For most of us, the holidays mean good food and lots of it. Along with all the food preparation comes increased amounts of food waste. If you usually feed your vegetable scraps to your worms, you might be wondering if you can give them all the extra scraps you’ll be generating. Well, the short answer is, probably not, at least not all at once. Although we humans can tolerate occasional overeating, it’s best not to overfeed your composting worms. If you have a lot of extra scraps, give your worms the usual amount, or close to it, and find another way to dispose of the extra. If you do overfeed your worms, there are a few problems you may accidentally create. (But don’t worry, we’ve got a few solutions for you as well!)
Problems Created by Over-Feeding Worms
Excess moisture. All those vegetable scraps contain a lot of hidden liquid. Your worm bin should always have a consistency close to that of a wrung-out sponge. But as the structure of the food scraps collapses and the moisture seeps out, your worm bin can take on a more slimy consistency.
Anaerobic decomposition. A slimy appearance indicates that your worm bin may be developing a second, more bothersome problem: anaerobic decomposition. Anaerobic decomposition (rotting without oxygen) is definitely something to be avoided. Reason number one to avoid it is that your worms need oxygen. If your worm bin becomes anaerobic, your worms will be uncomfortable. They may try to leave their bin and they may die.
Reason number two to avoid anaerobic decomposition is that it stinks. A stinky worm bin quickly becomes unpopular with human caregivers.
Increased heat. If you add extra food scraps and there is enough high carbon bedding to balance things out, your bin can develop a third problem: extra heat. This can be good because it prevents odor problems, but it can also make the bin too warm for your worms. If this happens, you may notice them burrowing down to a cooler section of the bin or struggling to escape if there is no cooler place they can reach within the bin.
Help for Overfed Worms
If, in spite of these risks, you really want to give your worms a little extra holiday feed, there are a few things you can do to avoid making things difficult for them.
Shred it. If you have only a little more waste than usual, try shredding it into smaller pieces–chop it finely or run it through a food processor. Your worms can work their way more quickly through material that is in smaller pieces.
Add extra bedding. If you add any extra food scraps, be sure to add more bedding. Bedding, such as coconut fiber or shredded cardboard, absorbs extra moisture and adds carbon to balance out the extra nitrogen from the food. If your worm bin is well established and has a level that has already been processed by the worms, this can work quite well. The extra carbon prevents odors and if the new compost heats up too much for them, your worms can always burrow down into a cooler area to escape the heat.
Freeze it. Food scraps can be chopped up and stored in zip-up bags in your freezer. Those bags of worm food can come in handy when you have to ask a friend to care for your worms or if you go through a time period where you don’t have so many scraps.
With a little thought, you can help your worm friends make it through the holiday eating frenzy unharmed!