March 2008

Four Worm Update

Baby Red Worm

It has been almost 3 MONTHS since my last ‘4 Worm Experiment’ update, so I figured I better provide one this week for sure. I was actually away for more than 2 weeks recently so I haven’t even been monitoring the system for quite some time. Before I went away I did however make sure to thoroughly soak the contents of the bin to make sure it didn’t totally dry out on me (I’ve been having issues with keeping everything moist in that bin).

If you need some background info on this experiment, be sure to check out my first post in the series: Four Worm Reproduction Experiment. I’m sure many of you who have been following since the beginning could even use a refresher given how long I’ve gone between posts!

As expected, quite a bit has changed since I last looked in. I’m happy to report that I found quite a few baby worms at varying stages of growth. The one pictured above could be considered more of a juvenile worm than a baby. I also found a very diverse ecosystem now thriving in the system – I guess all that moisture I added really helped. There are lots of mites, springtails, various kinds of insect larvae – even white worms (I think – need to have a closer look with my Eyeclops). I was able to find three of the four adult Red Worms, all congregated in one corner of the bin. I didn’t want to disturb the system TOO much so I didn’t didn’t bother continuing my search for the fourth worm.

It looks as though things are once again starting to dry out, especially around the edges, so I’m going to try to be more diligent with my watering. I want to be able to add a second tray to the system before Christmas – haha! All joking aside, I have little doubt that once the young worms grow up the waste materials will start getting processed a lot more quickly!

There were a few other brave souls who decided to try out their own Four Worm Experiments, but I haven’t heard back from anyone in awhile (no surprise there, given the lack of updates on my part!!). Allen, from Driftless Ramblings was actually blogging about his experiment, but his last update was back in January. Hopefully I can inspire him to provide an update as well!

Anyway, thats all for now. Won’t let it go as long before the next update!

[tags]worms, worm reproduction, red worms, red wigglers, worm composting, vermicomposting, worm bins, experiments[/tags]

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Just Starting Out

This question comes from Beth, who has a few questions before getting her first system up and running.

Okay, I’m off to the store to purchase my bins.
I have plenty of bedding stuff and have a couple of buckets of
veggies, egg shells, adn good stuff that has been sitting for a month
or two just waiting for this moment.
Do I need any special starter food, or this coconut coir thing?…
Where is the best place to purchase worms? I want red Wigglers AND
Euro Night crawlers.
Oh, and I found this site that has SuperReds…
are they the same as NightCrawlers.

Great Beth! A month or two? Wow, that’s what I call patience!

You definitely don’t need any special food for your worms. That is what you’ve been brewing for two moths – all those food scraps left to rot – definitely tasty stuff for your worms (I like to think of it as an all-you-can-eat microbial buffet). It sounds as though you’ve kept your bedding separate from your food scraps for this period – if so, you should definitely mix everything together and let the mix sit for a bit before adding the worms. Food scraps sitting on their own for awhile can get pretty nasty – bedding helps to absorb excess moisture and encourages air flow.

If you mix in a lot of food scraps (the stuff you’ve been aging) with your bedding initially you won’t likely need to really feed the worms for a while. The best bet is to let the worms settle in for a little while (maybe 3 or 4 days) and see if you can find any recognizable food materials – maybe then start adding a few things at a time and monitor how long it takes for the food to disappear. If it looks as though your worms are eating everything quickly (will help if you’ve aged the wastes for a bit before adding them) you can start upping your feeding rate.

Coconut coir is a ‘green’ alternative to peat moss – it is a waste product (husk materials I believe) from the coconut industry and has very similar properties. Both peat moss and coir are very absorbent, very high in carbon but low in nutrition – in other words they are great materials to use as (or mix with) your bedding. I’ve used coir mixed with shredded cardboard before and it does seem like a cool material, but it’s not really needed – I do just fine with my shredded cardboard (sometimes with brown leaves mixed in for good measure).

As for where to get your worms – if you send me an email I’ll be happy to make some recommendations.

