Worm farming : What do Worms Eat?

by Scott Bird on October 21, 2007

Now that many of you are considering setting up your first worm farm, you may be wondering just what they eat. After all, isn’t that the point of the exercise – getting rid of stuff you don’t want, in return for nutritious soil for the garden?

Here’s a look at just what’ll it takes to make them happy. It’s easier than you might expect.

Worm farm

From the kitchen

  • Vegetable scraps and peelings : For many people (myself included), this is the big one. Any sort of vegetable matter is fine – those peas that your kids tried to hide under their knife, potato peelings; leftover pumpkin (though why there’s any left over is beyond me – I love the stuff).
  • Coffee grounds, tea bags and tea leaves : As a regular drinker of both coffee and tea, this one’s fantastic. Let the coffee grounds, tea bags and tea leaves cool down a little; then just pour them in. Worms love them.
  • Egg shells : Think of these as roughage for the worms. They’ll chomp through a few of them quite happily; just don’t get carried away.

    NB : The worms will thank you if you crush the egg shells a little before you throw them in to the farm.

  • Small amounts of unwaxed paper : This one alone makes life that much easier. As the worms really don’t mind eating small amounts of paper, things like the tea bags mentioned above are no problem at all. No need to try and break them down – just throw the whole lot in.

    You can even put in small amounts of cardboard. Just soak it in a bit of water first, to make it easier for the worms to break down. Leftover pizza cartons? Perfect.

  • Hair : worms will eat small amounts of hair. I’m talking about the amount that’s wrapped around your hairbrush, not the sweepings from your local barber shop.
  • Soil and leaves : garden waste such as soil and leaves certainly can be added to a worm farm. However, given the amount of space these things often take up, a compost bin is often a better option. More on that later.

Try to avoid

  • Citrus fruit peelings : These are quite acidic, and don’t fall under the heading of ‘Foods the Worms Enjoy‘.
  • Onions, tomatoes and chilies : As with the citrus fruit peelings, these are quite acidic.
  • Meat, bones and animal fat : Although the worms will probably eat these things, they’ll attract unwanted insects and rodents to your worm farm. Best avoided.
  • Waxed or glossy paper : Don’t panic if a small amount of glossy paper ends up in the worm farm. There are, however, much better options for getting rid of it. Keep an eye out for the compost and recycling articles.
  • Dairy products : Think of the worms as vegans. Dairy really isn’t their thing.

The worms will eat all of these things, but slowly and reluctantly. Avoid them when you can.

From the yard

  • Dog poo : This one’s interesting. If you’ve got dogs, you know the routine. Cleaning up after them is all part of the fun.

    There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that worms will happily eat this stuff. Really. They’ll be as happy as pigs in … well, you get the idea.

    The bad news is that it’s not a good idea to put the dog poo in with your regular worm farm – especially if you’re putting the resultant casts on your vegetable garden. Separate worm farms are advisable – one for vegetable matter and one for the dog poo.

    The casts from the vegetable matter one are great for the vegetable garden; the dog poo one supplies fertiliser for all of the plants you don’t eat.

A Final Thought on Food for Worms

Worm farms are a great way to convert much of your kitchen waste into stuff you can actually use – fertiliser for your gardens. Your plants will thank you for it.

If you’re wondering just what to do with the things in the ‘try to avoid’ section above, keep an eye out for Becky’s upcoming articles on composting. Rest assured, there’s a place for everything.