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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HARRY – the worm population will regulate itself based on available resources, so you can’t every really end up with “too many worms” – at least not for very long.
ANNA – I am pretty sure Red Worms are originally from Europe, but they have become well-established across much of North America, as have many other species.
There is a wide range of coloration in these worms. I have seen them basically range from stripey orange, to solid reddish/purple. As for being cold-hardy, they are indeed. I have literally found wiggling red worms in frozen compost before! As long as they don’t freeze solid themselves, they can easily survive pretty cold winters.
I have alot of heavy plywood pieces stored up.I want too build a large worm bin out in my old barn. What can I put on the inside of the bin to keep it lasting longer and help the worm food and castings slid down the side easier and not sticking?
I have had my little composter going for about a month now , in a 5 gallon platic container in my kitchen. But I do have a few questions that I am having trouble finding answers to.
Firstly how moist does the soil have to be? How long do I leave before I change out the compost and replace with new soil?
HARRY – Excellent question. Not sure I have a good answer for you though. I’ve heard that linseed oil is good, but have not tried it myself. I’d certainly love to hear from anyone else who has some suggestions! I generally just leave wood untreated these days.
LEE – I hope you are not referring to garden soil when you say “soil”, since that won’t be the greatest medium for worm composting. As for moisture – the worms love it wet – but if you don’t have any drainage or good evaporation (no lid etc) you need to be really careful. I would never add water to an enclosed plastic bin. The “rule of thumb” I recommend is add as much water as you can without pooling in the bottom.
How long it takes before you have enough compost to harvest will totally depend on the system you are using, and the quantity of worms you have.
What I did to protect the plywood from the moisture is I lined the inside of the bin with some of that blue plastic tarp I gat from Wal Mart and stapled it.
It helps if you over lap the corners by with 6 inches of tarp.
It worked for me.
Good luck and have fun!
Hello. I have a question about a worm.
What is the function of the belt on a worm?
I’m thinking about getting started with worm composting to add to my outdoor garden. Should I be concerned about adding red worms to my ecosystem when they’re not normally a part of it? I’m not really familiar with red worms, and I don’t know if they could mess up the balance.
Lisa – Red worms may not be a part of your ecosystem right now, but somewhere nearby there will be red worms in a manure pile or similar source of worm nutrient. Here’s a thought – is your entire garden all native species? Most are not.
Good question, though. From my understanding of the little guys and gals – once their food source is diminishing, they will no longer reproduce and live out the remainder of their happy life where they were. So they won’t spread and become Worm Kudzu ( good name for a rock band ) and take over the world.
9 out of 10 garden surveyed really like what the red worms produce. The other one wouldn’t answer without a lawyer.
Thanks, Bruce. That’s really helpful. The Kudzu part was what I was worried about. 🙂
I STARTED A REDWORM COMPOSTING PIT LAST YEAR. NOW THAT THE WEATHER IS STARTING TO WARM UP, NEAR THE SURFACE, I HAVE MASSES OF TINY WHITE THREADLIKE WORMS. THEY SEEM TO CONGREGATE ON THE WETTEST/JUICIEST SCRAPS I PUT IN–CITRUS OR MELON RINDS. I RECENTLY ADDED QUITE A BIT OF AGED HORSE MANURE. COULD THESE BE PINWORMS, OR ANY TYPE OF PARASITES THAT COULD BE HARMFUL TO MY GARDEN OR MY FAMILY.
I am new to worm farming and have a question about adding new bedding. I was given about 30 worms in a “bucket ‘o worms” tub with clean bedding about 45 days ago. I have loose coconut fiber substrate that I would like to add. If I understand an earlier post I can add new bedding to my bin by simply placing the new material on top of the established material. Is it correct that I do not have to mix the material together? Also the coconut fiber is pretty dry, is it best to moisten it when adding or leave it dry? I have seen my first baby worm and am as proud as any new “parent” can be. Thank you.
I am new to vermi-composting and purchased “100” red wigglers. They are in a 10 gal bin. I feel I followed basic instructions (certain amount of air holes, right size, placement of them, bedding, top layer, etc.), and I after reading a lot these past days understand that there is a balance that needs to be created. I started right away, however, meaning I didn’t wait two weeks to put the worms in after the waste. I read that part too late-Ugh! Today, two days later about 20-30 worms were on the top area of the bin, one even got out! I have holes on the bottom and the bin is lifted about an inch on an another lid. When I opened the the lid, the dry material on the top was lower, so I “gently” put the worms back to the bottom, added more shredded newspaper, gave a couple of spritz with water (my bedding is both cardboard and shredded newspaper). It’s in my pantry, which is like a small closet and fairly cool. I probably should take the temp?
