Raising Earth Worms

A 'Squirm' of Red Worms

It’s funny, I spend so much time reminding people that ‘regular’ soil worms are not well suited for worm composting, yet here I am talking about raising ‘earthworms’. Be assured that the term ‘earthworm’ refers to a wide assortment of different worms, including those used for composting, and does not in fact solely refer to the ‘worms of the earth’ (aka the soil dwellers).


With that out of the way, let’s now talk about how to properly raise worms. I think a lot of people forget about the fact that they are essentially taking care of a living breathing creature – a large number of them in fact – when they start up a worm composting (or worm farming) system. In general, most of the composting worm species are quite tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions, but for the optimal performance of your worm system, your wiggly friends need to have their needs met.

The following is a basic (and brief) guide to the conditions required to raising earthworms effectively. Be assured, I will continue to add more to this page over time.

So what exactly do the worms need?

1) Moisture
2) Warmth
3) A Food source
4) Darkness
5) Oxygen

These are the major requirements (in no particular order) when it comes to taking care of your worms. Let’s now chat about each of them in more detail.


Moisture
Earthworms breathe through their skin and thus need to stay moist at all times. Anyone who has had worms crawl out of their bins will know from experience that they can shrivel up and die relatively quickly, so it is vitally important to make sure that the material in yoru worm bins/beds never dries up – in fact, you should be keeping your bedding as moist as possible. That being said, moisture content can be a double-edged sword. Too much moisture can interfere with one of the other mentioned requirements – oxygen! Water can only hold a certain amount of oxygen (a lot less than air), and as such can go ‘anaerobic’ (ie lose its oxygen) quite quickly – especially in the case of organically-rich liquids which are full of oxygen consuming microorganisms.

Many people refer to the ideal moisture content of a worm bin as being similar to that of a “wrung out sponge”. This is an easy do-it-yourself determination of moisture content that has been borrowed from the composting (ie ‘regular’ composting – not worm composting) field. Research has actually shown that composting worms typically prefer a moisture content higher than that typically recommended for thermophilic composting – even as high as 80-90% (Edwards & Lofty, 1996). That being said, the ‘wrung out sponge’ level of moisture is almost certainly a better approach – especially for those with limited worm composting experience – since it can be very easy to end up with too much moisture in your bin. This is especially true when using sealed plastic bins.


Warmth
Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) are certainly amongst the most cold-hardy of the composting worms. According to Glenn Munroe, author of the ‘Manual of On-Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture’ (you will need Adobe Acrobat reader to view), adults of this species have been known to survive being encased in frozen material, and that cocoons are well adapted to survive sub-zero temps for extended periods. I know from personal experience that it is relatively easy to keep a population of Red Worms alive outdoors over the winter with some protection from the cold. Of course, keeping the worms alive is far different than providing them with the requirements for optimal performance! Interestingly enough, optimal temperatures for breeding can be a fair bit different than those for overall worm growth. According to Edwards (1988), the optimal temperature range for breeding Eisenia fetida (red wigglers) is 15-20C (59-68F), yet maximum growth (weight gain) occurs closer to 25C (77F). A similar pattern is reported for other species as well. Speaking of other species, I should also mention that the tropical composting species, such as the African Nightcrawler (Eudrilus eugeniae) and the Blue Worm (Perionyx excavatus) will actually die at temperatures below 10C (50F).

On the other end of the spectrum are the upper limits for worm survival. Eisenia fetida once again outshines the competition, tolerating bed temperatures reportedly as high as 43C (109.4F) according to Reinecke et al. (1992). That being said, it is definitely best to avoid letting your worm bed temperatures go above 30C (86F) whenever possible, as the success of your worms will decline markedly past this point.


Food Source
As I’ve discussed elsewhere on the site, it is actually the microorganisms growing on waste materials that provides the main source of nutrition, not the material itself – but of course the worms do manage to slurp up the rotting material in the process. This is the reason I highly recommend setting up your worm bin (with bedding and ‘food’) well before you even get your worms. By the time you add the worms to the system there will be a very rich microbial community waiting. Ever since starting to take this approach myself I had no problems with worms trying to escape from a new bin.

