The Over-Feeding Challenge!

It’s been awhile since I’ve had any sort of fun challenge here on the blog, and as I surveyed a big heap of food waste I’ve been accumulating (wondering how I was going to manage to feed all of it to my indoor worms), it came to me in a blinding flash of brilliance!

Not only will I not worry about adding too much waste at once to my bins, I will do so with gusto – just to see what happens!

The total quantity of food waste is about 25 lb, so certainly not off the charts by any means, especially if I was going to use it to feed my outdoor beds – BUT I only have a handful of indoor worm composting systems active at the moment, and my total number of worms is actually quite small – perhaps a few pounds worth, if I’m lucky.

I DO however have some things going for me here. For starters, most of these systems are well-established, so the protective ‘habitat’ is present to help buffer against any nasty conditions that might develop. Even the newer systems will have quite a bit of buffer potential since I have a LOT of ‘compost ecosystem’ material at my disposal. This is basically partially composted materials from which most of the larger worms have been harvested – it is fantastic stuff for starting up a new system since, aside from the protective qualities it offers, it generally contains LOADS of baby worms and cocoons.

I also have the advantage of using open systems, thus preventing the build up of any noxious gases, and greatly improving air flow (and thus oxygen concentration) in the composting zone.

The waste materials themselves have been aged in my trusty kitchen scrap holder for as long as it takes to fill the biobag insert (perhaps a week or so), then placed outside where they froze solid. Today I have been breaking up the materials a little as well. I don’t want to help the worms too much though, since a common cause of ‘over-feeding’ is simply adding too much stuff that can’t be broken down quickly enough.

Any predictions??

Well, in all honesty I actually don’t foresee any major problems developing (as in worm die off or mass exodus) – there are just too many variables in my favor here. What will however be interesting to see is how the worms respond, how quickly they process the materials, and what sorts of population explosions I’ll see among other compost critters. I’m sure there will be an increase in white worms, mites and springtails.

Anyway – should be interesting!
I’ll be sure to provide you with an update next week.

Stay tuned!

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    • Allison
    • March 13, 2009

    Is it possible to give the worms the bio-bags as well as the stuff in the bags? I’m interested in possibly using the bags, but don’t want to buy something that can’t be composted in my indoor bin, as I’m an apartment dweller and don’t have the ability to compost outside too.

  1. Once again a very interesting article which was greatly enjoyed. I have given my indoor worms a little and a lot of food, depending what comes up. In the summer they get a lot of food with the lawn and garden scraps. ive had no trouble with smell, the fruit flies increase sometimes. Im still going to try moving some worms outside as soon as the weather breaks. For safety reasons I will keep some indoors next winter and put some outside.
    Thanks again and keep up the good work.

  2. I’m starting a new bin design. I just made a food paste of melon,coffee grounds (plus filters), a spoiled grapefruit half, brown salad and some cow manure. I ended up with a PH of 7. Yours is not the project I would try, too risky for me!
    My next food project is using BUFFALO manure as feedstock. I found a farm on the edge of town that has a herd of about 20 head.

    • michael i. settles
    • March 16, 2009

    I have used form plywood for vermicomposting bins for years. Every 4 to 6 years they break down and need to be replaced. My question is this: if i make the bin out of one inch thick concrete, will the alkalinity from the concrete adversely affect the worms? I use eisenia foetida. thanks for any info regarding my question. mike settles

    • factorial
    • March 16, 2009

    Awesome! Really curious to see how this goes!

    Also, what does it say about me that I’m looking at that picture thinking “Hey, those grapes look pretty good…”

    • Waneta
    • March 16, 2009

    When I overdo it, I get a billion fruit flies of various species.

    • Sherry
    • March 16, 2009

    I love the way you’re so relaxed about having a possible explosion of mites. I just finished harvesting my bins and washing my worms of any trace of mites. I had far too many mites in my bins, and no obvious reason why. Mites are my bane, I have them no matter how careful I am, and to the point where my worms are at the bottom of the bins and won’t come up to feed.

  3. Does anybody know if a brown paper bag is cosidered colored paper? Is it alright to feed it to your worms?
    How about dryer lint? Is the dye good for the worms?

    • Sherry
    • March 17, 2009

    Brown paper bags are great for the bins. As far as dryer lint, I’m not sure why people would want to add them to the worms. Synthetic fibers and possible fabric softeners both wouldn’t be favourable to worms. I just like food source for their food…have lots of those!