So I guess I am wondering why they rose to the top?, especially after reading that they are “surface” dwellers on the organic matter. I don’t have citrus, I mostly have spinach leaves, parsley stems, fruit/vegetable waste, No onions or garlic, but I did put in a small cut up raw potato, after reading I shouldn’t or at least moderately, banana peel, and one cone of coffee grounds. And a little potting soil taken from my plants for a little dirt.
I realize this is a work in progress/getting experience. So your help is needed. Thank you, and I really like your website. Glad I found it.
I am currently farming red worms on a large scale in the Western Cape, South Africa. I would love to connect with others interested in this good cause in order to share ideas etc. I have 4 old bath tubs filled to the brim with the most gorgeous compost and strong healthy worms. I’ve built larger tanks and would like to move the worms into their new homes but need a bit of advice. Is cement harmful and should I line the tanks with plastic? Please contact me if you know more?
I would like to know if the Red Wiggler is basically the same thing as the Night Crawler. Ohio. And if I need to do anything different in the raising of my worms. I would be using them for my personal fishing.
The Red Wiggler is definitely not the same thing as the “Night Crawler”, and in fact, the term “Night Crawler” (or “Nightcrawler”) doesn’t even necessarily refer to one type of worm. Likely the most common “Nightcrawler” for fishing is the Canadian Nightcrawler (Lumbricus terrestris). It is a deep burrowing soil worm as is MUCH larger that a Red Worm. The European Nightcrawler (Eisenia hortensis), on the other hand, is a close relative of the Red Worm (Eisenia fetida/andrei). It is bigger than the Red Worm but not nearly as big as the Canadian Nightcrawler. It can however be raised in captivity, in much the same way as Red Worms (unlike CNCs)
Question: I`ve been growing worms for 9 month and recently I`ve noticed, that I get more worm tea on the floor than ever – and I really don`t understand why, I mean, previously I noticed, that there is liquid comming from bins, but as quantity was small and I don`t pay attention to it so much untill I found out that this is “TEA”! Also right now quantity of worms in bins are basically the same – it`s just bins getting more (but I don`t think that it`s main cause) and also I`m not watering them to much or too frequent, also harvesting castings frequently, so I can`t figure out, why so much tea is being produced! Maybe you can share some thought?
Thanks! : )
What has likely happened is that you’ve simply reached (and surpassed) the water-holding capacity of your system, and now most of the water released during the decomposition of the food wastes etc is likely draining down (or at least displacing liquid from further down in the system).
I always recommend being careful with terminology and overall assessment of any liquids simply draining out of a worm composting system. This stuff is more accurately referred to as “leachate”, and can range in quality (as a liquid fertilizer) from great to downright awful (and harmful). Worm compost tea is made using stabilized, high quality vermicompost / worm castings so it is quite a different liquid. If you worm system is REALLY mature, you are probably producing a leachate that’s not TOO far off the mark from being a form of worm compost tea – but still, there is a pretty significant difference.
What I recommend doing with leachate is diluting it with water (aged tap water or rain water) and using it out in the garden (not in potted plants).
what are the sizes of the Euro worms cocoons (average size)
I am composting with red worms and I didn’t know if it would be ok if some of the red worms were accidentally transfered into the potted plants. I am not sure if I can screen them all out if they happened to get in when I transfer the compost goods into my potted plants? Would the worms die or kill my potted plant in search for food?
They will be OK for a while. The length of time will be depending on the size of the pot, moisture and food. Problem is that they will go on a “walk or I guess crawl about” trying to find greener pastures unless you have a weak light on in the area all the time.
I’m not growing any now because it took too much time to do all of the dividing and putting in new bedding that you have to do while at the same time being so busy in my organic garden beds. I took all of my worms and divided them among my garden beds. I’m doing a “no till” garden adding only compost or grass clippings. They eat it all and incorporate it into the beds. I’ve had to add no fertilizer. You can move the grass clippings aside and get a large handful of the soil. Texture wise it feels like used coffee grounds and there will be worms in every handful if it is not too dry. Hopefully they make it through the winter. I’m going to put a deep layer of mulch so hopefully they will be protected during cold weather and have plenty of working supplies to make more compost right where I need it.