The best food sources are therefore the materials that support the richest microbial population. This helps to explain why animal manures are pretty well the best material to grow composting worms in! One important factor to keep in mind when considering the potential of various waste materials is the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio. Generally speaking, a C:N in the range of 20:1 to 30:1 is going to be ideal (similar to thermophilic composting). Below this range there is the tendency for nitrogen to be lost as gaseous ammonia; above this range decomposition can proceed more slowly, with N being the limiting factor.


Darkness
Worms prefer it dark – there is no doubt about it! In fact, extended periods in direct sunlight can kill worms. One of the commonly used techniques for keeping worms in a new bin relies on this very principle. If you find that your wigglers are attempting to migrate out of the bin (and don’t notice any obvious hazard that is causing the stress) you can generally keep them where they are by shining a light directly overhead!.

Some guideliness for maintaining darkness for your worms can include using opaque (ie not ‘see-through’) containers, keeping your worm systems in low light areas (not really necessary if you take other measures), and providing ample bedding material to help block out the light. Don’t let this scare you too much though – you can still play with your worms from time to time without harming them.
🙂

If you are keen to observe your worms for extended periods (ideal for a classroom setting) you can set up your own ‘dark room’ using red lights (this wavelength of light does not bother worms).


Oxygen
While way more tolerant of low O2 concentrations than us, composting worms are still aerobic organisms, thus it’s important to make sure your worm bin doesn’t go anaerobic on you. You need to be especially cautious when using plastic containers, since they do not ‘breathe’ the way some other materials (such as wood) do. If you are using a homemade plastic tub worm bin you should probably drill some holes in the top and sides (1/8″ drill bit should work well) – you don’t need to go too overboard though – obviously you don’t want the contents of the bin to dry out, or to let too much light in. If you have some sort of catch tray or lower reservoir (as shown in my ‘deluxe’ worm bin video), drilling some drain holes in the bottom of your bin (perhaps 2-4) will help alleviate the potential for water pooling in the bottom of your bin.

Another great way to encourage increased oxygenation is the use of bulky bedding materials like shredded cardboard, paper and leaves (although paper can sometimes become matted down, thus impeding air flow). This allows air to reach the inner zones of the composting mass, where the worms are typically hanging out. The choice of container for your worm bin is also an important consideration. You will want a container that has a high surface area to volume ratio. A relatively shallow Rubbermaid tub for example, is much better than a bucket since it encourages much greater air-flow throughout the materials contained inside.

The activity of the worms themselves will also aid in aerating the system, so unlike a hot composting pile, you won’t ever need to ‘turn’ your worm systems.


So there you have it! As you can see, successfully raising your worms depends on a small handful of important considerations. If you master these variables you’ll be amazed with the success of your worm population!
Once again, I will definitely be adding more to this page over time so be sure to check back periodically – or better yet, sign up for my newsletter and be kept up to date on all the new and exciting developments on the site!

REFERENCES
Edwards, C.A. 1988. Breakdown of animal, vegetable and industrial organic wastes by earthworms. In: Earthworms in waste and environmental management. Edwards, C.A. & Neuhauser, E.F. (eds). SPB Academic Publishing Co, The Hague, pp. 21-31.

Edwards, C.A. and P.J. Bohlen. 1996. The biology and ecology of earthworms (3rd Edition). Chapman & Hall, London, 426pp.

Reinecke, A.J., Viljoen, S.A. and R.J. Saayman. 1992. The suitability of Eudrilus eugeniae, Perionyx excavatus and Eisenia fetida (Oligochaeta) for vermicomposting in Southern Africa in terms of their temperature requirements. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 24(12): 1295-1307.


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Comments

    • Bentley
    • February 24, 2009

    Hi Amy – wow, that was an eyeful!
    😆

    Roaming worms is definitely one of those things that almost EVERYONE with a newly set up bin deals with. Worms almost invariably need some time to get used to their system, but of course (as you’ve suggested) it’s important not to make them live in environment that is harmful.

    My suggestion is to leave the lid off (no plastic wrap) with a light over top for 24 hours or so – try turning it off for 5 or 10 minutes at a time during this period to see what the worms do. If they move up and try to escape very quickly you will know something more serious is going on.

    Also take a look down below – are there worms that seem ok? Are they responsive – ie when you pull away the bedding do they dive down?

