feeding worms LOTS of cardboard

November 10, 2005

I was wondering if it is advisable to feed worms large amounts of cardboard.

The reason I ask is there is a furniture store close by and I can get as many large cardboard boxes as I want just pick them up.

Can red wigglers handle large volumes of cardboard and what kind of time table to devour cardboard boxes?

Thanks AGAIN...

Comments (22)

  • garnetmoth

    as far as I understand, Cardboard, being boiled cellulose, will act more as a bedding than a food. Ive found cardboard is OK if you can shred it thoroughly.

    Someone on Soils forum recently was stating that processed/paper fiber was better used as recycled paper than compost. but if thats the ONLY source of bedding you have, its ok. You can also use compost, shredded leaves, spoiled hay, or only shredded paper like Bills (confidential paper, just to be sure)

    The worms are still going to need a food source, something that will rot, old food, used coffee grounds and the like. Wet cardboard might grow some microbes, but probably not enough to feed the worms well.

    Good luck!

  • jason_mackenna

    I'm a newbie, and have only had my bins for a few months, but have found that the worms churn through cardboard like nobody's business. I was running the carboard through an office shredder and using the resulting 1" x 1/4" strips as bedding. The worms have rapidly turned the cardboard into compost, much faster than the shredded paper added at the same time. I did find, however, that the damp cardboard has a much stronger smell to it than damp shredded paper.

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  • garnetmoth

    Hey Jason, what foodstock are you using?

    and how do you have a shredder that strong? Mine will score the cardboard, but only one sheet at a time, and I can tell it doesnt like to, so I quit doing it :-)

  • PuraVida

    Ahhh cardboard!! I love it!

    We always add some hand torn cardboard every time we feed. I really like cardboard and the many ways I can use it in the garden. Of course the best part is its free and always easy to get a hold of.

    In our experience corrugated cardboard is great for worm bedding because it seems to absorb moisture when there is too much and then hold the moisture when things start to dry outÂso it seems to keep the moisture level just right. My worms love getting on, under or into it. I think of it as worm apartments.

    I hand tear the cardboard into 2x2 to 3x3 in. pieces and thatÂs fine. I was tearing it up into smaller pieces but have found that not necessary.

    I have more vegetable scraps than I can process with my worms, and I now have eight, 20 gallon bins! I bring home about five, 5 gallon buckets of vegetable waste a week, since my worms canÂt eat all that I have to compost the rest. Cardboard has been the answer to that as well. ItÂs the perfect carbon source for me when I have too much nitrogen (always). It took a while but now I have a system that results in either good vermicompost or good regular compost out of well most of the world considers ÂtrashÂ.

    Pura Vida

  • billr12

    There are many articles on feeding worms in this forum. Several articles I have read say that is all they feed. I have read at least two articles where all they every feed the worms is cardboared with great results. These are commercial operations. If cardboard didn't work they would go to something else.

  • jason_mackenna

    Garnetmoth, I am using a Tech Solutions TS-4500 cross cut paper shredder. See the link below for the discussion.

    For foodstock, I am using kitchen leftovers, table scraps and spoiled food. The table scraps tend to be stuff like edamame "shells", banana peels, and ground up bread crusts / grains / pizza bones. The boys' scraps from lunch are thrown in - apple cores, half eaten sandwiches. The spoiled food varies - usually spoiled bananas, apples, leftover salads, produce that has stayed in the crisper too long, and various takeout leftovers. This includes a small amount of meat - usually chicken or fish scraps. Right now I am running a surplus b/c of Halloween - between the pumpkin goop we cleaned out of the pumpkins and the pumpkins themselves, I have plenty of food for the worms.

    I tend reduce everything into the smallest pieces I can, either by chopping them up, using a food processor, or a salad shooter. While this is a little more work, it really increases the volume of food the worms can handle, as it seems like everything breaks down faster that way. Most of the perishable stuff I freeze because I usually clean out the fridge once a week, but feed the worms daily. I have also heard that freezing helps break down the food faster.

  • garnetmoth

    I think im going to break down and get a cleaver/ chef knife and cutting board for the worms!

