Rotten Hay as Worm Food

Question from Norma B:

I live on a farm with some hay bales that was too wet to make into dry hay when baled and did not ferment correctly to make good cow feed. (they are usually in a long line of white plastic) All the white plastic has been removed – they are left out in the open to rot. If I put some fresh manure on the bales, then the worms…. would they help to compost the large bales of hay? (600 lbs) I also have some wood piles… would the worms work on them?

Hi Norma,
Using composting worms to process old rotten hay and straw is an excellent idea! Hay bales in particular might not need anything more than a good soaking with water, since the C/N ratio would likely be low enough to support a fairly rapid microbial decomposition process. If they were straw bales I’d suggest soaking them with a manure “tea” (or some form of liquid manure) rather than adding solid manure on top.

Given the size of the bales, it would be important to leave them alone for a period of time before adding the worms, since there will likely be quite a bit of heating. Alternatively you could heap up some well-aged manure (ideally, material that’s been sitting outdoors for a month or more) next to the bales and introduce the worms into it. This way they would have a safe habitat, and could move into the bales once temps drop.

As for the wood piles – unfortunately, the worms can’t offer much assistance there. You could definitely speed up the process a lot if you had some sort of chipper/grinder, and then mixed the wood fragments with something like manure – but even then, the wood itself would be too hard and resistant for the worms to process.

Hope this helps!

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    • Nate
    • June 27, 2014


    Pile the wood up near the house, dump most of the straw/hay on top of it, dump some dirt on top, add worms and plant vegetables.

    In essence, you would be practicing hugelkultur and worm composting all at once. The wood will eventually decompose enough to act like a sponge and you won’t need to water.

    • richard fields
    • July 23, 2014

    i have a small plastic bin that i started a vermiculture everything is good so i started a new bigger one but i used dry cow manure like for your yard a 50 lb bag in a plastic ben i wet it real good added alot of kitchen scraps and shredded paper on the bottom i put about 2000 red worms. i checked about a week later cant find no worms. so i put more worms in there and checked it two days later and the worms are all out if the manure on the side of the plastic bin trying to get out. so at this point what is your recommendations. i was told on a different sight that it was ok to use manure.but after reading your sight and the comment from other people i think i made a booboo lol. need help thanks richard.

    • Bentley
    • July 24, 2014

    NATE – that’s a great idea as well! Similar to some of the beds I have in my own yard. You would likely need some additional rich material though – that’s a lot of carbon, without all that much nitrogen.
    RICHARD – You should check out this article I wrote about manure:
    Probably the most important thing to keep in mind about manures is that they are NOT all created equal (not even close). Bagged manure, for example, often has higher salt levels in it – worms are extremely sensitive to salts so that can be a real issue.

    • Nate
    • July 24, 2014

    The only carbon you would want to really offset is the carbon in the straw. With hugelkultur, you don’t want to offset the carbon in the wood unless it has had a year or two to age (and I would assume the wood piles have had that time).

    As the wood decays, it acts like a sponge diminishing and eventually eliminating the need to water the bed. The wood will eventually fully decay, but that can be several years depending on how big the core wood is. Good sized logs will take longer than mulch size pieces (smaller means faster for all forms of composting).

    • Bentley
    • August 2, 2014

    Sorry for the delay, Nate!
    Yep, it would definitely help to balance with the straw.

    Anyway – does sound like a fascinating approach.

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