Silage and Old Straw/Hay Bales as Worm Food

A question from Gordon:

I live in farming country and some farmers use silage bales. They are about 2000 pounds of alfalfa and hay. Or I bad tears grain crops that won’t have time to mature. So I am wondering that after the heating time has passed, about 4 to six weeks would it be safe to put worms into the bag? the bag would provide a sealed unit with a stable humidity. If I started with a pound of worms how long would I need to leave them in to consume the feed. I could build a rack to tilt the bag to in some way direct the worms to different areas.

Hi Gordon,

This is a great question. I must admit that – living in a very active agriculture region – I find myself often looking at old rotten hay bales and other heaps of organic matter sitting in fields, imagining what would happen if I added a bunch of Red Worms! lol

The short answer is that many of these farm wastes can indeed be fantastic fodder for vermicomposting systems. But alas, things aren’t quite as cut and dried as that (ok I’ll stop now – haha).

Getting back to the giant-rotten-bales-in-the-field example I gave…

In a situation like this, where the material has been sitting exposed to the elements for many months or even years, you would probably be totally fine just adding worms. But even still, I would always make sure to have other back-up systems in place (even just a basic “Insurance Bin” would help) just to make sure.

In the case of the material you described – and pretty well any of these materials if you are not a seasoned vermicomposter – I would suggest using a lot more caution. I would never recommend simply adding worms to organic wastes – even when they have been through a heating stage – especially when they are contained in some sort of vessel (i.e. worms can’t really escape). Instead, you will be far better off if you first establish a safe habitat for the worms – by setting up a more typical worm bed/bin – and then layer small amounts of the material on top to see how the worms respond.

If they move into it immediately, you can start ramping up your efforts – maybe even trying a smaller number of worms in just the material itself (if well-aged, and no foul smells).

Always keep in mind that Red Worms require:

– An aerobic (oxygenated) environment
– Temps below 34 C (93.2 F)
– Habitats with virtually NO salts or ammonia gas (the latter is a real risk with many newer farm wastes).

Bottom-line, erring on the side of caution is never a bad idea!

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