- What to Feed Worms in A Worm Bin
- What to feed worms in a worm bin:
- The Truth About Coffee Grounds and Worms
- Worms Can Help
- Not Just Waste Elimination but Feeding the Soil
- A Love / Hate Relationship
- Review and Compare Commercial Worm Farms
- Benefits of Feeding Worms Coffee Grounds
- It’s Getting Hot in Here
- It’s Acidic Too
- Chemicals – Chlorine and Decaf Coffee
- Pre-Composting Coffee Grounds
- How to Feed Worms Coffee Grounds
- What Do Worms Eat? A Road Map for What To Feed Your Worms
- What Worms Like to Eat
- What is the Best Worm Food?
- Final Thoughts on What to Feed Your Worms
- Grasshoppers and Crickets
- Wood Lice
- Edible Bugs You Probably Want to Avoid Eating
- Feeding Your Worms
- Learn what Vermicomposting Worms eat and what they don’t
- What Do Red Wiggler Worms Eat? What Do You Feed Composting Worms?
- What do Worms like to Eat?
- Foods that Composting Worms Don’t like as much
- What NOT to feed your Worms
- “Extra” Food for Red Wiggler Worms
- Feeding Your Worms – Procedure for How to Feed Red Worms
- Here are 5 tips on the frequency of feeding your worms
- How Much Waste Can Worms Eat?
- How Fast Can Red Worms Reproduce?
- Aphrodisiacs Red Wigglers Crave
- Bedding Isn’t Just for Sleeping
- The “Forgotten Secret”
- Maintain A Hypnotic Lair for Lust & Debauchery
What to Feed Worms in A Worm Bin
When feeding worms, it is important to remember a few key tips:
1. The smaller the better. Smaller pieces of food will break down faster, thus speeding up the composting process. Chopping large chunks of food to feed worms is recommended but not necessary. You can puree, freeze, or microwave food scraps before adding them to your worm composter to help break down material. Make sure that food has returned to room temperature before adding it to your worm bin.
You can chop your worm’s food to speed up the composting process
2. The frequency and volume that you feed worms will depend on you and your family. You can add new food to the feeding tray at any time. Worms can eat up to half their weight in food per day in a fully established, well managed vermicomposter. Make sure that worms are actively engaged in eating the food you added most recently in the top feeding tray before adding more food. If they are not, this is a sign of overfeeding. On average, most people can fill a tray in about one month. It may take shorter or longer than that depending on how much kitchen waste you generate.
Make sure your worms are engaged with the last food you added before adding more.
(Image courtesy of Albert Tansey, New Hampshire)
What to feed worms in a worm bin:
When you feed worms always try to add equal portions of greens and browns!
Greens: Vegetable and fruit scraps, bread, pasta, coffee grounds and filters, teabags, dead plant matter from houseplants
Browns: Paper, junk mail, paper egg cartons, cardboard, dry leaves
All organic material will break down, some faster than others; however, there are some suggested foods to avoid:
Salty foods, citrus, spicy foods, oils (like those found in salad dressing), prepackaged foods with preservatives, meat and dairy products because they attract flies and can cause the vermicomposter to smell.
The Difference between BROWNS and GREENS as compost ingredients
This is a popular question among many first composters or organic gardeners. Regardless of the name, “Browns” and “Greens” are not differences in physical color. It is more technical than that. These terms are functions of the C:N (Carbon to Nitrogen) ratios in all once living creatures, plant or animal.
Browns and greens are nicknames for different types of organic matter to use in composting.
Browns to feed worms in a worm bin
Greens to feed worms in a worm bin
Browns are high in carbon or carbohydrates, thus they are organic carbon sources. These foods supply the energy that most soil organisms need to survive. Carbons also help absorb the offensive odors and capture and help prevent most of the organic nitrogen in the piles from escaping by evaporation or leaching. Carbons are also essential in the faster formation of humus from the organic matter in a composting process.
Greens are high in nitrogen or protein, thus organic nitrogen sources. These products help the composting microherd to grow, breed, and multiply fast in the piles, thus creating extreme internal temperatures in hot compost piles.
A simple test to determine if your organic matter is a “green” or a “brown”, is to wet it, and wait a few days. If it stinks, it is definitely a green. If not, it’s a brown.
The Truth About Coffee Grounds and Worms
Have you ever wondered what happens to the coffee grounds after you make or buy your morning cup of coffee? Like most of us, the thought may have never occurred to you. If you have, then I would bet you are a gardener!
So much care is given to producing sustainable and organic coffee from seed to cup. We talk about how green coffee is, but yet, the majority of it ends up in landfills, despite it being highly compostable. To put that into perspective, most of the six tons of coffee grounds produced by Downtown Chicago daily heads for a landfill (and compare that to the global consumption of 8.4 million tons annually). Worse yet, coffee grounds and other organic waste that decompose in landfills create methane gas, a green house gas twenty-five times worse than Co2.
So what can we do for such a preventable problem?
Worms Can Help
Through a process through called vermitechnology (the use of earthworms), we can convert coffee grounds into compost to help make Chicago a greener city. We do it with our friends the earthworms, especially red worms. They do it quickly, organically, and locally.
Read more about organic soil and food.
Not Just Waste Elimination but Feeding the Soil
Eliminating coffee grounds and other waste from the landfills to lower green house gases is not enough to be green. We take all this material and feed it to our red worms and European night crawlers after processing it to give them a varied and healthy diet. Composting coffee grounds is good not only for the worms but also for the soil. It allows for healthy worm castings after the worms have broken down the coffee grounds.
What earthworms produce is called compost, which makes up part of what we call soil. They create a very rich material called vermicastings (aka worm poop), and it is a effective soil amendment. Worm castings supply organic matter, thus creating a better plant root environment by
- improving soil structure and porosity,
- increasing the moisture holding capacity of light soils,
- reducing bulk density of heavy soils,
- reducing water loss and nutrient leaching, and
- improving moisture retention.
Simply put, worm castings are great stuff — both for the worms and for the soil!
Do worms eat coffee grounds? Yes they do 🙂 But it can be difficult to work with in the bin.
Coffee grounds are organic in matter, which makes it a perfect food source for worms. Yet, too much of a good thing always has the risk of throwing the conditions in your worm bin off kilter. This can hurt your worms. The answer to the question “do worms eat coffee grounds?” is Yes, … but not all the time. As usual, there are many factors at play.
A Love / Hate Relationship
There’s mixed opinions on coffee grounds. When it comes to worm composting, it seems worm farmers have a love / hate relationship with coffee grounds. Sometimes you may struggle to reason why worms either flock to it or leave it untouched. Some people prefer to avoid it altogether.
There’s no doubt it can be quite difficult to work with for the following reasons:
- It can overheat your bin and kill your worms
- It’s acidic and so the pH level requires close attention
- It’s difficult to keep moist, can dry out and form a crust
- The boiling water used to brew a coffee makes it sterile and less appealing to worms
- It’s much slower to rot than other foods
- It has a fine particle size which may compact and form large anaerobic clumps
On the flip-side, coffee grounds make a great worm composting additive in the bin for the following reasons:
- It holds water well which is a big plus as worms need moisture to breathe
- Has a fine particle size which makes it easy for worms to consume – worms do not have any teeth
- Is a natural pesticide which helps to wards off insects
- Gives worms grit which helps them digest food in their gut
- Can help to increase the temperature of a worm farm over Winter
Review and Compare Commercial Worm Farms
You may want to check out our helpful buying guide for worm farms which contains comprehensive reviews.
Benefits of Feeding Worms Coffee Grounds
Ground coffee provides nourishment to worms and gives them grit.
Coffee grounds have a reputation as a natural pesticide. This helps to wards off pests such as snails, slugs and ants.
Coffee beans still provides nourishment to worms after brewing. Coffee grounds contain many proteins, fatty acids and carbohydrates. However, aged coffee grounds are more appealing to worms as more bacteria is present.
Since worms have no teeth, coffee grounds provide a gritty substance in their guts which helps them grind down foods. And the fine particle size of coffee grounds makes it easy for worms to consume. In addition, the fine particle size has a lot of surface area, which encourages bacteria to grow.
