Can worms eat that?…citrus

This will be an ongoing series of various items that composting worms will process. I’m referring to the foods to avoid.

The next material in this series is citrus. On just about every vermicomposting list of food scraps to avoid, citrus makes the no-no list. There are some good reasons for this but is citrus really all that bad for the worms?

Clementine peels

Citrus is generally included on the no-no lists for beginners. This makes sense as with a whole host of things it can be easy to overdo things as a beginner. Citrus is not the worms’ favorite scrap by any means but they will process it.

What causes citrus to not be recommended? For starters, citrus can be quite acidic and the worms do not do well in acidic conditions. Next, the rinds tend to be quite resistant to decomposition. Citrus has a strong scent and worms are put off by it. Citrus also tends to mold and can throw off conditions in the bin.

NONSENSE! I have been using citrus in my systems for years and have never experienced these issues. It’s true that citrus can be acidic but it is very difficult to get the acidity to a point that it harms the worms. After all peat moss which is acidic can be used as a bedding material. If the acidity was an issue the worms would simply avoid that area of the system. It is also true that the citrus rinds take time to decompose. However, decomposition can be sped up by chopping it in fine pieces and freezing. The greater surface area will allow microbes to start decomposition more quickly.

Citrus does tend to have mold when decomposing but most food scraps do too. Fungi and bacteria break down food scraps into well…worm food. Remember worms don’t eat the actual food but the fungi and bacteria that break food down. Now mold can be an issue for people that are allergic to mold so that is something to keep in mind. If you are sensitive to mold it is probably best to vermicompost outdoors.

I added clementine peels to my Urban Worm Bag 2.0. I mixed the peels with some of the bedding already in the system. The bedding had a good amount of nearly finished vermicast so the peels definitely were inoculated with microbes.

Next, I covered up the peels with some fresh bedding.

Since citrus tends to break down slowly compared to other scraps, I checked on how it was doing a week later.

The worms have started to congregate in the area of the citrus peel and are definitely working away at it. There were some isopods on the peels as well but they moved quickly before I could take the picture. If there are any issues with acidity, I’m not seeing it nor ever seen it. If worms are sensitive to the acidity from the citrus peels they would avoid it.

Take Away

  • Just because a food item might be on the no-no list for feeding, doesn’t mean that the worms won’t process it
  • When experimenting, use small quantities of the no-go material – don’t use large quantities in the event the experiment goes south
  • Bedding is key with these types of experiments – I used some harvested material that didn’t make it through a screen so the bedding was loaded with beneficial microbes

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