What Factors Lead to Increased Worm Cocoon Production?

I just wanted to let everyone know about some fun experiments I am hoping to get started very soon (it’s about time, eh?!).
Based on what I’ve read and what I’ve observed firsthand, I know that cocoon production can vary significantly from one system to the next and one situation to the next. As with all things related to vermicomposting, there are so many different factors that can come into play. What I’d really like to figure out is WHAT factors have the greatest impact on cocoon production.

Here are some things to consider:

1) In the spring-time LOADS of baby Red Worms hatch out in my outdoor systems. Similarly, when I have brought cold material in from outside there seems to be a lot of baby worms in the material shortly thereafter. QUESTION – would chilling a worm composting system help to stimulate cocoon production?

2) I have read that loss of moisture from a system can stimulate cocoon production. This makes sense to me since the the sorts of habitats where these worms live in the “wild” can be somewhat transitory – so it’s important that the worms be able to quickly produce their resistant “resting stage” so as to help ensure the future viability of the population. QUESTION – if I start some similar worm composting systems and then let some of them dry out more than the others, will this result in greater cocoon production?

3) I have noticed (and have read) that worms seem to produce more cocoons in systems containing a lot of paper-based materials (paper, cardboard, newsprint etc). I actually conducted an experiment in university and found that worms in paper-pulp-fed systems produced at least twice as many cocoons as those in the next best material (which happened to be manure in this case). QUESTION – if I vary the percentage of paper-based bedding materials in a worm bin, will I see a difference in the number of cocoons being produced?

4) I have noticed (and have read) that worms seem to gravitate towards certain types of material (eg burlap) when dropping cocoons – so you’ll often find them concentrated in these materials. QUESTION – will adding materials like these actual result in an increase in cocoon production?

These are some of the questions I’m interested in (hopefully) answering. If anyone has other questions/suggestions, or just generally wants to leave feedback, please do so below!

Will keep everyone posted on my plans for various experiments!

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    • Anna
    • April 2, 2011

    Great experiment! I’m looking forward to results.

    Tangentially related to this post (i.e., survival of the species), I must say that I’m absolutely amazed by the hardiness of redworms. I checked my outdoor trench today and found several adults hanging out within an inch or two of frozen material. This combined with the survival rate after I melted my bin a couple of months ago has totally blown me away.

  1. nematologist mario serracin adds high protein fish meal to increase worm reproduction. incidentally he maintains a 90+ acre worm farm that is fed coffee pulp mixed with calcium/lime which he then ferments with effective microbes/em-1.

    i also remember reading that adding pulverized egg shells to worm food increases worm reproduction. of course egg shells contain protein, so maybe protein is the general variable here..?

    coffee grounds, which are acidic, & also given freely by coffee shops, can be used to feed worms like crazy when turned into bokashi using em-1 (effective microbes, see: teraganix.com or scdprobiotics.com).. here is the master blaster man with the plan on this topic – mr. mario serracin:

    • John Duffy
    • April 2, 2011

    Sounds like an interesting plan. Try some worn-out cotton socks as well. I tossed a pair in my bin because they had some holes in the toes. The worms seem to like them.

    • Worm Russler
    • April 2, 2011

    I know a great way to get them to multiply. After much thought, I come to a conclusion. Just toss in a TI85 into you worm bin. LOL, it’s April fools.

    • Steve K
    • April 2, 2011

    You joke, but I might try it with my old TI-82, which really hasn’t done much but collect dust since I took Calculus, back in the day.

  2. Hi! I was surfing earlier and I found a site that asserted that worms multiply faster when fed with watermelons. The theory is that worms will congregate around the watermelons and that worms just have to do the wild thing when they bump into each other. A couple of other readers agreed.

    What do you guys think about that? Before I thought it was eggshells that stimulated reproduction.

    • Worm Russler
    • April 2, 2011

    One time I acquired a five gallon of wet rabbit manure from a feed store that sold rabbits. After rinsing it, I added a handfull of worms. The worms died. I then added lime and a little worm tea. Added another handfull of worm and wholla they survived. So I then put in about a half pound of worm. Within a few months that bin was teaming with worms.

