Monday, June 6, 2011

Making Worm Food

I’m warning you right now, this post has a bit of an elevated yuck! factor. It’s not the prettiest of postings, but it is one of the most interesting to me. Read on at your own discretion. You have been warned.

Earthworms are the most industrious animals I know of. They work constantly to improve our soils and increase their viability and plant sustainability. Specifically, red worms or Eisenia Foetida, the manure worms or compost worms are the ones I am referring to. These guys come up out of the soil or bedding and eat organic materials and produce wonderful castings that are the best natural, organic and cost-effective fertilizing agent I’ve ever heard of. Plus, they produce worm tea which is a fabulous liquid fertilizer that I personally swear by.

I have a bin of worms, thanks to my son-in-law who happened to buy a couple of half-pound tubs at a bait store one day. We cut a 55-gallon barrel in half top to bottom and put in them bedding made of straw, shredded paper, a little manure and some ground up kitchen waste and the worms.

Over the next several weeks, we have fed them much more kitchen waste as well as coffee grounds from the office where I work and these guys have eaten it all. Not only that, they have begun reproducing at a phenomenal rate. I estimate that there are two to three pounds of worms in this bin right now and I’m feeding them three times a week.  It’s the food that I’m feeding them that this post is about.

It’s a proven fact that worms will eat just about any garbage you can give them. Since I don’t currently have access to a steady supply of horse or cow manure, that’s out. But what I do have access to is a steady stream of kitchen wastes, stuff that would either go down the garbage disposal in the sink or in the trash can to the landfill. Both of these choices are less than desirable.

My choice is to feed it to my worms, so that is what I’m doing. This post shows how I prepare these wastes and store them for later feedings.

First, worms will eat about any organic material. If their basic needs of temperature, moisture and organic bedding are met, they will eat and consume everything you give them. A worm will eat up to four times its own weight in food every week. That’s actually a lot of food. Think how much that would be if you ate four times your own weight in food every week. They don’t want meat, bones, pet or human manure or greasy or oily foods, so put those in the landfill container. They love watermelon and other melons, so I try to give them as much of that as possible. Avoid citrus peels in large concentrations as they have the tendency to make the bedding too acidic for the worms. And they don’t have teeth so worms need to have some grit to put into their gizzards (just like chickens) to grind the food. I use dried and powdered eggshells and they seem to like it. In a future post, I'll show you how I prepare the eggshell gizzard fodder, too.

You can put this stuff directly into the bedding if you want, but that can take a while to break down. I like to speed things up a bit, and my worms seem to like it. I make use of a food blender to grind the food wastes into a puree.

I save my food scraps for a week or until I have enough to process. I keep them in plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids. I don’t worry about mold growing or other fuzzy stuff happening or if they start to rot. I want that because that’s what the worms want.
A small selection of the next batch of worm food. Any non-greasy, non-meat kitchen scraps will do nicely. If it came from a garden, it can go back into the garden.

I start by cutting up the scraps into blender-capable sized pieces. Then I add them to the blender with the blades set on high speed. I keep adding food and juices from the tubs until the blender is full and it is all liquefied. Then I pour the liquid into forms made from the bottoms of gallon milk jugs. I cut the bottom two inches off of milk jugs for this.
Don't let your wife see you using her blender for this project.

Then I CAREFULLY place the food filled forms into the freezer compartment of my refrigerator and let it freeze thoroughly. I give it at least a full day to freeze. I don’t worry about covering it because I’m not too concerned if it dries out a bit. It’s usually pretty runny anyway.
Here you can see the scrap bucket, the blended food and the milk jug bottoms into which I will pour and in which I will freeze the food.

Once it is frozen, I flex the forms a bit a pop out the solid block of food. I store these in a cardboard box in the freezer until I need them. I wash the forms out because they would begin to stink really quickly if I didn’t and store them to use next time.
Ready to be popped into the freezer.

When it’s time to feed the worms, I simply take a block or two out of the box and place them a couple of inches deep in the bedding. I make sure that the new ones are not directly over where the last ones were because I don’t want to place a block of ice on top of some worms eating the last of the previous feeding. It takes a few hours for it to thaw and by the next day, it’s all liquid again and is covered with worms.
A good batch of vermi-entrees. 

I don’t add my coffee grounds to these block, I simply dump them in and bury them a couple of inches in the bedding. As the worms eat the stuff I feed them and their bedding, I add more straw and shredded paper. I make sure that it is kept moist by watering my worms when I water my garden. Keeping it out of the direct sun helps, too, as does the cover.
Frozen and ready for storage and/or feeding time. 

In spite of what you might be thinking, my worm beds don’t stink. They don’t have any odor at all. When I had a problem with drainage at first there was a smell to it, but once I put large enough holes to drain the leachate, there was no smell at all.
I store the completed food bricks in a bag in a box. I don't worry about freezer burn since they aren't in there long enough for it to be a problem.

In the two months that we’ve had these worms, I have fed them about 20 pounds of food. As the population grows, I’m sure that the volume of food will increase, too. Think about how much garbage is not going to the landfill now from my home. Think about how much junk the water treatment plant doesn’t have to take out of the water (and haul to the landfill) by not putting this stuff down the garbage disposal. Think about how much my garden is going to like to have these worm castings and how well it will grow once it does.

See, when you think about all of the good of this project, the yuck! factor just sort of fades away, doesn’t it?

In a future posting, I'll show you how I use these and how the worms are doing.


  1. "Worm tea" is still a gross concept. But I can't help but be fascinated by your worm stories! Also, I don't think I'll ever make another smoothie out of that blender again.

  2. I love it! A worm factory is next on my list of garden projects. Can you post pictures of your worm factory so I can see how you made it? I may be able to make one now instead of saving to buy one! Thanks so much for this! Glad I found you on Blotanical!


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