Red wigglers are known by many names. They are worms whose existence is dedicated to eating leftover food, such as discarded vegetables or fruit. Red wigglers will eat rotting veggies as well as fresh ones. But what happens when the food scraps run out?
How long can red wigglers go without food? Red wiggles can go up to two weeks without food. After that, you will find that they will move on if possible or die out. If you are leaving them unattended, leave them a supply of food, along with adequate bedding and moisture.
If you’re concerned about starving your worms, you have a fair amount of room for error. If you go away for the weekend without leaving them your leftovers, they will usually be OK. If you’re new to vermicomposting, you are probably also interested in what nutrients they need and how best to care for them. They take good care of your soil – let’s talk about how to keep them happy.
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How Long Can Red Wigglers Be Left Unattended?
Red wigglers generally can be left unattended for about two weeks. You’ll see them disappearing around the third week either dying out or escaping their bin if they are left without a food source. It’s important to note though that red wiggler worms are actually better left with less attention rather than more. They do their best when left alone in a dark bin with an adequate food supply and moisture.
If your wigglers are in a cool place, they actually can be left alone longer than those left in an environment that is too hot. If the worms have cardboard mixed into their bedding, or just have good bedding in general, they are also more likely to survive when left for longer periods of time.
Under the best conditions, the amount of time they are able to be self-sufficient is approximately the same amount of time that they can go without food.
Of course, putting fresh scraps of food into your worm’s home will extend the time that they can be left unattended.
What Do Red Wigglers Eat?
Generally speaking, red wigglers eat pretty much anything organic. This isn’t limited to just fruits and veggies but scraps of cardboard or coffee grounds too. They also enjoy things like leaves or paper; if you can recycle it, they probably will want to eat it.
Greens are the best thing to feed your worms, though, as it is the most natural and healthy thing for them and is usually very water-rich in content. The second runner up is browns (carbon sources). Browns include things like the coffee beans, cardboard, paper, or dry leaves.
Worms need gritty brown food to help move their digestion along. But don’t add too many brown foods, or the soil will be too acidic for the worms. Worms need a pH of 6.0-7.0; if you find yours is too high, crushed eggshells will help to bring that acid back down. (Check our recommended composting resources page to see a pH meter that you can use for monitoring).
What Is The Purpose Of Feeding Red Wigglers?
Vermicomposting is the process of the worms decomposing food through consumption and producing worm castings which can significantly enrich your soil. It helps your plants grow and increases the activity of microbes in your soil. When used on a large scale, it helps our world’s environment because they replace chemical fertilizers. In fact, vermicomposting has many advantages over even using manure as a fertilizer.
You need to feed them because they need to eat! I know it seems really like a simple answer, but these worms are alive just like you and me, and if they’re going to help your soil they aren’t working for free. They aren’t too picky, though, and feeding them is pretty easy when you’re preparing dinner and have some scraps of vegetable leftover.
By regularly feeding your red wigglers, you are giving them the opportunity to not only survive but to thrive. When they thrive, they compost more food items and produce more worm castings. That’s why it’s vital you remember to feed your worms and not let them go without food for too long.
How To Keep Worms Content When You’re Gone
Red wigglers don’t need much attending to but when you know you are going to be leaving on a trip it can be helpful to make sure your worms are prepared too. This is so their population doesn’t drop too severely while you are away.
After all, the work with worm bins is in getting them started. Keeping them going is the easy part.
Five Steps to Happy Red Wigglers
- Ensure a balanced pH within the bin – According to authors Mary Appelhof and Joanne Olszewski, red worms can survive within an environment of pH 5 to 9 (source). That being said, around 7.0 is the sweet spot. The most accurate way to measure this is with a pH meter.
- Maintain adequate, but not excessive moisture – It’s true that worms need moisture and you need to be sure that you are providing an adequate amount. However, don’t make the mistake of flooding your bin with too much water. The worms can drown and won’t be able to effectively work through the bedding if it becomes too saturated and compressed. It’s best to spritz rather than pour. Some people use ice cubes to allow slow absorption. Be sure to monitor your reservoir under the bin to ensure the worm farm is producing liquid. A small amount of liquid indicates adequate moisture.
- Maintain adequate food supply – Trust me on this one, you don’t need to overthink this too much. Use some common sense and provide ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, stay away from citrus, and make sure the bedding is carbon-rich with shredded cardboard and paper. Then, let your observations guide you. If you notice that the vegetables are getting consumed quickly, start offering more. If they aren’t and they are getting slimy or starting to smell, lessen the amount added each time. Too little food can result in having a lot of small worms that aren’t growing well but too much and you run the risk of some really unpleasant odors. Find a balance that works for you and your worms.
- Maintain a consistent temperature of 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit – If it’s too hot or cold, the worms aren’t happy and won’t want to stay or simply will die out while you’re gone. They do best in cool dirt, similar to the soil that is freshly dug out of the ground. For this reason, composting indoors with a worm bin can work perfectly.
- Balance The Carbon and Nitrogen – This goes along with the balance of veggies and paper products. As you add more fruit and vegetable scraps you will be increasing the nitrogen levels in the bin. You can balance this with additional carbon sources such as cardboard and paper. I’ve read studies and websites until I was blue in the face and I’ve come to realize that a lot depends on the size and type of your worm bin and the number of worms you have. Just monitor the bin and adjust as needed.
Of course, oxygen is an important aspect as well. Make sure that you have adequate air holes to allow for ventilation within your bin.
Read our complete guide to keeping compost worms healthy and happy!
How Much Food Do Red Wigglers Eat?
As stated before, this can vary a lot. But to get started, I recommend this: for every two (2) pounds of worms you have in your bin, figure you’ll need one (1) pound of food. Depending on what source you read, worms can eat anywhere from half their weight to their entire weight in food each day. Start small and add to their feedings based on how quickly they consume it.
Important feeding points to remember:
- They eat a fair share of carbon and nitrogen, which they get from bedding and food.
- Worms don’t have teeth, so they grind the food you give them in something called a gizzard. This is where the brown foods come to help that digestion process go smoother so those shredded cardboard and paper products in the bedding really are important!
- If you feed them too much, the worms won’t be able to eat it in time, and it will rot and mold and smell really bad.
- The resulting excess moisture can really throw off the worm’s entire ecosystem.
- To figure out how much food to give them it helps to know how many pounds of worms you have. If you don’t know, estimate and watch to see how quickly the food is consumed.
Keep in mind, as you feed them your leftover fruits and food, that they are also eating their bedding, so don’t overdo it while trying to learn how much they can consume. It’s easier to add more than it is to remove slimy food that’s gone uneaten.
What Do My Worms Do If I Don’t Feed Them?
When you’re away and not feeding your worms or if you simply aren’t feeding them for whatever reason, this is when it’s time to let their cocoons hatch. It’s also an excellent time if you’re still around to harvest your compost.
If you’re not feeding them, you want to at least have some good moisture in the soil and preferably some good bedding for them to munch on.
If it’s dry and the worms aren’t eating, they can ball up to conserve their moisture in their bodies. It’s generally better to have too much water than too little if you are going to be away for a few days, just don’t oversaturate the bin to the point that water is pooling.
Learn What’s Needed To Keep Your Compost Worms Healthy And Happy. Read Our Complete Guide!
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