Red worms for composting

Worms And Vermicomposting: Best Types Of Worms For Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a quick, efficient way to convert kitchen scraps into a rich soil amendment using earthworms. Vermicompost worms break down organic matter, such as kitchen scraps, into waste products called castings. Although castings may be waste to the worms, they are a rich treasure for gardeners. Vermicompost is richer in essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium than traditional compost. It also contains microbes that help plants grow.

Can Any Type of Earthworm be Used for Vermicomposting?

The best types of worms for vermicomposting are red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and redworms (Lumbricus rubellus). These two species make great worms for the compost bin because they prefer a compost environment to plain soil, and they are very easy to keep. Worms that feed on vegetable waste, compost, and organic bedding produce richer casting than those that feed on plain soil.

You won’t find red wigglers in garden soil. You may find redworms near compost, under rotting logs, and in other organic situations. The problem is identifying them. You won’t be able to tell the difference between Lumbricus rubellus and other worms, so it’s best to buy them. If you don’t have a local supplier, you can order them on the Internet. It takes one pound of worms (1,000 individuals) to start a good-sized compost bin.

Worms and vermicomposting bins don’t smell, so you can keep worms indoors year round. It’s a great way to use up your kitchen scraps and the kids will enjoy helping out with the worm farm. If you choose the right vermicomposting worm types and feed them regularly (about one-half pound of food scraps per pound of worms per day), you’ll have a steady supply of vermicompost for your garden.

Which Worms Are Best For Composting?

Test Your Worm IQ!

Written by guest Author Jerry Gach, also known as The Worm Dude, a professional worm breeder for Santa Clara County, Alameda County and San Mateo County

The ancient Egyptians knew that soil loaded with earthworms was extremely fertile, as Earthworm’s were the barometer of soil health. Lots of worms = Lots of crops.

Fast forward to the 21st century….Worms are more in vogue now than ever. Classes on composting with worms (Vermicomposting) have become increasingly popular, as we realize that if we don’t start taking care of Mother Earth, she will not be able to take care of us.

Most of us think all worms are alike….and most of us would be wrong!

There are literally thousands of species of worms, but only a few are used commercially.

COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE WORMS AND THEIR SCIENTIFIC NAMES:

Canadian Nightcrawler: Lumbricus Terrestris

Red Wiggler: Eisenia Fetida

European Nightcrawler: Eisenia Hortensis

African Nightcrawler: Eudrilus Eugeniae

Alabama Jumper: Amynthas Gracilus

We’ve categorized these commercially available worms into three types, based on the performance of each species. Some worms will fall into two categories, but we’re yet to see one multipurpose worm that can be used across all categories:

TYPES OF WORMS:

Fishing Worms

Composting Worms

Garden Aeration Worms

COMPOSTING WORMS:

Though all of the commercial worms can be used for fishing, not all of them make good composting worms. Composting worms share the following qualities:

Surface dwellers: Top 12 inches

Voracious: Swarm Food

Fast Reproduction: Can double in population every 3-4 months in optimum conditions

Ability to survive in captivity: Very Good

Canadian Nightcrawlers are not considered composting worms. If there was an anti composting category, these worms would set the standard. Canadian Nightcrawlers are deep diggers, do not swarm food, are not particularly fast at reproducing, and are difficult to maintain.In captivity, keep them in the refrigerator.

Red Wigglers are the KINGS of composters, and are the most commonly used worms for Vermiculture and Vermicomposting in the world. Red Wigglers set the standard for composting worms.

European Nightcrawlers are good composters, but a little less voracious than Red Wigglers.

African Nightcrawlers are every bit as voracious as Red Wigglers, but their cold temperature sensitivity reduces demand for these worms for all but the serious Vermiculturist.

Alabama Jumpers are considered very poor composters. Preferring leaf litter to kitchen scraps, these worms tend to prefer living in soil rich in organic matter.

to buy composting worms.

GARDEN AERATION WORMS:

Canadian Nightcrawlers make poor aeration worms. Their preference for living in a single deep hole eliminates them from this category.

Red Wigglers are sometimes advertised falsely as soil worms. Their natural habitat is your local manure pile and/or compost pile. Because their skin is relatively thin, and their strength marginal, these worms perform poorly at aerating soil.

European Nightcrawlers have similar characteristics as Red Wigglers, and as such, do not perform well in the dirt.

African Nightcrawlers are better suited for compost bins then dirt. Their preference for warmer temps, and their relatively thin skin makes these worms best suited for a sheltered composting environment.

Alabama Jumpers are the KINGS when it comes to aerating the garden. Their thick skin allows them to live in soil ranging from sandy to heavy clay. With a preference for leaf litter or compost, these worms are easily propagated in the garden.

FISHING WORMS:

Canadian Nightcrawlers are the KING of fishing worms. Why? Because fisherman are convinced that bigger is better. Canadians are BIG…about 100 per pound. Picked at night from Farms in the Northern United States and Canada, these worms are deep diggers, living in holes down to six feet. Because of their preference for cool climates, Canadian Nightcrawlers are best kept under refrigeration.

Red Wigglers are commonly used for panfish bait. Weighing in at about 1/10th the weight of Canadian Nightcrawlers, these are the perfect size for small fish.

European Nightcrawlers are the larger cousins of the Red Wiggler. At about 3x the size of the Red Wiggler, these mid sized worms are the trout fisherman’s dream.

African Nightcrawlers are longer than European Nightcrawlers, but thinner. Unlike Canadian Nightcrawlers that like cool temps, these worms perform best at 70 degrees or more, making them the perfect fishing worm for warm waters.

