Can you put worms in a compost tumbler?

After years of experience in composting, I recently brought my first compost tumbler. When I started using it, I began to wonder about using worms in it. I decided to do some research on it, and here is what I’ve found.

Can you put worms in a compost tumbler? No, you cannot add worms to the compost tumbler. The high temperature in compost tumblers can kill them. The rotating nature of compost tumbler is not optimal either, as worms prefer undisturbed environments. The ammonia released is another risk for the worms.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to give up on worms. You can still include the worms in the process and achieve high-quality compost. 

How can you still Add worms

a. Use it as a bin

    If you prefer the richness provided by the worms to microbial goodness, you can use the compost tumbler as a bin. If you don’t rotate it or do it rarely, most variants work more or less like a compost bin.

I have to say, though, it would be a waste of a perfectly good tumbler. And, if it is an expensive commercial model, then I would advise against it

b. Use it to make pre compost 

If you want the best of both worlds, this is the way to go. The worms absolutely love the rich compost produced by microbes. You can use it as a pre-compost and let worms have their party. Most people prefer it this way. They pile it up on the side and let the worms join in.

This is highly beneficial for worms as microbes and heat already took care of the harder to break materials like coffee grounds. Moreover, the higher temperature also takes care of weed seeds and disease spores.

Other things you should avoid 

I have learned that using a compost tumbler is different from using a compost bin. There are several things that you should not add to your tumbler to have a good compost (and not a disaster!)

1. Citrus Fruits

    Citrus fruits are highly acidic in nature and can kill microorganisms that break down components in compost. This can significantly slow down the process. Even citrus peels should be avoided. It takes a long time for the peels to break down, especially if they are not appropriately chopped before adding

2. Meat And Bones

    Well, yes, meat and bones do compost well, but they create a host of problems. They can generate an awful smell that can offend even the friendliest of neighbors. Meat in compost also invites rodents, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and even bears!

Even though compost tumbler offers some protection against smaller rodents but bigger animals can still ransack the tumbler creating a big (and smelly!) mess.

3. Diary Products

    Dairy products should also be avoided in compost as they attract pests. The high-fat content in dairy tends to slow down the composting process by creating a waterproof coating around materials. Dairy can also add undesired moisture content making the compost wetter. 

And they create a horrible smell as well!

4. Wood and Ashes

   While Untreated wood grounded into small pieces is an excellent addition to compost, but treated wood is loaded with harmful chemicals. Microorganisms cannot break down the toxic chemicals like arsenic and cadmium present in it. These chemicals can harm your plants.

Coal ash also contains high amounts of sulfur that can damage your plants. Though a small amount of untreated wood ash is acceptable but coal ash is a strict no-no

5. Grease and cooking oils

   Adding Organic cooking oils can slow down the breakdown process. The oil particles form layers around other materials, restricting the flow of air and water. Air and water are necessary for aerobic composting. In their absence, the process shifts towards anaerobic.

Trust me; you don’t want that (neither do your neighbors!).

6. Invasive Plants

    Even though it is encouraged to add greens to the compost, but you should be careful about the type of greens you are adding. Invasive weeds can quickly take roots into your compost, ruining the entire batch.

There is also the probability of these weeds spreading throughout your garden and backyard when you use the manure.

7. Glossy Paper

    Paper, in general, is suitable for composting. Be it soy ink newspapers, tissues, towels, or cardboards. But paper that has been treated with plastic to make it look glossy contains toxins that cannot be broken down. If these are added to your compost tumbler, it will not correctly decompose.

8. Pet Waste

    You can freely add droppings produced by horses, rabbits, and cattle. But it would be best if you excluded dog and cat litter. These contain several microorganisms which should never enter your food.

If you do want to compost pet waste, you can do it separately from regular compost and use it only for non-food crops

9. Synthetic Fertilisers

  They can introduce unnecessary amounts of inorganic chemicals to the compost that can be deadly for the microorganisms. The whole point of composting is helping the environment and eliminating harmful chemicals from your food and life. Adding synthetic chemicals completely defeats the purpose

10. Baked Goods 

    Adding baked goods to your compost invites a lot of animals to your compost. It is best if you avoid putting them in your compost. And maybe cut them out of your life as well (Atleast the sugary ones)

Best practices in using compost tumblers

1. Maintain Proper Green to Brown Ratio in Compost Tumblers

    Composting microorganisms survive on two types of foods, Greens, and Browns.

Greens include fresh garden scraps, vegetable and fruit leftovers, etc. These provide nitrogen which is essential for microbial multiplication.

Browns are dead and dry plants. These include dried leaves, straw, and sawdust. Browns act as an energy source for microbes.

The recommended green to brown ratio is 3 or 4:1. This ensures optimum and well-paced composting

2. Appropriate Moisture

   Try to maintain 40-60% moisture in your compost tumbler. If you are adding too many dry ingredients like sawdust, you need to provide moisture. Dry climates also demand moisture. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables are already rich in water so try not to overdo it.

The compost mixture should have a wet and spongy consistency. Adding too much or too little water can ruin the batch

3. Good Air Circulation

    Microbes also need air to live (Mostly!). The aerobic respiration required to convert waste into compost cannot happen without proper airflow. Thankfully ingredients like straw retain air make this job easier for you. But it would be best if you still turned the tumbler regularly, which brings us to our next point

4. Regularly Turning the Tumbler

    As we just discussed, the importance of air in composting. Turning the tumbler introduces fresh air to the compost. If you fail to turn the tumbler, you can prolong the process by months.

It is advised that you turn the tumbler once every 3-4 days. Simple right!

5. Add Shredded Materials

  The absence of worms makes it harder to break down big pieces. The microbes can work overtime, but still, it will take them a long time to deliver. You have spent quite a bit on your composting tumbler; it would be a shame if you have to wait six months to get your first batch.

You can make it easy on microbes by chopping the things in small bits before adding them to the compost.

Final Thoughts

Composting tumblers are designed to work without worms, and there is no need to add them. Lack of worms makes the composting process a little different. If you follow best practices, you can get high-quality compost without using any worms.

Composting tumblers are known to deliver results faster than regular composting bins. The rotating mechanism makes turning much more straightforward and hassle-free.

The absence of worms should not deter you from using a compost tumbler. The tiny microbes work just as fine as the bigger worms. 

If you still miss them, you can always include them in later stages.

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