Releasing Worms Into the Wild

A question from Kristin:

Too many gnats…what’s the nicest way to set my worms free so they’ll
survive in the wild?

Hi Kristin,

Generally speaking, I don’t really recommend releasing composting worms into “the wild”. As I wrote about back in the spring, there has been quite a lot of concern expressed regarding the potential threat of “invasive earthworms” in various parts of North America (see “Do Composting Worms Pose a Threat as Invasive Species?“). While Red Worms (Eisenia fetida/andrei) are not thought to pose any real threat, it’s still probably better to avoid purposely releasing them into a natural habitat.

Using composting worms in your yard/garden is a bit more of a gray area. Some frown on the idea, but I personally still recommend doing so (and do so myself) – so unless you happen to live right on the edge of a sensitive northern forest, perhaps this might be a way for you to still use the worms and not have to worry so much about gnats.

Here is a post I wrote about setting up a backyard composter for vermicomposting:
Earth Machine Vermicomposting

You may also want to check out the “Vermicomposting Trenches” section on the “HOT TOPICS” page.

Assuming you are not interested in continuing on with ANY form of vermicomposting (or perhaps you don’t have a backyard etc), I recommend putting an ad up on Craigslist or one (or more) of the other popular online classified ad websites advertising your “free composting worms”. I’m sure that even with gnats, someone in your area would be interested in taking them off your hands. You could also post something here (on the blog) and/or over on the Vermicomposters forum as well to see if you can find someone in your area.

Hope this helps!
8)

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Comments

    • Rich
    • September 22, 2011

    For Kristin – this is what I did because I currently live in Minnesota and am moving back home to Southern CA. I found someone on Criagslist, and actually made a few bucks in the process.

    • Neil from Maryland
    • September 22, 2011

    If you live in the Wash DC area, I’d be happy to take them off your hands!

    • Jennifer
    • September 22, 2011

    I’m in NC and would love to have them!

  1. I am a firm believer in responsible Vermiculture so; chances are that if you spread some Vermicompost in your yard, you have released worms into the wild. There were cocoons in the VC; that’s what they do, eat and breed.
    I have read tons of the publications about worms being an in invasive species. There has been a lot of research that has been done in the great lakes region of Minnesota and the deforestation of that area due to worms (that is the accepted theory). The worms invaded these remote areas by loggers and “irresponsible” fishermen. Last fall, I tried to see what would happen if I left 500 worms in a controlled area of my yard over winter. Would red wigglers breed and would the cocoons hatch in the spring? No. In the summer? No. In late summer? No. I can’t find a single worm in my project spot. I also dug down about 12 inches and screened the dirt; no worms (I did find some grubs and a rusty nail).
    The test area was 3 feet by 3 feet and 1 foot deep. I gave the worms no food last September, they were on their own.
    My thinking is: if the worms won’t survive a Kansas winter, they won’t survive a winter in Minnesota. The question that I asked was” is it possible that the over abundance of worms in the great lakes region a clue to something else missing from the ecosystem that left the worms unchecked? Or “Is that which feeds on the worms gone“?
    Those questions will probably go unanswered but, what do I know, I’m no scientist.
    And that’s my 3 cents (2 cents adjusted for inflation).

  2. Hi guys – I heard back from Karin and she has created a backyard habitat for her worms, so no worm giveaways I’m afraid.
    🙂
    ——–
    MARK – Thanks for popping by to share your thoughts (we miss ya!). I’m all for “responsible vermiculture”, don’t get me wrong – I simply happen to believe that in the vast majority of cases (if not all), employing Red Worms (Eisenia sp.) in a backyard composting environment is NOT going to pose any risk as far as “invasive worms” go. Important to remember that it’s not all “worms” that are potentially invasive, but particular species of worms. Also, I think “deforestation” is a wee bit of a strong term. Based on what I read, it seems to be primarily understory vegetation that’s being affected. Not trying to downplay the importance of the issue (it’s definitely significant – and the impact is certainly being felt in these forests) – just very important that people don’t get the wrong idea and start assuming that “all worms are bad” and they are destroying the all the forests etc etc.

    Your experiment sounds really cool – and does indeed seem to jibe with the academic consensus regarding Red Worms (Eiseinia sp) as an invasive species (or lack thereof). Most researchers seem to believe that Reds can’t make it through the winter in sensitive, “wild” locales.

    All the worms in the Great Lakes region probably has to do with all the people in the Great Lakes region (much higher population density – and longer time settled in the area than in some of those northern “sensitive” areas). Lots of critters to feed on the worms, and I think they are probably an important part of the ecosystem by now.

    Anyway – definitely a complex issue with lots to consider. Not trying to start up a debate here. Hehe
    Love the “2 cents adjusted for inflation”!
    😆

  3. Whoops – meant “Kristin” (not “Karin”)

    • simon
    • September 29, 2011

    Kristin/Mark,

    I live in MN. last winter I left some worms in my outdoors compost bin. under ~2 ft of leaves/grass. then we had a lot of snow. I was pleasantly suprised that they survived. but I doubt that they would truly thrive in the wild.

    Simon

    • Ann Zipperer
    • November 12, 2011

    I’d be interested in learning if anyone has had a problem with bears going after the worm beds (specifically a worm factory with the multi-tray system). I live in Virginia.

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