Alabama Jumpers are the strongest of all of the commercial worms. These are EXTREMELY active worms. They also have the thickest skin of all the commercial worms, allowing them to stay on the hook for long periods of time.

Now you understand why all worms are not created equal. There is no “One best worm”. There are only qualities in worms that we harness for our benefit. Use the right worm for the job, and you’ll be very pleased with the outcome.

Still got questions? Email Jerry!

Are there any tips I need to know before I start identifying my earthworm?

Before you begin the identification process, here are a few important things that you should keep in mind:

  • Make sure your hands are moist and free of soap or lotion as these can irritate earthworms and make them difficult to handle
  • Keep a spray bottle of water around to moisten the earthworm and your hands when they become dry
  • Look for patterns instead of small details when you are looking for certain physical characteristics on your earthworm

How do I identify earthworms?

  1. Try to identify reproductive adults: those earthworms will have a well-defined clitellum. The clitellum is usually a different colour than the earthworm’s body and located close to the head of the earthworm. The clitellum is normally greyish-white, but it can also be bright orange within the same species. The bright orange colour indicates that the earthworm is in heat, and does not mean that this is a different species of earthworm.
  2. Follow through the illustrations on the Taxonomic Key until you have identified each adult. A detailed illustration showing all the external features of the earthworm, including a size chart, can be found on the General Earthworm Diagram. This diagram highlights all the physical features you’ll need to correctly identify your earthworms.

Remember:

Patterns are the key to identification! When identifying an earthworm, look at the patterns on its clitellum. The fine details are not as important, or even as clear, as stepping back to observe the general patterns. For example, the number of segments from the peristomium to the clitellum and the number of segments which make up the clitellum are species-specific in earthworms. This means that, if two earthworms have different numbers of segments to the start of the clitellum, they are different earthworm species.

How to use the Earthworm Taxonomic Key

The Earthworm Taxonomic key is organised as a flow chart. It starts with very basic characteristics and becomes more specific at each level. As you move down one branch of the flow chart, you will be eliminating earthworms and will be left with only a few earthworms from which to pick.

  1. Group adult earthworms together according to their size. Size can be established by using the size chart on the General Earthworm Diagram to decide whether you have a small, medium or large adult.To determine the length of your earthworm,
    1. Allow the worm to freely extend itself as if it was crawling
    2. Measure the maximum distance the earthworm covers when completely stretched out.

    At no time should you manually stretch an earthworm – this kind of stress can severely damage an earthworm.

  1. Once size is established, decide on the colour of the earthworm. When determining the colour of an earthworm, make sure that you are looking at the dorsal side (back side) of the earthworm. (The ventral side of most earthworms is colourless, and thus cannot be used in identification.)Pay particular attention to the colour between the head and the clitellum. This is where the majority of an earthworm’s pigmentation occurs.Though most earthworms have a solid coloration, some are striped. In our key, Eisenia foetida is the only striped species. It has red segments, and yellow intersegmental furrows. Therefore, if you come across a striped earthworm, you likely have this species.

  1. Flip the worm over to expose its underside (ventral view).Look for the position of the clitellum to the head (some species have the clitellum very close to their heads). Then examine the clitellum for genital tumescence (GT) (see figure 1) and the general pattern of the tubercula pubertatis (TP) (see figure 1) patterns.Examining fine details is not necessary when using the key. Instead, use the Taxonomic Key to examine the pattern on the clitellum. What is important is determining whether or not they are on alternating segments, or are they on consecutive segments.

    Here are some questions to guide you:

    • Are all the GT located inside the clitellum, or are some found outside the clitellum?
    • Are the TP shaped like triangles or bars?
    • Do the TP run the length of the clitellum or are they shorter than the clitellum?

    Be sure to use the Taxonomic Key, Field Guide and Anatomy pages for more detailed information and instructions on how to identify your earthworms.

  1. Once you have established the size, colour, and GT and TP patterns of your worm, follow your observations down the Taxonomic key as far as you can. Then you:
    1. Write the information (species name) on the Observation Form
    2. Identify an adult worm

    If you have an earth worm you cannot identify:

    1. Fill in the Observation Form with the information and title it ‘Unknown’
    2. Include a picture when you submit your Observations via the WormWatch website.
  1. Return all the earthworms to the soil in which you found them.You may find other earthworms that look the same as UNKNOWN #1 at other locations. Remember to:
    1. Always call this adult UNKNOWN #1 on the Observation Forms

Example of Steps 1, 2 and 3 of Identifying Worms Identification

Suppose you have collected a greenish tinged earthworm from a muddy garden.
You then:

  • Check its size by using the size chart on the General Earthworm Diagram
  • Find that it is small or medium (as size of this species depends on habitat)
  • Look at the underside of the clitellum
  • Find 3 pairs of small button-like (or sucker-like) GT along the fringe of the clitellum
  • Notice that these button-like GT are arranged on alternating sections

On the Taxonomic Key, a greenish earthworm, with button-like GT on alternating segments, is an Allobophora chlorotica.

Earthworms

There are 27 species of earthworm in the UK. We know they are the organic grower’s best friends. These pages will help you to understand the different types, where they live, and what they do. As Darwin wrote “(There are few) animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world than the earthworm.”

We also look at worm research – are worms affected by pesticides? How do they capture carbon, and how do they clean up contaminated soils.

And we hope you will take part in the great British Earthworm Survey! Earthworm Watch Your answers will increase our understanding of earthworm distribution, and how it is affected by the soil environment.

