Food Scrap Storage

Another good question from “Shelley”:

I put my excess veges and such in a plastic bucket w/ lid. Does it get
too rotten for the worms?
It gets a white looking gunk on it and I am afraid it will hurt the
worms. How rotten is rotten?
Please help, especially with this heat we are experiencing I am
worried. Thanks!

Hi Shelley,
The principles of good food aging are actually pretty similar to those of good vermicomposting. We want to encourage lots of microbial action – BUT it’s the aerobic microbes we are interested in NOT the anaerobic microbes.

Leaving water-rich food wastes to sit in a sealed plastic container will result in the creation of some pretty foul stuff – and very quickly, if temps are really warm. The problem is that as the waste materials decompose, lots of water is released and you just end up with a heap of wet goo. Aside from the fact that water is only capable of holding a fraction of the amount of oxygen that air is, intense microbial action in the rotting materials results in oxygen levels being depleted very quickly. Once there is no longer oxygen available, anaerobic processes take over.

It’s the anaerobic pathways that tend to lead to all manner of stinky compounds we commonly associate with “rotten” wastes. Apart from the stink, though, these anaerobic processes can also result in the production of harmful (to worms) compounds like alcohols and various organic acids – so it’s not typically a good idea to add really foul smelling waste materials to your worm bin (although, the larger the established “good quality” habitat the worms already have, the less chance of them being harmed).

What I always recommend when aging waste materials is to start with a thick “false bottom” of shredded cardboard or some other absorbent, carbon-rich material, and to add a small amount of this bedding with each waste deposit as well. It’s also a good idea to use a container that promotes air flow. With the bedding materials absorbing excess moisture and creating space between the scraps (to help keep things oxygenated), you should find that the waste materials don’t really get stinky at all during the aging period. If you mix in some good quality “living materials” as well the results will be even better!

One other quick thing to mention…

Don’t simply assume that stinky, foul waste materials are “no good” for your worms. If you can switch the balance from anaerobic to aerobic, you can convert “bad” materials into great worm food. My recommendation would be to mix a lot of dry (preferably bulky & absorbent) bedding materials in with your wastes – as much as is needed to soak up all the standing liquid. Again – adding some good quality “living material” (eg. compost or really well-aged manure) would help as well. Then, you simply let everything sit for awhile. Once most of the “stink” subsides, the new mix should be ready for your worms.

Hope this helps!

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    • Michael
    • August 9, 2012

    I noticed your missing the letters re to go with that letter a before “no good” on the the last paragraph. Sorry, I’m tired and kept trying to read that

    • Bentley
    • August 9, 2012

    Thanks, Michael!
    All fixed

    • John Duffy
    • August 9, 2012

    I have to agree that adding “living material” will help the stink subside. The ladies at the office where my wife works, have been kind enough to donate their fruit & veggie scraps to help me with feeding my worms. The last batch of scraps I got from them was close to really stinky. (6 ROTTEN bananas included)
    I added some torn-up cardboard and a couple cups of screened compost to the scraps and I was pleasantly surprised that my garage didn’t smell like a landfill the next morning.(it’s been unGodly hot & humid here for the last 10 weeks)
    Mother Nature has some great tricks up her sleeve! My worms are happily munching away.

    • Genevieve
    • April 22, 2013

    Very glad to have found this!

    I got a Worm Factory system at Christmastime and have been using it since February. (I’m in Southern California.) I was diligently setting aside all my food scraps, but it accumulated much faster than the worms have progressed through their trays and the containers where I was storing it (thankfully outside) got horribly smelly and slimy and attracted a lot of little flies – fruit flies maybe? I did try keeping it mixed with dry leaves, but that didn’t seem to help much.

    So I threw out most of that and now I’m online looking for pointers on how to store food for the worms until they’re ready for it. Will definitely try freezing, though our freezer doesn’t have a lot of extra space. Will also try layering with shredded newspaper and cardboard. If you have any other tips for me, I’d really appreciate it! Meanwhile I’ll keep combing through the archives here. =)

    Thank you!!

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