We wary of the hype of worm marketing – I can assure you there is no such thing as a “Super” or “Hybrid” worm regardless of what people tell you – ask for the latin name. Red Worms are Eisenia fetida and European Nightcrawlers are Eisenia hortensis (formerly known as Dendrobaena veneta – a name still commonly used, especially overseas).
This is a perfect example of the problem with relying on common names – people can call the worms whatever they want.

Hope this helps, Beth! Thanks again for the questions.


[tags]red worms, european nightcrawlers, worm bin, worm bins, worm composting, vermicomposting[/tags]

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I’ve Got White Worms!

White Worms and Euros and Mites, Oh My!

Not something most people would get excited about – in fact, I’ve had some people get in touch recently who were fairly concerned about the new white wigglers in their bin! For me however, it is exciting to get a mini infestation of white worms because it means I can finally try to get some pictures of them for the website! Yeah – I’m a weirdo!

The pics I’ve added to this post aren’t the greatest but rest assured I will keep trying to capture some decent ones. I will also likely fire up my new Eyeclops toy and see if I can get some cool critter footage!

For those of you unfamiliar, White Worms (aka Pot Worms – family Enchytraeidae) are close relatives of the earthworms. Both of these worms are members of the class (might actually be subclass now) Oligochaeta – i.e. they are segmented worms with “few bristles”, unlike the ‘Polychaete’ worms.

White Worms are common inhabitants of rich organic environments, such as is found in a compost heap or worm bin. In particular, they seem to favour acidic conditions, and in fact can be used as an indication of decreased pH in a worm bin. Commonly they will spring up (seemingly out of nowhere) when lots of acidic materials are added to the bin, or when starchy materials are added and allowed to ferment. My very first experience with White Worms dates back to shortly after I set up my very first worm bin. I decided to add a large quantity of rice to my bin (not knowing any better at the time). Shortly thereafter my bin started smelling like a brewery and zillions of these tiny worms appeared.

Close-Up of White Worms, European Nightcrawler and Mites

White worms themselves are completely harmless in a worm bin, but again they may be and indication that you are overfeeding, or perhaps adding too much acidic waste.

My recent invasion (which is very tame in comparison to my rice experience) likely stemmed from the addition of a decent amount of pineapple scraps, a very acidic material.

White Worms are actually a very popular fish food among aquarium hobbyists. Interestingly enough, one of the suggested ways for breeding them is to soak a piece of bread in milk then add it to the bin where you are keeping them. I can’t say I’m surprised – this would be the ultimate in sour, starchy concoctions!

I think I’m going to add some baby pablum in an effort to increase the population – more White Worms means more photo opps!

I’ll keep you posted!

[tags]white worms, worms, earthworms, earth worms, pot worms, enchytraeidae, vermicomposting, worm composting, worm bin[/tags]

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Comment and Email Issues

Hi Everyone,
It seems as though I’ve been having some pretty major comment/email issues in the last couple months. I just discovered quite a few emails I didn’t receive (all emails are suppose to be forwarded to another account) the other day when I was cleaning out my actual inbox for the RWC site. My math plugin for preventing comment spam seems to also be doing more harm than good. On numerous occasions I’ve received notifications for new comments, but then when I login there are none to be found.

If either an email or a comment of yours has fallen victim to one of my site gremlins I’m really sorry about that! The last thing I want is for people to think they are being ignored and having their comments deleted.
Anyway, I’m going to be keeping a much closer eye on my other inbox and have now deactivated the math plugin (I’d rather wade through a few extra spam msgs than prevent genuine people from commenting on the blog).
Hopefully this clears up all the issues we’ve been having!


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Harvesting Worms with a Winnowing Machine

A little while ago I asked my good friend Jeff “The Friendly Worm Guy” Sonnenburg to make a video of his worm/castings harvesting machine in action, and here it is!