Why are earthworms important?

Organic growers love earthworms. Worms help create compost, they are food for the birds, and they are a natural way of improving the soil. They do this in three ways:

Improving soil structure Earthworms move through the soil creating burrows. This complex system of tunnels creates pores through which oxygen and water can enter and carbon dioxide leave the soil. Different types of earthworms make horizontal and vertical burrows, some of which can be very deep. A soil with plenty of worm burrows won’t flash flood. But these burrows are not just a good drainage and ventilation system. They are lined with aerobic bacteria and digested leaf litter, bonded by mucus secreted by the worm, providing rich nutrients for plant roots.

Worm casts (waste matter) also help to create a fine crumb structure of soil. These casts can contain 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphorus and 1000 times more beneficial bacteria than the original soil.

Helping decomposition of organic matter Earthworms play an important role in breaking down organic matter. This includes decaying leaves and roots, animal manure, as well as any material found in the compost bin. Their decomposition releases nutrients, and makes them available for use by plants. The worm helps this process by eating the organic matter, breaking it down into smaller pieces and thus allowing bacteria and fungi to feed on it to release the nutrients.

Earthworms also mix soil layers and incorporate organic matter into the soil. Charles Darwin referred to earthworms as ‘nature’s ploughs’. This mixing improves the fertility of the soil, as the organic matter is dispersed and the nutrients become available to bacteria, fungi and plants.

Supporting bacteria and fungi Where earthworms are present, not only are there are more bacteria and fungi, they are more active. These minute life forms release nutrients from organic matter, and are an important source of food in their own right for the many other animals that live in soils.

More about earthworms ….

There are three types of worms:

  1. Anecic earthworms are the most common earthworms in the UK. They are the largest species, often reddish brown, and they make permanent vertical burrows in soil. They feed on leaves on the soil surface that they drag into their burrows. They also cast on the surface, as often seen in grass. They make middens (piles of casts) around the entrance to their burrows

  2. Endogeic earthworms are pale coloured – pink, grey, green or blue – and make horizontal burrows through the soil to move around and to feed. Some can burrow very deeply in the soil.

  3. Epigeic earthworms don’t make burrows, but live on the surface of the soil – often in leaf litter and in compost. They rapidly consume the compost material, and reproduce very quickly. They are usually bright red or reddish-brown, and the compost worms in particular (known as brandling or tiger worms) are often stripy.

To help you identify worms in your garden, you can buy an excellent earthworm guide from the Field Studies Council. Here also is a full list of UK earthworm species. If you think you have found an invader – the New Zealand Flatworm – then you need to act promptly. These large worms destroy our native earthworms. See here for further information.

And here is the latest report of earthworm presence throughout the UK.

By the way, contrary to popular belief, it is not true that cutting a worm in half will result in the regeneration of two separate worms.

Further reading

Visit the Earthworm Society of Britain See their helpful FAQs, which include “How do I tell one end of worm from the other?” and “Why do worms come out after rain?”

Download this simple fact sheet on worms.

Watch these BBC videos on earthworms and this one which shows how the blackbird uses vibrations to tempt the worm out of the soil.

Further Research

Do worms help with carbon capture? This article explains how scientists in the US and China discovered that worms, though they release carbon dioxide from the soil into the air, actually capture (sequester) more CO2 than they release.

Are worms affected by pesticides? In short, yes. Not only can the toxic chemicals increase worm mortality, but also they affect the worms’ health, functioning ability and fertility. See also this research paper which looks at the impact of glyphosate on worms.

How do earthworms deal with soil contamination? They combine the metals, such as lead and zinc, with phosphorus or sulphur in special ‘compartments’ in their cells. This locks the metals into tiny pellets that come out in the worms’ poo, thus converting it into an insoluble form which is no longer toxic. This paper reveals that worms which live in highly toxic soils have evolved to accumulate more pollutants in their tissues than those that live in cleaner soils. This article explains the process .

Charles Darwin was fascinated by worms. His book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations of their Habits, sold 6000 copies in its first year, selling faster than On the Origin of Species when it was first published. His studies revealed that earthworms are indifferent to noise, but sensitive to vibrations – in a curious experiment involving a grand piano. Worms beside the piano didn’t move, despite loud playing, but those on top were agitated by the vibrations.

A lot of worm enthusiasts might ask how to vermicompost with nightcrawler worms? Well, there are actually two common types of nightcrawler worms, the European nightcrawlers and the African nightcrawlers. To know more about these two, let’s read on further below.

What is Vermicomposting?

Well, vermicomposting is actually a natural form of recycling organic wastes. You simply use worms to make this process run its course. These worms then turn these organic scraps into a rich black soil material, which you can later on use to supplement your plants and soil (amongst other benefits).

The European Nightcrawler

As previously mentioned, there are types of nightcrawler worms, and the European kind would be one of them. Now this nightcrawler type can still be used for composting. But it has been observed that gardeners prefer using red worms, over the Europeans worms, especially when it concerns vermicomposting. Although it can still be used for composting. They can still make for good composting worms by helping aerate and fertilize the soil. Other than that, they also help make burrows of tunnels, to allow air and water to flow into the system. They are also the best worms to make as fish bait. But other than that, they are also good as live worm food for a variety of birds, reptiles and amphibians.

