Here are some questions from Nikki:
I am new to composting, and decided on redworm indoor composting. I have had my bin now for about a month. My worms seem to be doing very well, however I’m concerned I could be feeding to soon. I have been adding about a quart size baggie of scraps and additional bedding each week going corner to corner.
Today I dug around and noticed that I have worms (even new worms) in each corner along with remaining food. My bin doesn’t smell or offer any signs of overfeeding I’m just wondering if I should leave it be for a week or so before adding more food. I have dirt, bedding, food, and worms all mixed together from top to bottom. I thought they would eat from bottom to top leaving compost on bottom as they ate upwards.
I set my bin up with a solid thin layer of wet newspaper, bedding(wet), food in corner, more bedding(wet), then worms (dirt bedding and all they came in) (which I think was way more bedding than worms) then I added a top solid thin layer of wet newspaper. I “water” freqently to keep the moisture level consistant.
Everything seems all mixed up now. I have read that the worm compost is toxic to the worms, and I’m worried that there will be to much for them before they eat all the bedding and food.
Any suggestions ? or does it sound like my bin is going the way it should ? I don’t want to over feed or cause a harmful environment for my worms.
Definitely some great beginner questions there – I’m sure a lot of people are wondering the same things! First and foremost, let me say that your approach seems to have been very good thus far – so good job!
There are a few things that could be playing a role in the apparently slow processing of these wastes. For starters, it should be expected that a new system will take some time before really moving along nicely. A month is a decent amount of time, but if the first 2-3 weeks were really slow, it wouldn’t be too surprising that you still aren’t making much progress.
The quantity and quality of worms is also an important factor. Not sure how many you started with, but it was a fairly small number and/or they weren’t in good shape when you received them, this could lead to delays as well.
A very important factor can be how the waste materials are handled. Not all wastes are created equal – some require more processing than others (if you expect to see a fairly uniform consumption speed). I recommend letting wastes age to help start the break down process – you might also think about freezing/cooking/chopping/blending as ways to break down the structural integrity of the materials, so as to help microbes colonize much more quickly. My general approach is to store materials in a scrap holder for a period of time (until full) then toss in my deep freezer, then thaw and chop/mix with dry bedding materials (shredded cardboard). Check out my “Homemade Manure” video to see what I mean. You need to be a bit careful with all the water released when you do this though (which is why I mix with a lot of bedding). Speaking of which, I generally don’t recommend adding water at all to enclosed plastic bin systems – unless of course you have really good drainage. You didn’t mention what type of system you are using, but I thought it would be a good idea to mention that for all those who are using regular plastic “worm bins”.
As far as worm compost being toxic – let me share my thoughts on this. Be assured that worms CAN live perfectly fine in habitats containing a very high percentage of their own wastes (castings). In other words, the claim that worm castings are “toxic” is definitely misleading! Real issues CAN however crop up if you continue to add food waste to a worm bin, and stop adding bedding on a regular basis. Eventually, you will indeed end up with a pretty unfriendly habitat for the worms, and you may even manage to kill them off. Bottom-line, this is definitely NOT something you have to worry about, based on the age of your system, and the fact that you are being so diligent with your bedding additions.
All in all, Nikki, I am really impressed with how patient you’ve been, and the just generally the approach you are taking. A LOT of newcomers are much more impatient and end up overfeeding their systems. I always recommend letting the worms “be your guide”, and to implement some of the waste-handling strategies outlined above. The worms should definitely work more quickly on the materials when you help the process along and when the population size increases.
One other brief thing to mention as well. Temperature can have a major impact on processing speed. If you bin happens to be in a cool location (outside or in a garage, in some northern location for example) this MAY be contributing. That being said, I also want to caution people about overheating a system as well (which can happen very easily). Please don’t leave plastic bins out in the sun for any length of time – even if the air temps are relatively cool, the system itself can absorb the solar energy and become a vermi-oven faster than you might realize.
Anyway – hopefully this has helped!