Worm Food Myth

Interesting question from Ben:

Hello there! I heard a rumour that worms only consume the first meal
they have tried after birth. So for example If they have tried food
waste they will only eat food waste for the end of their life. If they
have started with manure the same rule applies. So basically you can
only feed worms with one type of meal, and you can’t swap organic
waste with manure whenever you like. Is there any rational thought in

Hi Ben,
Your question definitely put a smile on my face (really interesting topic, though – so thanks for the submission)! Let me start by putting your mind at ease – the “rumour” is actually more like a MYTH (if not a “bald-faced lie”! haha). There is absolutely NO validity to that statement – and in fact, if that were the case, vermicomposting would be a much different kettle of fish (not nearly as beneficial as it is).

Apart from seeing proof that this is not the case (over and over and over again, when I’ve introduced worms to a new food and they’ve eagerly consumed it), when it comes down to it, composting worm suppliers would be in REAL trouble if their worms only ate what they fed them. Most serious worm farms use manure and/or various “secret” feed formulas (“worm chow” etc etc) to feed their worms. Many of these worms are then sold to typical home vermicomposters who proceed to feed them mainly food scraps (upon-which the worms happily feed).

Similarly, if you find yourself an old manure heap loaded with Red Worms and you toss in some food scraps, you’ll more than likely have a feeding frenzy on your hands in no time. If anything, worms are often MORE interested in these new food sources than they are in the run-of-the-mill stuff they’ve been feeding on up until that point.

Now, all that said, I should mention that there ARE some advantages of having worms grow up with a certain type of food, in a certain environment etc. There is scientific evidence to show that worms raised in a given environment are much better adapted to survive in that environment than those worms introduced into it.

One example that comes to mind was from a study that involved feeding Red Worms fish “manure”. Initially, the researchers were finding that the material was killing off ALL their worms (likely due to ammonia release). I can’t remember the exact details of what they did next, but basically they found that FAR more worms were surviving when they were actually born in the fish-waste-laden habitat.

This helps to explain how you can end up with a thriving Red Worm population in an environment that would seem to be pretty toxic. An example of my own would be when I filled a backyard composter with compostable kitty litter (containing cat urine and feces, and undoubtedly releasing LOTS of ammonia) – with the intention of letting it age for awhile before adding worms – only to then discover some time later that it was loaded with big, healthy looking Reds!

Bottom-line, you definitely don’t need to worry about feeding your worms different things, but if you ever do want to raise worms in an environment (on a particular kind of food etc) that’s less-than-ideal, you may want to try adding cocoons to see if you can get a new more-tolerant population established

Hope this helps clear things up. Thanks again for the great question!

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    • thuan
    • October 3, 2012

    Hi Bentley,
    This is interesting. I have two worm inns placed in same location, one brown and one green. One worm inn definitely process the food a lot faster than the other. I can’t remember if the worms were from different vendors but I definitely remember mixing them or dividing the worms equally between the two inns. So if environment and food are equal then why would one would process food faster than the other, unless color of the worm inn makes a difference.

    • Grady from Louisiana
    • October 3, 2012

    Bentley- I truly agree with what you said, even thought I have only been vermicomposting for a short while, I have seen this. My worms eat food scrapes, age manure, and pre-composted material. What I have seen is that if I feed them manure for a while then switch to food scrapes they go wild for the new stuff, but it is true the other way as well.

    thuan- there are a lot of different variables in this fun thing we do and every system is different, even two worm inns side by side. (just a few ideas, you may have added a different bedding in to one, so more or less air, the food scrapes in one many be a more resistant material, maybe some other ecosystem critter is in one more than the other) those are just a few of the things that it could be and there are so many more than Bentley would be mad at me about how long this comments if i listed them( haha :)) Hope this helps you some

  1. For the record, from talking with friends in the large scale vermicomposting industry, there is a longer lag time for systems inoculated with worms from a different feedstock. So if you buy a truck full of worms raised in hog manure and place them into a dairy manure system, that system will take longer to come up to speed than if you had purchased a truck full of worms raised in dairy manure. Strange, but true. No studies so far, but it’s definitely part of the “worm farmer” wisdom.

    • Bentley
    • January 11, 2013

    Hi Allison – great to see you ’round these parts!
    I would have NO doubt about the validity of what you’ve suggested. Would make sense, really, and perhaps partially helps to explain why it’s easier to start a new bin with wormy material from an existing bin, than with worms straight from the worm farmer (since manure and various “chow” feeds are used as feedstock on worm farms).

    Sounds like a GREAT idea for an experiment too!

    What I’m calling a “myth” (as you likely realize) is the idea that worms will NEVER eat another kind of food (since I know for a fact this is not the case) as long as they all shall live (until death do they part? lol)

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