It’s Getting Hot in Here
Despite it’s brown color, coffee grounds are a green. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, similar to grass cuttings. The low C:N ratio is prone to increase the temperature in the bin as the coffee grounds breaks down. This can be a real problem in the bin. Therefore you should add coffee grounds in moderation. This helps to avoid overheating the bin which can kill your worms. The temperature in the bin can also be reduced by adding carbon and improving air ventilation.
It’s Acidic Too
Coffee grounds are slightly acidic. Coffee grounds should be moist and not dry when adding it into the bin. Unfortunately, this combination encourages fungi and mold to move in. Acidic conditions will also attract pests such as mites and potworms. Adding crushed egg shells and ag lime will help to neutralize the the pH levels. The pH level in a worm bin should be between 6 and 7. You can test how acidic your bin is by using a pH meter.
A few years ago there was an interesting study on the affects of feeding worms coffee grounds, and nothing else. The results indicated a high fatality rate. It was speculated that this is due to the acidic conditions. Adding cardboard helped to reduce the fatality rate. Don’t worry though. Adding small amounts of coffee grounds along with a range of other food sources is not going to harm your worms.
Chemicals – Chlorine and Decaf Coffee
Tap water contains small amounts of the chemical chlorine. This should not be a concern for your worms. Chlorine dissipates over time when exposed to air and sunlight. However, when concentrated, it can suppress and kill microorganisms in the bin. And worms thrive on bacteria. Boiling water for a short period of time, such as when brewing a coffee, will remove about 30% of the chlorine. To completely remove all traces of chlorine in tap water, it takes about 20 minutes of boiling.
There are several methods to remove caffeine from raw coffee beans. Water and or chemical solvents are typically used to remove the caffeine from coffee beans. This process removes some sugars and proteins from the coffee beans. Therefore, decaffeinated (decaf) coffee grounds are less nutritional for worms.
The water extraction method involves soaking the beans under high pressure hot water. The chemical solvent method involves soaking and or rinsing the coffee beans. Methylene chloride or ethyl acetate chemical solvents remove the caffeine. It is very unlikely that methylene chloride would survive the roasting process. And ethyl acetate is already present in fruits such as apples. So there’s no real harm feeding worms decaffeinated coffee.
Pre-Composting Coffee Grounds
There’s a bit of extra work involved to make coffee grounds worm friendly. Worms thrive on bacteria. Most of the nutrients and bacteria in coffee grounds are gone after brewing in boiling water. It is in effect sterile. In addition, coffee is also much slower to rot than other food sources. This is due to it’s low cellulose and high sugar and water content. Therefore, it is wise to pre-compost your coffee grounds to make them more worm edible. This pre-rot process will re-introduce large shots of bacteria into the coffee grounds. As well as fungi and mold which accelerates decomposition.
Introduce the coffee grounds into the worm farm after a weeks of pre-composting. Your worms will flock to the coffee grounds to get a piece of the microbial activity (it’s where the action is at:)). Always use pocket feeding (add in small areas) so that the worms have somewhere to escape to if needed.
Tips for Pre-Composting Coffee Grounds
Here are some tips for pre-composting coffee grounds:
- Leave them to go moldy in a bucket outside for a while
- Mix in a bit of finished compost
- Mix in high sugar foods such as banana, strawberries, carrots etc…
- Water the coffee grounds down so that it does not dry out
How to Feed Worms Coffee Grounds
Added a thin layer of coffee grounds into the worm bin on one side. Mixed in with lots of shredded paper and cardboard.
Pre-compost your coffee grounds to promote microbial activity. Limit the amount of coffee grounds added to 25% – 50% of a worms diet. It’s a good idea to add small amounts first to see if your worms like it or not. And to use pocket feeding so that your worms can choose to feed on it as they please. As coffee grounds are a green, make sure to add equivalent amounts of browns as well (e.g. paper and cardboard). And if you have used a paper based filter for brewing, chuck that in the bin as a treat. Make sure the coffee grounds are always moist.
So do worms eat coffee grounds? The answer is Yes. Not all the time though. More so after some pre-composting which helps to re-populate bacteria lost during brewing. And adding too much coffee can do more harm than good. This includes changes to temperature, acidity and moisture.
What Do Worms Eat? A Road Map for What To Feed Your Worms
Along with the choice of bedding for a worm bin, knowing what worms eat and how to choose what to feed them is a pretty consequential decision.
Earthworms will eventually eat any organic material over time to include worm bedding. But the lack of space in home worm composting bins means we have to figure out what worms will want to eat right now or, at least, reasonably quickly.
The list below will detail foods that will be safe additions to any household worm farm, assuming the worms aren’t fed more than 25-33% of their own weight, daily.
We’ll also have a quick discussion at the end of what might be considered the “best” worm food as well as some final thoughts on the choice of worm food.
What Worms Like to Eat
Pumpkins, Squash, Canteloupe and other Curcurbits
These fruits break down very quickly, are high in sugar, and lack the sinewy nature of plants like broccoli, so worms are quick to swarm them in your worm bin.
Spent Coffee Grounds
Some folks express concern over high acidity, but this is only true of unused grounds or the coffee itself in liquid form. The coffee grounds themselves are pH neutral. But they are also sterile immediately after being drenched with scalding water, so I find it takes a few weeks before the worms really move in on them.
Your local coffee shop will be more than willing to give you their spent grounds for free, often rebagging them and setting them out for customers to take, no questions asked.
I also find that coffee grounds can dry a bin out, so keep an eye on moisture if you’re adding quite a bit of them. Oh yeah….toss the filters in too!
I like to lay banana peels flat on the surface of the worm bin (with the skin facing up) and come back a few days later and turn the peel over to find a cluster of worms beneath. This is also fun to do with cantaloupe!
One word of caution though; banana peels are welcome hosts for fruit fly larvae, so if you feed your worms banana peels and find yourself infested, this may be why.
Another common fruit whose waste is perfect for the worm bin! Yeah, yeah, I know the seeds don’t break down, but those can be sifted out later. Apple cores break down quickly, so they’ll be gone in no time!
These are slightly more advanced because they can be harder to procure than regular food waste, but popular manures come from cattle, rabbits, and horses. Some folks use pig manure, but it is so liquidy and harder to handle that it’s probably not worth your time.
As a general rule, you will want to precompost most manures as introducing them to your bin, especially a closed system like a Rubbermaid bin, will result in overheating and a toxic environment for your worms.
I love horse manure as I find it is the least maintenance-intensive; I can put the worms in a mixture of aged and semi-fresh horse manure and pretty much leave them alone. And the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio also allows it to be a serve as a bedding as well as a food, so I don’t find the need to add fresh bedding every time I feed.
Yeah, yeah, this is a pretty huge category, but your worms will take to pretty much any veggie waste you create during meal preparation. Carrot peelings, potato skins, broccoli and cauliflower stalks, lettuce, kale, even onion peels (in limited quantities) are perfect for the worm bin.
Vegetable waste like this isn’t prone to overheating your bin either, so this is another low-maintenance food.
Chicken Mash & Cornmeal
While this food is generally used by people trying to fatten worms for the bait industry, a sprinkling of chicken mash and cornmeal can be an excellent supplement for a worm bin. I have often used a variant of this in my own worm bins when they needed a little something extra.
What is the Best Worm Food?
What is considered “best” is highly dependent upon your reason for vermicomposting in the first place, whether it’s to achieve a zero waste lifestyle at home, to mitigate the removal of animal manures, or to create highly fungal worm castings, etc.
It is far less dependent upon what the worms will visibly swarm upon.
Household Waste: Excellent Worm Food for a Zero Waste Lifestyle
In this case, most any household waste that would otherwise go to the landfill is a great choice. In an urban environment, where conventional composting may not be an option, letting the worms eat a mixture of shredded cardboard and your own household kitchen waste is probably optimal.
It’s less about the quality of the castings, which may still be excellent, and more about recycling food waste, which is the heaviest food waste you produce. This makes vermicomposting a highly effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to a Zero Waste lifestyle!
Animal Manures: The Perfect Worm Food for Farm Management
If your objective is to manage the manure your animals are producing, then you might not want to waste vermicomposting capacity on household waste.
As large amounts of animal manures should be pre-composted before being fed to the worms, you could always add household waste to the composting manure and end up feeding the resulting, partly-finished compost to the worms. Horse manure has an ideal carbon:nitrogen ratio, but like all animal manures, it should go through a precomposting period where heat is released, mass is reduced, and the manure becomes stable enough to feed the worms.