    Where did you get the worms, by the way? (not specifics – I just mean ‘bait shop’, ‘worm dealer’, ‘friend’ etc). The only reason I ask is that 200 worms sounds like an odd number to start with

    Anyway – hope this helps a little.
    8)

    • Bentley
    • February 24, 2009

    Lonnie,
    Setting up your own worm composting business can be an incredibly satisfying experience – especially if you are interested in this field. It DOES however take a LOT of work in order to generate the kind of revenue you are talking about. Really, it comes down to how badly you want to succeed with it, and how much work you are willing to put in. One thing I definitely wouldn’t recommend is paying thousands of dollars for a ‘worm business in a box’ type of product. In my humble opinion, it makes WAY more sense to ease yourself in – start up a bunch of worm bins/beds and see how you like it.
    It is really important to be realistic as well. While you can certainly start a worm business on a small residential property (I speak from experience – haha), if you don’t have much else going for you in terms of vermicomposting experience, or business/promotion experience in general, this could be extremely challenging. Education and marketing are really important – most people have no clue what vermicomposting even is.

    Anyway – I could write a lot more, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Hopefully that helps

    Bentley

    • Amy in New Orleans
    • February 25, 2009

    Hi,

    Thanks a lot for your quick response. Sorry my original post was so long.

    I actually pretty much have done what you suggested already in the interim. We left the top off completely with a light on for a day or two. When we would put the lid on once in a while, maybe within 30 min or so, approx. four worms would be up near the top of the container. It wasn’t 100% clear whether they were trying to escape for just exploring. We now have the LED nightlight rigged up in the inside of the lid.

    When I open up the bin an look under the bedding, most of the worms seem to be a good color, are wriggly and responsive, and most of them are on the very bottom of the container. There are a few worms hanging out in the middle — not on top not on bottom — who who seem a little more lethargic. I put some food in there a couple of days ago but I don’t think it’s ready for them to eat quite yet (turnip greens).

    My concern is what I consider to be a slightly sharp, not very pleasant smell, and whether or not the bin has the right moisture content — I put some dry newspaper in there when I transferred them to their new bin because I was worried it was too wet. Maybe it’s too dry? I also wonder if the pH is off (the smell?).

    My friend ordered the worms from, I believe, an online redworm supplier. She thinks there were about 250-300 worms in the original shipment, and we split them.

    I think I’m going to try turning off the led nightlight and see what happens.
    Any other ideas are helpful.
    Thanks,
    Amy in New Orleans

    • Derwood mark
    • February 28, 2009

    Hello you helped me with my worms before and the advice helped out a lot so I would like to help you with your worms. Your probably thinking how I can help when your the worm genius. I found out that when feeding your worms it takes some patients to get the gold but one way to accelerate the process is to put all the stuff you plan to give your worms into a blender and add just enough water to the blender help get everything in very small chunks and it seems to cut the time in half to get your black gold.

    P.S.; you may do what ever you want with this information.
    thank you
    Darren Mark

    • Bentley
    • February 28, 2009

    Amy – hard to say for sure what is causing the smell (without actually smelling it myself). As for moisture, as long as it feels fairly moist without pooling in the bottom you should be ok. A bin that’s too dry generally won’t cause worms to try and leave – they’ll probably just head further down in the bin and will eventually shrink in size and completely dry up (would take a while for this to happen).
    Anyway – sounds like you are taking steps in the right direction.
    8)

    • Bentley
    • February 28, 2009

    Hi Darren,
    I am hardly a ‘worm genius’ – just a guy with unusually keen interest in vermicomposting. lol
    Thanks for the tip – when I wrote this page originally I was not a blended food waste convert – I tended to think this approach was too risky (high potential for anaerobic conditions, overfeeding etc).
    I did eventually come around though – be sure to check out my “homemade manure” posts:
    https://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-composting/homemade-manure/

    https://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-composting/homemade-manure-mania/

    Glad to hear the blending approach is working so well for you!
    8)

    • Brian Pearcy
    • March 2, 2009

    I live in Florida.

    If I keep my worms outside in the summer, I’m afraid they’ll get too hot in my vertical bins. What are your thoughts?

    My wife would rather them be outside, but it can average 95 degrees in the summer where I live. I think they might need to remain inside when it’s that hot.

    How can I overcome that?

