Caring For Your Worms
If you never had worms before, it can be a little nerve racking getting started.  I'm sure almost everyone, myself included, had a mishap or twenty with their first batch of worms.  Once you get the kinks worked out, working with worms can be quite simple.  They don't need to be fed and given water several times a day like most other pets around the house.  Wormkeeping is something that takes time to learn.  Almost like something you have to  get the feel for.  There is plenty of reading out there on this subject.  I would still like to share some of the basics and know how info that I have learned along the way.














Worms Needs

Although worms can be tough and live through adverse conditions, they can only thrive when they live in ideal conditions.  They need Food, Moisture, Bedding, Darkness, Ventilation, and Proper Ph in order to live and thrive.    Lets take a look at each of these needs a little further.

FOOD can be a big misunderstood thing when it comes to how much they eat.  I'm sure you heard they eat half their weight or even as much as their weight per day.  Well, if you were to have a pound of worms, and dumped in a pound of your kitchen scraps everyday, by the end of the week you would have a mess.   First off, worms won't eat that many  scraps per day, based on a few factors.  One being the condition the food is in.  Is it big and chunky, stemmy, or fresh?   The food needs to be broken down some first, actually pretty nasty.  Fresh scraps may not even be touched for several days.  So if you keep adding food you will end up with problems.  Second factor, depending  what your bedding is, the worms may be eating that too and therefore not as much of the food you added.  The other important factor is the temperature.  A worm bin sitting outside with average temps in the 50's for days, compared to a bin sitting in laundry room at mid 70's, is a huge difference.  The food will grow bacteria a lot quicker in the 70's, and thus disappear much quicker, plus the worms will be a lot more active.  
One way to make your food more  readily consumable, would be to run it through a blender or food processor.  Another thing would be to freeze and thaw it.   When food is prepared this way it will disappear a heck of a lot quicker.  If you don't like a slop bucket around, thats what I call the container that holds kitchen scraps,  you can prep them this way and get them out of the freezer as you need them.  Scraps sitting around in a container will get really rank, and attract knats.  By freezing them you will lower or eliminate the chance of knat eggs being in the food, and becoming a nuisance. 
Ok, so what foods do worms eat.  Well there are far to many to mention.  Let's just say avoid dairy, meat, and citrus.  Other than those, anything that was living once is a food for worms.  Produce of any kind are some of their favorites.  There are specially prepared feeds for worms, called Worm Chow.  Chicken feed is another alternative.  If you have outdoor bins and access to manure, Red Worms love manure.  Horse manure, rabbit manure, and cow manure are among the 3 favorites.  Care must be taken to not overfeed manures just like produce.  Manure must be aged some in order to let ammonia dissipate.  If heavily soaked in urine, especially rabbit, it should be leached first. 











MOISTURE is very important because worms breathe through their skin, and it needs to be moist.  General rule of thumb is bedding should be like a wrung out sponge.  A drop or two of water comes out when squeezed.  Worms can handle it on either side of that level.  If the bedding becomes to wet, it will compact.  Plus air doesn't travel well through soaked bedding.  You will probly notice your worms crawling up the sides, if it's too wet, to get air.  If your bin becomes too dry, the worms start to secrete their own body fluids to make it more moist.  This will make your worms shrink.  It usually occurs during shipping of worms.  They are shipped on the drier side and tend to get smaller.  Then when added to a moist environment, they plump up some.  If your bin has liquid dripping out of the bottom, it is too wet.  You should add dry bedding to it, like shredded cardboard, newspaper, or leaves.  Something to absorb the moisture, and turn it in.  When feeding produce, bins tend to be real wet.

BEDDING is a must for worms to live in.  A good bedding allows air flow, holds moisture, and is edible to the worms.  My outdoor pits consist of shredded and aged leaves, shredded cardboard, and shredded and aged straw.  I find these to be very well like by worms, and makes a great habitat.  These items are readily available for me.  Other beddings people use are shredded newpaper, aged saw dust or shavings, peat moss, coconut coir, and manure.  Any of these can be combined or used alone.  Another purpose of the bedding is it gives the worms something to eat if there regular food has been eaten.  Peat moss doesn't really have food value, so feeding other foods with it is really important.  Plus peat moss is very acidic, and should be adjusted with lime to raise the ph.











DARKNESS  is key for active worms.   Worms like it dark to do their business.  They should be kept in a dark area.  If you have to keep them in a bright location, just make sure the top is covered.  When worms are exposed to light they will dive down to avoid it.  Since worms are moslty surface feeders, it makes sense to not push them deeper.  Using light is a good way to seperate worms from their bedding.  As they dive down, you can scrape away the bedding.  Eventually this will leave you with just a pile of worms.  This can be very stressfull to them, if they are left in the light for long, with nowhere to go.

VENTILATION is also important to ensure a healthy worm enviroment.  This is accomplished by having air holes in your bins.  The bins I use for breeding all have holes drilled into them.  In addition, the lids are fit loosely to allow more air flow.  A fan in the room can also be added to move air around the bins.  Every so often the bins can be turned over to introduce some air into the bedding.  Over time the bedding can compact, especially if it is real wet.  This will help to fluff it up and keep it from going anaerobic.  Adding bulky kinds of bedding will also allow more air flow.  More air flow in the system will keep everything living and processing at a better rate.  Bins that are made of wood breath well, also Worm Inns and flow-thru bins have good air flow.

PH can often be overlooked, but is just important as everthing else.  Ideal ph levels for a worm bin is slighlty below nuetral to nuetral.  Meaning between 6 and 7.  Although Red Wigglers can tolerate more acidic conditions, European Nightcrawlers will not.  European Nightcrawlers will even die off when exposed to acidic conditions.  If using peat moss for a bedding it needs lime to nuetralize the acid.  Even other types of bedding can become acidic over time.  If you feed a lot of coffee grinds, grain feeds, tomatoes, or just overfeeding in general, these can lead to acidic bedding.  If the worm bin hasn't been harvested in a long time, or turned and aerated, it may become acidic.  When manure is the main food source, it can really accumulate acid.  When bins become acidic, they can attract unwanted pests like mites.  These can be a real nuisance and are better prevented than dealing with them.

Those are the main needs of any composting worm.  It sounds like a lot of babying, but all comes natural after awhile.  Given these needs are met, the worms can reproduce and process lots of wastes that are typically thrown in the trash.  The resulting rich vermicompost is beautiful natural stuff to spread around your flower beds, gardens, and yards.  If you have any questions you can always contact me through the contact page.  I will do my best to answer and help you out.

-Zippy

RedWorms love rabbit manure!

Shredded Leaves

 Shredded Straw

 Shredded Cardboard