At some point in life, we want to leave home to go on a holiday when we’ve got worms. Or go on some kind of excursion that means not being home to feed the worms for a while.
Can we do this?
Short answer: Yes but captive worms can’t be left alone for too long.
How long can we leave the worms to their own devices before problems start?
To a degree, this is going to depend on what type of container your worms do their work in.
If you have a worm compost bin that is 12 feet long, you can probably stock it up with a lot of food (carefully) and leave them alone for a bit longer than if your worm compost is in a bath tub.
If you have a tiered farm, which most people do but nobody should, the time you can leave them alone is relatively short.
I like to find answers to things by looking for the principle in action.
Compost worms eat microbes. Microbes eat decaying food.
The principle in action is something like: When we add food to the worm compost, the microbes eat the food and the worms eat the microbes and therefore if there is no food going in, at some point there will be no microbes for the worms to eat.
Now we can see that the answer to “can we go for a holiday when we’ve got worms” is about the microbes being fed and continuing to reproduce, so that the worms will get their dinner, while we’re away.
Just as a side note here, and nothing to do with going on holiday… If our worm compost has food scraps in it that are more than a couple of weeks old, this is the visual proof that the microbes aren’t keeping up, and this is the visual data that tells us we are over feeding the worm compost.
You might have spotted that some foods disappear quite quickly in the worm bin, while other foods seem to take much longer.
Watermelon is sweet and yummy and the microbes rush in to devour it, and the worms aren’t far behind, coming in to eat the sugar-laden microbes.
But boring old cabbage leaves aren’t so much fun and get pushed around the plate until theres nothing else left.
An old pair of jeans or a cotton pillow case needs to sit inside the worm compost environment for many months before they begin to break down enough for some of the worm-dinner-microbes to begin consuming them.
Yes you read that right. Yes you can put cotton or other natural fibre materials in a worm bin. Give a pair of jeans a good year or 2 though before you can’t find even a hem anymore.
Is a picture starting to form in your imagination of how to keep the worms and microbes fed for long enough to let you go on holiday?
You could take a handful of pieces of food the worms (and microbes) really love, and wrap it up in newspaper like the good ol’ days fish and chips. Make 2 or 3 of these dinner bundles and bury them throughout the compost.
You could do a food bundle like this well before you go on holiday so you can watch how long it takes for it to completely break down and be eaten.
Another option would be to put a whole pumpkin in the worm compost. Not pieces, but whole and uncut. A whole pumpkin takes longer to rot down than a piece of pumpkin when these are, say, sitting on the bench.
The same thing happens in the worm compost, where the whole pumpkin takes longer than pumpkin pieces to be turned into black gold. And it takes longer directly because it’s taking the worms and microbes longer to break through the skin and get at the insides of it.
Still faster than on the bench though!
As you probably know – or maybe you didn’t realise yet – the worms (and microbes) turn everything in the compost into worm castings, that treasured black gold.
Everything, meaning also all the bedding.
If the bedding is made completely of partially finished traditional compost from an outside pile, then there is even more food already available in that bedding, and you could leave the worms to their own devices for even longer than you would with fish and chips made of watermelon.
I’m very hesitant to give an actual length of time for any of the above options.
Every worm farm is unique and positioned in different environments to other worm composts and these factors contribute to the length of time it takes for a particular worm compost to break food down.
I certainly don’t want to give you a time frame, only to find out after you come back from your holiday that your worm compost needed more food sooner…
If your worm compost is under a 50 litre capacity, the amount of “long lasting” food you can put in there will be less than if your worm compost is in a bathtub or in a 1,000 litre pod.
There’s another very important factor I haven’t mentioned yet. You may have already thought of it. And that is the number of worms you have in the compost.
The more worms you have, the more you’re feeding, and so the more microbes there are, and so the faster the food gets processed.
I’m big on playing around with things in the worm compost and finding out what currently works really well. Trying out long lasting foods before we leave home for extended periods is the best way to have a pretty accurate idea of what and how much to give them when we do actually leave.
There’s always the option of having someone come over and feed them for you. “Hey dear neighbour, when you come over to water my plants, could you sprinkle a tablespoon of worm chow in my worm compost please.”
Worm chow is a completely dry and powdered food that is great for enabling someone who doesn’t want to touch the worms, to feed them on our behalf while we’re away.
It’s much harder to have an over-feeding disaster with worm chow too, so the risk of our helper accidentally messing it up in our absence is much lower.
Worm chow is easy to make. And it’s cheap to buy. I’ve got plenty available if you’d like to order some (within Australia only). You can click here to have a look.
Our compost worms are captive. And they should be treated like livestock.
When we look after them like a good farmer looks after livestock, the worms create endless magic for our gardens.
And for this reason, I believe having a worm compost means having the responsibility to do our best at setting them up for a good and safe time while we’re away.
They can’t be left alone indefinitely or even for a very long time. 4 or 5 weeks alone is probably broaching on too long.
Another point that needs to be remembered is that the worm compost needs regular aeration and 4 weeks is long enough to not be turning it.
If we aren’t feeding the worm compost and we aren’t turning it regularly and we aren’t managing the moisture level, the whole compost is going to come to a fast and unkind end.
That was a long answer to a simple question. The key thing here is that our living pooping worms are captive and therefore need our good management. Just like cows in a paddock or chickens in a coop. Just like the cat and dog, who I’m sure you either take with you on holiday or make arrangements to keep them fed and safe while you’re gone.
Our compost worms are really no different. Especially if you want the top quality, free, perfectly suited to your garden, nutrient dense, slow release, fertiliser in a few months time.
Which is what it’s all about in the end isn’t it.