What Not to Feed Your Composting Worms
If you’re interested in raising worms for compost, you’ve probably heard the laundry list of things not to feed to your worms. This can be a bit confusing for those who don’t understand why, after all, won’t they eat just about anything? The truth is that they won’t and that some food scraps simply shouldn’t be added to your composting setup.
The simple answer is that the addition of the wrong things to your worm’s feeding can result in massive die-offs which will both halt your composting and begin to release a massive stench as things begin to rot.
The long answer has to do with pH levels, so pull on your lab coat for a moment and we’ll get right on explaining things.
Worms do best at a near neutral pH, or 7.0. When the balance of H+ and OH- ions are at a neutral level it means they’re in equilibrium. If things get too basic, which would be over a pH of 7.0 you’re going to run into problems. Unfortunately for those of us who just want a waste disposal unit suitable for everything, we also run the same risk if we make things too acidic, under 7.0 pH.
Either situation is a negative for your worms. Once a die-off begins it can be virtually impossible to make things right. The more scientifically minded among us might wish to frequently check the pH levels of our worm’s castings in order to maintain the balance.
However, some of the items which aren’t applicable have less to do with pH and more to do with the process itself. Meat and dairy products, for instance, will rapidly begin to rot and the smell can become overwhelming. This alone should be enough to discourage you from using them, and the risk of illness-causing bacteria is also an important factor in the decision not to include them.
So let’s take a look at some of the major items which aren’t recommended to be thrown in with your worms in order to ensure a productive setup that can self-sustain for long periods of time.
What Not to Feed
- Bones and Meat- While these might make up a sizable portion of the waste in most kitchens, they’re definitely not suitable for our useful, wriggling friends. They’ll most often rot before the worms get to them, creating an environment which will be rich in harmful bacteria. They’ll also make things stink quite a bit, so be sure to take these ones to the trash can. You wrigglers are also pretty much vegetarian, so you’ll just be relying on the microfauna within the material to take care of it.
- Dairy- For the same reason as meat, these are an absolute no-go. Dairy products have a tendency to rot even more swiftly than meat, and the resulting micro-organisms can create enough smell you may have trouble approaching your unit.
- Citrus Peels- These acidic fruits, while delicious, can make the soil your worms reside in much more acidic than you’d think. The peels contain a lot of citric acid despite their bitter taste, and that makes using them in any large amount a bad thing for your wrigglers.
- Cooking Oils- While a vermicomposting unit might seem like a great way to get rid of oils, this definitely isn’t a practice you want to try. Large amounts of oil can suffocate your worms, so be extremely careful about how much, if any, oils you add to the soil.
- Salt- If at all possible, try not to add heavily salted food items to your unit. Salt kills worms, and that can lead to a situation which will be hard to recover from without restarting the bin as a whole.
- Sugar- Keep sugar to a minimum, especially processed sugars. Your worms actually feed mostly on the bacteria cultures that develop on food that rots and sugar creates a rich environment for the bacteria. The problem with this is that an excess of sugar can cause the rot to happen faster than your worms get to it, which will lead to a smell and possible pH imbalances in the soil.
As long as you keep your worm’s diet in mind, raising worms can be a valuable and rewarding experience. The wrong foods can kill your worms and create a lot of stench though, so refer back to this list often to make sure that you’re not going to cause problems. With a bit of attention, though, you’re well on your way to a happy and productive colony of worms.