Aging Food Waste “Too Much”?

Good question from Mary:

I prepare worm food. Bananas, veggies, oats and grits. Blend them, freeze them and serve when needed.(I let them sit out at outside temp while thawing and for a few weeks to get it really microbial) I started a nursery of babies and I put some of the babies directly in the food. They started wiggling like crazy. I thought they like it, but it killed them.? Was it too much nitrogen? The adults have not died, but I have not put them directly in the food. Do you know what happened?
Sad Momma…..

Hi Mary,

I’m really glad you wrote in about this, since you’ve hit on one of the many important nuances of vermicomposting. In a nutshell, YES microbes are important, and YES aging is a great way to increase microbes. BUT it’s very important that we make sure it’s aerobic microbes we are nurturing – and they require a particular type of aging.

Everything you’ve described sounds great…except for the part about leaving the food waste slurry to sit for a few weeks!

The problem is that a mix like that will go anaerobic very quickly. If it just sits for a day or two you might be ok. But by the time a few weeks have passed, I’m guessing everything will have fermented to the point where even the anaerobic microbes have been killed off.

The babies put right in the food would have been exposed to alcohol (maybe other harmful anaerobic metabolites), while the adults likely would have been buffered somewhat by the habitat.

My recommendation for aging would definitely be to mix your food materials with plenty of absorbent carbon-rich bedding (eg shredded cardboard etc). You should also do some “smell tests” along the way. If it smells foul it likely needs more air and/or more bedding.

In case people are wondering, you CAN still use stinky anaerobic stuff as food. In a large system, or just generally with plenty of buffer material, you can likely just add it as is. If you have a smaller system, simply add lots of bedding and provide more air flow – then let it sit. You will know if it’s ok via the smell test method. A bit funky is fine – but definitely avoid really foul-smelling stuff, since this can indicate the presence of harmful anaerobic metabolites.

Hope this helps!

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    • Steve
    • December 28, 2014

    I had the same disappointing experience as Mary on my first vermicomposting attempt. Since I started incorporating shredded cardboard with the food waste those red wigglers are thriving. It soaks up the excess juice and acts like a “time release food”. Cardboard is my favorite brown waste because it REALLY WORKS and its FREE!!!

    • Margie
    • January 1, 2015

    I freeze all my kitchen waste, liquidize it and then, as Steve does, I also use shredded cardboard along with shredded newspaper to soak up the excess juice. Its working really well.

    • J Wayne Watson
    • April 10, 2015

    I am new to vermiculture/wormcomposting here in the Phoenix area and would like to start now. I have been told that our summer temps here are too hot to do this outside. If I use the wooden structure in a nicely shaded orange tree environment with the drip irrigation hose, will this get me through the summer months with live worms OK?

    • Bentley
    • June 26, 2015

    Hi Wayne
    I think you MIGHT be able to do it with the set up you’ve described. Make sure to dig a depression in the ground below the bin as well – this way the worms have a cooler zone to retreat to.

    The key to success in Phoenix during the summer would be plenty of water and lots of evaporation (and of course lots of shade – but it sounds like you’ve got that covered…no pun intended! lol)

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