  4. Your project is going to genetically engineer a super race of worms that will take over the world. Either that or your worms will be fat, drink Natural Ice and enjoy Nascar races.

    • Stacey Mishler
    • March 21, 2009

    Thanks so much, all you posters. I am a new vermicomposter, although my parents made an attempt at a commercial venture when I was in my early teens, in the 70’s. Then, I hated it. Now, I love it. I am going to visit often, and again, wanted to say thank you!

  5. Just happened upon your blog and I love it!

    I’ve been recently gifted a handful of worms and have set up a home for them in an empty salad container under the sink. Your blog has answered a lot of questions I didn’t even know I had 🙂

    My worms seem content, eating food and making cocoons and poo, but they are often lying at the very bottom of the bin under all of moist bedding. Does this sound normal?

    • John
    • March 26, 2009

    I talked to my supplier in Alabama and he said you can over feed your worms. I had a lot of uneaten stuff in by bin so I removed some. I’ll see what happens and keep in touch. Thanks for your interesting articles. I’ll probably be a follower of yours. Good luck. John

    • John H. from Orlando
    • March 27, 2009

    Okay Bentley – It has been almost two weeks. How is the overfed bin doing these days? I loved to see some pics inside the bin showing the current population of composters.

    • Bentley
    • March 27, 2009

    Wow – I didn’t realize there were so many comments on this one!

    Allison – if you snip up your bags they should eventually break down. They certainly don’t break down quickly at mesophilic temperatures, but I’ve found that they do degrade over time. I simply rip them up a bit and leave them be.

    Mark – I would love to hear how your tests have gone with those materials. Sounds like fun!

    Mike – that is a really interesting question. I don’t know for sure, but my hunch would be no. If anything I almost think it would be a benefit since it might help to buffer the acidity a bit. I think that once the concrete has set it will be pretty resistant material, so very little (if any) harmful stuff will leach out. Again, this is just my hunch!

    Factorial – I hear you. The grapes do look rather nice in the photo – if you saw a close up though, it would be pretty clear that they were past their prime. If you have read my “you know you are a worm-head when” post, you will also know that I can be a little ruthless when it comes to ‘cleaning out the fridge’ – haha.

    Waneta – I should have added a “Do not try this at home” warning at the bottom of the post – haha! There is definitely some risk of having ‘annoying’ population explosions of things like fruit flies. Most (maybe all) of these wastes were frozen ahead of time so that at least eliminated the chance of introducing fruit flies – and there aren’t too many flying around at this time of year so I wasn’t too worried. I do seem to have a bit of a gnat party going on downstairs these days, but nothing too crazy (and believe me, I’ve seen CRAZY!).

    Sherry – yeah, I’m pretty mellow about such things. I’ve been fascinated with all sorts of different critters since I was a kid so I don’t have too many problems with a well-developed ecosystem – haha
    I DO however try to keep the peace with my wife, so flying critters are dealt with and prevented as best I can. I know you might not like this suggestion, but you might think about leaving the lids of your bins for a number of days (perhaps shine a light over top to make sure no worms get curious). I certainly have mites in my bins, but ever since switching to open systems I’ve been amazed by the reduction in numbers – they seem to like it really wet.

    Berwick Worm Farm – I think brown paper is actually the best to use, since it doesn’t contain dyes or bleaches. It is really the only type of paper I use on a regular basis. Dryer lint should be ok, but this depends (as Sherry mentioned) on whether or not you use dryer sheets. I currently don’t, so I save my lint (will be setting up a worm bin using ONLY lint as bedding material very soon). It takes a long time to break down though.

    Red Icculus – Not sure how to respond to that, but it did make me laugh.

    Stacey – welcome to the site! I’d love to hear more about your parent’s operation in the 70’s.

    Sandrella – that sounds very normal to me. Worms LOVE moisture and shelter.

    John #1 – What exactly you are using for food is always the determining factor. I could add well-aged manure (mixed with bedding) until the cows come home (and provide me with more manure – haha) – it would be impossible to overfeed with this material (since it is basically a ‘habitat’ as well. Adding 20 lb of watermelon pulp to a small bin on the other hand, could leave you with watermelon liquor and a lot of drunk and dead worms on your hands (hopefully not literally – haha). Food waste in general needs to be added in moderation.

    John #2 – I have now added an update. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

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