    I will not clean an appliance of rotting food every day, but ill chop. I step on apples and some other larger items, but I think thats my main problem now, feeding whole chunks....

    happy composting!

  • newbie314

    For cardboard, I throw in the used cup heat protectors (the ones starbucks uses instead of an extra cup, I know I should bring my own cup in). The worms love them. I can rip them up easily. I swear at one time the worm were loving the cup protectors more than the food. I think there might be a lot of starch as a bonding agent for these things.

    I'm almost tempted to have starbucks put an extra can for the cup protectors (suppose to be one time use - I assume some liability thing), when people through them away. At very least these cardboard protectors should be recycled. Be cool to take these home. Just going to the garbage can with regular folks.

  • Kelly_Slocum

    The largest vermicomposting operation in the US, Pacific Landscape Supply in Vernalis CA, used to use cardboard/paper sludge exclusively as their feedstock (they now include small amounts of vegetable, mostly tomato, waste), and the worms in their 75 acres of uncovered outdoor windrows thrived on it. On various internet sites paper sludge has long been erroneously assumed to be the same thing as shredded paper or carboard, however, and this has led to a great deal of confusion.

    Paper/cardboard sludge is comprised of the unusable short fibers dredged from the settling tanks during the paper/cardboard recycling process. This material is saturated with the high N glues used to hold together cardboard corrugations, thus, it is actualy higher in N than is shredded paper or even shredded cardboard alone. The (relatively) high N content coupled with the small particle size of the solid bits in the sludge give ample food and surfaces on which microorganisms can grow, and it is these microorganisms that make the sludge a good feedstock for worms. Further, the Pacific Landscape Supply facility sits on a very exposed old airforce base in Vernalis under the bright sun in summer and in the cold in winter, and the site is extremely windy year round. The paper sludge forms a crust on the surface of the windrows that allows gas exchange while protecting the material beneath from drying, from extremes of cold, and the worms from light pollution. Thus, paper sludge feedstock works very well in Vernalis CA at this windy, sun-drenched, winter-freezing outdoor vermicomposting facility.

    What most of us use in our home worm bins is simply shredded paper and/or cardboard, which is not soaked in high N glue-filled water and has much larger particle size than does paper/cardboard sludge. Further, many people, when referring to cardboard actually mean paperboard (cereal boxes and sixpack cartons), and paperboard has none of the glues found in corrugated that help to amplify the N necessary to promote the microbial growth that maximizes worm activity. Further still, the environmental advantages of paper/cardboard sludge (crusting, insulating and such) which make sludge advantageous to Pacific Landscape are not realized in our home worm bins. Thus home-shredded paper and cardboard are not generally found to be ideal as the exclusive food source in a home worm bin if the goal of the system is to maximize worm activity/population.

    Now, having said all this, shredded paper, paperboard and cardboard make excellent bedding materials in a home worm bin by virtue of their wonderfully tough structure, which keeps space in the material, enabling free gas exchange; and their ability to hold moisture, helping to maintain humid conditions in the bin, and ability to absorb excess moisture, helping to prevent free water from displacing oxygen in the spaces between OM particles in the system. Further, those actually using corrugated cardboard get the added benefit of the N in the glues used to seal together the corrugations. We will often find worms massing in the corrugations of this cardboard, enjoying the moist, insulated conditions.

    Lastly, When talking about suitable feedstocks we need to ensure we are on the same page as to how "suitable" is defined. If the question is whether or not worms can process a feedstock comprised exclusively of shredded paper/cardboard then the answer is a resounding yes. It will take longer than it does to process a bin of, say, veggie wastes, and the worm biomass will be mush smaller than is found in a veggie waste bin, but they will be able to process paper alone provided their moisture, oxygen and temperature requirements are met. If by "suitable" one means a feedstock sufficient to support a large worm population then the answer is no, there is insufficient N in paper/cardboard shreds alone to support the massive and diverse microbial communities that support large worm populations.

    So, use that cardboard, paperboard and shredded paper in your bin, but make sure you understand how it is best used to ensure that your goals for you worm bin are being met.

    Make sense?