Winter is coming! : ) …any inovative ideas how to prepare worms for winter? Can anybody share some experience etc?
I recommend you spend some time perusing the “winter worm composting” section on the Hot Topics page:
when and how do you use the worm poo on your garden
This site has been very informative and I am glad I don’t have to go by a bunch of expensive equipment.
I did have some questions though-
-How long does the process usually take and how do you know that your compost is ready?
-How do you separate the worms from the compost?
-What is the reason for creating tea? Would you use this in place of spreading compost?
Thanks for your info!
Thanks for all the great information here. I am considering ordering a worm composting system and wondering how long the worms can go without adding food. I will keep the system in the basement year round. We have some vacations scheduled and don’t know if I need to find someone to feed them when we are gone.
Hi Guys – definitely best to drop me an email if you want to reach me quickly! Sorry for the delay!
Bill/Jenna- great questions, but they require long, involved responses so I will add these to my list of topic areas to use for blog posts, videos etc.
Sara – worms can go for a LONG time without food. It is far easier to kill worms via overfeeding than starvation. Leaving them during a vacation should absolutely not be a problem!
Hi! Bentley – I want to thank you so much for your wonderful website. I’ve learnt so much from it in the past few weeks, you’re a Star!
I’m in New Zealand and I have a horse. For the past two months he has been living in a small paddock, maybe a quarter to a half acre, has very very little green grass (he’s laminitic and can’t take much grass). He lives on good meadow hay and a fantastic organic supplement specifically designed for NZ conditions. I pick up his manure every day and as you can imagine, I have a mountain of poo lol! He manures 22 times a day and each one I estimate weighs around 1kg, so that’s 22kg of gorgeous, yummy, healthy horse poo a day. I’ve been researching vermicomposting horse manure madly for a number of weeks now and for 10 days now have had 1kg of red worms in a small bin (40 x 30 cm, or just over a sq foot). They are very very happy and think their daily dinner of 2 month old horse poo is just the bestest. I’m about to divide them into more bins. It seems I need around 100,000 worms to cope with one horse’s daily poos, so it’ll be a while before I get to that number lol. I have a bath lined up, but think I should wait till they’ve increased to 2 or 3 kilos before I transfer them to that. Hopefully by Spring, I will have 4 or 5 kilos and intend to put them in a hay bale enclosure in the paddock. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to visiting here and keeping on learning. Thanks again Bentley, and everyone who contributes to this site. Glenys
Just read through your 128-ish items, didn’t realise there was so much activity in the composting world. I would be grateful for your possible help slightly off the worm subject. To put kitchen waste in my plastic composter I need to wear protective goggles to prevent insect bites to my eyelids, these causing intense irritation for a few days. A cloud of small (1-2mm) white insects launch themselves when I dump material. Any suggestions re id of the blighters, and possible cures?
Ernie, Essex, UK
Hi Ernie – that is very strange! This is the first I’ve heard of white “eye-lid biters” in a worm bin. The main flying pests are fruit flies and fungus gnats – both very annoying, and certainly prone to ending up in eyes and nasal passages (haha), but definitely not biters (not white in color either).
One recommendation for all flying pests is to keep a really thick layer of bedding up top in the bin – this should at least help to impede the flying, if nothing else. I would also stop adding food to the bin until the worms have completely consumed everything you’ve added thus far.
I’ve recently started growing worms for sale. I’m often asked about the type of worm I sell. In my part of the world (southern Australia), composting worms are classified as red wrigglers or tiger worms. As far as my research has taken me, these are the same species of worm. I’m curious as to whether there is any difference, ie., are they subspecies of E. fetida? My own observations indicate that sometimes the same worms appear to be tiger striped depending on their size and whether they are stretched out. What would you say?
I have been vermicomposting for 2 years, and the worms have done really well. But in the past few months, I started having problems with a strange flying insect. They’re not like regular flies – they’re slow and smaller and I can usually kill them by swatting at them (unlike regular flies that are just too fast). Somehow I had dozens of them in the bin. I took the bin outside so that they would fly out and most did, but I guess there were still others left in there, so a few days later I found more. I had to do this a few times, and then finally I decided to empty the bin and put the worms into my garden bed for the time being. I live in NYC and was wondering, how long can the red worms could survive outside? I am still putting food scraps in there for them and burying the scraps.