    • Bentley
    • March 3, 2009

    Hi Brian,
    I’d suggest that you try out some sort of in-ground system, like the ‘Worm Tower’:
    https://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-bins/worm-tower/

    Only potential issue in your case might be predatory flatworms (which can wipe out a worm population pretty quickly). Perhaps if you lined the system with landscape fabric or something similar, this would provide protection.

    • scott
    • March 6, 2009

    when i first recieved my worms in october i had applied a “compost maker” from bonide, to help start the composting process …. to be clear … i have no interest in this company outside of personal use:)
    however i got to wondering if this was good for e.f. worms?

    the contents states… a blend of ocean kelp,fish and alalfa meals…. is this type of product harmful if sprinkled (top dressing) over a indoor 18 gallon rubber maid system?

    by the way….excellant site….

    • Bentley
    • March 9, 2009

    Hi Scott,
    That sort of product, while certainly not necessary, shouldn’t create too many issues – although I guess it would depend on the salt content in the kelp. Worms are very sensitive to inorganic salts, so there COULD be some potential for issues there.

    B

    P.S. The alfalfa meal would likely be a great worm food, by the way.

    • Jim Many
    • April 6, 2009

    I’m raising some red wigglers in a bed under my rabbit cages. Any reason I can’t add some European nightcrawlers to the mix or do I need to keep them separated? Live in Mississippi.

    • penny smith
    • April 15, 2009

    If I put nightcrawlers from my yard in with my red worms will they cross breed and produce a larger red worm?

  1. Jim,

    I too have rabbits and have lots of red wigglers under my rabbit cages. To my surprise when I was cleaning out under the cages the other day there was quite a few night crawlers under there with the reds. The night crawlers have voluntarily come over, I didn’t put them there. They didn’t seem to be hurting anything though. I am in Texas.

    • Keith Wagoner
    • April 27, 2009

    When I was powerwashing my sidewalk the other day, I used a little bleach in the mixture. To my surprise, worms started popping out of the ground in droves. I picked them up and rinsed them with fresh water. Then I put them in my worm bin, but I think every one of them died within hours. Has anyone ever done any experiment to see if there is a level of dilution that will both drive them from the ground and NOT kill them?

    This was not just a couple of worms coming to the surface due to water. These worms came screaming out of the ground in about 30-40 seconds after they were sprayed.

  2. what do you keep them in if you have about 200.

    • Bentley
    • April 28, 2009

    JIM – You can certainly mix the two worm species, but you might find that the Red Worms outcompete the Euros eventually.

    ————————

    PENNY – You cannot interbreed worms, especially not soil species with composting worms. European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) are closely related to Red Worms but you still can`t interbreed them successfully.

    ————————-

    KEITH – that is pretty crazy. I remember when I was a kid someone told me that a mild mustard solution was a great way to get Dew Worms out of their holes. Looking back now it definitely seems pretty cruel, plus I`m not sure how dilute it would have to be to still be effective while not harming the worms at all (same goes for your bleach solution – I think it would need to be extremely dilute)

    ——————————

    NOLAN – it depends on what type of worm you are talking about. If Red Worms you could simply make a small worm bin for them. If soil worms, just make up a bed of soil, maybe mixed with peat moss etc.

    • Mississippi
    • May 2, 2009

    You should use european nightcrawlers for raising bait, but use red wigglers for composting.

    nolan:
    Use a small plastic container with a lid (with holes) if you have a small amount of worms, but it will require more care.

  3. Thank you for the info. I just was starting tonight so I can save them for fishing of coarse, I also hear they are good to eat for the protein. You ahve given me information that I’m sre will make me worms thrive. wha I was doing would have made a very smelly and not so tasty mess I thank you very much. people such as yourself are a blessing bot people like me may God be with you and may your worms grow to love you, that is until you put them on the hook so to speak, thanks again you were very hlpfull and I’m sure I will do well now. Your friend Bill

  4. I have a compost tumbler. It always has lots of worms in it. In the summer months I see very tiny, tiny, white dots. About the size of a pin. Are these worm eggs? Or cocoons?