  • joefalco

    As an experiment I think I am going to try taking my 55 gallon barrel and filling it with pieces of torn cardboard (from the furniture store) not cereal boxes or paper.

    Then I will wet it let it sit for a couple of weeks and add worms,

    Are there any derails I have left out of this experiment?

    I am curious to see if they worms can live and multiply in such and environment and see how much they multiple.

    This might not be very scientific since I don't have any other barrels to compare it to but it will answer the questions if worms can take care of large amounts of cardboard,

  • billr12

    Remember if you use cardboard only you will have to add moisture. If they dry out to much it probably would be very bad for the worms. I like the thought though. Let us know what happens in the coming months.

  • billylee258

    So...any follow up on how the worms did with cardboard? I was thinking of doing a similar experiment. I currently have a bucket of shredded cardboard soaking in canned fruit juice/syrup (the stuff I usually dump down the drain) another soaking in a bucket with water and coffee grounds, and another is simply just cardboard.

  • hummersteve

    To each his/her own. I use a little cardboard but probably more paper . Recently I thawed out my last frozen watermelon rinds there was several pounds of it and I divided between my plastic bins and my 360 , they finished it off in a few days. I had a freezer full of the stuff from summer , makes a great winter time snack/treat and maybe meal, haha.

  • chuckiebtoo

    I use a little cardboard and a lot of newspaper. There are always unwanted critters (like silverfish and roach-like varmints) in the bins with cardboard much more so than in bins with only shredded newspaper.


  • PRO

    Sort of like sending your little vermicomposting friends on vacation to a tropical island.

  • weedlady

    Billylee, the "fruit juice/syrup" you use in your bins... if it is sugary I would think that would not be good for worms, but I have nothing to back up my gut reaction.

    As for hummersteve's mention of watermelon rinds, - oh, boy, any kind of squash (cooked or raw) or melon (actually any of the cucurbit family, including cucumbers) seems to be my herd's very favorite treat, judging by how quickly it disappears! The netted outer shell of cantaloupe is all that gets left behind in the bin from that fruit, and (thrifty [read:cheap!]) crafter that I am, I use those bits mixed in with my homemade paper for an interesting visual texture! LOL)

  • sbryce_gw

    I think the syrup would be fine. I say try it out and see how the worms respond.

  • mendopete

    Regarding syrup, I think worms will love it, but beware of ants. If you don't care, It does not matter.

    I have soaked cardboard in diluted AVCT to "pre-treat" it. The squirm responded well. I have also mixed cardboard with the tea strainings with EXCELLENT results. The worms love the tea left-overs.

  • PRO

    "netted outer shell of cantaloupe is all that gets left behind in the bin from that fruit, and (thrifty [read:cheap!]) crafter that I am, I use those bits mixed in with my homemade paper for an interesting visual texture!" Way cool.

  • BluButterfly323

    Cardboard is great for a multitude of reasons. Corrugated woven cardboard provides those little holes the worms love to "love" in. And cardboard doesn't charge an hourly rate for all that sex either! My worms LOVE snarffing down the cardboard more than paper scraps. I read somewhere that the glue used is pretty tasty. (I guess someone licked) My bin stays fresher and maintains safer moisture. I don't drill holes in the bottom of my bin, so moisture control is paramount.

  • BluButterfly323

    Cardboard is great for a multitude of reasons. Corrugated woven cardboard provides those little holes the worms love to "love" in. And cardboard doesn't charge an hourly rate for all that sex either! My worms LOVE snarffing down the cardboard more than paper scraps. I read somewhere that the glue used is pretty tasty. (I guess someone licked) My bin stays fresher and maintains safer moisture. I don't drill holes in the bottom of my bin, so moisture control is paramount.

  • hummersteve

    As for cardboard if yours have any cellophane /scotch tape remove those or you will find them in the worms disposable waste basket .

    Ive started breaking down leftover from broccoli in the garden, including the plants , stalks anything, chopping them up, washing them down , then freezing to kill any unwanteds that still might be there. Then later that will go into my juicer puree mixed in with everything else. I see no reason why all the greens , plants from the garden cant be used in that way. Are there any plants that should not go in the bin?

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