Will Worms EAT It?!

A worm-friend recently referred me to a website called “Nature’s Little Recyclers” (NLR), the online platform for a Chicago-based business of the same name.

NLR was started by Ed Hubbard in 2012. In a “Chicago Now” article (written by Hubbard), he described his initial motivation in the following way:

“I was burned out and a wreck, after serving as a tech entrepreneur, priest and religious educator as my core profession for the last 22 years. While rewarding, allowing me to meet great and unique people, to share information on a global basis, it did not meet my inner need to create a something organically meaningful.” … “For me, working in growing things and creating soil was the best thing I could do to renew myself.”

Here is a link to the original article (from last fall): “How Nature’s Little Recyclers came to The Plant and gave Birth to Green Tech Chicago

There are quite a few intriguing aspects of the NLR story, but what I wanted to talk about today is Ed’s hilarious “Will They Eat It?” project. The idea is simple – basically “let’s see what Red Worms will and won’t eat”. As you might guess, Ed kinda takes this to the extreme.

But the results are pretty surprising!

I’ve included 3 of his before/after videos below (ALL examples of foods the worms did in fact eat). The full series can be accessed from the NLR Video Page.




Among the other strange things successfully vermicomposted: cheese puffs, hardboiled eggs, sandwiches, and fortune cookies!

Interestingly enough, Ed’s worms DIDN’T seem interested in wrapping paper!

Obviously (or perhaps not so obviously), the “take away” msg here should NOT be – “dump loads of salty, greasy, starchy (etc) wastes into your worm bins!”, but rather the idea that we don’t always need to obsess about the “rules” of vermicomposting so much. Yes, erring on the side of caution is not a bad idea when just starting out, but don’t let that limit your exploration of vermicomposting once you become a bit more experienced!

As Ed Hubbard clearly demonstrates, vermicomposting should be experimental and FUN!

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    • Kiera
    • September 27, 2014

    I give mine left over chicken bones to clean up too. Takes a while and I often send them through a couples times but it doesn’t seem to hurt. I live in alaska and during salmon season (when I have the system outside btw) I put a few fish heads and tails in there with no left overs but the occasional pin bone. They eat a lot of stuff.

    • GA
    • September 29, 2014

    Most of the reasons not to feed things to worms are mostly about whether we find it gross and smelly. I find this is easily controlled by having a good layer of bedding on top, and not overdoing it. As with almost anything, smaller chunks break down more quickly.
    To be fair, the issue with smaller bins indoors is that they are much more sensitive – as are we to smells.
    As a small note, I _think_ I see much less of an issue with cooked meats. Raw meat going rancid is it’s own special hell.

    • Bentley
    • September 30, 2014

    KIERA – Interesting! Thanks for sharing that.
    GA – Great points!

    • Gina W.
    • October 8, 2014

    I put in left over baked/breaded pork chop bones with scraps of attached meat in a bin. An unpleasant smell? Well yes, and the worms cleaned it up. The bones could then be pulverized and thrown into the garden.

    • Belinda Dillon
    • November 4, 2014

    What about forgotten, uncooked sweet potatoes that have moldy spots on the outside with soft spots on the inside? I read once somewhere no moldy veggies, but then again I also read no bones or meat!! Obviously the worms know what they want! Also, while I’ve got your attention, my worms are multiplying like crazy and I’m wondering if they are running out of room in their rubbermaid bin and it seems time to harvest just after I harvested a month ago? I find globs of them crawling up the sides to the top.

    • Virginia
    • April 20, 2019

    Share the wealth!
    There might be other vermicomposters waiting to get started. Maybe take them to a fair that has organics for gardeners. Take them to a “Learn a Thing” fair and give a short workshop on vermicomposting and how you can start with a bucket or plastic shoe box.

    Give your little friends away. Like 100 red wigglers in a burlap bag or such.

    • Steph
    • July 11, 2019

    Feeding worms cheese-puffs followed by stale chocolate is abuse.

    I wonder how much of the chocolate and other food was actually degraded by the worms, vs by bacteria, fungi and other µorgs.

    • Bentley
    • August 12, 2019

    LoL – very late replying, Steph. I think it is all in how you do it. I would agree that forcing worms to live in salt-laden wastes (for example) would be cruel and unusual. But if the worms have a safe zone they can hang out in I don’t see the problem with it (as long as it isn’t promoted as something the average vermicomposter should do). Microbes and other organisms are often a major part of the process – and when the worms have plenty of safe space to hang out in, they can choose when to get involved (if at all).

    • Steph
    • August 12, 2019

    Yes; it would be wrong for us to forcibly prevent the worms from exercising their right to bodily self-ownership and ingesting what they wish, nor should we interfere in their voluntarily relationships with other organisms.

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