Caring for 160,000 composting worms is a year-round job and requires more time than one might think. In ideal conditions, our worms are eating 80 pounds of produce and bedding per DAY. Ballpark figure: That’s about a ton of food per month! And to keep the worms eating at a healthy rate, we need to keep the temperature moderate, the pH relatively neutral and the moisture balanced.
So what are our guys eating to stay healthy, and produce healthy Worm Compost? For starters, locally-sourced rotten produce. Why rotten? That’s the way worms like it. When they eat, they don’t draw nutrients from the produce, but rather from the mold and microbes rotting the produce. Their bodies take what they need from the molds and fungi, and excrete their castings with many of the nutrients still intact from the fruits and veggies they just digested. That’s what makes vermicompost so much better than traditional “hot” compost: It actually contains nutrients and minerals that your plants need.
While we’ve always used rotting produce for our worms (as opposed to animal manure or landscape waste), this past year we became much more selective about what we fed our worms. In the past, we would utilize any rotting fruit or vegetable as worm food; now we only feed them produce that is 100% seed-free. This means you won’t find a rogue seed or sprout in the finished Worm Compost. No more tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, strawberries, pumpkins, peppers or apples, which means we’ve doubled up on things like lettuce, spinach, celery, potatoes, mushrooms, kale, carrots, cabbage, yams, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes.
We also source coffee grounds from local coffee shops (100 pounds or so per month), coco coir, clean newsprint, and crushed egg shells.
All-in-all, these worms are chowing down 365 days a year to produce our Living Worm Compost.
Keeping things a comfortable temperature for the worms is vital—in both summer and winter. Worms like temperatures around the same level you and I might. If you’re cold, so are the worms; if you’re hot, so are the worms. That means in the summer, we keep fans blowing across the bins to cool things down. But in the winter we have to set up heating systems to keep the worms happy and hungry (and mating).
We’ve also vermin-proofed our workshop (chicken wire, traps, barn cat), as winter is the time of year when these worm bins becomes prime real estate for mice—warm environment with an all-you-can-eat buffet being restocked on a regular basis.
Like any other farmer, we need to make sure our livestock are safe, healthy and fed, and that means constant year-round attention. When the thermometer drops, that means more work for us to keep them happy, but it also means that the colder it gets, the more we’re “thinking spring.”
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.