Worm composting is a great way to reduce waste and enrich your soil for a flourishing garden. But have you ever considered the little creatures that make this process possible?
Red wiggler worms, also known as Eisenia fetida, are the unsung heroes of worm composting.
Red wiggler worms are the most common composting worm and can consume their entire body weight in organic matter every single day!
Red wiggler worms for composting are so beloved by gardeners and farmers alike that they have been domesticated and bred commercially for a variety of uses.
Red Wigglers in Composting
Worm composting with red wiggler worms is called Vermicomposting.
It is a process of using composting worms, called red wigglers, to break down organic waste materials such as food scraps, paper, and yard waste into nutrient rich compost.
Red worms consume the organic matter and excrete worm castings, which are rich in nitrogen and other essential nutrients, creating a high quality fertilizer for plants.
Red Wigglers are particularly effective at breaking down food scraps, paper, and yard waste. They also reproduce quickly making them perfect for worm composting.
Red Wigglers – What Are They and Where Do They Come From?
Red wigglers are a species of earthworm that is native to Europe. They were accidentally introduced to North America in the 1700s through the importation of plants and soils.
Red wiggler worms are also known as manure worms or red worm due to their preference for organic materials such as compost, manure, and decaying organic matter.
Red wigglers are smaller than the typical earthworm, with mature specimens growing to be about 3 inches long.
Can Garden Variety Earthworms Be Used In A Compost Bin, Instead Of Red Wigglers?
While both earthworms and red wigglers are capable of breaking down organic material and producing nutrient rich compost, they are not interchangeable in vermicomposting systems.
There are several reasons why earthworms are not typically the best worms used for vermicomposting:
Earthworms are not well adapted to the conditions found in vermicomposting bins but they will love to rummage around in the compost pile.
Red wigglers are better suited to the high density, high moisture environment of worm farms, whereas garden worms prefer more open, drier soils.
Red wiggler worms are much more efficient than earthworms at converting organic waste into compost.
Red wigglers can consume up to half their body weight in organic waste each day, while earthworms consume much less.
Red wigglers reproduce much more quickly than garden worms, making it easier to start and maintain a healthy population in a worm bin.
Earthworms are less tolerant of acidic conditions than red wigglers. They may struggle to survive in a vermicomposting bin that has not been carefully balanced to maintain a neutral ph.
While earthworms are incredibly useful for improving soil quality in outdoor garden settings, they are not well suited to vermicomposting systems designed for indoor or small scale composting.
Red wigglers for composting have been specifically bred and selected for their ability to thrive in these conditions, and are an ideal choice for those looking to start a vermicomposting bin at home.
Benefits of Red Wigglers in the Veterinary World
The medical benefits of red wigglers are well known by veterinarians.
They are often used as a source of nutrition and protein for animals such as chickens, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.
Their mucus contains natural antibiotics which have been observed to have therapeutic potential.
Studies have found that red wiggler mucus has antimicrobial activity against strains of bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus.
How to Care for Red Wigglers at Home
Composting with red wigglers is a straightforward and rewarding experience.
First, you will need a container that will serve as their home. This could be a simple wooden box or a specialized worm farm kit available at garden centers or online.
Next, add a bedding material such as shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard or coco coir to the container. The bedding serves as insulation and a source of food for your red wigglers.
Then add your red worms to the bedding and give them time to explore their new home. For detailed information about bedding in worm farms – what is best to use and also information about the things that can go wrong, with worm bedding, for example the moisture level in the worm farm.
Feed your composting worms regularly with organic kitchen material such tea bags, crushed egg shells, fruit waste and vegetable scraps or decomposing dead leaves and vegetation.
Avoid giving them food sources of foods you eat, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy which can attract pests. Make sure to keep the bedding moist, but not wet.
Common Diseases Affecting Red Wiggler Worms
Red wigglers are hardy creatures, but like all creatures, they are susceptible to certain diseases.
One common ailment is when worm bins become too acidic. This can cause skin irritation and eventual death.
Prevent this by monitoring the pH level of your worm bin and adding materials to balance the acidity.
Another common issue that affects red wiggler worms is temperature extremes.
Red wiggler composting worms thrive in temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
In extreme heat or cold, it’s important to move your composting worm bin indoors where they will protected form weather extremes.
Fortunately a worm bin can quite happily exist indoors.
Measuring The pH Level Of Your Worm Farm
To measure the pH levels of a worm farm, you can use a pH meter or pH test strips ).
A properly maintained worm bin should have a pH measurement between 6.0 and 7.0, which is perfect for many types of composting worms .
Tips for Increasing Your Worm Population
If you want to increase your worm population, there are a few things to consider.
