What Should I Feed My Compost Worms?

Upon passing out my card I’m often greeted with the comment “I had some worms once but they all died”.

“Was it something I fed them?”

Harvesting Tiger Worms

There may have been other reasons why the worms died but my intention here is to summarise their dietary likes and dislikes.

Tiger worms (Eisenia fetida) also known as compost worms, manure worms, or red wiggler prefer a diet of 70% fruit and vegetables with the remaining 30% made up of carbon (eg. cardboard, paper, paper towels, egg carton etc)

Worms like:

Avocados.
Tea bags.
Aged grass clipping and leaves in moderation.
Coffee grinds.
Crushed egg shells.
Aged animal manures ( eg. horse, cow, sheep and rabbit)
Banana skins.
Fruit (not citrus)
Vegetable waste from kitchen and garden (avoid material that may have residues from chemical sprays)
Vegetable peelings.
Hair.
Watermelon.
# Shredded paper and card board (non glossy)
# Paper towels.
# Toilet roll centres.
# Egg cartons.
# Vacuum dust.
# Note …  these items should be soaked in water and then wrung out prior to being used.

Chopping food and other waste into smaller pieces helps to speed up the decomposition process.

Worms don’t like:

Fresh grass clippings produce too much heat and will cook your worms.
Bread & pasta (in smaller stacker type worm farms)
Chicken manure as it’s to potent.
Dairy products.
Flour products.
Kiwi fruit (in excess)
Meat and fish.
Spicy or acidic foods.
Garlic, chili & onions.
Large amounts of cooked food.
Processed food that may have salt and other additives.
Glossy paper or cardboard.
Perfumed or chemically treated tissues.
Treated wood shavings or sawdust.
Pet faeces (risk transfer of disease, better to be safe than sorry)

Feed worms once a week taking care not to over feed as uneaten food will only rot, smell and attract flies.

Adding a handful of garden lime (calcium carbonate) every 3 to 4 weeks will help to maintain a neutral pH level, lower acidity and sweeten the whole mixture. Aerating the contents within your worm farm every month or so also ensures adequate air circulation and reduces bedding compaction.

Ten digits in some rubber gloves is the most effective method as there’s no risk of harming the worms and if you have one damaging the weed mat that lines the inside of a bath tub worm farm.

Worms need air but not light as they are photo phobic.

You can’t go wrong if you treat your worms in the same manner as the politicians treat their constituents “keep em in the dark”.

Finally covering food scraps with dampened newspaper, sacking or old carpet encourages worms to the surface to feed on decomposing matter. This also means that both the bedding and food remain moist and in the dark, just as the worms like it.

If you’re thinking starting a worm farm our Garden Shop is a great place to check out your options.

Feeding The Tigers

Interesting worm facts.
Best temperature range for compost worms is 15°C to 25°C.

20 Responses

  1. Dianne Ford Campbell

    Hi

    Fab site and great info. Have enjoyed reading many of your atricles.

    Now to my question – PowerCo is a large organisation and we are undertaking a major project to reduce waste and recycle. Part of this project involves starting a worm farm (in our New Plymouth Office)and I just wanted to clarify why bread and ‘cakes’ are not ideal food in the worm farm ?(I am thinking of the engineers who bring their lunches to work and perhpas don’t eat all of their ‘sammies’)

    Also there must be a limit to the amount of tissue that can be added to a worm farm? Once again thinking of the no of people in the office and the amount of tissues used in the winter months. Plus would the fact the some are Aloe or anit viral tissues?

    Hoping you can enlighten us.

    Many thanks and look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards

    Dianne

  2. Linzi
    Linzi |

    Hi Rodney, We are trying to be more green at work and started a compost collection, I was putting it in my compost bin, but this is now overflowing, so I am looking at a worm farm instead. I have an old bathtub and some recycled wood and was looking at your plan, how many worms should I buy to get started? I think my main challenge will be educating my co-workers to put their orange peel in a different bin! looking forward to lots of extra delicious fruit and veg from the worm tea later. Linzi in Chch

  3. Linzi
    Linzi |

    Thanks Rodney, someone locally is selling 5kg’s of tiger worms, guess this would be more than enough to get me started?

  4. Ross Grubb
    Ross Grubb |

    Hi all,
    I share this with you all, since I started cutting into small pieces everything that goes into my compost bins, the breakdown of product has really speeded up.Especially the hard stalks of caulies,cabbages etc. You may think this is all extra work but the end results speak for themselves. A sharp heavy duty knife is essential of course. The worm population in the heaps is very high and they are munching away night and day enjoying themselves!

    Regards
    Ross

  5. Vicki Sim
    Vicki Sim |

    I have lots of avairy birds, chooks, chickens, ducks and ducklings. Will my featheed friends eat tiger worms?

