Cocoon Production & Bin Size

Interesting question from David:

I’ve tried to search to see if it’s better to have a larger or smaller
bin for increasing the amount of worm cocoons. Sometimes people say a
larger bin will make the worms think there’s more room to expand to,
but others say a smaller bin helps because they can find each other
easier. Do you know which is more accurate?

Hi David,
I would never claim to have a definitive answer to this question (or many others in the realm of vermicomposting, for that matter! lol) but I can certainly share my thoughts on the matter. For starters, it’s important to remember that there are MANY factors that can influence cocoon production – size of the available habitat being just one of them. In other words, we should never assume that the worms will always produce more/fewer cocoons simply based on the size of system they are in.

If we were to consider a fairly “typical” set of conditions (whatever that means – lol), I might lean more towards the “more space leads to more cocoons” school of thought, but let’s spend some time looking at it from both angles.

My hunches about these sorts of things often stem from my knowledge of the natural history of Red Worms (and other epigeic earthworm species). If you consider that these worms are “naturally” adapted for life in environments that can change rapidly and that – like any other organism – they need to ensure the success of future generations, it makes sense that they would feel the urge to expand in number as rapidly as possible when presented with the space (and resources) to do so.

That being said, when a given system starts to become overcrowded with worms it could potentially signal an upcoming food shortage and overall deterioration of the habitat, which also might lead to an increase in cocoon production (as a sort of population “insurance policy”).

Which of these would result in MORE cocoons?? It’s incredibly difficult to say for sure since, as already mentioned, there are SO MANY other variables that can come into play. There are also many, many different levels of “crowded” and “uncrowded”. If, for example, two juvenile worms lived alone in a monstrous manure heap (on opposite sides of the heap from each other) – the likelihood of them rapidly populating that heap, once they are mature enough to do so, is greatly reduced since it would be very difficult for them to find one another.

On the other hand, it’s also important to realize that worms don’t need to always be in close proximity with one another in order to “reproduce”. This is where a distinction between “mating” and “cocoon production” might come in handy. Hermaphroditic earthworms exchange sperm with one another (“mating”), but they then go off and produce cocoons on their own for as long as their store of sperm lasts. So, while it’s certainly important that the worms be able to at least find mating partners periodically, they certainly don’t need to be in a crowded bin to ensure reproductive success.

My own personal preference is to start new systems with fewer worms than your typical “1 pound of worms for every 1 or 2 sq ft of surface area” etc recommendations that others offer. I’ve found that if you provide the worms with a quality habitat (including some food of course) and some space to spread out in, they will increase in number very rapidly.

I should mention that I have witnessed the potential of a “crowded” system to result in a lot more cocoons as well (see: 5 lbs of Red Worms – WOW!). The trade-off, though, is that this approach will cost you more money – and you might even LOSE some of your worms due to over-crowding self-regulation and/or general restlessness (escaping from bin etc).

Anyway – I hope this helps some!

P.S. Here’s another post you may find helpful: How Many Worms Is Enough?

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    • Travis
    • September 5, 2012

    Hello Bentley, After reading Davids question, I would like to share my results, thusfar, of a trial that I started on the 24th of April this year . My intention was to see how rapidly 50 worms could increase their population in a small 4 litre (apprx. 1 Gallon) plastic ice cream container kept in my shed. I live in South Australia btw. After 2 months (mid to late June) I searched through the bin to check on it’s progress and found 111 cucoons which I removed from the container and decided then, to just see how many cucoons they would produce instead of population increase. But, to cut an increasingly long reply short, I have harvested a total 458 cucoons from mid June up until the 30th of August, after which I had to change their living conditions (into aged horse manure and cardboard) due to them consuming all of their original bedding and food. I hope this provides David an insight into what numbers of cucoons can be produced in a very small system in a relatively short amount of time. I would be glad to elaborate more on bedding type, harvesting times/cucoon counts etc if you are interested. Thanks, Travis.

    • John
    • September 6, 2012

    I have a random cocoon question 🙂
    My sister is wanting to get into composting with worms.
    I have tons of cocoons and i would be glad to send her some. I plan on shipping them with a little compost, but would love to over concentrate the cocoons to give her a good chance of getting lots of worms. I have sorted my worms using your “super duper fast light harvest method” but is there an easy way to collect cocoons? The first few times i harvested my worms I tried to sort through with cocoons too…but using my thumb and forefinger was way to time intensive! I was hoping to send my sister a few hundred cocoons…but I don’t know if I have the time to pluck that many out with my current barbaric method.
    Thanks for any suggestions!

    • Bentley
    • September 12, 2012

    Hi Guys – sorry for the delay responding!

    TRAVIS – interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing your results!
    JOHN – In all honesty, I don’t know of an effective way to harvest only cocoons. I suppose you could at least concentrate them with multiple screenings (smaller and smaller mesh size) but the material would need to be quite dry.

  1. Hi Bentley

    I’m wondering if you could tell me what I’m doing wrong as I’ve only found a total of 15 cocoons in my 24 litre tote today 🙁

    The tote was set up with a 300g mixture of red wigglers and Dendrobaena two and a half months ago, using well rotted manure as bedding with shredded newspaper on top.

    They are kept inside my home (i’m in the UK) so they aren’t too cold or hot and I keep an eye on the moisture levels. They are also eating well, getting through approx half a pound of chopped up food a week. They also get ground up egg shells added to the food each feeding. There is no smell to the bin at all.

    When should I completely change their bedding? The horse manure is starting to look pretty well composted now?

    Can you shed any light on what I might be doing wrong as I’m trying to breed more worms and am failing miserably.

    Thanks, Sarah.

    • Mat
    • January 27, 2015

    Travis,i know im 3 years late to the party but I would love to know the details on bedding type, harvesting times, temperature, feeding ect.

    I would like to know how well breeding for cocoons can be done potentially indoors with different expiriments ect.

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