How can I get rid of the bugs so I can bring the worms back inside?
I am very attached to my worms…it would be sad to see them all die.
WONDERFUL WONDERFUL website. I need some very good advice how much does average 15 lb bag worm castings cost? And If I had to sell my castings ……….How much should I ask Wholesaled?
Thank you so much
I’ve just picked up about 700 night crawlers here in west Michigan of the sidewalks and pavement in the last few days. I just put them in several 1 gallon cut off jugs but would like to start a bed. Can this type of worm or night crawler be used and how much room do 700 of them require?
ok, i typed this a minute ago but it didn’t load for some reason, so rather than type it all out agian i’ll give a breif summary
i wanna breed composting worms mainly as a way to feed my chickens with some protein in the winter
i decided to go with actual composting worms because native groundworms can give them gapeworm(bad thing for chickens)
and some other reasons, never just one use for anything i’m gonna put effort into:)
anyway i have a few questions for you to get clarified, awesoem site btw, very helpful, thx for putting the time into making it
1:what is the biggest composting worm that i can get?
or the most productive quick breeding worm?
preferably ones that wont transmit gapeworm.
2: how many worms should i have before i can safely pull 6-12 worms out everyday without depleting the population?
3:how big of a bin should i get/build to have this big of a population and can anyone in the us or wyoming come up with any GENERAL cost range?
don’t need anything too specific
I need some help!!!!
I purchased my worm (eisenia foetida) compost bin a couple of months ago, and it seems like all the worms died. The bin seems to be not to dry and not too moist, temperature all this time was somewhere inbetween 8 – 25 degrees C, I don’t put any obviously accidic foods (citrus, coffee grounds) in the bin. Are there any other reasons why my worms could disappear?
Thank you for help.
All my worms died. I had them in a bucket with organza bag and holes in the bottom of the bucket then inside another. One side had Trader Joe bag shredded. The other had veggie scraps. Placed in the shade. No direct sun. I ordered the worms off e-bay and got the correct ones. Today they were all dead. I also have compost bins and the worms live well in there. What did I do wrong? The bucket had a foul smell.
SAM – There is E. fetida and E. andrei which are known to occur in the same population a lot of the time. They’ve been determined to be distinct species though so no inter-breeding. This MAY help to explain some of the differences you are seeing, although I’m pretty sure they can only conclusively be differentiated from one another via molecular analysis.
JOAN – sounds like you got hit with a fruit fly invasion. It is very challenging to get rid of fruit flies, especially outdoors. Sounds like you’ve got a good approach with taking care of the worms in the garden (by adding lots of organic waste materials) – they certainly won’t do well in regular soil otherwise. They are cold-tolerant, so with some additional protection (straw, fall leaves etc) you may be able to keep them alive over the winter.
DAN – I’m not really sure the answer to that since I have not been pricing castings as of late. I recommend simply checking out a variety of websites to see what people are selling it for. Worm Power is probably a good place to start.
T Wreath – soil nightcrawlers do not work well for worm composting. They are deep burrowing worms adapted for a much different environment than that provided in a worm bin. Best to start with Red Wigglers.
DEVON – 1) African Nightcrawlers are likely the biggest you can get, but not sure I’d recommend them in cooler US states (and other temperate regions) since they need warm conditions to thrive. European Nightcrawlers would be a better choice.
2) Tough to say for sure – lots of factors affect breeding etc. If you started with 5 lb of Euros that would be about 1500-2000 worms. If you removed 6 worms per day (and it was 1500) with zero reproduction (and also zero mortality) you’d have worms for 250 days. I’d recommend letting them sit for at least a month or so before starting to remove any (maybe buy a separate batch purely for food initially). Reds would be easier, but they certainly are smaller worms.
3) I’d say aim for 1/2 lb per square ft or less – so something at least 10 ft sq upper surface area. Better to let worms grow into a system in my opinion. With Euros I recommend decent depth – maybe 18-36″ or so
DEE – how hot has it been in your area?
Assuming you have the right worms, I’d be curious to learn a few more details about your set-up. What materials have you been adding, how was it set up originally? Where located?
