Nothing is better for garden soil than worm castings. We use them in our seed starting mix, we add them by the bucket to our garden beds in the spring and we use them to make compost tea rather than buy commercially available worm casting products. We made the decision years ago that it made a whole lot more sense to buy a thousand red wigglers, set up a worm bin and start producing our own worm castings.
Given the right conditions red wiggler composting worms can double their population in just 90 days so a small initial investment in 1,000 red wigglers can lead to a pretty sizeable population of worms in no time at all, not to mention a whole lot of castings but for most of us who raise red wigglers including me this rate of population growth can’t be sustained for very long. There are a number of factors that can limit population growth including insufficient food supply, overcrowding, too little or too much moisture, inadequate air flow, too much light and temperatures that are too hot or too cold, Today I thought I’d talk about how we respond to one of these limitations, specifically how we find enough food to keep our worm population growing. Red wigglers can eat about 50% of their body weight in food every day. If it’s significantly less than this their population will stabilize or decline. Red wigglers self-regulate their population in response to various environmental factors including the food supply.
If you’re happy with the size of your current population just keep feeding them the same amount of food and it should stabilize around the current level but if you want your population to grow you’ll want to provide them with food equivalent to 50% of their body weight or more per day, so if you have one pound of worms, about a thousand worms, and feed them once per week they’ll need three and a half pounds of food or more in that weekly feeding. No big deal, right. Most families have that much kitchen waste and shredded paper or leaves available but what if you have six pounds of composting worms or 8 or 12 and you want to keep the population growing and producing more castings for your garden. That’s the question we encountered a couple years ago and that’s when we turn to using free resources in the community to supplement a red wigglers food supply. Specifically we started picking up used coffee grounds from Starbucks and other coffee shops. we increased our leaf collection efforts around the neighborhood and more recently we started collecting spent brewery grains from a local microbrewery. by adding these free resources we now have more than enough food to keep our red wiggler population growing.
At this point I don’t know how many worms we have but we have eight worm bins and I guess there’s at least a pound of worms in each bin, that’s approximately eight pounds of worms To keep. eight pounds of worms fed and happily reproducing we have to feed them about 28 pounds of food per week or 1460 pounds per year. Our household and property don’t produce nearly that much food scraps and shredded paper or leaves per week so the additional free resources we collect make all the difference. We typically add food to each worm bin about once per week. Today I’ll be adding food to one of our eight bins again. If there is about a pound of worms in each bin and they eat half of their weight every day I’m going to have to add 3.5 pounds of food to the bin for a weekly feeding. Today I happen to have some of the worms favorite foods: bananas, pumpkin skins, eggshells, avocados, coffee grounds and leaves, I chop all of the food scraps including the avocado pits in a food processor to speed up the decomposition process. I weigh out 3.5 pounds of food scraps, coffee grounds and leaves and add them to the bin. other than some leaves and coffee grounds you can see that the worms have done a pretty good job of eating most of the food from their last feeding. This tells me I’m not over feeding the worms.
If on the other hand I found that a lot of food was accumulating I know that I was overdoing it and would reduce the feedings. I put the scraps in first, then I top them off with leaves and coffee grounds. I like to mix the leaves and coffee grounds together which will help prevent the coffee grounds from forming a solid mat, then I also add a little water to the leaves if they are dry. Over the course of the week I’ll make sure that each bin receives a similar feeding. I often add food to two or more bins in a day so I don’t have to feed the worms every day. Of course to keep the population growing over time I’ll eventually have to increase the weekly feedings from 28 pounds to 30 pounds then to 32 pounds and 34 and so on. At some point this would become impractical I won’t be able to find enough food, I’ll run out of space to house the worms or it will just take too much time. Before that time comes I’ll level off their feedings and let them self-regulate their population at that level.
So by taking advantage of these valuable free resources we have more than enough food to keep our red wiggler population growing for the time being and we do our small part to put these materials to good use in our garden and keep them out of landfills. Well that’s all for now, thank you very much for watching and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.