What makes Jeff’s harvesting method really interesting is the fact that he uses an antique winnowing machine (also known as a ‘fanning mill’) to do the job – not a regular worm harvester. He was able to get the machine for a great price, and judging by what I saw in the video I’d say it works very well for harvesting worms. For those of you unfamiliar, a ‘winnowing machine’ is a device used to separate grain from the ‘chaff’ and other debris.

Just a little reminder of the fact that it never hurts to think outside the box (or the bin – haha) every now and again!

Thanks for sharing, Jeff!

[tags]harvesting, harvester, castings, worms, vermicomposting, worm composting, vermiculture, winnowing machine, fanning mill[/tags]

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Moisture & Food Quantity Questions

These questions come from Beth.

Thank you for the informative blog! I am new to worm
composting (about 1 month) and have set my bin up following your
YouTube video for the ‘deluxe’ bin (2 rubbermaid bins with the
recommended number of holes drilled into the sides, bottom and cover
of the top bin). I have 4 questions and would be grateful for your

1) The inside of the bin is very moist – so moist that when I remove
the lid it is dripping with condensation. The sides of the bin are
also covered with condensation and there are worms clinging to the
walls of the bin (and some have escaped onto the floor where they
have sadly met their demise by drying out). This seems like way too
much moisture. What is the ideal level of moisture? What’s the best
way to get the moisture down at this point? I have checked the lower
bin and there is very small amount of water there as well.

2) How much food can I add to the bin at a time? I have a family of
4 including me. We eat plenty of fresh foods, but I don’t think we
eat more of them than most people. Should I be able to add all our
scraps to one bin, or would this be too much for the 1 pound of worms
I have in there?

3) Is it normal to smell an unpleasant odor when opening the bin? I
have not added any meat or oily foods, but still, the bin smells
like, well, garbage! 🙂

4) I see some long furry looking white stuff growing on some of the
food scraps. Is this OK?

Thanks very much for your help and this terrific resource.

Thanks Beth! Let’s see if I can help you out here.

1) Condensation on the lid and sides of the bin is totally normal, and not really something to worry about. Worms up on the underside of the lid and sides of the bin is also very normal (as long as it is only a few – if it is a LOT of worms there is likely something wrong). Worms crawling out of the bin and onto the floor however is not normal – if conditions in the bin are too their liking worms would much rather stay where it is nice and moist rather than venture out into the dry air. Once in awhile you might see the odd curious worm venturing out, but if it is ever more than one at once I would suspect something going bad in the bin.

Composting worms LOVE it wet, and will be happy as long as there is still oxygen available. Given the fact that there is only a little water down in the reservoir below, I’d say you are ok on the moisture front. If the bin didn’t have drainage holes there would be a much greater chance of excess moisture build-up. Still, if you are hoping to dry things up a little and keep the worms down below you might want to add some fresh, dry bedding on top of your bin contents. The best material would be something very absorbent. I particularly love the cardboard used to make egg cartons and drink holders (the throw-away kind, from coffee shops and fast food restaurants). I’ve added this material to wet bins and it worked very well – absorbing condensation and keep the worms down. Of course, if there is something nasty going on in your bedding already this might not help much. More on that in a minute.

2) I would predict that your family of four produces quite a bit more waste than can be handled by a pound of worms – ESPECIALLY when just starting out. A brand new worm bin goes through an adjustment period before the worms are performing at their best – and even then they wouldn’t likely be able to handle this much. My wife and I produce more food waste than could be handled by a single small worm bin. Luckily I have a variety of different bins, and other options (like bokashi buckets, backyard composters etc). It is hard to give a definitive answer as far as what amount your bin should be able to handle. There are so many factors coming into play. The best way to find out is simply by testing your own system. If you set up your bin exactly the way I demonstrate in the video (ie. food is mixed in with bedding before adding worms) you don’t really need to add much food to the bin for awhile. Simply monitor the waste that is in the bin, and as you see it disappearing start to add more (a little bit at a time). Too much food in a worm bin can really create problems.