I have a bucket inside another bucket. the bottom bucket hold the liquid that drains. The upper bucket rests inside and has holes in the bottom for drainage and on sides for ventalation. I have an organza fabric bag to keep the worms from escaping and to cover the air holes to keep bugs out. I bought worms from e-Bay and put in veggies and shredded brown paper bags wet. That is my system. I also have compost bins with worms. Large bins. I added those worms from time to time. All died. The worms I purchased on e-Bay looked exactly like the ones in my bins. Maybe I shouldn’t have mixed them. Anyway. I the last thing I did was add banannas and a peel and the sides of the bin were ugly so I sprayed them with the hose. I did not get much liquid on the worms so they couldn’t all have drowned. Maybe it was the chemical on the bananna peel or the chemical in the water. Have no idea. I have started over with more worms from my compost bins. Maybe these are not the same worms. They do great in the compost which is about 4 feet deep and 5 feet wide of black black aged compost I made from grass, vegg. etc. matter. Also should I have any compost in the bucket system? I have been trying to keep that at a minimum although a little compost is on each worm when I put them in the bucket. I don’t want to keep buying worms if they are gonna die. thanks for any help in advance. I am new at the worm thing.
I live in S. Ca. and the weather is fine. I kept the bin in the shade under a tree so no sun hits it. Probably about 70’s. Perfect temp I think for the worms.
So I understand this correctly, before my worms died, the inside of the bucket got brown looking and the cardboard was soaked. I take that cardboard and put water on it to get the part that is suppose to be harvested. Is that how you harvest the worm casting? What exactly are castings if not the drippings in the bottom bucket that seep thru.
Also I bought the correct worms on e-bay that you describe but did mix them with worms in my compost bin. Maybe the 2 together didn’t work resulting in all of them dying. Right now I have a little compost and the worms that appear in my compost. They look exactly like the ones I bought from e-bay. Think this will work or should I toss them and order more worms. I am fearful that if I don’t figure out what I did wrong I will just kill more.
due to soil conditions, i raise my garden every year in appox. 25 5gal. buckets. my plan is to build a wooden bin in my heated shop, load all the dirt (50%potting soil,50%peat moss) and add enough redworms to fertilize my soil for spring. the question is how many worms do i need to have for approx. 16 cubic feet of soil? thanks for all the good info on your site!
I’m thinking of starting a worm bin but I still have some questions…
Worms die at some point even if they’re healthy, right? What is their life expectancy? What do you do when some of them start dying? Do you have to weed them out or will they decomposing and be okay to leave there?
Also, I’ve read some contrasting things about reproduction of worms. One site said they don’t reproduce beyond their environmental limitations so that you would never have to worry about having too many, but I’ve also read that when they start multiplying you need to start another bin. I just want to be able to have one small bin for my apartment. I wouldn’t be able to go out and start a new worm bin every six months. Help?
I have a composting bin that is working great. I am confused by the adding eggshells advice – I stopped putting eggshells in because they remained untouched for weeks/months. Is this still helpful to the worms?
Doesn’t look like this site is kept up. I put very finely crushed cooked egg shells (even if momentarily in the microwave) in my worms because I read that it helps with reproduction but what do I know… my first batch of worms all died.
If “kept up” means responding immediately to every single comment on the site then you are right, Dee. I’m definitely slacking in that department. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day.
I have closed commenting on some other pages and have been considering doing so on this page, but I figured it would be better to leave them open so that people can respond to one another.
My apologies to those who have not received responses personally from me – unfortunately the volume of comments and emails has simply reached the point of being too much for me to maintain while keeping a shirt on my back and roof over our heads.
Commenting on newer blog posts is a good way to get in on the discussion (as long as your comment is related to the topic being discussed), and I do still make an attempt to respond to emails.
Long time Bentley and it still looks good. I recently hand harvested 40 gallons of castings and put it into ziploc bags with just enough moisture to crumble. I read somewhere that I could store it this way for about 3 years. Does that make sense? Right after I harvested, I temporarily put all my worms into a 5 gallon bucket. Of course our temps went up into the 100’s and even in the shade my worms all died. They were all stretched out. UGHHHH. We live on a farm so I have been scavenging piles for replacements as we do not have money to buy more. Also, I recently found some of those white, hair thin, type worms. What are they?
Re: Quick Facts About Worm Composting
1) Does Soap or detergent hurt or kill them (or bleach)? I use “grey water” alot.
2) How do you keep them cool in the summer with excessive heat outside?
3) Do you need to protect them in clod winter months?
1) yes soap will kill them
2) keep them wet
3)yes in the house