Woodier inputs to your worm bin can promote beneficial fungal growth
Woodier Waste: The Ideal Worm Food for Fungal Worm Compost
This is an interesting one. We often consider to be good worm food to be the food that worms appear to swarm around; pumpkins, melons, and highly-decomposed veggie waste.
These are typically high-sugar foods, and the worms gather around like kids might around a pile of Twinkies. But bacteria also love foods with high-sugar content, so these foods create conditions where bacteria will proliferate.
To create a more fungal compost, unsexy food like wood chips, decomposing bark, and woodier waste that resembles mulch – and may be even be mulch will provide the carbon sources that fungi can feed upon.
Final Thoughts on What to Feed Your Worms
- One of the most frequently asked questions, especially for new vermicomposters, is “Can I put (insert whatever substance) in my worm bin? The answer is pretty much always “yes, depending on the size of your bin and the amount you plan to feed them.” Toxicity is always a matter of dosage and while introducing battery acid or, more benignly, peanut butter to your worm bin wouldn’t be helpful, it doesn’t have to spell doom for your worms either. (The above answer does not apply for anyone who wants to sell their worm castings.)
- Do you need to blend/grind/puree your food before you feed it to the worms? No, you don’t neeeeeed to do this, but the worms will consume an apple run through a food processor much faster than they will consume an unprepared core.
- Consider freezing organic waste to speed the breakdown and ultimate consumption by the worms. Most fruits and vegetables are 80-90% water and freezing the foods causes this water to expand (as it becomes ice) and rupture the cell walls.
- While I don’t think it’s necessary to add bedding each time I feed, it should always be top of mind. Feeding without adding bedding can lead to an overwet, overheating, and over-acidic bin. Remember: You can easily have too little bedding. You can almost never have too much bedding.
If you’re new to vermicomposting, check out The Ultimate Guide to Vermicomposting, a massive blog post that will cover just about any topic related to vermicomposting for the beginner and beyond!
In many parts of the world, eating bugs is commonplace. Insects are actually the most abundant protein source on the planet, and many of them boast dense concentrations of en-vogue nutrients like omega 3’s that we buy at fancy grocery stores. If 2 billion people can invite insects to the dinner table, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you to include edible bugs in your emergency survival diet.
So, which bugs can you catch and eat?
Grasshoppers and Crickets
Grasshoppers and crickets are extraordinarily protein-rich, and you can collect them pretty much anywhere. Most types of grasshoppers and crickets are edible. If you want to try it without picking legs out of your teeth, you can try a store-bought food product called cricket powder, or cricket flour. Cricket powder is very high in protein, has similar baking properties to regular flour, and has a slightly nutty flavor. If you do decide to go wild, remember: They can carry nematodes, so remember to cook them before you eat them.
Grasshoppers are easy to catch and protein-rich.
Jim, the Photographer
How to Catch Them
When and Where: Grasshoppers are easiest to catch in the early mornings when they move more slowly. Look for crickets in damp, dark places first: under rocks, logs, and other large objects. Also check in tall grasses, shrubs and trees. Try shaking branches above a shirt, sleeping bag or other piece of fabric, and see if any edibles fall onto it.
Things You Need: Hands, a wool blanket or flannel shirt, or a water bottle and some over-ripe fruit
- You can catch crickets by using your hands to snatch them up. This is hopefully self-explanatory (chase them down and catch your dinner). If you have to catch them by hand, they’re fast, so err on the side of overkill and grab the entire area of ground surrounding the cricket. Alternatively, hunt them in the early morning chill, when the cold-blooded critters are still sluggish. The best container to put them in is something with a lid.
By wool blanket/flannel shirt:
- If you happen to have a wool blanket or a flannel shirt, place it in the middle of a field or location where grasshoppers seem to be plentiful.
- Chase the hoppy little bugs onto the flannel/wool. Their feet will get caught in the fibers a little, hopefully giving you enough time to pluck them off (or out of the air).
- You can trap them by cutting the top off of a plastic water bottle (an open Nalgene works too), burying it in the ground, and dropping some over-ripe fruit in it. If you don’t have any fruit, a glow stick or light works almost as well (they’re attracted to it). If you drop in a few small pieces of cardboard or leaves, the crickets will hide under them instead of trying to escape.
- Leave it overnight, and in the morning, you’ll find breakfast hopping around inside.
How to Eat Them
- To prepare crickets and grasshoppers, pull off their heads and the entrails should come with; discard both. The entrails are edible, but removing them reduces the risk of parasite transmission. For this reason, always cook the bugs before eating them.
- Remove the wings and legs.
- Dry roast them if you have a pan, or skewer them and roast over flame if you don’t. You can char them if you prefer.
While the majority of grasshoppers are safe to eat, there are a few exceptions. Avoid any brightly-colored specimens, such as the eastern lubber (common in Texas and some other southern states), which can make you sick.
Ants are everywhere, easy to catch, and actually taste good. They’re also easy to find.
Maciej Forc / Flickr
How to Catch Them
When and Where: Anywhere at any time. They’re sort of ubiquitous.
Things You Need: Hands, a stick if you want to make things easier on yourself
- Just scan the ground, and you’re sure to eventually find a skittering battalion of ants. They march in straight lines, so they’ll lead you straight to their home base.
- One good way to collect them is to hit an anthill or other habitat (like a rotting log) with a stick a of couple times, then put the end of the stick in the opening.
- As ants rush to bite the stick, dunk it into a container of water—ideally the container you want to cook them in. Repeat until you have a few hundred.
How to Eat them
- Capture as many as you can, putting them straight into the water so that they drown while you catch more. Once you’ve caught a sizeable portion, boil them for about six minutes. This will neutralize the acid in their bodies. If you have to eat them raw, just make sure they’re dead first so they don’t bite you.
Termites are a great source of protein, and since they live most of their lives buried away in wood, they are less likely to carry parasites than other insects. Mature adult termites have wings and can fly. The other stages (larvae, workers, soldiers, nymphs, queens, etc) can’t fly, so they’re easier to snag. In some cultures, termite queens are regarded as a delicacy. Who knew you could eat like royalty while eating insects?
Termites are a great source of protein, and since they live most of their lives buried away in wood, they are less likely to carry parasites than other insects.
Filipe Fortes / Flickr
When and Where: Termites love wood. It’s their main food source. So crack open a cold log, and collect your dinner.
What You Need: Hands
Method: Break open a punky log and grab them or shake them out fast. As soon as they see light, they’ll crawl deeper into the wood.
How to Eat Them
- Roast them in a dry pan. You want these critters cooked up crispy.
Is this the one you dreaded reading about? When someone says “grub,” they’re typically referring to the larval stage of a beetle. There are over 344 grub species consumed around the globe, including the witchetty grub in Australia, palm weevil grubs in some Asian countries, giant water bugs in North America, and mopane worms in Africa. Some of them are small and crunchy, like mealworms, and some are fat and juicy, like rhinoceros beetle larva.
This is probably the one you dreaded reading about. Grubs are very easy to find and collect, and some even taste not-disgusting.
Rasbak / Wikimedia Commons
When and Where: The best place to collect them is in rotting logs. You can also try stripping bark off of living trees, or searching under rocks and leaf litter.
What You Need: A stick or a rock
- Find a rotting log.
- Strip the bark off of the log or smash the log. Or strip the bark, harvest the grub (pun intended), and then smash the log to see if there’s any more inside. Grab them with your fingers—they’re not exactly fast.
Skewer them lengthwise with a long stick and cook over an open flame until the skin is crispy.
Also called “sow bugs,” “potato bugs,” “roly polies,” or “pill bugs,” woodlice are actually not a bug at all. They’re the only terrestrial crustacean in North America and have a flavor that’s similar to shrimp. In fact, they’re even called “land shrimp” sometimes.
Also called “sow bug”, “potato bug”, or “pill bug,” the wood louse is actually not a bug at all.
Andy Reago / Flickr
When and Where: They are extremely easy to collect. Overturn rocks and logs or sift through dead leaves, and you’re sure to find some.
What You Need: Hands, something to collect them in
- Push things over.
- Collect bugs.
