Vermicomposting, worm bin, composting with worms community and forums
This info is about Red Worms only. (I also raise--or at least, nurture and then stock into my garden in general--Amn nightcrawlers, who are "free-range" volunteers in a huge leaf pile, and I've just started with Canadian nightcrawlers in a 5-gal bucket. They are alive and well, have made burrows in their bedding, and are eating regularly. However, I'm told they're not much help making VC because they don't really eat the bedding, since it's where their burrows are. Redworms will eat both their food and their bedding, leaving a grand soil additive full of microbes for your plants.)
Put worms into a bedding of pre-composted leaves and manure (1 week+) or lots of dampened shredded paper and cardboard with or without some dampened coconut coir (low-salt only). Keep adding bedding as you add foods. (Many wormers keep a trash bin full of bedding materials for winter-time stock, and many others keep 5-gallon buckets of veggie clippings and old rotten things, to get their microbes going. (Worms are said to feed on the bacterial ooze coming off the rotting items, rather than the actual items. However, videos by our own Andrew show this to be false; he has captured clear pix of worms feeding on melon bits, commercial worm chow, and eggcarton type cardboard directly--no bacterial help whatsoever. BUT they also chowed down happily on mold. So, old or new food scraps....) FREEZE or MICROWAVE all fruits and veggies or risk FRUIT FLY INVASION. Either use a well-aerated bin (flow-through my fave, or any other with many holes drilled in it) or use a shallow (6-8" max) Rubbermaid (RM) bin with no solid lid. Deeper bins will get a nasty sour smell as anaerobic decomp gets going.
Shredded non-white dry paper (phone books, bad novels, newspaper) makes a nice "topper" on the bins; about six inches piled loosely is recommended by many experienced 'wormers' on this site, though my own worms pull it under so quickly, it drops to 3 inches in just a few days. This helps keep fruit flies from finding your compost to lay eggs in it.
Avoid adding too much wet food (anything but paper, cardboard, and leaves =s "wet") at once or the bin may heat up more than the worms care for and they'll run away (slowly).
General note: The more damp cardboard, the more reproduction many people here report. I have also noticed this in my bins. One member (Ar-Pharazon) notes that any change seems to trigger egg-laying, possibly as a species-protective response.
Keep a nightlight over your bins to prevent escapees. Many people bungee-cord a t-shirt over their bins as a permeable barrier. Elsewhere on this site are directions for creating a "shock fence" and a salt/Vaseline barrier to keep worms in. Redworms don't wander unless conditions get DIRE, so keep an eye out, but possibly don't trap them in the bin environment completely. (Mine have only fled too much heat, too much rainfall--after possums opened the bin tops outdoors, and lack of oxygen, when I used perforated black plastic to try to get worms to leave older VC for a newer bin. Instead, because my old VC was wet and heavy & perhaps I hadn't put enough holes in the black plastic, the worms in the lower, newer bin came UP or crowded into gently heaving masses at corners where there was still oxygen getting in.)
So what is worm food? Here's what I told my neighbors I would like to have. Also read the posts below this, because my fellow VCers have added comments, suggestions, and corrections that should be taken into account too.
WORMS' FAVORITE FOOD: It's a toss-up between melon, pumpkin, squash, and maybe tea bags.
IDEAL WORM FOOD:
vegetable & fruit scraps
except garlic, hot peppers, citrus, or
major influxes of tomatoes (a few of any of these seem to be fine; too many = trouble)
But FRESH PINEAPPLE KILLS WORMS. So, no fresh pineapple. It has an enzyme that
dissolves cell walls of certain types, and very literally liquidates your worms.
Also, some consider FRESH LETTUCE a problem, leading to "string of pearls" deaths from
"protein poisoning." I use salad lettuces, but freeze them first to break up their cell walls, in case that helps.
bread & noodles & similar floury stuff (spread these thinly, break up, or otherwise distribute
in the bins, as bread sometimes collapses into a thin layer of goo, which my worms don't seem to eat)
meat bones if already used for soup (i.e.,
not very greasy; bury them pretty good in your outdoor compost or under rose bushes)
coffee grounds & most filters
tea bags, even with string & tag
eggshells (which can be oven-dried and crushed up fine as a "grit" for the worms or simply added, if
you're in a hurry)
pet bedding (hay, shredded np, coconut "coir", alfalfa, anything organic and not too full of urine;
droppings are fine, but urine burns our baby worms)
vacuum cleaner bags if normal household contents
(not construction debris, not cat litter)
sawdust (not treated, not pine-y, not cedar,
not pre-finished w/ stains, wax, polyurethane, shellac)
pet hair (a member of this site proved for her science fair that
her worms ate dog hair fastest of all her test foods)
people hair (tho my worms don't really like mine...; hair is good in outdoor compost or scattered
around in the garden)
fingernail clippings (pure nitrogen, slo-release; worms don't really eat these, but
they're good for the garden in general. Perhaps just do your nail cutting outdoors
when weather permits.)
dryer lint unless known to be mostly acrylic
old wool, cotton, or silk clothes or fabrics
no longer good enough to donate
toilet paper tubes
paper towel tubes
brown paper, including pizza boxes &
brown paper bags w/ (or w/o) food or grease on them
egg cartons & fast-food drink trays (pressed paper)
beer, wine, old flat sodas if w/ sugar (I use these only on my outdoor compost, to feed microbes;
don't use sodas if you have problems with ants per Garbage Guru; some of the fellas pour their beer dregs into the
sand (worms have "crops" and need grit)
grains and grain hulls
nutshells (at least from my hickory trees & another member's sweet-gum spikey seed balls)
THINGS FOR USE IN THE GARDEN:
sour milk or milk products (spring, smr, fall only; group of dairy farmers noted improved growth with dairy added to
their fields vs control sections; I am testing this; another member is testing feeding yogurt in lg amts to her worms)
peanut shells (unsalted only) go well in outdoor compost
NOT SO GOOD IN COMPOST:
meat & greasy bones
lg amts of cheese (mostly b/c it stinks; my worms love it)
Activia yogurt (my red worms totally avoid this & it sits in creepy globs deep in the bedding)
spoiled fresh herbs (their oils get very nasty and pungent in the bins; the worms flee en masse)
pine needles (great elsewhere, like on berry plants as mulch, but my worms won't eat them)
salty, spicy hot, or very acid foods (think like a worm; that would BURN)
dog droppings (fine to compost outdoors, where other soil creatures dispose of them, but not eaten by my own
indoor compost worms even when everything else in a bin is pure VC; also, depends on what meds dog is on, esp
hydrangea leaves or stems
(my worms refused to eat those all this winter)
weeds that start from tiny pcs
(like witchgrass or Bermuda grass)
spiny clippings (roses, thorns, because I put my hands into the compost)
poisonous plants (hemlock, castor beans, oleander, or the like,
also eucalyptus, bay laurel, poison ivy)
Wood or charcoal ash (I add to my compost piles outdoors only, but sparingly
from particular woods I select for that use, never from bbq charcoal)
Extremely diseased or insect-infested plants.
Hope this helps and keeps everybody's worms healthy and safe--or helps others who have helpful neighbors wanting a list of what to donate for your worms.