“Black Gold” is worm castings or vermicompost (vermicast), that “dark, odourless, nutrient- and organically rich, soil mud granules that make an excellent soil conditioner“.
So, you’d like to convert your kitchen waste into organic fertilizer using worms (vermicomposting), but you also have a lot of paper to dispose of. Can you feed your African Night Crawler (ANC) worms with paper, so they become organic fertilizer, too?
The answer is Yes. In fact, ANC love paper! By the way, in the Philippines, many are using ANC for vermicompost as these worms are best suited in tropical places.
What kinds of paper? Here’s a list of what paper you can and cannot feed the worms:
- Mixed Paper.
- Can be fed to worms.
- White / Color paper, office paper, newspaper, junk mail, magazines, phone books, paperback and hard-covered books, paper board boxes including cereal / tissue / cracker boxes, etc.
- Be sure to soak for at least 3 days, with daily change of water, to eliminate/reduce ink. Black ink or colored ink will do.
- For books, Ok to feed but I suggest you give them away for others to read, instead of you feeding these to the worms. My grade school daughter has many school books after an academic year, and I do give some away. Those that have no takers and are thoroughly marked are recycled.
- Can be fed to worms.
- Examples are pizza box, product carton, balikbayan box, appliance delivery box, coffee/tea cup sleeve, egg carton, tissue cardboard roll.
- Please see guide below.
- Paper plate/bowl/cup/napkin.
- Can be fed to worms.
- I’ve seen some who shred and feed these directly to the worms (without soaking). However, if above have so much food waste, I suggest that you “rinse” them first, so as to avoid ants getting attracted to your worm bin. Of course, if you soak paper plate/bowl/cup, there’s no need to rinse them off, only take out the food waste first. Paper napkins can be shredded and fed directly to the worms.
- Glossy Magazines.
- To be honest, I’ve not tried feeding this to my worms yet, but if you have to, try shredding them small and soaking them for 7 days. Once they’re really soft, try feeding a small quantity first. If the worms eat them, then go ahead, feed the worms with glossy magazine. Otherwise, stop feeding the worms with glossy paper.
- Used toilet paper.
- Cannot be fed to worms.
- Human feces can be ridden with E. coli, and should never be in your worm bin nor in your garden.
You know already that it is not just a matter of throwing paper into the worm bin, as you would throw waste paper into your trash can.
Here are steps to convert paper as organic fertilizer using a vermicompost bin:
- Gather waste paper. Use paper mentioned above. The example below is a cardboard. (Btw, this is not an endorsement of the product).
- Shred paper into small pieces. Shredding is very time-consuming, I agree! It would be ideal if I owned a shredder, as this would be shredded in seconds. But a shredder is very expensive, and my current scale does not justify buying one. I do dream I’d grow to the level of being able to buy and recover the shredder investment! I tried not shredding the paper or carton, but it did not decompose well. Worse, some parts did not decompose at all. When I put it in the worm compost bin, it only attracted ants. Shredding is time-consuming, but a necessary step, I’ve learned.
- Soak paper in water, for at least a week for cardboard and 3 days for thinner paper. Be sure that all paper are submerged, and that you change the water every 2 days, otherwise, mosquitoes breed in it. Of course, I dispose the water directly to the soil. The regular change of water also cleanses the paper or carton from its ink. In case paper or carton is not soft and wet enough after 1 week of soaking, do continue soaking it for another week. I place the soaking paper under the shade so water doesn’t evaporate fast.
- Harvest semi-decomposed paper. Separate the semi-decomposed paper and water. Your paper or carton should look like this.
- Feed semi-decomposed paper to your worms. It’s alright if your paper is not fully drained of water.
- Water your worm compost bin everyday. Water will moisten paper, keep them soft for the worms to eat, and keep ants away from your bin. Also, worms will die if they are dry or not damp, because they, too, are composed mainly of water. Finally, check if your compost bin is draining excess water. Worms will also die if they drown or get flooded.
Please do these 6 steps along with activities how to make vermicompost, and you’ll be on your way to harvesting your worm castings or vermicompost (vermicast) organic fertilizer.
My African Night Crawler worms love semi-decomposed paper, perhaps because it is cool and easy to eat. As for me, I love to feed them with paper. Why?
- “Waste” paper is free.
- Since I grow ANC for their worm castings or vermicompost (vermicast) as fertilizer, I see paper not as a waste, but as a free resource. We do keep all paper at home. To dispose of paper to the landfill is like throwing away precious food.
- To recycle paper means reducing my garbage by 20-30%.
- There was a time when we had many product cartons at home, like a room of them. Having worms to convert all those paper were a great blessing for me.
- Paper is easy to prepare.
- Usually paper is clean, which makes them easy to prepare.
- Paper decomposes fast.
- When I run low of food for my worms (my kitchen waste in the compost bin takes 3-4 weeks to decompose and cool, until I’m able to feed them to my worms), paper is an easy go-to as it takes only 3-7 days to prepare them as substrate for the worms.
I joined “Vermicomposting – Worm Farming“, a closed private Facebook group composed of domestic (home) worm growers from all over the world. I looked through the questions posted that mentioned “paper”, and culled some highly relevant answers (contributors are credited). This Q&A from other parts of the world might be helpful to you.
- Can i use paper that i use in my copier? or is newspaper better? (Chris Potter)
- I get shredded paper from a local office… been using it for years… if the bacteria will attack it… they will eat it. (Lorraine H. Dick)
- I gave them some cup cake papers and they devoured them… also biodegradeable coffee or soup containers have been devoured except for a thin liner. (Lorraine H. Dick)
- non-glossy paper (no magazines) I’ve been told, and I have avoided…. However it’s worth a note that when I shred those little ‘windowed’ envelopes accidentally, the worms simply eat around the plastic and I pick it out when I harvest (Tom Soptional)
- I use magazines in my flower beds, and newspaper in my food beds. (Rosalinda Baldwin)
- IMO corrugated cardboard is best for Urban vermicomposters. Time release food when it soaks up food waste juices. But I mix in plenty of junk mail. I just stay away from glossy paper because of heavy metals. (Steve Bichlmeier)
- I added cow manure with hay yesterday, and this morning the shredded paper was covered with ants. I was able to remove the paper and took most of the ants out. I went back about 5 hours later, and I did see one ant. I was able to kill it. I placed a piece of white paper towel on top of the compost, and I hope to check back to remove more of them. (Gwendolyn Jewel Rafter)
- ants are usually a sign the bedding is too dry. Moisten it and disturb the ants, they will leave. (Brian Donaldson)
I’d appreciate your feedback and progress. Good luck to us!
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