- Drop them in boiling water, and leave them there for a while. They can carry nematodes (better known as parasitic roundworms—things you don’t want freeloading in your intestines), so be sure they’re thoroughly cooked.
- When they’re done, strain the water out and eat.
Are worms technically bugs? No. Not even close. But they are edible. You’ve probably played with these more than you’ve eaten them. However, things are about to change since, well, you’re here. If push comes to shove, you can go scrounging for these wriggly morsels. Maybe thinking of them as free-range, very fresh spaghetti will help them slide down your gullet easier. Remember to squish out the poop before you eat them. Bon appetit!
Pretty much everyone knows how to find earthworms, though few have probably eaten them.
Dodo-Bird / Flickr
When and Where: If it just rained, spotting these wigglers should be pretty easy. They’ll be everywhere. If it hasn’t just rained, ferret about for them in damp soil, in decomposing flora (such as leaves and wood), or under rocks.
What You Need: Hands, something to put them in
- Find something they’re likely to be under or in.
- Investigate the location.
- Enjoy them al dente (but, like, make sure they’re cooked).
- While worms can be eaten raw in an emergency, you should cook them if at all possible. Like most of the things on this list, they can potentially carry parasites—and the parasite potential should motivate you to cook them first. Not to mention the extremely unpleasant prospect of eating a live worm.
Yep, believe it or not, stinkbugs are edible. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t eat noxiously odiferous bugs. Stinkbugs, however, are the exception. They’re just fine to send down that hatch (after you cook them, of course). They are even considered a delicacy in Mexico, where there’s an annual festival in Taxco to celebrate them.
Yep, believe it or not, stinkbugs are edible. They break the usual “don’t eat it if it smells bad” rule.
USGS BIML / Flickr
When and Where: In the winter, you will probably find them hiding under rocks, logs, or other cover. Otherwise, you’ll see them parading arrogantly across open ground. You’ll recognize them because they look like a traditional medieval shield, straight across on the top and coming to a point on the bottom.
What You’ll Need: Hands, container
Some people eat them raw, but maybe try not to be one of those people if you can. To rid stinkbugs of their stinkitude, soak them in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes, and then cook extensively by roasting in a dry pan. They are said to have an “iodine” taste.
Scorpions are a common street food in China and can be found in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and other Southwestern states. They taste a bit like crab. If you decide to dine on scorpion, make sure that you cut the stinger off first. Usually the venom is produced and stored in the top two or so segments of the tail. And make sure you cook them! Cooking generally negates the venom’s poisonous properties, but you can still have an allergic reaction to it. Unlike a bee or wasp, you’re not likely to get stung by a scorpion after it’s dead. If you’ve never eaten scorpion before, however, it might be best to avoid these—but if you’re in a survival situation, you might not have a choice.
Scorpions are a common street food in China and can be found in California, Arizona, New Mexico and other Southwest states. They taste a bit like crab.
Mike Keeling / Flickr
When and Where: These living, dangerous thumbtacks reside in dens. You’ll have to find a den if you want scorpion for dinner.
What You’ll Need: A jar with a lid, hands (or something you prefer to dig with), a murder weapon (like a stick or a knife—probably don’t use your hands for this one).
- To catch them, first find their dens. They’ll be low to the ground, burrowed under overhanging rocks or logs.
- Dig a hole right in front of the burrow, large enough to accommodate an open-mouthed jar, water bottle with the top cut off, or cup.
- When the scorpion emerges at night, it will fall into the jar and be unable to climb out.
- Kill it with a stick or a knife while it’s still in the jar.
- Cut off the stinger.
- Roast over a fire or coals until it’s well browned.
Have you ever lifted up a pot in the garden and seen a horde of critters flee away into the grass? That could be your lunch escaping. Earwigs are edible and safe to eat. They don’t have stingers. They don’t have venom. They look like a cross between an ant (the head portion) and a scorpion (the pincher bits), and are about the size of one of those flattened pennies you get at a fair. When agitated, they might try to attack with their pinchers, but those pinches usually don’t break the skin or even hurt very much.
This could be your lunch.
Pavel Kirillov / Flickr
When and Where: Like most of the other bugs on the list, these guys are pretty easy to find. They live under things. They’re pretty fast but also pretty harmless. Looking under logs and things that look like they’ve been undisturbed for a while is a good place to start. They like dark, wet places.
What You’ll Need: Hands, container
- Find something to wiggle, like a rock or log, and have your container ready.
- Disrupt the rock or log and be ready to capture your lunch.
- Toss the bugs in a container.
- Get your fire roarin’ (or purring, it’s up to you).
- Sauteé your dinner. You want your ‘wigs nice and crispy.
- Once they’re fully cooked, you’re good to enjoy your dinner.
Do you remember that children’s book “The Grouchy Ladybug”? The tale’s protagonist is in search of dinner: aphids. Aphids are tiny little insects that love sweet, sweet sap. They’re often green or black, but come in a wide variety of colors. They’re very small—you could probably fit more than 50 on a penny. Now, you get to be the Grouchy Ladybug—but you don’t have to share like the ladybug did.
Aphids are tiny little insects that love sweet, sweet sap. They’re very small—you could probably fit more than 50 on a penny.
Scot Nelson / Flickr
When and Where: Aphids live on plants. There are many different types of aphids, and they have different plant preferences. If there are plants around, you’re sure to find an edible variety. What they feed on can affect what they taste like, ranging from slightly bitter to sweet.
What You’ll Need: Hands, a container that holds water
- Brush them off into some water so they can’t escape.
- Boil them and enjoy.
Grubs and maggots are a bit different—even if they’re both pretty gnarly and maybe not prime snack material. Grubs are fat, juicy, and usually white in color. Maggots are thin, yellow-brownish, and legless. “Grub” usually refers to beetle larvae, while “maggot” usually refers to fly larvae. They are both edible though. So they’ve got that going for them.
Maggots are pretty gnarly and maybe not prime snack material. But they’re edible, so they’ve got that going for them.
Katja Schulz / Flickr
When and Where: There are many different types of maggots. Some maggots live in rotting flesh and spoiled meat. While rotting meat isn’t safe to eat, the maggots are (but cook them first!). They also tend to live in rotting vegetables and fruit. Some even live in water. Maggots are incredibly high in protein and other beneficial nutrients.
What You’ll Need: Hands, container
- Find a source to harvest them from. If you’ve got time, and some spoiled fruit, you can create your own by leaving it out.
- Boil or saute to kill any potential lingering germs.
- Enjoy your Lion King-esque feast.
Dragonflies are the most common in the spring and summer months. They more or less have two life-cycle stages: nymph and adult. Both of these stages are edible—though one is much easier to catch than the other. While they’re in their nymph stage, they’re often green, about the size of the fist two segments of your pointer finger, and water-borne. Much easier to catch when they can’t zoom away! Their adult stage is what you’re used to seeing: a fully grown dragonfly. These are edible, but can be a pain to catch because of how fast and dexterous that are.
Dragonflies have two life-cycle stages: nymph and adult. Both of these stages are edible—though one is much easier to catch than the other.
bgv23 / Flickr
When and Where: Dragonflies can’t bite hard enough for a human to feel it, and they don’t have stingers. Both the larval stage and the adult stage are edible. The larval version is probably easier to catch, though. Dragonfly larvae live in water and are more common in the spring and summer months.
What You’ll Need: Hands, optional net
- Larvae: These live in the water and sometimes attach themselves to aqueous plants. You should be able to pretty easily just pluck them out of the water.
- Adult: Dragonflies at this stage can fly—and they’re fast. Like, Back to the Future DeLorean fast. Catching them without a net will probably be difficult, unless you’ve mastered some kind of quick-snatch ninja move. Or maybe this is an opportunity to perfect your dragon-fly-snatching technique. Sneak up on them while they’re resting on something, and see if you can’t catch yourself some dinner.
- You only need to cook these for a few seconds, just enough to kill any germs.
- Pulling the wings and legs off is optional but might make them literally easier to swallow.