    • Bentley
    • May 28, 2009

    BILL – glad to help
    ——————————————————

    BARBARA – those tiny white dots are almost certainly mites. These are extremely common in composting systems, and are so slow that they are often mistaken for some sort of egg

    • Margaret Haddix
    • May 29, 2009

    I have a worm factory. I got 400 Euro. nightcrawlers to begin and they seemed a good size for fishing. Now, 1 1/2 years later, I have many very small worms that are too small to put on a hook. They produce lots of “worm tea” and are active but way, way too small. I feed them shredded copy paper, bananas, oatmeal, leaves, apples, etc. They have all crawled up in the 2nd bin. What am I doing wrong?

    • barbara manley
    • May 29, 2009

    What do worm coccoons look like? I have very tiny white dots in my composter. The size of a pin head. Are these the baby worms?

    • regina
    • June 15, 2009

    I just bought 2 pounds of worms for my worm bin – they came in a large amount of dirt. should I seperate them or keep it all together? I have a 3 tray stacking composter and the entire amount fills 2 of the trays. I’ve tried seperating them by hand and it’s really a chore. Suggestions?

  5. I have been successfully raising red wigglers for a few months now. I have quite a few night crawlers (or, I assume that is what they are) running wild in my chicken coop. I’m thinking I would like to start raising them in captivity in a bin. Do I treat them the same as I do the wigglers?

    Thanks.

    • Deuce
    • June 27, 2009

    Man….chicks are not impressed with my worm bed. How can I get chicks to love my worms.

  6. I’ve had worms for three lovely weeks and all has been going well. I had them in my carport in Atlanta where it has been very hot – 90 something each day. Yesterday I had a baguette of sourdough bread that I crumbled into the bin. This morning I made cold cucumber soup and put the peelings and some carrot tops into the bin. Tonight I opened the bin and there were clumps of worms all tangled together at the top of the bin and worms all up the sides.

    I decided it is probably too hot in my carport so I moved them into the basement where the temp is probably around 68 – 70. They’ve been down there around an hour. I just checked and they are still all on the sides of the bin but now separated and not clumped together.

    Help–I’m about to go out of town and don’t want them to all escape while I am gone.

    Linda in Hotlanta

    • Bentley
    • July 2, 2009

    Hi Linda,
    You definitely did the right thing – 90+ degrees is really hot for worms in enclosed systems. I think you should be ok leaving them at 68-70. If you are really worried, you might want to leave them under a bright light for the entire time you are away (fluorescents work well and suck up a lot less power).

    B.

  7. Thanks, Bentley, It is now not quite 24 hours later and there are still worms all up on the sides of the bin – some are now down working, but I’m still worried. I added a layer of compost over the garbage in the bin. I tore up a few paper towels in case it might be too moist in there. I can hear them chewing but there are at least 100 worms on the sides – I’m scared to leave the top off for fear they will all leave the bin and crawl around my basement floor!

    • Bentley
    • July 2, 2009

    Hear them chewing? lol
    100 on the sides does sound like a LOT, that’s for sure.
    What I would definitely suggest however – if you have time – do take the lid off and keep the bin in a brightly lit area. See what happens in 5, 10, 15, 20 etc minutes. If they all try to escape in the light there is definitely something wrong in the bin. If on the other hand they all go down into the bedding and stay put you may be ok.
    If you are in a rush to leave, again I would simply suggest leaving the bin in a well-lit spot the entire time (with lid on as per usual).
    One other thing to mention – having the lid off can actually really help improve conditions in the bin. It allows a LOT more air circulation and evaporation of excess moisture, so if you see that the worms are going down (without ever coming back up) with the lid off and the light shining in, you may want to consider leaving the lid off while you are gone. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but as long as there is a light on them, they won’t likely go anywhere (and any iffy conditions down below should remedy themselves with the increase in oxygen).

  8. Well, I know I can’t hear them chewing but there is a noise as they are moving under everything and it is more obvious the more worms are active in the bin. I left the lid off and came back to work so they will be in the fluorescent light for about 4 hours before I’m back home. I leave tomorrow morning for 8 days so I don’t want to leave them in crisis. We’ll see how they are when I get home. Thanks for your help and if there’s a worm migration all over the basement floor when I get home, I’ll post again!

    • Bentley
    • July 3, 2009

    Wow, Linda – you must have good hearing! haha
    Anyway, best of luck – I’ll certainly be interested to find out how this goes for you!
    8)

  9. my earth worms keep dieing no matter what i do ?

