fresh lemons just so I could add some citrus (you know you are a worm-head when…lol). All the gunk that ends up in my drain catch now also ends up in my special (“bad boy”) scrap collection bag.
This bag was getting fairly full the other day so I decided to dump it in the system. I started by adding the toilet paper rolls and hardwood stove pellets (both provide carbon to help balance rich food wastes).
Next I added the remains of chicken drumsticks that had been sitting in my freezer.
Then I added the contents of my collection bag – coffee grounds and filters, citrus wastes, onion scraps, and drain catch gunk. I covered all this with some living material (coarse screenings from a recent vermicompost harvest) and watered down well.
It’s been really interesting watching how things have developed in the system so far. Not surprisingly there are lots of flying insects zoning in on the wastes – and I saw a lot of ants in there this morning (watered down again to discourage them a bit). Also not really too surprising, the overall level of material seems to be going down quite quickly.
Still no bad smells – the bedding, living material and excellent ventilation definitely help with that.
I’m curious to see how long it takes for the worms to move in.
I did a recent experiment where I put shredded cardboard soaked in hamburger grease in my worm bin. The worms were all over it. Maybe grease from cooking is something to try. A followup experiment showed that the grease needs to be absorbed in bedding, or the worms will ignore it.
This is really interesting, Scott – I wouldn’t have expected grease to be appealing at all! This has the wheels turning a bit for possible side experiments. Thanks for chiming in. 😎
My own somewhat limited experience in proper worm farming – as opposed to just outdoor bins where the worms do their thing without much intervention on my part – is that with enough bedding (paper, cardboard, dry shredded leaves), almost anything will work. Within reason, I don’t worry about dairy, meats, stews, soups, fatty stuff, you name it.
So here’s my question/challenge: what about moss? I mean, the type of moss that grows on roofs and sometimes gets rather thick. I should think it would be great for worms – and possibly problematic in most other composting – but don’t know.
Oh, I also have a fair amount of wood chips, sometimes sawdust. I don’t expect magic, and just treat it as bedding, but comments welcome.
Hi Bentley: I used to have 2 of these bins in my backyard at the fence, furthest from the house for concern re. critters. When kept moist they would be full of worms. All kinds of “no-no” went into them. It was basically the usual backyard composter that became a worm bin on its own.
Then one day I made a mistake by adding Morning Glory, Boston Ivy and other weed and that’s the end of it. I had to starve and dry out/kill these 2 bins.
Would you add weed to your ‘bad boy” bin? I see Boston Ivy hovering above it.