Which bugs are safe to eat and where can I find them?
|Name of Insect||Where Can I Find Them?||Peak Season?||Active Day or Night?||Cook Them?|
Grasshoppers and Crickets
Summer months (can be found year-round)
Grasshoppers day; crickets night
Yes; pull off head and legs
Weather-dependent: after rainstorms and during droughts
in decomposing wood
In rotting logs; one to two inches deep in loamy soil
Late summer/early fall
Either (they’re eggs, so they’re really not on the move)
Can be eaten raw, but yes, cook them
In rotting vegetation (like a pile of leaves or dead wood)
Spring, autumn and winter
In dirt (or above ground if it’s just rained)
Spring (when it’s wet)
Around crops and gardens
March – September
In dens; under logs, wood, clutter
Most active in the summer (can be found year-round; usually inactive in the winter)
Yes; cut off stinger
Under rocks; in dark, damp places
Fall (can be found year-round)
In carrion; under wood; in fruits and veggies
Black fly maggots peak late May/earlyJune
Can be eaten raw, but yes, cook them
Near water sources
Yes, pull off wings and legs
Edible Bugs You Probably Want to Avoid Eating
These bugs are edible, but either harder to find or riskier to collect and eat. You may want to exercise caution before eating these—or at least know what you’re getting yourself into.
- Slugs and snails
- Bees and wasps
Slugs and Snails
While their flesh is benign, there’s a high enough likelihood that they’ve fed on something toxic—like poisonous plants or mushrooms—to make eating them inadvisable. The ones that you eat in a restaurant have been fed safe-to-eat plants; the people preparing them know exactly what those snails were eating. The same can’t be said of an in-the-wild snail’s diet. If you wild snails or slugs, you risk contracting rat lungworm, which can turn into eosinophilic meningitis (causing severe brain and nervous system damage). These diseases usually hide in the digestive tract of the slugs and snails, so cooking them won’t necessarily guarantee that they’re disease-free system. If snails are your only meal option, you can also feed them plants you know aren’t poisonous for a week before eating them. Then be sure to cook them thoroughly.
While their flesh is benign, there’s a high enough likelihood that they’ve fed on poisonous plants or mushrooms to make eating them inadvisable.
David Rynde / Flickr
Fun fact: fried spider is a delicacy in Cambodia. Remove as much hair as you can, and don’t eat the fangs. If you cook them, curled legs are an indicator of how done they are and how well cooked the insides are. One of the most common edible spiders is the Thai zebra spider, but it is venomous and aggressive.
Remove as much hair as you can, and don’t eat the fangs.
Bart van Dorn / Flickr
Bees and Wasps
Cut off the stingers and legs. Cook well. But be forewarned: These fliers are dangerous to catch. If risking stings is worth it (or you don’t have another choice), you can try plugging the hive, and then smoke the whole thing with some sort of improvised torch to kill everything inside. These are on the “honorable mention” list only because they’re hard to catch and will attack you without remorse. That said, bee larvae can be eaten, and they’re less likely to fight back.
Cut off the stingers and cook well.
Andy Murray / Flickr
Some are toxic, like the giant silkworm moth and the puss caterpillar. Bright ones and hairy ones tend to be toxic, but that isn’t a set-in-stone rule. So either do some research about the area you plan to be stranded in or proceed with extreme caution. If you’re stranded and looking to survive, this probably isn’t the best gamble.
Some are toxic, so either do some research about the area you plan to be stranded in or proceed with extreme caution.
tinkerbrad / Flickr
Which Bugs Shouldn’t I Eat and Why?
|Bug||Don’t Eat It Because…|
Slugs and Snails
You don’t know what they ate. They love eating poisonous plants. Cooking them doesn’t boil out this poison. They also carry rat lung worm (and it’s as awful as it sounds).
They have no qualms about jumping on you and attacking you. They’re aggressive.
Bees and Wasps
These guys will kamakaze you. You could get stung by them. Other insects are likely more readily available, and they’re definitely less likely to attack back
Some are toxic, and unless you know which is which beforehand, now is probably not the time to guess wildly.
Telltale Signs a Bug Might Kill You
While the majority of bugs are safe to eat, there are a few precautions you should take:
- Avoid Bright Colors: Don’t eat any insects that are brightly colored; their coloration is a warning to predators that they’re toxic. That even goes for the insects on this list.
- Avoid Hairy Things: Avoid hairy bugs; there may be stingers nestled in the fuzz.
- Avoid Smelly Things: Also avoid any bugs that have a potent smell (except, paradoxically, stinkbugs).
When in doubt: If you are ever in doubt about an insect’s edibility, cut off a tiny, cooked piece of it, swallow it, and wait a few hours. If you don’t develop any symptoms, eat a larger piece and wait again. If nothing happens, it’s probably fine.
No bug sushi: We can’t stress this enough. Whenever possible, you should cook your insects before you eat them. They may carry parasites or harmful bacteria that cooking will kill, and it improves flavor and makes the nutrients more digestible.
When I was a little boy, I read a funny children’s book called How to Eat Fried Worms. This book was made into a movie in 2006. Billy, the main character, makes a bet that he can eat fifteen worms in fifteen days. The worms get cooked up in all sorts of interesting ways and as it becomes certain that Billy will win the bet the boys he placed the bet with try to make the challenge harder and harder. But, as a parent, you’d ask: Is this safe? Can people eat worms? Billy’s parents asked the doctor, and then took it in stride, even helping him.
The Western World sees worms as disgusting and inedible. They are something that lives in waste and eats into your brain after you die. They are potent enough to have been a lynch-pin in the portrayal of fast food as dirty and evil, and legends of the McWorm Burger forced McDonald’s to print full-page ads in newspapers on the West Coast, where the legend was most active (discussed below). If you’ve ever bought a small bucket of nightcrawlers for bait, though, you’d know that beef is a whole lot cheaper and McDonald’s would not make money off a worm burger. Meal worms, the larval form of the meal worm beetle, or Tenebrio molitor, which is also a perfectly edible by humans, and used in some cultures, have also been said to have been a protein source in McDonald’s burgers. Again, this would make for one expensive burger.
Earthworms doing earthworm stuff in compost pile.
In Consuming the Inedible: Neglected Dimensions of Food Choice, the authors recount an American folk song, which apparently came from a 1930’s cartoon called “Minnie the Moocher,” where the miserable European immigrant child sang 1MacClancy, Jeremy, C. J. K. Henry, and Helen M. Macbeth. Consuming the Inedible: Neglected Dimensions of Food Choice. New York: Berghahn, 2009.:
I know what I’ll do by and by
I’ll eat some worms, and then I’ll die
And when I’m gone, just wait you see
They’ll all be sorry that they picked on me
And then another children’s song:
Nobody loves me
Everybody hates me
Think I’ll go eat worms
The worms crawl in
The worms crawl out
They eat your guts
And spit them out
So, eating worms, as far as these chants are concerned, is eating the inedible, not only as a rebellious act, but as suicidal one. And lots of kids, similar to Billy, have eaten a worm on a dare, or even gotten one shoved down their throat by bullies. To no ill effects. If worms weren’t such a symbol, the gummy worm would never have been so successful! But this is a hangup of the West. People in other parts of the world eat worms, grubs, and insects, not as a matter of survival, but with enthusiasm.
The fact is that all species of earthworms are edible by humans. They are considered a delicacy by the Maoris of New Zealand. They even make them into pies in Japan. They are eaten also in parts of Africa, New Guinea, and, it is believed, South America. In the Philippines, the Perionyx excavatus species is bred in vegetable waste and then processed with herbs and seasoning to make steaklets for humans to eat. There was also a food supplement called Eugeton, made out of cultured African Nightcrawlers. They have also been used for medicinal purposes. 2Sims, R. W., and B. M. Gerard. Earthworms: Keys and Notes for the Identification and Study of the Species. London: Published for the Linnean Society of London and the Estuarine and Brackish-Water Sciences Association by E.J. Brill, 1985. Earthworms may also be a valuable source of high protein food for livestock, and of course, they are fish food.
Pygmy Chimpanzees regularly eat earthworms, as well, but it is hard to understand why. They will dig for them, by hand, for hours, and they do not get a lot for such a labor-intensive and long foraging session. Perhaps even more weird is the fact that they hardly seem to chew them at all, and the worms remain intact in the feces. 3Kanō, Takayoshi. The Last Ape: Pygmy Chimpanzee Behavior and Ecology. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1992. They probably do not get much nutrition from them so perhaps they like the feel of them slivering down their throats! Bonobos and Gorillas eat them as well, but I have found no reference as to whether they chew them or not.
