From Matt Okamoto:
I am wondering about feeding the worms. I have been feeding them every Sunday. What if there is still food? Should I hold off feeding them?

This is a tough one, Matt!  When to feed again is the most often asked, and undoubtedly the most critical question facing vermicomposters.  How do you know when to add food to the bin?

Consumers are easy are feed. When you feed a dog or a hungry child, the food is gobbled up immediately.  Decomposers work on a different time schedule.  There’s a lag between presentation and ingestion.

Without the ability to break molecular bonds, without biting, shredding, scraping, or chewing mouthparts, worms have to wait for bacteria, fungi, and fellow bin critters like compost mites, little black beetles, earwigs, Surinam roaches, snails, etc., to break it down, soften it up, or poop it out so worms can suck it in.

Because it takes at least a few days and often as long as a week for most food to decompose enough for worms to ingest, it’s important for you to stay ahead of their feeding rate.  You always want partially-decayed food available to them.  So, yes, there should definitely be some goopy food in the bin when you feed again. Last week’s old goopy stuff is what they are working on.  The stuff you put in today is what they will be working on next week.

I find it very useful to split the bed in half, alternating side to side each time I feed.  The side I loaded up on Week A will be nearly finished by the time I get back to that side in two weeks.  This side-to-side trick helps me track their progress.  If I find they are not keeping up, not processing most of what I offered within two weeks, I’ll slow down or skip a week to allow them to catch up.

What you DON’T want is to do is hold off feeding until there is no available food whatsoever. The only exception to this is when you are planning to harvest a box bin, when you want them to finish off everything so you are not slogging through the goop.  Otherwise, keep that steady stream of food coming!  Worms, like all of us, prefer consistent nutrition to feast and famine.

There is some nuance to the feeding rule, to be discussed in READING FEEDING, PART TWO.  Stay tuned!

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