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What to feed red worms; what not to feed red worms

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.

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)

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

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   

   flea killers)
hydrangea leaves or stems
  (my worms refused to eat those all this winter)
cooking oils
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.







Views: 30234

Comment by Eujin Liew on April 15, 2011 at 4:40pm
Fingernail clippings as ideal worm food? That's interesting... don't they take a while to decompose? and pretty hard stuff for worms.
Comment by Lee Jolliffe on April 15, 2011 at 5:08pm
I'm not at all convinced the worms eat nail clippings but I know they're good later in soil as they gradually decompose, so I include them if I"m in the mood to be quite so tediously careful.
Comment by Lorrie on April 15, 2011 at 8:11pm
Fresh pineapple can be disastrous.
Comment by Lee Jolliffe on April 16, 2011 at 6:10am
Thanks, Lorrie. I just added that in. (Thank goodness I can edit the posts.) Eujin, I made a note re your comment also.
Comment by Susan B on April 21, 2011 at 5:16pm

This is a great list.  I'm glad you can edit too.  This will probably end up on Andrew's list of lists.


Here's my 2 cents.


I haven't tested this, but I was told by the local worm guru here in Honolulu that while papaya seeds make great worm food, they have something in them that renders the worms sterile, so they won't reproduce.


In SOME locations, banana peels have toxins or insecticides on the peel that stunt worm reproduction.


Peanut hulls can still be found intact more than a year after they were they were put in the bin.  I think if you do want to use peanut hulls, soak them in water really well before adding them or the bacteria never get to them.  (The worms eat the bacteria, and not so much the food directly.)


Some people add vacuum bag contents, but it depends on what ends up there.  If there's anything synthetic (including plastic), it won't decompose.


The other reason to add things like bread sparingly is that it heats up and you want the worms to have somewhere else to go while that's happening.  The same for legumes.


Also, I've added pine chips that were used for rat bedding without problems.  Why do you say no pine based sawdust?

Comment by Jason Kalka on May 6, 2011 at 10:11pm
I've had luck with leftover pizza dough.
Comment by Lee Jolliffe on May 7, 2011 at 5:47am
Thanks, Jason! Also, Susan, mega-helpful! I said no pine-based sawdusts because of some literature online somewhere (from a state university or cooperative extension) that said the resins in the pine were not good for worms.... Will check, though, since it sounds like yours are doing fine with it.
Comment by suzan Garcia on October 21, 2011 at 12:55pm
I have a question, I have several bags of worm food in the freezer & in one of them there's about 7 or 8 cubes of fresh pineapple.When I find it I can throw it away, but will the juice from the pineapple spoil the whole bag of scraps ??? thanks.
Comment by Organic Crusader on February 14, 2013 at 12:47pm

I realize this is an old thread but I just wanted to mention that the main resin in pine is turpentine, probably not good for your worms.


Comment by Mary Thompson on December 23, 2013 at 10:33pm

Thanks for the list. I am doing my investigating before I buy & start. I don't want odor or the hubby could try to have me keep everything outside.


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