3) This question definitely makes me think there is too much food in your bin (thus explaining why your worms are venturing elsewhere). A well-balanced worm bin should definitely not smell like garbage. It should be essentially odourless. Bad odours are typically caused by anaerobic decomposition of organic wastes – something that can happen quite readily when lots of wet food waste sits in any one spot for an extended period. I would definitely recommend mixing a fair bit of fresh dry bedding into your bin (do this before adding the layer of bedding over top I suggested earlier) – this will help absorb excess moisture and help air to circulate through the bin materials more easily. The bad odours may persist for a little while, but if you stop adding food they should disappear before too long. I’d recommend setting up a separate food scrap holding container if at all possible. A bucket should work fairly well. Simply add a thick layer of dry bedding at the bottom, then add your scraps as they become available (mixing in a little bedding each time you add any). This allows your wastes to age (worms will process them more quickly) and also ensures that you won’t add too much food to your bin at once. Once the weather outside is decent (maybe it already is where you live) just set up an outdoor compost bin as well so you have some place to put excess food waste should it start to pile up on you.

4) The ‘furry’ looking stuff is just some type of fungus – I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It is common to see lots of fungal growth in a bin when too much food is added. It can be an indication of acidic conditions (which can be brought about via anaerobic processes mentioned above), since fungi prefer somewhat acidic conditions in general. Again, I’d recommend mixing in a decent amount of new (dry) bedding and holding off from feeding your worms for awhile. If you eat eggs you might want to keep your shells and grind them up for your bin as well.

Anyway Beth – hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions (feel free to comment on this post).


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Wild Nightcrawlers

More reader questions today! Hopefully people aren’t getting sick of them yet. Haha!
Just so you know, I’ll definitely be starting to mix in some of my more typical kinds of blog posts very soon as well. Here is a question from Danny relating to ‘wild’ nightcrawlers.

Please advise me on what time of year, where to look, and
how to find wild nightcrawlers. I would like to be able to catch my
own, at least enough to start my own worm bed. I have a 1/2 acre pond
and eventually I would like to be able to feed my fish with my own

I have heard that in the middle of spring through late fall that I
could go out at night with a flash light during rainy times or
shortly after and find them in the garden and in the woods. Is this

I am handicaped, so I cant walk to far at a time, and its hard for me
to get around in the woods at times.

Any help you could give me I sure would appreciate.


Hi Danny,
Unfortunately the type of ‘nightcrawler’ you can catch on the lawn after a warm rain shower is not the same type of nightcrawler that can be used for worm farming. The ‘Canadian Nightcrawler’ (aka Dew Worm) is a very large soil dwelling worm that is widely used as a bait for fishing in North America. I’m not sure where you live, but up here in Ontario (Canada) these worms can be captured (with the help of a flashlight) in huge numbers at night after a heavy rainfall in spring, summer and fall (as long as there are relatively warm temps). I’m not sure how widespread these worms are down in the US (I know a lot are imported from up here), but you might see if you can find some after a heavy spring rain shower in your area.

As great as these worms can be for fishing, they are not ideally suited for worm farming. They are adapted for life in soil – more specifically, for solitary life in deep tunnels in the soil. If you force them to live confined in a worm bed with lots of other worms they will not be happy.

There is however another ‘nightcrawler’ that is widely used for fishing AND composting, but I suspect you won’t find it running wild in Canada or the U.S. The European Nightcrawler (Eisenia hortensis) is a large-bodied composting worm that is commonly sold for bait. It is bigger than the ‘Red Wiggler’ (Red Worm), but they are closely related and can both be used for composting.

I would highly recommend you buy a pound or two of these worms and start growing them yourself. As I have discovered, they are very easy to raise, and seem to me to be pretty well the perfect size for fishing (Dew Worms are a little TOO big in my opinion) – not that I could every put a worm on a hook again!

Hope this helps!


[tags]nightcrawlers, bait, fishing, worms, earthworms, dew worms, european nightcrawlers, eisenia, worm bin, worm bed, worm farming[/tags]

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