Quick Facts About Worm Composting
New to worm composting? Looking for some quick and dirty info before jumping in head-first? Well this is will be a great place to get started.
- Worm composting (also known as vermicomposting) involves the breakdown of organic wastes via the joint action of worms and microorganisms (although there are often other critters that lend a hand)
- Regular (soil and garden) earthworms cannot be used for worm composting. They will die if added to an indoor worm bin.
- Soil worms will however congregate in the lower regions of outdoor bins (if open to surrounding soil)
- Composting worms are specialized surface dwellers (not burrowers), typically living in very rich organic matter such as manure, compost heaps or leaf litter
- Most common variety used is Eisenia fetida (also spelled ‘foetida‘), although it’s larger cousin, Eisenia hortensis (a.k.a. the ‘European Nightcrawler’) is commonly used as well (more commonly to be sold as bait worms)
- Common names for E. fetida include: red worm, red wiggler, brandling worm, manure worm, tiger worm
- You won’t likely find this species on your property (unless you live on a farm, or happen to introduce them into your compost heap).
- Lumbricus rubellus is another species (and also a small reddish worm) sometimes used for vermicomposting, but is not as effective as E. fetida
- It is widely believed that a composting worm can process the equivalent of it’s own weight in waste each day. Under highly optimum conditions (not likely to be attained with a small home system) red worms have been found to process multiple times their own weight! This is very much dependent on the foodstock and how well managed the system is.
- A reasonable guideline to follow is 1/4-1/2 total worm weight in waste per day. So if you have a pound of worms, they should be able to process roughly 1/4-1/2 lb of food waste per day. Keep in mind however that you may need to feed them less during the first couple months since they usually require a period of acclimation when added to a new system.
- Red worms technically graze on the microbial community that colonizes waste materials – not really the waste itself (although they certainly ingest some of the rotting waste in the process). Some research has indicated that protozoans are the primary food source, while there is also evidence that fungi and other microbes are consumed as well.
- There have been a number of research studies indicating that vermicomposting can significantly reduce levels of pathogens in waste materials, such as biosolids.
- Red worms love (and can tolerate) very high levels of moisture content (80-90%), but they also require oxygen so it’s important to find the right balance
- One lb of composting worms is estimated to consist of approximately 1000 individuals, and can cost anywhere from $15 to $40 USD
- Surface area far more important than depth when it comes to worm bins (ie tubs work much better than buckets)
- Regular light is harmful to worms but red light is not
- Red worm eggs look like tiny straw-coloured lemons
- Baby worms look like very small versions of the adults (but have less red pigment)
- Adding crushed egg shells (or other calcium sources) can help stimulate worm reproduction
Stay tuned for more Worm composting ‘Quick Facts’!
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