African Nightcrawler

Amongst other nightcrawler types, the African nightcrawler is also a common one when it comes to composting. African nightcrawlers, also known as Eudrilus Eugeniae, is a very common commercial worm. It can be used as bait for fish, and also for composting. These African worms can be found in composting bins and worm farms; and can also produce its own batch of rich worm castings, just like Red Wiggler worms. It is through vermicomposting that worm composts are created. The worm composting process basically helps in the breaking down of decomposing organic materials (a blend of kitchen scraps and garden wastes). And just like the European worms, they too can produce an organic and nutrient-rich compost.
When raising nightcrawlers, you should know of their other contributions in the garden. You can simply rely on them to do the following things:

  • They help in the breaking down of organic wastes into a very valuable (black soil) compost, which can be used as an organic fertilizer for your plants and soil
  • They help improve the soil’s structure, as well as enhance the growth of plants
  • They help aerate the soil, which allows enough air and water to flow into the system (of your lawn or garden)
  • They also help a lot in the vermicomposting process by playing a big part in the recycling process

So, the next time you hear the question, how to vermicompost with nightcrawler worms? You should be able to supplement the answers soon after. And if you want to know more about the types of nightcrawlers, you may simply read on our previous article about it.

Uncle Jim’s recommends the European Nightcrawlers

You definitely won’t go wrong with our European Nightcrawlers! These Super Red Worms are easy to raise; and are heat and cold resistant. Other than that, they breed really fast; and are also great for using as fish bait. So buy your own batch with us today!
To know more about the product, check the European Nightcrawlers here.

Nightcrawler Question

This question comes from Mario. Like many other people, Mario is curious about various worms he has found in the ‘wild’. Here is what he had to say:

HI there!
I was recently searching for worms after a couple of rain days at church. There´s a lot of just dirt with a little of grass and some roses. To my surprise I found at least 60 worms, there very different from the red wigglers I recently purchased, my question is: are the worm I found on the moistured dirt, are they nightcrawlers? I realy dont have any idea what kind of worms they are, some of them are a little white with lots of veins on there body, some are thick and very
brownish. Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you very much, by the way your web site is one of the best I have found, probably top 10 on the web.

Wow – ‘top 10 on the web’?? I’ll assume you are talking about vermicomposting sites. Regardless, that is quite a compliment, Mario! Thanks very much.
🙂

You’ve asked a great question! I know a lot of people get somewhat confused when it comes to various species of earthworms. The wide array of common names floating around certainly don’t help the situation at all! You mentioned “nightcrawlers”. There are three different species of worm (that I know of) that are known as nightcrawlers. One of course is the European Nightcrawler (Eisenia hortensis) – a worm I’ve been talking about a lot, ever since starting my own euro worm bin. Then there is the ‘Canadian Nightcrawler’ (Lumbricus terrestris), also known as the ‘Dew Worm’. Finally, there is also an ‘African Nightcrawler’ (Eudrilus eugeniae).

Lets, chat very briefly about each.

The European Nightcrawler (Eisenia hortensis), also known as the ‘Belgian Nightcrawler’, is a larger cousin of the Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida). Like E. fetida, you won’t generally find this worm in ‘regular’ soil habitats, unless there is an accumulation of rich organic matter. The prime habitat for a worm like this is a compost heap or manure pile.

The Canadian Nightcrawler (Lumbricus terrestris) is a very large worm (unfortunately this picture doesn’t provide any perspective) that is very popular for fishing. Many people assume they can start up a worm bin with this species, but alas they are not well suited for this habitat at all! Dew Worms are deep soil burrowers, creating extensive tunnels down through numerous soil layers. During heavy rains, or on moist nights they often move to the surface to feed on organic materials (leaves, dead grass etc). They require cooler temperatures and far less crowded conditions than composting worms – as such, they won’t thrive within the confines of a household worm bin.

Like the European Nightcrawler, the African Nightcrawler (Eudrilus eugeniae) is another species of composting worm. It is native to certain tropical regions of the world, which makes it less tolerant of cool conditions (according to the scientific literature, this species will die if temperatures fall below 10C/50F), but it is apparently a very effective composting worm and breeds very rapidly under ideal conditions.

Back to your question, Mario…

It’s tough to say for sure what kind worms you found, other than to say that they are almost certainly ‘soil worms’ – i.e. species not well suited for worm composting. I’m not sure where you are located, but there is certainly a chance that there were Canadian Nightcrawlers among the worms you found, especially given your “thick and brownish” description for some of them.

Anyway, thanks again for the great question – hopefully my response has helped!

B.

African Night Crawler

The ANC (Eudrilus Eugeniae)

African Night Crawlers are native the warm regions of West Africa, but now vermicomposters in tropic and sub tropic climates all over the world are using them as composting and bait worms.

Due to their voracious appetites and ability to quickly reproduce African night crawlers are quickly gaining popularity with vermicomposters. However due to their warm weather roots ANCs are not able to tolerate the environmental conditions that red worms and European night crawlers can handle with ease.

African Night Crawler are a distinctive mix of a grey and purple color and grow to over twice the size of red worms, often reaching over 8 inches. If you are familiar with red worms one of the things you will immediately notice about the ANC is how large and muscular it is compared to the redworm. You may also be surprised at the large size of their castings.

African night crawlers are very desirable for vermicomposting, harvesting worm castings, and raising for bait worms. African night crawlers produce absolutely huge castings. There are some things you need to know before you try out African night crawlers so read up on the breed here on our ANC page.

Advantages of African Night Crawlers

Some worm farmers feel ANCs are a high maintenance breed. However lots of folks report that ANCs are a joy to work with and are really very happy with them. Of course the most important thing to keep in mind is their vulnerability to the cold, which is explained in detail in coming paragraphs.

