‘Wild’ Red Wiggler Worms

As I mentioned in my last post, my dad recently obtained a large quantity of aged horse manure for me (a close friend of his is an avid rider). It was actually the lady at the horse boarding stable who collected the material. My dad – knowing how much of a Red Worm fanatic I am – had casually asked her if she ever saw any worms in the manure piles. She said that she had in fact seen lots of them, and when she learned about my interest in them, offered to collect some of the material for us!

My very first encounter with Red Worms actually occurred when I dug into a huge aged horse manure pile while working at a stable one summer (when 14 or 15 years old). I was told that I was welcome to take as much of the manure as I wanted back home for my dad’s garden. When I dug in and lifted the first pitchfork load of manure I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was absolutely LOADED with odd looking (to me at the time) reddish striped worms. Being an avid fisherman, I was much more familiar with the larger, brown Dew Worms (Lumbricus terrestris), or the other brown/gray worms found in my garden soil, but finding so many worms in one place – and not even in soil at all – certainly shocked me. My shock however quickly turned to excitement – I had visions of starting up my own little bait business in my dad’s backyard, and decided to gather as many of the worms as I could.

Once back at home, I at least had the sense to add the worms to my dad’s compost heap, but unfortunately it was very dry and consisted primarily of old grass clippings and woody debris. You can probably just imagine my disappointment when I returned the next day and found NO worms left in the area! My bubble was burst, and the dreams of my bait empire crushed – so I decided to give up on Red Worms – at least for a decade or so.


My main point here is that aged manure piles can be a major (and usually overlooked) gold mine in terms of getting yourself a supply Red Worms. Many farmers, stable owners etc pile manure outside for extended periods of time and don’t have the slightest care about any worms that might end up living in the material. Often, the material ends up spread on fields or gardens, but if you ask nicely and explain your interest, I’m sure most people wouldn’t hesitate to let you poke around in their manure heaps and even take some buckets of manure home with you.

Not all manure piles will contain composting worms – only those that have had them introduced, since these worms don’t live in regular soil (like the typical ‘garden variety’). All it would take is one or two cocoons stuck to the bottom of a birds foot. Aged manure heaps represent pretty well the best habitat for Red Worms, so the population in the heap would likely increase very rapidly (at a rate that would put my ‘4 Worm Experiment’ to shame, thats for sure – haha!).

So what am I going to do with my new worms and aged manure, you might ask?

Well, this morning I added a lot of material (with worms) to both of my outdoor compost bins to help boost worm populations in those systems. I’ve also used some of the no-worm material in my ‘sour worm bin’ (as mentioned), and have added it to some of my other indoor bins as well.

I’m also likely going to start up at least a couple new vermicomposting systems inside! Should be fun.

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    • Jay
    • July 25, 2008

    Talked to a nice lady with a stable about worm composting and she couldn’t believe anyone would take interest in a bunch of worms, nor did she know worms even existed in her manure pile. When I arrived at her farm and dug through the pile, she got curious and I showed her the striped yellow tailed creature, and she got pretty excited. I hope I converted her somehow

    • Bentley
    • July 25, 2008

    Hi Jay,
    I’m always amazed by how quickly people can become interested once they see how excited I get about these little guys! It’s all about perspective.

  1. Hi Bentley,
    I received some aged horse manure, added it to my compost heap and so far disappointed, my worms were raised stictly on greens, now it looks like 80% of them are cooked or disappeared, stirred the heap to cool down and also added card board prior. Your feed back would be appreciated!

    • Bentley
    • December 8, 2008

    Hi Robert – sorry to hear that.
    How much did you add? Must have been a lot if it cause enough heating to potentially “cook” your worms.
    Overheating is definitely something you need to be wary of – especially with N-rich materials like manure.

    Did the material you used still have a manure smell? If so, it should still be considered fairly fresh.

    Adding cardboard is a good idea. Careful with stirring though – this adds more oxygen and can actually lead to more heating. I would remove some of the manure and also try to spread it out more (if at all possible). Add a lot more moist cardboard or other carbon-rich bedding materials to help shift the C:N ratio.


    • Kim
    • January 31, 2011

    I am starting a rather large scale vermicomposting bin. I will be purchasing around 10 lbs of your worms. I have 6 horses which you can imagine create alot of prime realestate for these little workers. I have designed and began building a 2’x10′ flow through reactor for my worms to create their masterpeice. My intention is to sell and use the compost for garden soil. The question I have (after my long winded story) is it ok for my horses to have the bin in the barn? Does the worm compost create an amonia smell? The base manure is around 10 years old, around 1 inch thick, on top of that will be 1 month old manure then sprinkled daily with new manure. (I will be cautious of overheating) I live in very cold New Hampshire so winter will be nice for my worms. As my worms procreate I will have enough room to ad many more bins and grow my facility. The “lid” will be electical conduit with black landscape fabric so birds are not able to swoop in.
    Do you see a problem with my design or plan? I do have a farm tractor which is able to fit in the barn for removing the processed compost so it will be no more labor intensive than caring for my horses. Also can I ad my unusable hay to the worm facility or is hay bad for them?
    Thank you very much for any input you can give me. I have researched this for endless hours and would like to thank you for your articles which have made me relize what a great community worm farmers truely are.
    Thanks again

    • Bentley
    • February 1, 2011

    Hi Kim,
    In all honesty, if you end up with ammonia smell the worms will likely already be dead (they are very sensitive to ammonia). If the 1 month manure has been sitting outside exposed to the elements it shouldn’t cause any issues, but maybe start by testing with a small number of worms just to make sure you are ok.
    All in all, it sounds as though you’ve got a nice little plan!
    Keep us posted!


    • Brian m
    • November 7, 2011

    I am starting a worm bin in my garage. It’s about ten gallons with 2 lbs of wigglers. I am mainly using horse manure and just a few veggie scraps from the kitchen. My questions are. This winter my garage drops down to as low as 40/45 degrees but does have a heat vent and usually the temp hangs around 50/55 when the doors are shut. Is that a safe temp? And, do red wigglers like tomatoes because I lost quite a few in an un expected frost and I was wondering if I could chop them up and freeze them to feed my bin with from time to time? Any input will be greatly appreciated. I’m definitely excited about having a successful system.

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