Can I Add Worms to My Compost Tumbler?

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It seems like every time I hang out on composting forums I see the same question being asked over and over, “my compost tumbler seems slow, should I add worms?” It’s not a bad question, it really isn’t. It’s totally understandable for someone who knows very little about compost tumblers or worms to ask the question. So let’s jump into it and discuss why you should probably be keeping your compost tumbler worm-free.

Adding worms to your compost tumbler is not recommended. The tumbling action and heat inside the tumbler will kill the worms. If they do survive, the situation is not suitable for them to breed or decompose anything.

At least, that’s the short version of it. The reason question is, why do you want to add worms to your tumbler, and since it’s ineffective, is there something else we can do to get the same results?

Why you shouldn’t include worms in your tumbler:

The main reason to forgo including worms in your compost tumbler is that they are unnecessary. Composting in a tumbler is one of the fastest methods there is and there is very little that worms have to offer, at least in this scenario. I know I touched on these above, but here is the non-cliffs version of why you shouldn’t be adding worms to your tumbler:

  • They’ll die. When worms are faced with excessive heat, they escape down deeper into the ground. In a hot compost pile, for example, you won’t find worms in the area that is hot. They will be chilling in the cool areas and eating what they want. In your tumbler, there is no escape and the worms will likely cook and just become part of the compost (albeit a smelly part). Also, while worms are hardy, the tumbling action will not do them any favors either.
  • They’ll be uncomfortable. Say your worms do survive, what would you want for them? Probably the same thing every other worm-parents wants: you want them to eat garbage and breed. Unfortunately, worms only breed when they’re comfortable. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, it’s true to say that they won’t be reproducing it a place that is inhospitable and getting turned out its head every couple of days.

So, could you add worms to your tumbler? Yes, if you wanted to keep it in the shade and not rotate it you might get away with it. However, that would do away with the entire point of owning a tumbler so I wouldn’t recommend it.

What to do instead of worms

If you want to add worms to your tumbler to speed things up, there are several things you can do to make compost faster. While a tumbler has the potential to be one of the fastest methods of composting available its advantages can be nullified if you don’t get some basic stuff right.

  • Shred your compost. Compost tumblers are already limited on space so if you’re trying to add branches, large bushels of leaves, etc. you’ll be out of real estate quickly. If you can come up with a way to get the compost you add into smaller pieces first it will speed up your composting and minimize the space it takes up.
  • Heat up your tumbler. Most tumblers can not hold a sufficient mass of ingredients to really heat up on their own. So, while most people recommend having a compost pile in the shade (to prevent it from drying out) you should make sure yours is getting some sun. Don’t get it roasting hot inside but keeping it hot and moist will keep your microbial community thriving.
  • Don’t turn it too often. Turning your tumbler too often ensures that your bacteria can form their networks and produce the heat necessary for rapid decomposition. Turning your tumbler every 3 days or so if sufficient to provide the oxygen needed.
  • Add a booster. The majority of the break-down-work that is done in a tumbler is done by bacteria. It follows that the more bacteria you have working for you, the more they will get done (as long as they’re fed). Using a homemade compost booster/accelerator will give the number of bacteria in your tumbler a huge boost. You can find the recipe we use here.

All of the above items will be way more effective than adding worms to your compost tumbler with two added benefits: they’re free and you won’t become a worm-murderer.

Adding a worm bin into your compost system

If, however, you’re looking for an excuse to buy worms (maybe you saw this awesome video of them eating a pumpkin) then they can definitely have a place in your composting system as a whole. Adding a worm bin into your compost plan can help you diversify the types of things your compost and get each batch finished much faster.

Some of the major advantages of adding a worm bin (as opposed to adding worms to your tumbler) include:

  • You can compost food scraps more easily
  • There is less smell. Vermicomposting is an excellent method of dealing with things that would typically add smell to your compost. Worms are voracious and, if you keep things covered in your bin, they can be consumed without ever rotting or developing a significant smell.
  • You can compost a larger volume of material. This is fairly obvious, but having an additional avenue for composting can give you an exponential increase in the amount of compost that you are able to create.

Vermicomposting is an excellent addition to any existing set-up. If you are a beginner, buy a compost tumbler and figure that out first. But when you’re ready to take it to the next level (or just branch out, get yourself of red wrigglers.

Conclusion

So while you shouldn’t go adding worms to your tumbler, you should add some worms into your composting system as a whole. If you need a place to buy worms online, I’ve had excellent experiences with these guys who provide both live worms and a wide variety of bins/worm set-ups.

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