African night crawlers have lots of characteristics that make them suitable for the worm farm. While not as tolerant to environmental changes as the European Night Crawler ANCs are still a valuable addition to the worm bin, this is especially true in warmer climates.

It is also reported that ANCs like to crawl and explore. If your ANCs start to escape their bin first make sure your bedding conditions are good. Then have a good tight lid on your bins and place a light above it to keep them under the bedding.

Typical of all composting, or vermicomposting, worms ANCs come up to the surface of their bedding to eat decomposing matter. So they thrive near the surface layer of top soil or bedding. African night crawlers literally gobble up decaying matter. Watching a few hundred ANCs feed on some fruit or vegetable scraps is an amazing thing, we have simply not seen any composting worm pounce on food in this way.

The tremendous appetite of the African Night Crawler makes them ideal for the compost bin and prolific worm casting (a.k.a. worm poop) producers; given the right environment. ANCs get much larger than red wigglers, over 8 inches is not uncommon. True to their size they eat a lot more than red worms and European night crawlers. Some estimates say the African can eat nearly 1.5 times it’s body weight each day.

Like any good composting worm African Night Crawlers are colony dwellers being content to live in close quarters with each other. This also ensures they reproduce quickly, another big plus for worm farmers. But like any night crawler; if you plan on raising ANCs as bait worms they will need extra room in order to plump up. And plump up they will; ANCs make excellent bait worms. Perhaps the greatest advantage for using the ANC as a bait worm is the fact they need no refrigeration. Most bait night crawlers must be refrigerated to be kept alive for any period of time; not the ANC.

Africans reproduce and grow quickly. Scientific research revealed that ANCs grow more quickly than red worms. Newly hatched Africans reach sexual maturity blindly fast, as worms go. In ideal conditions they become mature breeders in as little as 5 weeks. African night crawlers produce an average of up to 3.5 cocoons in a week. From each cocoon typically 2 hatchlings will emerge. So in about 20 a single African Night Crawler can produce nearly 175 offspring. Just keep in mind with any worm breed factors such as food, temperature, and moisture levels may greatly influence reproduction rates.

While the ANC may not be very cold tolerant it does have the advantage of being able to withstand high temperatures. African night crawlers will thrive in beds that are 70F to 85F (21C – 29C). Researchers report that ANCs can tolerate temperatures of 90 F. However we would not recommend letting the environment of African Night Crawlers get much higher than 90 F.

While we can’t offer any definitive proof it sounds as if the ANC can start to die off if the temperature gets much below 60F. There is some debate on this; however to play it safe at this time we simply can not recommend putting ANCs in beds that will get down into the 50’s. But this does not mean worm farmers living in cooler climates can’t raise ANCs. For those able to house African night crawlers indoors and monitor their bedding temperatures the African night crawler is still a good choice.
Just like all worms African night crawlers take in oxygen through their skin, so moist bedding material helps facilitate worm breathing. The moisture in your bins also helps breakdown bedding and vegetative matter into a mushy matter. This is accomplished by the microbes found naturally in worm beds. It is this liquidly mixture of decaying food and microbes that worms eat.

African Night Crawler Food

Put ANC’s in a vermicompost bin and watch your scraps of fruit and vegetables disappear. Africans are fairly easy to feed and care for. However, remember in order to keep a healthy worm farm there are some basic guidelines. Here we will cover what you should feeding your ANCs, and what not to feed them. This list is not your only option, but merely a starting point. Learn more about feeding worms here.

Do Feed:

  • Fruit Waste – Non Citrus (Apples, grapes, bananas, plums, peaches, pumpkin)
  • Vegetable Waste (carrots, lettuce, beans, peas, limited amounts of potatoes, leaf vegetables)
  • Egg shells – In moderation and best when crushed up a bit.
  • Coffee Grounds (Filters too) – An excellent worm food, but again in moderation
  • Tree leaves – Yes in moderation, stick to common species, avoid exotic tree leaves
  • Cardboard – Yes, shredded cardboard doubles as food and bedding.
  • Garden Waste – Bean stalks, pea vines, beet tops,
  • Starchy- Yes in moderations (Pasta, potatoes, rice, grains)
  • Aged animal manure – Yes, it’s best to stick with horse manure in the beginning.
  • Commercial worm food, (Worm Chow etc…) Just start sparingly to supplement

Do Not Feed:

  • Citrus fruit
  • Meat products
  • Dairy waste
  • Cooking oil or grease
  • Human waste
  • Pet waste

Now that you know all about African Night Crawlers find a good, (quality), supplier and order up a couple pounds and get worm farming.

Return to the top of our African night crawler page.

When it comes to the garden, leave it to the worms to be some of the hardest workers. While you may plant a few seeds and occasionally water, it’s the worms that are putting in the long hours and sleepless nights to ensure you have a fruitful crop.

Worms are great at composting too and can reduce the amount of work needed to turn your kitchen scraps into valuable fertilizer. But with so many worms out there, which one should you choose? Here we look at the main differences between red wiggler vs earthworm and which ones are best for composting.

Worms In The Garden

Worms are crucial to a garden’s health. They perform many specialized functions that keep our soil healthy and help our plants to thrive. Between red wrigglers and earthworms, you have a complete team of willing laborers that will help you get many of the more unpleasant garden tasks done without you having to lift a finger.

One of these worms is an excellent digger, capable of burrowing to depths of 6 feet or more! They tunnel ceaselessly through your garden bed, aerating the soil, its beneficial microorganisms, and all your plant’s roots. The other is a voracious eater of kitchen scraps and other organic waste. It can eat half of its weight in food each day and transmute it into organic fertilizer in a process known as vermicomposting.