  3. I tried lighting a few candles and put some Marvin Gaye on the Hi-Fi. 🙂

    • Anna
    • April 2, 2011

    I would vote Barry White over Marvin Gay.

  4. Really exciting Bentley. If I can help with any experiments, let me know. I have unlimited horse manure (no bedding), hay and access to UCG. I have a room kept at ~20C that I’m using to try to increase my 1kg of EF to 100kg to cope with my horse’s manure. Good Luck!

    • Iva
    • April 3, 2011

    Anna, I was also blown away at worms’ hardiness with something I did. Back at the end of Sept, 2010, I used a large pot (the kind you’d buy with shrubbery or small tree in it) to put in some mint plants we’d dug up. I hoped to keep them in the house & overwinter them. I read that they do well in sandy soil, so I filled the pot half full with sand, then mixed equal parts vermicompost & sand and maybe a little of our local soil in the pot & planted the mint. Well, the mint died for whatever reason. Not from drying out anyway, because my 2 yr old was constantly flooding the kitchen by watering it! About 3 months after planting the mint, I dug around in the pot and found dozens of worms that had hatched from eggs in the vermicompost. I found all I could and put them in my worm bins. Then that pot sat neglected in my kitchen for another 3 months. Never watered that I know of, because my 2yr old ignored it when he saw that I was. Just a week ago, I dug around in that pot and found several more dozen mature worms. I was floored! What could they possibly find to eat to survive in just sand and old vermicompost?? Unbelievably, the lower levels of the pot were still somewhat moist, especially the edges touching the pot itself.

  5. I think corrugated cardboard is a big one.Also it appears if you leave a flooding end in a tub with manure,where some stays extra wet.PE worms at least,it appears grits do the trick.Melons are also a good source.At least for mating.They may take a while to drop cocoons?
    I have to retry drying the bedding,then flooding the bins.It appeared it worked.But am not positive.It does make them want to leave what they are in though!
    Also during the winter i noticed some fled my mixing tubs.May be from being delirious from the cold? Now that it is warm,i don’t have that problem.Can’t tell if they dropped more cocoons though.
    I have to try a bunch of the stuff over again this year.I also just remembered,i forgot to plant my beets for another experiment i have to retry! Good luck B.!

    • Anna
    • April 3, 2011

    Iva–Amazing story, I just can’t believe how hardy these guys are!

    • James Black
    • April 4, 2011

    During a recent cold snap here in central Texas my worm bins were frozen solid. I thought all my worms would be dead from freezing. When the weather warmed up and the bins thawed out, within a few days the worm population was amazing. The bins were swarming. It seems the cold really stimulated them.

    • Bentley
    • April 4, 2011

    Wow – great thread!
    I can certainly vouch for the hardiness of Red Worms – I’ve found them literally embedded in frozen compost. I was digging around in my outdoor beds yesterday and found lots of worms in semi-frozen material. The beds that have warmed up a bit more seem to have lots of active worms.

    WORM RUSSLER – I am really surprised that you had better success once you added lime to the manure! I would think that this would increase the pH of the material – this would typically result in even greater ammonia release (deadly for worms). Very interesting! Perhaps the worm tea played a role somehow.

  6. I use a little agricultural lime.And i mean a little.I use about a tablespoon in my whole flowthru.And only in a certain feeding pattern.My bin is layered.On the third layering i will add some.Ag lime is a slow release too.It supposedly can take a whole year to affect soil from what i’ve seen looking around.May be wrong though.And if you use the wrong type or too much lime,you got real problems.So don’t just throw a hand full of lime in there!
    Worm tea is a more likely explanation.I’ll try and film my worms next time i dump some spent castings from worm tea back in.They go bonkers over worm tea!I’m fixing to start a spraying experiment later.Probably be the same as Bentley’s aquarium water.But with even more benefit!

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