But if you were to chew, the earthworm, pound for pound, is packed with protein, at 82% of the body weight of the worm. You’ll also be eating the decaying organic matter inside them. They eat soil, which is ground in a gizzard, and then the waste is ejected as a casting out their rear end. These castings are used to line the burrow or are deposited at the entrance. Anything in the soil, including pesticides and parasites, could be inside the worm.
Earthworms harbor infectious parasites.
Our canine friends sometimes like to munch on them, but note that it is dangerous dangerous for dogs to eat earthworms.
If there are pesticides in the soil, they will be in the worm. And of course, any bacteria, etc. So, you may want to think twice before rushing to the backyard to forage for earthworms to nibble on and if you may want to try to stop your dog from eating them, if possible.
Generally, when earthworms are eaten, the soil is first removed from the gut of the worms and they are cooked by boiling, baking, or other cooking method to a temperature that is sufficient to kill most parasites.
I’ve caught many a bluegill like this. We call them bream or brim. And they love earthworms.
Are Nightcrawlers Edible?
Large and robust earthworms known as nightcrawlers are the most common type of earthworm in the United States and they are as edible as any other earthworm. Their scientific name is actually Lumbricus terrestris. In Britain this is called the lob worm or common earthworm, and in Europe it might be called simply the red worm. In Canada they are called the dew worm or Grandaddy Earthworm. Ironically, the “common” nightcrawler in North America is an invasive, introduced species. In fact, a great many of the earthworms found in the United States, 45 to 60 species or more, were introduced. The nightcrawler, the largest of these invasive earthworms, came to North America with European settlers, along with others, beginning in the 16th century. These worms probably arrived in the soil used as ballast on ships, or on the root balls of plants. They continued to arrive with imported ornamental plants, but also as intentional and permitted importations of live bait into the the U.S from Canada.8 If you are old enough to remember that old commercial jingle on the TV show WKRP, you know another of the most common introduced species: “Red wrigglers, the Cadillac of worms!”
Red wrigglers were what were usually sold as bait or for composting, when I was growing up in the South…at least as far as I can remember, and we sometimes found them in the ground. But the nightcrawler was by far the most plentiful, and was easier to find, especially when it was growing dark, at which time they come closer to the surface.
We usually think of earthworms as beneficial to the soil, however, these invasive species can be destructive when introduced into areas where earthworms did not exist before, especially in forests, where there decomposing action on the leaf litter can alter the ecology in such a way as to make the environment unsuitable for certain trees and plants. Earthworms do not normally spread very quickly if left to their own devices, but they are easily helped along by humans, such as fishermen who dump leftover bait worms onto the ground.
Worm Burger Controversy
When I was a kid, maybe around the time I was reading How to Eat Fried Worms, there was an urban legend circulating: McDonald’s hamburgers were made with ground worms, meaning, of course, earthworms. In fact, the rumor originally started about Wendy’s but was switched to McDonalds, since the chain was so much larger.
More recently, in 2012, a Russian woman claimed that her McDonald’s hamburger was full of worms. 4Chaykovskaya, Evgeniya. “McDonald’s Denies Worms in Their Hamburgers.” The Moscow News. N.p., 24 July 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2013. This was never substantiated and, of course, the urban legend about ground worm burgers is just a myth. It plays on the image of fast food as garbage that is destructive to our bodies. Worms are a symbol of both waste and inner rot, a perfect metaphor for the perception that fast food franchises knowingly sell us dangerous food. 5De, Vos Gail. Tales, Rumors, and Gossip: Exploring Contemporary Folk Literature in Grades 7-12. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.
A ground worm burger, as you can see from reading this, would not cause such controversy everywhere in the world. McDonald’s in some countries might be able to develop just such a burger! (Additional sources: 6Edwards, C. A., P. J. Bohlen, and C. A. Edwards. Biology and Ecology of Earthworms. London: Chapman & Hall, 1996 7Woodward, Susan L., and Joyce Ann. Quinn. Encyclopedia of Invasive Species: From Africanized Honey Bees to Zebra Mussels. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011. 8Kahn, Cynthia M. The Merck Manual / Merial Manual for Pet Health. Whithouse Station, NJ: Merck, 2007.)
You may also be interested: Are Grasshoppers Edible?
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Feeding Your Worms
Learn what Vermicomposting Worms eat and what they don’t
Worm composting (Vermicomposting) is a form of composting in which you feed your veggie food scraps to a specific type of earthworm, red wigglers. What do red wiggler worms eat? This article will give you an overview of feeding your worms.
For more info on getting started with worm composting check out these related articles:
- Why You Should Worm Compost
- Getting Started with Worm Composting
- How to Make a Worm Bin
What Do Red Wiggler Worms Eat? What Do You Feed Composting Worms?
One of the major reasons to worm compost at home is to responsibly dispose of your food waste (instead of sending it to a land fill). So, what do composting worms eat? Worms eat tiny, invisible, bacteria that feed on the food scraps that you add to your vermicomposting bin. The worms also eat the food scraps and worm bin bedding. You can feed your composting worms any vegetable food scraps including egg shells and coffee grounds.
What do Worms like to Eat?
I have found that composting worms prefer some vegetable scraps over others:
- Melon rinds. Cantaloupe, honey dew, watermelon, etc. They love sweet foods
- Non-citrus fruit. berries, apples, pears, etc.
- Squashes. The soft flesh is easy for them to eat
Foods that Composting Worms Don’t like as much
Red Wiggler Composting Worms will still eat these foods but in large quantities they could harm your composting worms. NOTE: I frequently put small amounts of these foods in my worm composting bin without any problems.
- Citrus Fruits: oranges, limes, lemons, etc (large quantities of citrus can burn a worm’s sensitive skin)
- Onions and garlic. These can also burn their skin in large quantities.
- Bread: Bread doesn’t harm your composting worms but it can be tricky to compost because it molds quickly introducing a new element to the bin.
What NOT to feed your Worms
Remember composting worms are vegetarian.
- Cooked food. Cooked food often has seasonings, especially salt, which can harm your worms. To responsibly dispose of your cooked food scraps (and get some great eggs), get some backyard chickens!
“Extra” Food for Red Wiggler Worms
Things you can add to your vermicomposting bin that you might not necessarily think of.
- Dryer lint – It is made up of mostly fibers from your clothes
- Egg Shells – although they take a very long time to break down.
- Paper Towels – as long as you have only used them to clean drink spills, etc. Do not put paper towels that have chemicals on them in your worm bin.
- Pet Hair – you will want to be careful with this one. In small quantities I have found that it works well but in large quantities pet hair can easily clump together making it harder for the composting worms to break it down.
- Tea bags and coffee filters – Go ahead and throw them in as well, they are just paper!
Feeding Your Worms – Procedure for How to Feed Red Worms
Worms can eat roughly half their weight everyday. You can use this fact to calculate how much you should be feeding your worms. When you start your bin you will usually start with 1 pound of worms. So, they will be able to eat roughly ½ a pound of food scraps per day assuming ideal bin conditions. If you want your worms to eat faster, chop the food scraps into small pieces ahead of time and throw them int he freezer overnight. Chopping (some people even use a blender) increases the surface area of each piece of food making it easier for the worms (and the bacteria) to eat. Freezing and then thawing your worm food breaks the cell walls of the food which makes it more mushy (when thawed) and easier for the composting worms to eat.
Earth worms do not have teeth. They have very small gizzards (like chickens) that they use to grind up their food. Because they don’t have teeth, they can not bite off chunks of the food scraps. Therefore, they need to wait until the food scraps begin to rot and get soft and mushy. This is why freezing and thawing your food scraps is helpful.
Here are 5 tips on the frequency of feeding your worms
- Wait until your worms have finished their food before feeding your worms again. This is easily done by simply checking the worm bin. Overfeeding can bring unwanted pests.
- If you keep your worm composting bin indoors you will want to manage it a bit more carefully to ensure that you never get fruit flies or foul odors. An indoor bin should be checked weekly and usually fed weekly (see above).
- If you keep your worm bin outdoors you can feed them a little more at each feeding and go a little longer between feedings. Plan to feed your outdoor composting worms about once every 2 or 3 weeks.