Although it can be tough to tell them apart from looks alone, with a little worm knowledge you’ll be picking the right worm for your gardening needs in no time.

Common Earthworms: The Nightcrawler

After a rainstorm, you may notice that your yard is filled with common earthworms. Also known as nightcrawlers, this species of reddish-brown worms (Lumbricus terrestris) is well-known for being able diggers and eating dirt as they go along.

They get all the nutrition they need from the soil, leaving behind highly-fertile “castings” that help feed your plants. Their deep tunnels also bring air down into the soil, oxygenating plant roots and the microorganism that help to keep your soil healthy.

They tend to be more solitary and burrow up to half a foot underground. Not only can you collect them from your yard after the rain, but due to their large size, these are also the type of worm that is4h’ most commonly available from bait shops.

Here are some theories as to why earthworms come up during a rainstorm:

  • Earthworms get oxygen through their skin, and when their tunnels fill up with rainwater they need to come to the surface to be able to breathe.
  • They are able to more easily find each other and mate when they all emerge to the surface.
  • The moist surface allows them to move much faster, giving them the opportunity to travel greater distances during the rain.

Red Wigglers

These segmented worms can appear very similar to earthworms, but are usually smaller and have a red-purple hue to their skin.

The diet and behavior of red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) make them a great addition to a compost pile. Unlike nightcrawlers, they prefer to eat manure and decaying plant matter and will literally eat all your kitchens scraps.

Red wigglers can tolerate higher temperatures and tend to live closer to the surface in larger groups. They’re capable reproducing quickly and can form large populations in a matter of months.

Which Worms Do Best in a Compost Pile?

While both red wigglers and nightcrawlers are invaluable to gardeners everywhere, only red wigglers really belong in a compost pile. Unlike earthworms, red wigglers actually eat rotting organic material from the surface of the soil while earthworms eat already-composted soil that’s deep underground.

What this means for you is that if you stock a compost bid with red wigglers, you can simply put all your kitchen scraps and other plant matter right on the surface and the worms will come up to eat it. You also don’t have to worry about turning your compost, since these worms will eat from the top and spread their castings throughout the bin. Earthworms will, unfortunately, die in a worm compost bin from lack of food.

Compost piles can get hot. All those organisms working together to break down your kitchen scraps can produce a lot of heat, which in turn keeps the process going. Earthworms, however, don’t do well in hot environments and can actually hurt themselves as they try to get away from the heat. They’ll dig deeper and deeper, trying to find a way out of your compost bin, only to crash against a sealed bottom. Red wigglers do just fine in the heat and like to stay the surface of your bin.

Vermicomposting with red wigglers will also produce usable compost much faster other methods. You won’t have to wait for the plant matter to decompose on its own before heat and microorganism break it down. Your worms will take care of the whole process for you, giving you usable compost in three to six months.

How Many Red Wigglers Do I Need?

The number of compost worms you start out with depends on the size of your compost bin and the amount of food waste you need to be composted. Red wigglers can compost about half their body weight each day, meaning a pound of worms will compost around half a pound of food daily. If a pound of worms sounds like a lot, that’s because it is! It’s roughly 800-1000 worms!

Measuring how much food waste your family is producing daily will give you a rough idea as to how many worms you’ll need. If you notice the food isn’t being eaten quickly enough, cut back on how much you’re giving them or add more worms. If they’re devouring your food faster than you can produce scraps, take some worms out and share with friends.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned the differences between red wiggler vs earthworm and which ones do best in your compost bin, it’s time to get composting! You can usually get red wigglers at your local nursery or online, and a pound can cost anywhere between $20-$30. If 1000 worms sound like too much, start small. They’ll reproduce quickly and soon you’ll have all the worms you need.

Our Hero – The Red Worm

However, our own particular heroes – the more aggressive red manure worms, always remain near the surface , where they are to be found partying in heaps of animal dung, or wriggling around in layers of decaying leaf mould and other interesting plant detritus. Because they live at the surface they are “epigeic” (gk = above the earth) and as they eat plant detritus, they are “detritivorous”.

VERY ACTIVE COLONY OF EISENIA FOETIDAE

These highly active red worm colonies speed up the entire natural composting process, by many months, by literally chewing through heaps of dead organic material, whilst continually beneficiating the fertility of the resultant humus with the richness of their castings, which are eventually utilized enthusiastically by plants. Worm castings are an extremely good plant food as they are always rich in nutriments, minerals, beneficial microbes, enzymes and plant hormones. Beneficial microbes associated with vermicasts have been scientifically shown to directly reduce bacteriological pathogens in soils upon which the worm compost is spread.

The Role of Microbes in Vermiculture

The relationship between earthworms (including the various composting worms) and the aerobic microbes or bacteria that accompany them is one of nature’s most perfect examples of symbiosis. The worms have millions of beneficial bacteria associated with them, both externally, on their skin, in the mucus secretions that keep them moist and also swarming internally inside their gut.

Worms have no teeth, bills or jaws, nor a true stomach and rely on the bacteria swarming around them to actually break down the foodstuff that we put in our bins. The deconstituted foodstuff is altered considerably, such that it can be sucked up by the worms as a slimy paste-like substance. It goes directly into their gizzard and passed onward through a very rudimentary digestive tract, together with the masses of bacteria that are swarming within the slime.