  6. Aidan
    Aidan |

    Hi Rodney,
    You may remember me from a year and a half ago, as I asked you some questions when setting up my bathtub worm farm. I’ve had mixed success so I’m back looking at your site for tips. I had a big population explosion early on and it did very well in the first year. But since last winter the population has fallen way back and hasn’t recovered. I hadn’t been removing any solids from the tub as there always was plenty of room for adding more food scraps. I’ve been adding a bucket of food scraps every week or 2. 2 weeks ago I removed about 30% of the material and started fresh at on end of the tub with some fresh newspaper strips and a new layer of food scraps. I was a bit surprised the worms didn’t seem to go for it so I mixed in some of the old material to get the worms into the fresh scraps. I was just looking at your list of the food the worms like and don’t like. I knew about citrus fruit and onions so generally avoided these as much as possible. But I didn’t realise bread, pasta, flour products, cooked foods where on the ‘bad’ list and all these things have gone into my scrap bucket. I’, a bit surprised by this as I always imagined that bread and flour would be great for worms, but interesting to find out otherwise. I’ll have a go at improving their diet and see how I get on.
    Cheers,
    Aidan

  7. Mike
    Mike |

    Hi Rod: what worms are best for Aerobic Thermophillic Composting (ATC) of humanure (poop mixed with formula ie; sawdust/coir/etc? When should I add them?
    Is it true that I cannot put Tigers Reds or Dendras into ATC pile as it would kill them?

    Best Regards
    Mike
    Singapore

  8. Dave
    Dave |

    Worms do like cardboard. I think they like the glue in between the layers of cardboard.

  9. Krisztina Peterfay
    Krisztina Peterfay |

    Hi Rod,

    I am interested in wormery and vermicomposting so I am planning to grow bigger amount of worms. According to this I have questions to you. I am considering to work with Dendrobaena Veneta and not with the tiger worms. What is the best Ph for Dendrobaena and what would be good for the tiger worms? I have heard the tiger worms tolerate the Ph differently than the Dendro and while the Dendro is still alive, they die?! I am curious about this Ph rate. My other question is about the new population of the Dendro… Is it possible somehow with any kind of food or chemicals (nutrients, amino acids, etc.) to make them grow faster and do more cocoons?

    Thank you for your time and answer.
    Krisztina

  10. Pauline
    Pauline |

    Recently someone told me that if my tiger worms escape from their worm bins they will eat the garden worms.

    If this is true then it would seem pointless to add compost from my worm bins – which I’ve used for years – to my garden in case I inadvertently add tiger worm cocoons, or worms into my garden.

    Help please – is my informant correct??? Should I be worried?

  11. Helen
    Helen |

    Hi there,
    Thanks for your time to answer our posts. I’ve been lucky enough to find some field mushrooms and as supply was left in a plastic bag for a few hours, they went a bit mushy and smelly. I gave them to my wormie babies. Is this ok to do?

  12. Nate Horn
    Nate Horn |

    Hey, I thought I’d throw my $.02 in from my experience. I have had a little stackable worm farm for many months now and I try different things and check it every day to monitor their health and progress. I really enjoy Vermicomposting and feel very paternalistic toward my “herd”… :) It’s my goal and ambition to expand into larger and larger beds until I am surpassing my own needs in the garden and producing commercially with the descendants of the very first pound of worms I started with! So far, so good… :)

    Bread is bad because it molds SO fast and when it does, the worms won’t touch it. Well, they’ll eat the part that isn’t moldy but when that’s gone, they stop. Must be poisonous or very distasteful to them. BUT they absolutely LOVE plain ol’ bleached, white, self-rising flour- the very fine stuff. We had some that got bugs in it and so I fed it to the worms and WoW, they simply love the stuff and devour it. It also seems to stimulate breeding excessively as well. I just put a couple of little piles in and spritz it with water to make it gummy and they go nuts. It doesn’t seem to mold at all for some reason AND you can buy it in bulk for dirt cheap!

    Also, they LOVE baby food! Of course you can’t scale that up to commercial level but for my little tubs, it works great. I put one little 4oz. jar in every couple of days. It takes them that long to eat it all. They seem to love the peas and the sweet potatoes the best but I haven’t tried every flavor yet. They will eat the fruit ones but are not as crazy for them as the other two. I presently am alternating between baby food and flour. They are VERY happy worms. Also, the cleaned, empty baby food jars have a plethora of uses in the shop and you can sell them online for almost as much (or sometimes more!) as you paid for them full of baby food!

    I use well composted horse manure mixed with Azomite as the bedding material and they thrive in and on it…… but they still seem to need or at least vastly enjoy being ‘fed’ the other stuff too. I don’t believe anything I read until I try it for myself and indeed, everybody’s experience seems to vary greatly. What a fantastic hobby!

  13. Nate Horn
    Nate Horn |

    OH, I was thinking also of installing a garbage disposal in the kitchen that drains outside to a screened bucket so that all of the vegetable and other scraps are conveniently pureed beforehand for the worms. The finer the material, the better they like it. So many cool ideas, so little time…….! Merry Christmas!!!

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