Red Worms Love Rotten Straw!

Red Worm habitat
This old straw bale has become something of a Red Worm apartment complex

I’ve had a bale of straw sitting on the edge of my driveway since mid summer, and not too surprisingly it has started to rot. I guess it’s also not too surprising that it has become more appealing to my resident population of outdoor Red Worms as well. This actually caught me off guard initially – one day earlier in the fall I removed some of the straw to add to my big outdoor worm bin and found myself face to face with a lot more worms than I expected to see! The straw had a lot of fungal growth in the middle but what amazed me was how dry it was – definitely NOT optimal moisture conditions for the worms!

I’ve certainly found worms underneath my bales of straw before, but never so many right in the bale itself (well ok – there are loads of them in the walls of my ‘Winter Worm Bed‘, but that’s different). Makes me wonder what would happen if I actually put some of it in an enclosed worm bin and moistened it even more. Hmmmm…

Red Worms living in straw bale

Straw is a fantastic worm composting material, but just like some of the other ‘fantastic’ materials – such as coffee grounds, fall leaves, and grass clippings – there seems to be a subtle art involved in terms of getting it to work on its own. Of course, straw mixed with manure works very well since the manure holds water much more readily and also adds plenty of nitrogen and microbes into the mix.

Anyway – all of this has reminded me that I wanted to do a ’50 Cocoon Challenge’ using straw. Obviously I can’t use this particular bale (haha), but I am hoping to get some new ones fairly soon!

On a related note, I also wanted to mention that I will be starting up my shredded cardboard ’50 Cocoon Challenge’ very soon as well. Both of these should be very interesting since no ‘regular’ food will be added.
Stay tuned!

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  1. Awesome, because…guess what I have, yep some rotten hay (not straw, but still). I had put some around my organic garlic bulbs, only to find a 3 foot snake that I had been carrying around in my arms, amidst the hay. For some reason, I have steered clear of the rest of the bale since then ;). I am going to have to write a book on the stupid misadventures I have had organic gardening and vermi–composting this fall. It is the stuff of fantastic fiction, yet it is all true.

    • Bentley
    • November 5, 2009

    Heather – the good news is that rotten hay is probably even BETTER than rotten straw (especially if it’s something like alfalfa hay) since it will have more food value (more nitrogen).
    I am an avid nature nut and animal lover, but your snake story definitely made me shudder (the idea of carrying the think around with you and not even realize it). If the ‘misadventures’ idea doesn’t pan out, you could probably write a horror! lol

  2. Guess what…today I looked into the garden area I had dumped the majority of my hay (which is next to the worm trench I installed in Sept. and…found a bunch of red wigglers! Mind you, since it was nearly 80F, I searched with some trepidation that I would run into Mr. Snake again.

    I am all for the snakes eating the rodents around the garden, but unknowingly having one in my arms about unhinged me, lol.

    • Vee
    • November 6, 2009

    Bentley, after i read your straw article i remembered i left a straw bale in the back of my propery about 2 months ago, well i went straight out there and when i pulled it over on its side there were about 30 fat big worms right there, they were so beautiful i had to pick them up but i put them back after playing with them.
    Do you think these were redwigglers?

    • Bentley
    • November 7, 2009

    HEATHER – that is cool! (the part about finding red worms, that is! haha)
    VEE – I would guess that “fat big worms” would likely be Canadian Nightcrawlers or some other big soil worm, although the fact that there were 30 of them makes me wonder. What did they look like? Were they brown/grey with a flat tail? Or were they reddish purple with a yellowish tail tip? (or something else altogether?)

    • Vee
    • November 7, 2009

    Bentley, they had kind of a purpleish light tone, no yellowish tail and nice and round, no flat tails, nice and fat , there were babies too, i also found them under a batch of rotten grass that i left there after mowing, i don’t know what kind they are Vee

    • Bentley
    • November 9, 2009

    Interesting, Vee! Feel free to send me some photos if you ever get the chance to take some.

    • Vee
    • November 10, 2009

    I will as soon as i can figure out how too, my sons used to do that for me and now they’re off to the military leaving mom to figure the computer out. Vee

    • Anna
    • April 25, 2010

    My local public radio gardening program says that you can plant tomatoes, flowers, etc. directly into rotting hay bales. If you already have a good red worm population, I bet the results would be even better than just an average bale of hay.

    • Bentley
    • April 25, 2010

    Very interesting, Anna!
    I had similar plans with the straw bale walls of the winter bed I set up over at my dad’s place, but alas, some critters (squirrels, birds?) chewed the seedlings as they started to come up. I’ll have to try this again on my own property this year.

    • Freddi Dunleavey
    • March 7, 2013

    “Raising Worms in hay bales”

    We will be starting our fourth year of growing veggies in hay (not straw) bales this year (2013). We started with putting bales on the ground (one area approx. 3×10) and after treating with urea and allowing temps to drop, planted squash and potatoes. We had great success.

    Our second year we decided to box in the bales and increased our area to three boxes, one was 3′ X 26′ and the other two were 3′ X 16′. Again, a successful year of squash, potatoes, & tomatoes.

    Last year we added three more boxes (3′ X16′) and everything but our toms did extremely well, especially our beans and kale.

    This year I am thinking of taking one of the boxes that happens to get a bit of shade and use that as one of my vermicomposting bins. I will still also try the plastic nesting bin structure as you (Bentley) have instructed.

    We’ve got rotted alpaca manure and two separate batches of working household compost (with brown matter chopped and added) to also use as food.

    I did a YouTube search and found one video where a fellow in VA used horse manure and straw and his attempt seemed to be going well. I’m also hoping to be able to use the bale box as an overwintering home for whatever worms survive the summer.

    I’m still working my way through your course! Thanks for all of the great ideas. Wish me luck!

    • Chad
    • May 20, 2013

    Im setting up a mushroom farm, and just got some redworms. I was anaerobically fermenting some straw as mushroom compost. When my worms and worm factory showed up, i decided against using the coir, and pulled out some of the fermented straw from the bucket, and added it to my worm bin. The worms just love it. Luckily straw is cheap. 🙂

    • Beth
    • December 5, 2014

    I’m glad to see this because I just decided to dump a bin of hay and guinea pig poop in my vermicomposting bin in my basement….As I did, I said to myself…hmm…maybe I just killed my bin but I have hope here.

    If it works I”ll have a nice little circle of life in my basement…scoop from the guinea pig bin….into the vermicomposting bin…woo hoo

    • Marin
    • April 7, 2015

    Having seen all this and realizing that we have some spare straw bales at my school, I think I will embark on a new experiment. We have a 48″ VermBin sitting empty out in our garden area. I think we will put the spare straw bale into the bin, wet it down with all manner of compost, guinea pig droppings, horse manure and maybe even a fresh batch of worm tea, let it rot a bit and then add some colonist worms from our working bins. Hopefully, the straw will help insulate the worms through our drought-y summer and we will see what happens. With our worm growing operation getting ramped up, we should be able to add more worms as they become available. Stay tuned…yet another worm experiment brought to you by Marin and students in California.

    • Freddi Dunleavey
    • April 8, 2015

    Just a thought based on our years long experience using hay bales. The bales hold the dampness really well and if others add compost or other moisture retaining ingredients, they need to watch out for making the medium TOO WET! 🙂

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