Inside the worm’s gut the breakdown process continues and the worms’ digestive tract, provides a perfect environment for the ingested bacteria, who multiply further and continue to convert the complex cell structure of the original foodstuff into its basic elements and compounds, altering it into a simpler form that can be used directly by both the worms and the bacteria for nourishment. These simple elements and compounds provide the basic building blocks to sustain both worms and bacteria and are reconstituted according to the messages carried by the DNA to build up the complex cell structures that create the living physiology of both worm and bacterium. A true win / win situation for both organisms.

Large numbers of these bacteria are released back into the worm bin, together with the waste products in the faeces or castings – our vermicompost. The microbes will have multiplied in the ideal environment of the worm’s gut and now, greatly increased in numbers, are once again ready to attack new food sources and start the process all over.

Of great importance, these waste products, or vermicompost, excreted by the worms have been thoroughly processed by the microbes and are now in the form of simple elements and compounds, that are readily taken up by our garden plants, providing a highly nutritious food for them. Moreover any dangerous toxins and infected material would have been simultaneously neutralised by the bacteria within the worms gut, as complex forms of pathogenic material are also broken down into simpler, more basic (harmless) components by the microbes. In the soil the process continues and worm compost, with its load of beneficial bacteria will also tend to improve the health of soil around the roots of plants by removing pathogens. This is the beauty of using worms and their huge army of tiny microscopic helpers, for your composting.

Suitable Varieties of Composting Worms for Vermiculture

For the worm farmer, wanting to set up worm composting bins, the red manure worms are a far better bet than the more stolid greyish-brown earthworms. The lively reds, reproduce far more quickly and are much easier to manage, because their habitat is epigeic i.e. at the interface with the surface. Unfortunately the common names of the different species of composting worms are confused by loose terminology and sometimes different worms are called by the same name. Unless the scientific (latin) name is also used, there is likely to be some confusion. The most common manure worm used in worm farming in the US is the red worm, (Eisenia foetida or fetida), alias redworm, red wiggler, red wriggler, brandling worm and often confused with the similar looking tiger worms (Eisenia Andrei). In the UK the larger nightcrawlers (dendrobeana) are much favoured for worm farming, especially for fishing worms. A species of European worm, the driftworm, also known as Red wriggler (Lumbricus rubellus) is also commonly used in vermiculture, especially for fishing bait as it is large, lively, robust and is even suitable for salt water fishing.

Latin Names for Worm Species

Because there are so many overlapping common names in use, such as red worm, redworm, red wiggler, red wriggler – the safest way to know you have the right worms is to use the scientific (Latin) name to identify the species.

Eisenia andreia:
Usually called the Tiger Worm, because of alternate bands of darker and lighter red colour. Often confused with Eisenia Fetida (Foetida) and to make things worse they are also known as Red Worms. Like Fetidae They are quick breeders and productive in vermicomposting and good fishing worms. They are between 2 to 3 inches long and weigh in at 900 to 1000 worms per pound. They are found throughout the world and as such are no threat to the environment if they escape. Temp range – Extremes: 38ºF-88ºF/Optimum 70ºF -80ºF

Eisenia fetida (foetida):
Commonest compost worm used in worm farming and easy to obtain. Usually called Red Wigglers, but also known as Red Worms, Red Wrigglers, Compost Worms, Manure Worms and Brandling Worms.

RED WIGGLER: EISENIA FOETIDAE

They got their name of red wiggler because as fishing worms as they are active on the hook and stay alive in water for some time, although they are a bit small for this purpose. They are between 2 to 3 inches long and weigh in at 900 to 1000 worms per pound. They are quick breeders and productive in vermicomposting. They are found throughout the world and as such are no threat to the environment if they escape. Temp range – Extremes: 38ºF-88ºF / Optimum 70ºF -80ºF.

Eisenia hortensis:
Common name: European Nightcrawler also commonly called Redworm, it is much bigger than Eisenia Fetida (foetida). It is a quick breeder and a good composter (makes plenty of castings). Much sought after for fishing bait, as it can tolerate near freezing water and is one of the few “earthworms” suitable for salt water fishing. These worms can grow up to 7 inches in length, but usually are between 3 to 4 inches. 300 to 400 worms per pound.

Eudrilus eugeniae:
Common name: African Nightcrawlers. These worms are much larger than Eisenia Fetida (Red Wigglers) and are commonly over six inches long. Good compost worms and great for fishing, because of their size and as they are lively on the hook and have a firm skin. They prefer temperatures of around 75ºF- 85ºF , but can tolerate 45ºF- 90ºF, cannot tolerate extreme cold and dislike disruption of environment and handling. Weight: 175 to 200 worms per pound.

Lumbricus rubellus:
A species of European worm, the driftworm, also known as Red wriggler. It is actually an burrowing earthworm and not a true compost worm, but in nature is Endogeic and feeds close to the surface. It is a large worm of average length 4 inches and is commonly used in vermiculture, as it is very productive at cooler temperatures. The optimum temperature is around 50ºF and it only stops breeding around 40º. Rubellus is also attractive as a bait worm as it is large, lively, robust and is even suitable for salt water fishing. However there is real concern that Lumbricus rubellus, as an exotic, could become a problem invasive species in North America and there are claims that it is spreading into the northern woods and causing damage to native forests. This is because it tolerates lower temperatures and wetter conditions than most compost worms. It causes damage by breaking down the plant subterranean trash that protects the surface roots of trees. Because it can burrow deeply, it can overwinter when the surface becomes frozen, unlike most compost worms such as Eisenia fetida. So before you start your worm composting – it is important that you check local requirements and choose the right worms for your area and never throw unused bait into the forest.

