Can You Vermicompost Meat?

Worms Seem to Like Meatloaf

Of course! But, would I suggest adding meat to a regular worm bin? Absolutely NOT!

I think everyone should know by now that I kinda like pushing the envelope a wee bit with my vermicomposting. I’ve been involved in this stuff now for more than a decade, and feel reasonably confident that I know what I’m doing by now.
😉

In general, I tend to be a bit of an armchair rebel – questioning a lot of the things others declare as “set in stone” rules. I’m no anarchist or anything (haha) – I simply believe that it’s important to keep an open mind, to constantly question things, and not to make too many assumptions and generalizations.

So yeah – that basic mental stance led me to toss some meat loaf in one of my outdoor worm beds not too long ago. Not sure why it’s taken me so long to do something like this, or what exactly it was about this left-over meat loaf resulted in this important mental shift. I think it was the fact that I was frustrated that there was still a fair amount left and I knew nobody was going to eat it (I hate wasting food). When this happens with fruits and veggies I always smile to myself and think “well, at least the worms will enjoy it!” – but I’ve always assumed I didn’t have this option with meat. For a decade I’ve blindly accepted the fact that composting meat is “bad” (the irony being that I’ve been composting kitty turds for some time now – haha).

The bed where I added the meat loaf isn’t really what I would even call a worm bed (i.e. it’s not one of the productive beds I actually harvest worms from). There are still quite a lot of Red Worms in this bed, but they tend to be spread around a fair bit and generally smaller in size (since I haven’t been adding much in the way of food). Really, it was the perfect place to add the meat, since I’m more likely to really SEE what happens.

The one thing about meat worth mentioning right off the bat (I will provide a complete list of important considerations later) is that it WILL generally give off a lot more smell – initially, as a tasty smell that can attract unwanted pests, and later as a not-so-tasty smell, that can also attract unwanted pests – so it’s never a bad idea to dig a decent sized hole if you are going to attempt this. As an added buffer, I decided to add a fair bit of peat moss I happened to have on hand (yes, I am an eco-sinner – so sue me! lol). I figured this would help to keep odor down and would provide some good carbon to help balance all that nitrogen in the meat.

Then, I basically waited (checking on the situation periodically, of course). It wasn’t long before activity in the meat zone had markedly increased. There seemed to be a lot more springtails in this area, and definitely more worms. The meat itself certainly wasn’t a seething mass of worms by any means (as you can see in the picture above) – in fact, I suspect that they’ve been mainly feeding on whatever microbial community has been developing in the material surrounding the meat.

I just checked on the situation today, and the worm numbers in that zone seem to a lot higher now, and I’m noticing bigger worms as well. I caught a few stinky wafts as meat loaf chunks were uncovered, but nothing too offensive at all.
All in all, I am really happy with the results thus far, and will continue to experiment with meat vermicomposting in this bed in coming weeks and months (and will of course keep everyone posted).

NOW, let’s get to my list of warnings and recommendations. I know people sometimes have a tendency to follow a “do as Bentley does, not as he recommends” approach (haha) and I want to try to curb this as much as possible!

The Dirt on Meat Composting

  • I only recommend you attempt this if you are a seasoned composter/vermicomposter
  • Start with very small quantities of (preferably) cooked meat
  • Bury materials as deeply as possible
  • ONLY do this in very well ventilated systems – preferably outdoors
  • Dedicate a specific system to the task – don’t add meat to your regular beds/bins
  • I don’t recommend this at all if you are in an area with lots of furry critters, such as racoons, rats, bears etc (their sense of smell is FAR greater than ours)
  • Make sure you break up the meat and mix with a lot of carbon-rich material
  • If using compost for plants, use only for ornamentals (even better if you simply create an in situ system close to shrubbery etc)

OK – you’ve been cautioned!
8)

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Comments

  1. Bentley,

    I was just thinking about the absolutes with redworms the other day. What I’ve found in the short year that I’ve been doing this, is that the worms know more about what worms “do” and “don’t do” than all of the experts combined. I have found masses of redworms in my regular compost bin on pineapple and in mats of grass — both no-nos in the rules. I still follow the rules but now I treat them more like guidelines. Parlay.

    • Bentley
    • May 4, 2010

    Absolutely, Keith!
    I always smile when I read various dire warnings that people create for different waste materials.
    eg. “NO TOMATOES!!!” (meanwhile, the worms LOVE tomatoes! lol)
    I still don’t vermicompost dairy wastes, but with the right handling I’m sure it would be fine too.

    Grass is one of my favorite food materials for outdoor beds, and pineapple wastes get mixed into my homemade manure on a regular basis.
    8)

    • Anna
    • May 4, 2010

    Any thoughts on fatty materials and spicy foods? These are both supposed to be no-no’s, but the categories are so broad that I have a hard time believing it can be wholly true. I have generally suspected plant-based oily foods (i.e. nuts, avocado) and spices (but not hot peppers) to be ok, but have not added more than a smattering of either. I’d love more input/experiential evidence if you have any!

    • Bentley
    • May 4, 2010

    Hi Anna,
    Fatty foods in moderation will be totally fine, but I wouldn’t go and dump waste vegetable oil in your bin or anything. haha
    I think your are totally right about the oils found in plants/nuts etc – I’ve seen no issues there (have added plenty of avocado waste and plenty of foods cooked in oil for that matter).
    There are many factors at play here. Adding a pound of fresh onion slices to a small enclosed plastic bin will be completely and utterly different from adding them to a much larger open system for example (although I might not do either – raw onions ARE one of the wastes that make me a little nervous just like hot peppers, and thus are only added in moderation. Cooked onions are far less of an issue in my mind)

    • Anna
    • May 4, 2010

    That’s interesting about the onion. I have frequently added onion without problem–perhaps it’s because I puree it with other foods so it’s spread out???

    • Bentley
    • May 4, 2010

    Hi Anna,
    It’s more a mental thing with the onion. I know how potent those volatile oils are in my eyes, so I can only imagine what they must be like on a worm’s skin.
    I definitely add raw onion still – just try to make sure it is in moderation, and preferably mixed with other wastes.
    Now that I think about it, I seem to recall there having been lots of onion waste in the restaurant waste stream I was receiving a couple of summers ago.
    So don’t listen to me!
    😆

  2. Good post. I especially like Keith’s comments (which go well with your sense of experimentation)–trust the worms and start small.

    For another take, I looked at this issue a while ago: http://bouldervermicomposting.com/2008/11/22/can-you-put-meat-in-a-worm-bin/

    Dan

    • Sue
    • July 7, 2018

    This is an old thread but very important for a re-visit. I have a package of liver pate (yum) that is not so yummy any longer and thinking of feeding it to the worms, since I paid good money for it. Also thinking, if I feed it to the worms, won’t make me feel bad wasting it since it’s not wasted but pampering the worms. I have a VermiBin48 built to your (Bentley’s) specs and I think it is big enough to handle the stink, heat, mites etc. I have removable wire mesh around the bottom so no mice/rats can access it.
    Will try to report follow-ups.
    Thank you for your experiments Bentley.

    • Bentley
    • July 11, 2018

    Hi Sue
    I would be very careful with something like pate – it is high in fat and loaded with salt. On a small scale it might make for an interesting experiment – but definitely make sure it is well covered!

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