- Be careful not to overfeed your worms. If you add too much food for your worms they will not be able to eat it before it rots. Rotting food can attract fruit flies and cause a bad odor. Another tip to avoid fruit flies and odor is to be sure to always bury your food scraps under the worm bin bedding when feeding your worms.
- You do not need a worm sitter. If you go out of town (even for up to a month!) your worms will be fine. Be sure to feed them before you leave and if they are outdoors you can feed them a little more than usual. Remember, worms will eat their bedding as well.
Everyone who composts with worms has asked themselves, “How much should I feed composting worms?” Red Worms are ideal composting worms. They need regular feedings of kitchen scraps and gardening waste. Composting worms quickly convert these scraps into valuable organic fertilizer. Feed composting worms too little, and they starve. Feed them too much, and they can’t keep up. Too much rotting organic matter can cause odors, mold growth, excess moisture, and damage to the bin’s ecosystem. Find out how much food is just enough for your worms.
In theory, red worms can eat half their weight each day. This number applies to a settled worm population under ideal conditions. Since worm bin owners start out with new composting bins, we will also start there.
If the worms just arrived in the bin, they will need time to adjust. New composting enthusiasts tend to over-fill the bin with excess scraps. Like anxious new pet owners, they don’t want their new worms to starve. Worms shipped from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm arrive somewhat dehydrated. They have not eaten in a few days. Packed in peat moss, the worms had little to eat. The worms slow down and go into a partially dormant state. They need a little time in their new worm bin to dig in and get comfy. They are also starting to eat the bedding. When adding new worms to a new composting bin:
- Follow instructions for preparing the bedding. Usually this is, some combination of coconut coir, pure peat moss, shredded black ink newspaper, and/or dry leaves are mixed together.
- Make sure the bedding has the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. Stir.
- Place the worms on top of the bedding. Let them dig their own way in. This lets them make air holes and find their way around.
- Dig a hole and place a single feeding in one area of the bin. If you don’t know what they eat, see what to feed your worms. Cover it with bedding. Check the chart below for the amount of food you should give them.
- WAIT until they have made a good start on this feeding before feeding them again.
How Much to Feed Composting Worms by Weight
# Uncle Jim’s Red Worms Ordered | Worm Weight* | Food**
500 worms | 1/2 lb of worms | 1/4 lb of food
1000 worms | 1 lb of worms | 1/2 lb of food
2000 worms | 2 lbs | 1 lb of food
*Approximate Weight of Worms when shipped, not including bedding
**Half of Their Weight (Amount they can eat per day, ideally)
Note: In a healthy bin, the worms will reproduce. More worms mean you need to feed them more.
Feeding an Established Bin
You will find yourself feeding the worms every day, or every couple of days, or a few times a week. Feeding frequency will depend on how fast they work through their food. Also, your schedule might be tight, allowing feedings twice a week.
If you are going on vacation and don’t have a pet sitter, feed composting worms their typical amount, then place cardboard or newspaper on top of the food. They will start eating the cellulose when the food runs out.
Weighing your worms is not very practical. Separating the worms from their bedding and popping them up on a scale every month is way-overkill. Unless you are running a scientific experiment, you’ll need another method: for example, feed composting worms them in a pattern.
We recommend feeding them along the bin’s interior wall in a clockwise or counterclockwise pattern.
- If practical, cut the food up small using a knife or food processor. More surface area helps them eat faster.
- Dig a small hole in the bedding against the composting bin’s wall.
- Place the food in the hole.
- Cover with bedding.
- In a day or two, check to see if the worms have found the food and started eating it.
- When the worms have made a good showing on this food, dig a hole next to it and deposit a new feeding. Cover with bedding.
- Repeat steps 1-6. When you reach the starting point again, all of the original feeding will be gone – converted into fertilizer.
- Don’t wait until all the food is gone, or the worms might start going hungry. They will quietly die off and produce less fertilizer.
Feeding in this pattern makes the food easy for the worms to find. This method also helps you figure out how often and how much to feed them.
Consequences When You Feed Composting Worms Too Much
Feeding worms too much food has consequences:
- Acidity. A low pH can be caused by excess food and too much acidic food. Your worms are in real danger of dying. See our advice on bin acidity.
- Odor. Too much rotting food will stink up the bin. The bin should have an earthy odor. If you smell something, see Keeping Your Worm Bin Odor-Free.
- Pests. Unwanted critters will smell something good and move in. Learn more about mites, fruit flies, & ants.
- Excess moisture. Food scraps are moist. Puddles, excessively damp bedding, and bad odor are signs. Learn about worm bin moisture.
Feed your worms chopped-up kitchen scraps – not too much, and not too little. If you have excess scraps, refrigerate or freeze them for later. Or, dispose of them in the trash, down the garbage disposal unit, or in another composting pile. It’s better to waste a little food than harm your worm bin.
How Much Waste Can Worms Eat?
Here are a couple questions from Leslie:
hello, I started my bin about a month ago and I wanted to know two things-
how much kitchen scrap (in lbs? or kg..) can 1000 worms handle (in an approximately 2 ft x 4 ft bin) per week? Also, how soon before the worms start reproducing? I’m concerned about too little or too much intervention with the worms so any guidance is greatly appreciated. Thanks! -Leslie
Those are really good question (some things a LOT of people are wondering about, I’m sure), but the first one is also a tough question to give a firm answer for. One of the challenges of vermicomposting is that there are SO MANY variables that can influence the success of your worm bin, and the overall health and well-being of your worms. As such, trying to come up with absolutes based on various calculations can be pretty challenging – at least for the average worm bin owner.
What you do with your waste materials (before putting them in the bin) ALONE can have a massive impact on the productivity of your bin. Obviously, if you add your wastes simply as they become available, without taking any steps to help the process along, you will end up with a bin full of undecomposed material pretty quickly.
If on the other hand you freeze your waste materials or let them age for a period of time, then blend them up before adding them, you will greatly speed up the process, thus effectively boosting the processing power of your worms.
The type of waste can also have a significant impact on the quantity of waste that can be added every x number of days. Tests using highly optimized professional flow-through reactors have shown that worms can potentially consume 4-6 times their own weight in food PER DAY! I should mention that these numbers are based on consumption of grocery store produce waste (similar to homeowner food waste, I would imagine), which is mostly water to begin with.
Is it realistic to think you will see similar abilities with your worms – not likely! My point is simply that the processing ability of worms can vary WIDELY, depending on how you maintain your particular system.
Some suggest that a good guideline is 1/2 worm weight per day. In your case, since 1000 worms on average weigh somewhere around 1 lb, an estimate of 1/2 lb of waste per day – or 3.5 lb of waste per week might not be a bad guess. I’m a little hesitant to even mention that, but hopefully you will take that recommendation with a grain of salt, based on what I’ve said above.
So what exactly DO I recommend?
Let the worms be your guide! Do everything you can to optimize the process, and carefully monitor your worms’ progress – especially early on. Start with very small amounts of waste (especially if you have set up your bin ahead of time with food), and go from there based on your worms’ ability to consume the materials. Obviously you don’t need to wait until every last morsel is gone from the bin. I would suggest creating several small food pockets (staggering the creation of these over the course of a given week should be helpful as well) and simply watching how quickly these pockets of food are consumed. Once the first pocket is basically processed, you can probably set up a new one (you would have a couple others on the go already), and so on.
Moving on to reproduction…
It is very common for worms to start reproducing VERY soon after being added to a worm bin – especially if conditions are to their liking. In fact, worms don’t even really need to reproduce in order to start depositing cocoons into the bin. Reproduction is basically a means of replenishing the sperm storage organ. Once the worms have sperm they can simply keep producing cocoons (using their own eggs) until it runs out.
Given the fact that you’ve had your bin for a month, I would think that there would be plenty of reproduction and cocoon laying in your bin by now. It might not be all that obvious – but rest assured, if the worms are healthy and vigorous you will almost certainly have cocoons and young worms in your bin.
Anyway – hope this helps, Leslie!
Thanks again for the great questions
Imagine your worm population exploding exponentially.
A rapidly growing worm population is a beautiful thing! Dancing happily, the worms multiply over and over again.
The worm bin is going wild. It’s one heck-of-a party in there! Every time you take a peek inside, you see more and more baby worms wiggling around. Every time you take a peek inside, you become more and more excited. It may sound crazy, but this vision can easily become a reality in your worm bin. It is easy to do.