Lumbricus terrestris:
Common earthworm species, sometimes called nightcrawlers . They are not suitable for vermiculture as they are a deep burrowing species (Anecic). Their burrows, are semi permanent and may extend to six feet below the surface – these burrows are lined with mucus and help aerate the soil and improve water retention.

Perionyx excavatus:
Common name : Indian blue worm. This species has a distinctive iridescent blue sheen to its skin. It is a tropical worm and does not tolerate cold or much handling or environmental disruption. Although small, it is suitable for vermiculture as it is a prolific breeder and matures quickly. It has one major drawback though – it is known for staging mass escapes from the worm farm, for no apparent reason and is somewhat unpopular for this reason. Temperature range – Extremes: 45ºF – 90ºF / Optimum 70ºF – 80ºF.

Mix and Match Your Worms ?

Many worm farmers prefer using a mix of Eisena fetida or foetida together with Eisena Andrei . Some composters claim that yields are increased further by adding the European Red Wriggler, Lumbricus rubellus to the menagerie. Each species has different requirements as far as temperature preference and growing conditions and would produce better or worse in different situations – hence the advantage of setting up cocktails of different species. Fortunately hybridization does not seem to be a problem.

However there is some concern that the large red European Lumbricus rubellus is an invasive species in North America and there are claims that it is spreading into the woods and damaging the native forest. So before you start your worm composting – it is important that you check local requirements and choose the right worms for your area. Just remember, even if you try to separate live worms from the worm castings, you will inevitably have some egg casings left in the vermicompost that you spread on your garden.

Ask the Worm Guys: The Three Types of Composting Worms

We often get asked about the different kinds of worms that are used in composting and sometimes fishing. The main three used in United States are the Redworm, European Nightcrawler, and African Nightcrawler. Nature’s Little Recyclers currently sells Redworms.

Redworms (Eisenia foetida) have many names, including red wigglers and tiger striped. Most names are regional, but all represent the same worm species. Redworms represent the best composters for most uses, as they live on shallow composting material and surrounding ground. Generally they live within six inches of soil and ground covering. They represent the fastest growing and most diverse composting worms given their ability to eat, along with healthy microbes, half their body weight a day and grow to egg-laying maturity in 42 days and full maturity in 90 days. Redworms also can handle a temperature range safely between 45 to 85 degrees in most circumstances.

European nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) have many names, such as super reds and red wigglers, which causes some branding to be shared with the redworms discussed above. This can cause confusion, but Europeans are much larger in size, often growing as long as 6 inches. And unlike the quick maturity of redworms, Europeans take a 150 days to mature. They also need deeper piles, so they are more suited for outdoor and garden work. In addition, the European Nightcrawler is a preferred worm for cooled manure piles and landscape waste. They can handle some food waste, but they are more sensitive to food being too rich or not composting fast enough. European Nightcrawlers can handle a temperature range of only 40 to 75 degrees, as they are sensitive to heat.

African nightcrawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae) are generally known as ANCs or sometimes super worms. African nightcrawlers are the largest worm, growing up to 12 inches long. Like Europeans, they take longer to mature; they can take up to five weeks to grow to egg-laying maturity, and up to six months to gain full weight. However, they can be grown in both shallow and deep piles, and African nightcrawlers are many fishermen’s favorite worm. When it comes to temperature, African nightcrawlers are the opposite of Europeans are are sensitive to the cold; they need to remain above 50 degrees, but they are able to handle up to 90 degrees reasonably well.

All-in-all, there are a variety of composting worms to best serve your needs.

Lumbricus rubellus, Litter (Red) Worm

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Description

Lumbricus rubellus, the Litter Worm (also known as the Red Worms or Wigglers) is an earthworm often confused with the similar Eisenia foetida. This species, unlike E. foetida is a temperate zone worm. It is an easy to culture live food that is an excellent size for many larger tropical fish (it can be fed to smaller fish by dicing, but there are smaller worm species that can be fed to smaller fish). This worm reaches about 7cm (2.5 in.). It is a red terrestrial worm that lives in moist soil and leaf litter above moist soil. This species survives happily in culture containers with moist potting soil. Its range is temperate North America.

This live food species is an excellent live food for most tropical fish. It is an excellent conditioning food for breeders. This species prefers warmer temperatures than most of its relatives and is a good organism to culture for those who live in warm climates.

Culture: Culturing red worms is simple either in plastic storage boxes with loose fitting covers or, as the author prefers, in composting piles. Culture instructions follow:

1) Culturing is easiest in kitchen composting piles. These worms eat all vegetable matter and reproduce rapidly in compost piles that are kept moist. They survive outdoors in winter if the compost piles are deep enough to generate some heat. Otherwise, these worms are easily raised in shallow plastic boxes with loose fitting lids and about 5cm (2 inches) of moist but not wet potting soil. Place card board or newspaper clippings on top of the soil and place kitchen wastes (no animal fats or meats!) under the cardboard or newspaper. Keep moist.

2) Place the starter culture under the edge of a compost pile or under the cardboard or newspaper clippings in a box.

3) Feed daily with kitchen scraps.

4) For rapid reproduction, maintain the temperature between 20-30°C (68-85°F) and make sure the soil does not get too dry.

5) Within 2 months there should be enough worms to harvest. Harvest by picking the worms up by hand when they cluster on the food. A compost pile can provide enough worms to feed hundreds of medium sized fish such as cichlids. Boxes will feed several aquaria full of fish.

We offer starter cultures in 3 sizes:

Small – approximately 50
Medium – approximately 500
Large – approximately 1000

Brandling Worms for Compost (250)

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