    • Carrie
    • July 20, 2009

    Hi!
    When starting a worm bin, is it ok to use cardboard like ceral boxes? Or is it better to use brown cardboard with no printing on it?
    Thanks,
    Carrie

    • Bentley
    • July 22, 2009

    JASON – What exactly is it that you are doing? How do you set up your worm bin? What kind of worms are you using? What are you feeding them? I definitely need more info in order to provide assistance.
    🙂

    —–

    CARRIE – I generally prefer not to use cardboard with glossy colors on it – the brown (or gray, in the case of egg carton cardboard) is definitely better.

    • jeff
    • July 24, 2009

    i plan on making a worm bin and i was wondering if i could use my glass aquarium to do so. all of the glass is painted so that no light can get in.

    • Melissa
    • July 30, 2009

    Hi!

    Have learned a lot about worms on your site. I am currently raising about 50 worms in a fish aquarium. I have rocks on the bottom to help the soil not sit in the water and sour and to help it stay moist. my question is Is the food supposed to grow mold?? I thought the worms would eat it before it started molding. I am keeping them in the house as a “science project” for my kids.

    This is my first attempt at raising worms and any help would be extremely appreciated!!

    • Melissa
    • July 30, 2009

    i have babies!! but i also have bugs!!! i think they are mites but not sure. they are brown/red. scared to leave lid off —- the bugs might escape into the house!!

    PLEASE HELP!!

    • Bentley
    • July 30, 2009

    JEFF – I have made a worm bin using an aquarium, and while it can be great for keeping in moisture, it is NOT great for air circulation. I ended up adding aquarium air tubes in an effort to pump oxygen down into the lower regions. I was using a clear aquarium as well, so the poor worms were basically stuck in the middle of the material until it got dark, at which time you could see them coating the inside of the glass walls.
    —–
    MELISSA – Generally in a ‘normal’ worm bin with lots of bedding and lots of worms, you don’t get too much in the way of mold growth – although it depends on the type of food you add. Breads and cereals etc will grow mold much more readily than many other types of wastes (I recommend adding these in moderation since they can become an anaerobic mess as well). 50 worms in all honesty is not a lot – I am also curious to know what kind of worms they are – this is VERY important. Your regular ol’ garden variety of worms are not good for this type of system (although you mention “soil”, so perhaps you’ve created a system more ideal for soil worms than for composting worms).

    The “babies” MAY be white worms – very common, especially when there is too much food and a lot of moisture. If the soil you added was from your garden, this might also explain how they got there. Same goes for the “bugs”. You are probably right about them being mites. Don’t worry about them being in your house though. Unless your home is warm, wet and dark, with lots of food lying around (haha) it won’t likely provide the habitat they are adapted for.

    • Melissa
    • July 30, 2009

    thanks! They are red wigglers. I started trying to raise them when i was raising a baby mockingbird, but he has been released and i thought this would be a great experiment. i have tried to put cornmeal in there and it gets moldy very fast. they seem like they don’t like it either. the soil is moist peat moss that i had left over from my garden. i also put some shredded newspaper in with them. they seem to like this until it gets matted down. have some overripe tomatoes and squish i wanted to give them. should i mix this with soil and put outside for a while and then give it to them?? what about manure?? I have 2 horses and some goats. also have a deer that stays around so i have plenty of manure. whats the best way to use this?? should i let it dry out and then use it ??

    Thanks!!

    • Bentley
    • July 31, 2009

    Wow – manure?
    You should definitely add some of this – it works best if it has been sitting outside for a bit, and you might want to only add a small amount at a time just to be on the safe side. Horse manure is one of the best food materials for red worms.
    Corn meal isn’t a great food material at all, but tomatoes (in moderation since pretty acidic) and ‘squish’ (haha) are great! Just keep an eye on the moisture content. Add lots of dry bedding at the same time.

    • David
    • September 7, 2009

    Bently,
    After creating the worm bedding (from your Rubbermaid video), at what point do you add peat moss or coconut coir to the mix? I will be purchasing my worms in a week. Thanks.

    • Bentley
    • September 10, 2009

    Hi David,
    It is not vitally important to ever add these materials. They can help to make your bedding a lot more absorbent, but I’ve had plenty of bins that didn’t have either (most of my systems over the years, in fact).