With the 4 easy tips in this post, your worm population is sure to skyrocket!
Whether you need a few handfuls of worms for your upcoming fishing trip, or you want to split your colony into multiple worm bins to increase your composting capacity, this article will help get you there. First we will teach you about red wigglers’ favorite sensual aphrodisiacs and provocative bedding materials. Read on to learn about the “forgotten secret” to switching on your worms’ sex drive en masse.
Here are the surefire tips to help your worm population erupt in an amazing breeding frenzy!
How Fast Can Red Worms Reproduce?
It is easy to cultivate a massive worm population in a very short time period. An adult red wiggler worm can produce 2 to 3 cocoons every week, and each cocoon can hatch up to 20 baby worms! Now multiply this by the number of mature worms in your worm bin…that’s a lot of worms in a little time.
One worm farmer buddy of mine calculated that, over the course of three months, a worm colony could see a 28-fold increase in population! Now, it is important to bear in mind that most worm bins will not see this kind of reproduction. The conditions in your bin would have to be almost perfect to achieve numbers like these.
Long story short, red wiggler worms can reproduce very quickly. Simply follow our tips below!
Aphrodisiacs Red Wigglers Crave
Want to encourage more worm sex? Try adding some of these sensual aphrodisiacs to your worm bin. Worms are attracted to the sweet flavors of these foods, and their soft, fleshy consistencies allow the worms to really dig in. Like they say, “If you build it they will come.” – No pun intended.
You will see loads and loads of your worms gathering all over these foods. And when lots of worms gather together in a small space, nature takes over and things can get a little freaky!
- Watermelon rinds and remnants can create some serious lust, but be sure to balance out the high moisture content of this fruit by adding some dry bedding material at the same time as you feed them the melon.
- Pumpkin is a good aphrodisiac you might just have around towards the end of the growing season. Leave the pumpkin out for a bit to soften before adding it to your bin so, like I said above, your worms can really dig into the flesh of the fruit in high numbers.
- Mango skins are one of those foods that seem to bring out worms from every corner of the bin.
- Avocado peels tend to have a similar effect.
- Old, mushy bananas. Need I say more?
- Cantaloupe rinds and scraps are great for the same reasons as the watermelon mentioned above. As with the watermelon, you should make sure to balance out this fruit’s high moisture content by throwing it in your bin with some extra bedding material.
- This last one might surprise you… Corn cobs! I’ve noticed that my worms love to congregate on the fleshy corn scraps leftover around the outside of the cob. The many little nooks and crannies in the corn allow lots of worms access to the feast, as well as to the debauchery that is sure to follow.
To rev things up even more, you can opt to give your worms a smoothie instead of a solid meal. You will be surprised at the difference blending your food can make! Toss those aphrodisiac foods you just learned about in your blender. This will maximize the surface area of the food, giving more worms access to the party. More worms in an area means more reproduction!
You may be surprised at the difference blending your food can make.
Ground up corn cobs, for example, are the number one favored delicacy in my worm bin at home. However, whole corn cobs tend to sit for a very long time after the soft tissues have been eaten by my worms. Simply running the corn cobs through a blender allows you to turn a hard-to-digest snack into a decadent delicacy for your red wiggler buddies.
Bedding Isn’t Just for Sleeping
The food your feed to your worms is not the only important factor at play here. Much like with us humans, red wigglers reproductive decisions can be affected by the bedding material they have available.
Unlike humans, however, worms like to do it in paper. Yup, you read that right! Worms’ number one favorite bedding material for reproducing is paper. Well, paper and cardboard to be more precise.
The reason for this is up for debate. Some people say that carbon-rich foods stimulate cocoon production. Others say that paper and cardboard pieces simply provide a rough surface that helps the worms to “rub off” cocoons that are ready to be released.
I say, “Does it even matter? More cardboard, more paper, more worms!
You can also add a moistened burlap “sheet” on top of the bedding. Burlap appears to have the same effect on red wigglers’ reproductive habits as paper and cardboard (probably for the same reasons). My worms seem to flock to this stuff when it comes time to multiply.
Whether it is the carbon content of the burlap or its physical structure, you will find a plethora of worm cocoons hiding away inside. Think of it like the maternity ward of your worm bin!
While your compost bin is a fantastic 5-star hotel…when living in the wild, the red wiggler worm lives a life of constant peril. As you can imagine, in the wild, environmental conditions are rapidly changing. In the summer, the ground could dry up at any time. In the winter, the ground may be frozen at nighttime and thaw during the day.
Like any living animal, red wigglers possess an internal drive to reproduce and carry forth their species. Therefore, they are very sensitive to the environment around them.
Their reproductive behavior is strongly influenced by environmental cues.
The “Forgotten Secret”
This brings us to the “forgotten secret” of worm production: Population Density.
- When there are too many worms in a particular space, red wigglers tend to slow down their breeding so that their home does not become overcrowded. This help them to avoid depleting the available food supply.
- If there are too few worms in an area, the mature breeders will have difficulty locating each other, and reproduction will be hampered.
- If your worms detect that they have plenty of space and food available to grow their population, they will reproduce as much as possible!
Our experts suggest a half pound of worms for every square foot of surface area in your worm bin. A bin that is two feet long by one foot wide would have a surface area of 2 x 1 = 2 square feet. One pound of worms would be the perfect amount of worms to stock in this bin if you are trying to promote as much erotic activity as possible.
You will never know for sure how many worms are in your worm bin, but if you notice that the herd has significantly increased in size, you can go ahead and split your population into two bins and do it all over again.
Maintain A Hypnotic Lair for Lust & Debauchery
The most important factor of all is the environment your red wigglers have surrounding them. Aphrodisiacs, bedding materials, population density…none of this matters if the environment isn’t right. As you read earlier in this post, worms’ reproductive behaviors are very strongly influenced by cues from the environment around them. When they sense their environment is becoming more hazardous, they will rev up their reproductive engines and focus much of their energy on producing cocoons.
Worm cocoons have the ability to survive in conditions that would kill off the rest of their colony. By focusing their efforts on cocoon production when death may be near, the worms ensure that the colony will carry on into the next generation even if none of your living worms are able to make it through the dangerous conditions.
You are able to harness this natural instinct by allowing your bin to become “slightly” dangerous for a short time. That means you can let it dry out a bit more than you normally would, or you could temporarily move the bin to a less insulated location. Your worms will sense the change in their environment and things will begin to steam up immediately.
Once you see the surge in worm cocoons you have been waiting for, you now need to focus on creating an environment that will promote the hatching of your new cocoons and the success of your new baby worms. This means you just need to maintain the bin like you normally would when you aren’t trying to stimulate the reproduction of your red wigglers.
To do this, you will create an environment that is no longer “slightly” dangerous so that your rapidly growing worm population can prosper. If done right, you will soon find yourself with loads of teeny, tiny red wiggler hatchlings squiggling around in your worm bin!
- The temperature inside the bin should be kept between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Check out this blog post to learn the specifics about controlling the temperature in your worm bin.
- The bedding in a properly maintained worm bin should have a pH (acidity) reading between 6.0 and 7.0. You can use ground up egg shells to correct acidity issues and neutralize the pH in your worm bin. to learn more about pH in your worm bin.
- Moisture levels are very important in your worm bin. Too much moisture will impede the flow of oxygen into your worm bin, but too little moisture will cause your worms to dry out! Keep your worm friends’ bed moist like a damp sponge – damp but not dripping. This helpful post will teach you about maintaining proper moisture levels in your worm composting bin.
Regardless of your reason, growing your red wiggler worm population is simple, now that you know how to get the party started. Preparing to double your worm population (or more) is as simple as completing the actions mentioned. Introducing sensual aphrodisiacs such as watermelon, pumpkin, and corn cobs is a great way to start. Breaking it down into smoothie consistency is an added time bonus. As you learned above, choice of bedding is just as important as food. Once you’ve gotten that covered, you will simply enhance their environment to put the finishing touches on their hypnotic lair of lust and debauchery.
You are now primed and ready to spark a red wiggler breeding frenzy in a short period of time. Grab your blender and some soft, sweet, and fleshy party treats for your red wiggler buddies. Break out the nice sheets and set the mood. The maternity ward will be full in no time. Happy breeding!