First thing, I like the system. Second, I had heard/read somewhere that the worms are actually eating the microbes that are eating the food scraps...and that they live symbiotically.
Talking with a friend the other day this was confirmed. In a way I knew this, but had discarded the information for some reason. So...here goes with what I am seeing and trying to use the correct verbage to describe everything.
My worms seemed stressed around week three. At this time I also noticed that most of the original bedding had been processed. I tried more fresh cabbage, steamed, then cooled, as that seemes to get a lot of activity, feeding going. That helped, but they still seemed "off".
I realized that they were most likely living in their own castings at this point. (That's bad, living in their own waste). The tray was 3/4 full when first set-up and now was approximately 1/2 full, volume wise. I decided to mix up some more bedding for them. I removed the shredded paper from the top of the tray and added a mix of 85% finished compost 50/50 with super finely shredded paper. Replaced shredded paper on top and added more, as half was processed already. I also place one layer of whole newsprint on top to help with moisture.
Everything seems great again. Fat worms, lots of activity and seeing them throughout the tray. The tray is about 3/4 full again right now. I dug a little where I saw the least amount of worms and found that the bottom 1/2 of the tray was pretty much all castings.
The fastest way to get castings, from what I have seen so far, seems to keep the system fed with 75-85% finished compost mixed 50/50 with finely shredded paper. The 50% paper could be a mix of paper and/or coir if you have it. The kit came with some fairly finely crushed pumice. I added some with the first bedding mix and cannot find anymore in the tray, so added some more with the second batch of bedding as well. I have also read that Azomite can be dusted in the trays and the worms use this material like a chicken does grit.
I am still feeding produce scraps, but am only feeding my worm bin about half of what my family of four produces in compostable material. The other half is going to my compost bin. What I feed the bin either gets finely chopped, or ran through the food processor and then I usually microwave it with some water for two minutes, let cool and then add to bin. Since it is the microbes that are eating the food, then making the material as small as possible helps them consume it. Also, nuking it helps kick start the decomposition process, thus making it edible faster for the microbes.
I need more time to make an educated statement of fact, but my gut feeling is you can support more worms by breaking down the food as much as possible before adding. Basically you are feeding the microbes, that the worms then feed upon, so make the scraps as bio available as possible for the microbes.
When I was just adding raw food scraps it took a long time for them to get broken down/processed. Carrot peels, egg shells, etc...all seemed to take quite a of time to get "eaten". Because of this I think my original pound of worms were not getting enough to eat. They were obviously not thriving. Now that I have made the scraps more processed/easier to eat by the microbes, now my worms have more microbes to eat and are doing noticably better.
As a side note, another thing I realize I was doing wrong at first was not adding more carbon, as I added more nitrogen. The nitrogen being my food scraps. Remember to add some finely shredded paper (moistened) at least every other time you add some food scraps.
I am not getting any worm tea. None. At this point I do not know if this is a good sign, a bad sign or just the way my bin is running. I mist the tray with a spray bottle every day to help keep the moisture level correct. If you put you finger into the bedding/castings it feels moist like a rich, dark crumbly soil should feel. More to follow as I research this some more.
My goal is to make castings and to harvest enough worms to sell a couple and use some for bait. I can process food scraps through my rabbits or my compost bins. I want castings. That being said I intend to copy how I see commercial worm farmers running their operations and continue to feed a mix of not quite finished compost and finely shredded paper. To date that has kept my worms the happiest. The microbes and worms seem to plow right through that mix and make castings the fastest this way.
Two thoughts to anyone setting up a Worm Factory right now. If your goal is to process food scraps only start with 1/2lb of worms per tray. More and they might starve to death. So buy a pound and start two trays, or find somewhere that will sell a half pound. Second, remember to add carbon (namely paper) with your nitrogen (veggie scraps) to keep your system running well.
I need to say thanks to Jason Akers for helping me verbalize some of what I was thinking and reminding me of a couple of things. Namely correctly stating the microbe/worm relationship correctly and to remember to add carbon with the nitrogen.
Good luck worming, more to come in the future (to include some pics) and Semper Fi!