    • David
    • September 11, 2009

    Bentley,

    Thanks for the reply. Your latest email detailing the mature worm bin is so educational. A relative who works at a grocery store recently gave me a few boxes of ‘cutaway’ produce – I now have three worm beds cooking right now. A question I have is, are drain holes a requirement for ideal worm beds? I would think that the cardboard and other carbons will soak up the juices but if they don’t then will I have a stinky mess?

    David

    • Bentley
    • September 11, 2009

    Hi David,
    Drainage isn’t a necessity, but making sure conditions don’t get too wet and anaerobic IS – so however you chose to do this (while keeping the needs of your worms in mind) is totally fine. My outdoor systems are all open-bottomed so they drain into the ground. My indoor systems on the other hand don’t have drainage (well, ok my Worm Inns technically do but they never drain anything), but they are either completely open system (and thus require moisture being added from time to time), or moisture is managed by adding dry bedding materials.
    Wet, organic wastes with little oxygen will indeed create a nasty stinky mess.

    • Moss
    • September 25, 2009

    Please help. I have had worms for a year now and everything has been going well until the last month when they started dying in their numbers. What i find also is that they all come up-the surface as if to leave the bin. I have loosened the soil to no avail, added lime and not helping. There are however other things concerning. I have used to the redlike small creatures that also occupy the bin, and suddenly also I observed the black insects like beetles. What is bothering my worms and what kills them. The other sign is that those about to die develop a bulgy bag, change in colour and the die.

    • Bentley
    • September 25, 2009

    Hi Moss – I suspect that you simply need to harvest the bin and start fresh. This sounds like what I refer to as ‘mature worm bin syndrome’. Worms are pretty tolerant, but if you don’t eventually give them a fresh home (assuming you are using plastic tub systems) their health and well being will eventually decline.
    Start up a brand new bin, let it age for a bit, then move the worms over to it. Check out the “Hot Topics” page to get some suggestions for harvesting (Davids method is a great one to use).

    Hope this helps
    8)

    • Doug
    • November 5, 2009

    I would like to start some earthworm bins. My intent is to raise earthworms to feed pond raised catfish, and possibly chickens. Can you estimate the approximate yield per year of worms if I start with 2 pounds of red wigglers, assuming I always retain 2 pounds of breeders?

    Thanks

    • Bentley
    • November 5, 2009

    DOUG – sounds like a fun plan. Unfortunately I can’t really provide you with an accurate estimate though – it will depend on a huge array of different factors. If you still want to come up with SOME sort of estimate, perhaps you can go with the ‘worm population doubling every 90 days’ notion that seems to get passed around a lot.
    A bit more food for thought – a worm friend of mine told me she started with 1 lb of worms in a large system, and ended up with 10 lb a year later (so 10-fold increase in a year).
    A couple more tidbits based on my own observations…
    1) I conducted a breeding experiment in a bin that definitely was NOT optimized well at all. I started with 4 immature worms and after 5 months counted ~120 worms of all sizes (mostly small)
    2) I did a ’50 cocoon’ experiment with a fairly normal worm bin – so 50 cocoons were added and I waited to see how long it would take for them to develop into adult worms. Within 5-6 weeks, I was finding adults

    Moral of my msg – worms DO breed quickly, but don’t get too fixated on any particular growth estimates. It will really depend on how you keep the systems maintained etc.

    Hope this helps

    • norah
    • November 7, 2009

    Hi Bentley,
    Love your site, very informative!
    I have recently acquired a load of horse manure (apples as the lady called them!). They are dry but are still solid ‘apples’. Can I use them in a worm trench as is or do I have to convert them to a powdery mess? Will they decompose over the winter in a layered bed?
    I have 3 raised beds that I layer each year but have not used horsey stuff before.
    I’d rather not have to break them down as the work is hard and I am not young any more!
    Thanks for your help.

    • Bentley
    • November 7, 2009

    Thanks Norah – I appreciate the kind words.
    You can certainly add the ‘apples’ to your trench as is, but they will definitely need to be moistened well before the worms will want to have anything to do with them.
    I’m sure if you simply added them without doing ANYTHING they would end up breaking down nicely over the winter. Maybe you have some sort of water-rich waste material (food waste etc) you could mix in?

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