Red wigglers prefer a high carbon to nitrogen ratio in their bedding and food, so adding materials such as newspaper, cardboard, and leaves can help.
This article gives more information about materials that are carbon and nitrogen to give you an idea of what you can use.
You can also feed your red worms actively, by placing the food on top of the bedding rather than burying it.
When the bottom food source is gone, your worms will follow it to the top, making it easier to check on them and add to their food supply.
How To Separate Mature Worms For Breeding
To separate mature red worms from the rest of the population to encourage breeding, you can follow these steps:
Collecting Mature Worms
First, you’ll need to identify mature red worms from the overall worm population. Red wigglers for composting are typically larger, darker in color, and have a more defined clitellum (a swollen band around their body). You can gently pick them out by hand.
Create an environment that is conducive to breeding. Ensure the bedding material is suitable, such as moist shredded newspaper, coconut coir, or compost. Red worms prefer warm temperatures (around 59-77°F or 15-25°C) and a pH level close to neutral (around 7). Don’t place the worm bin in direct sunlight.
Use separate containers for the mature worms you’ve collected. These containers can be bins or boxes, preferably with a lid to maintain moisture and regulate the temperature. Make sure the containers have sufficient ventilation to prevent stagnation.
Food And Maintenance
Provide ample food for the mature worms in their designated containers. Red worms thrive on organic waste such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells. Regularly maintain the bedding by adding fresh materials and removing any uneaten food.
Time And Patience
Give the mature worms time to adapt to their new environment. It may take a few weeks for them to adjust and start reproducing. During this period, monitor the conditions and make any necessary adjustments to ensure their well-being.
Red worms lay tiny lemon-shaped cocoons that contain multiple worm eggs.
Once you notice the presence of these cocoons in the breeding containers, you can either leave them undisturbed, or if you want to promote population growth in a different location, carefully collect the cocoons and transfer them to another suitable container or compost bin.
By following these steps, you can encourage the breeding of mature red worms and foster the growth of a healthy population.
Remember that worms are sensitive creatures, so maintaining a proper environment and handling them gently will ensure their well-being and successful reproduction.
Turning The Waste into Compost with Red Wigglers
Finally, the ultimate goal of owning a red wiggler worm farm is to turn your organic waste into nutrient-rich compost.
As the worms consume the materials in your worm bin, they leave behind worm castings, a nutrient-dense by product that is prized by gardeners.
In addition to its rich nutrient content, worm castings also contain beneficial microbes that improve soil health and suppress plant diseases.
To utilize your own worm compost castings, simply add them to your garden soil or make a “compost tea” by steeping them in water and applying to plants as a fertilizer.
Making Compost Tea
To make compost tea, you can follow these general steps:
Fill a bucket or container with dechlorinated water.
Add compost to a mesh bag or directly to the water. The ratio of compost to water should be about 1:4.
Add a food source for the microorganisms, such as molasses or kelp meal. As a general guideline, a common ratio is 1 tablespoon of molasses or kelp meal per 1 gallon of water.
However, it’s important to avoid overfeeding the microorganisms, as this can lead to imbalanced microbial populations and potential harm to plants.
It’s recommended to start with a smaller amount of food source and adjust as needed based on the results
Let the mixture steep for 1-3 days, stirring occasionally.
Strain the mixture through a mesh screen or cheesecloth.
Dilute the compost tea with water at a 1:10 ratio.
Use the compost tea to water plants or apply it as a foliar spray.
Buying Red Worms
We can buy red worms, the most common composting worm, from online stores, local nurseries, or other vermicomposting enthusiasts.
When selecting red worms, we should look for healthy, active worms with a shiny, moist appearance.
We can also check the bedding material to make sure it is not too wet or too dry. If the bedding is wet and smells bad, it may indicate that the worms are not healthy or that the bin is too wet.
If the bedding is dry and dusty, it may indicate that the bin is too dry or that the worms are not getting enough moisture.
How Many Worms?
The ideal number of worms for a vermicomposting bin depends on the amount of organic matter we want to compost.
As a general rule of thumb, we should add half a pound of worms to one pound of manure worms or red wigglers per square foot of surface area in the bin.
For example, if our bin is 2 feet by 3 feet, we should add 6 pounds of worms. However, we can also start with fewer worms and gradually add more as the population grows.
Red wiggler worms are fascinating creatures with incredible abilities that make them valuable additions to any garden, farm, or home.
By providing red worms with the right conditions and food, they will happily compost food scraps and you can enjoy their benefit of using worm castings, while contributing to a sustainable lifestyle.
As we look for ways to reduce waste and create healthy soils, gardening with red wigglers is a proven and rewarding way to do our part for the planet.