POAC Affinity Group AGREEN Meeting
April 30, 2010
What is Vermiculture?
It is composting using special worms.
One can compost throughout the year by placing the worm bin in your house.
One can make their own worm bin inexpensively and fairly easily.
The worms make castings (solid wastes) and worm tea (liquid wastes), both of which are desirable and very effective
One can use nightcrawlers in vermiculture and then, when the adults are mature and not reproducing, use for fish bait
or simply place in outdoor gardens. They like to tunnel through deep soil, thus benefiting the garden through this
Main Types of Worms Used in Vermiculture
If you discuss worms with an expert or want to buy them from a grower, it’s important to use the Latin names because
each type of worm has a variety of common names, sometimes the exact same name for different species.
Redworms (Lumbricus rebellus)
Color: dark red to maroon, no striping between segments and has a light yellow underbelly
Adult length: Up to 3 inches with 95-120 segments
Food Preferences: Rich compost and decaying plant and animal material
Temperatures: 64-72 degrees
Cocoon hatching: 12-16 weeks
Great wigglers, another great source of fish bait, also aerate the soil. Found in animal pastures and compost piles.
Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida)
Also known as tiger worms
Color: Rust brown. Alternating bands of yellow and maroon
Adult length: Up to 3 inches
Habitat: Just under the soil surface
Food Preferences: Very rich compost, manure piles, decaying plant and animal material
Temperatures: 59-77 degrees
Cocoon hatching: 35-77 days
Excellent vermicomposting worm. Can eat its weight in food each day—a major accomplishment! Prolific reproducer.
Can tolerate fluctuations in temperature, acidity and moisture levels, unlike other species. Some regenerative ability.
Red Tigers (Eisenia Andrei)
Also known as tiger worms (see above)
Color: Dark red or purple. Some have yellow bands and some don’t.
Adult length: Up to 3 inches
Habitat: Just under the soil surface and under mulch
Food preferences: Manure, rich compost and decaying plant and animal material
Great for composting; close relative of the Eisenia fetida—therefore, can eat quite a lot very quickly. Also used for bait.
Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris)
Color: Red, brown or a combination of these colors, some may be greenish.
Adult length: Up to 12 inches
Habitat:Vertical tunnels that can be up to 6 feet deep
Food preferences: Leaf litter and mulch
Temperature: @50 degrees
Cocoon incubation time: 14-21 days
Some regenerative ability but if cut closer to the end, then can end up with 2 heads or 2 tails.
Not good for indoor vermicomposting because they want their tunnels to stay undisturbed. They appear on the surface
at night to get food to bring down into the soil. Unco Industries manufactures them for vermicomposting and then
promotes them for fish bait.
Come with directions, less time and planning in the creation
Homemade for individual use
Easily adaptable for varying household members
Coolers, Styrofoam chests, old refrigerators, plastic storage bins, wooden bins
Drill holes on each side near the top.
Drill holes on the bottom.
Suspend a shelf of chicken wire or similar material a few inches from the bottom.
Either place a bin in another bin with no holes in the bottom or on top of a piece of plastic or wood with some
edging to trap the worm tea. Between the bin with holes and the solid bottom, place items to hold up bin and
keep out of the liquid.
Take landscape fabric or something similar that breathes and cover the holes to discourage flies.
Other needed things:
Long thermometer to gauge temp of compost
Thermometer to gauge room temp
Newspaper strips, straw, rock dust, animal manures, plant compost, coconut fiber, wood chips, worm food
How many worms do I need?
Collect kitchen scraps for one week. Weigh them. The ratio of worms to food is 2 to 1. If your scraps weigh one pound,
then get two pounds of worms—appr. 2000.
Feeding the worms
Why buy worm food when I want to compost my kitchen scraps?
Because problems will occur since you’re dealing with living beings. If you start off your effort by feeding proven
worm food, then you can eliminate food as a source of difficulty.
Foods to Avoid or Limit
Citrus Meats and bones Garlic Heavily spiced foods like Mexican and Indian Hair Dairy products
Eggs Fresh green wastes and manures Poisonous plants (like many houseplants) Oils Salt Wood ashes
Absolutely no metals, foils, plastics, chemicals (including solvents and insecticides), or soaps
Too many food wastes, not enough air, too wet, too acidic, wrong food
Be aware that foods in broccoli family are naturally stinky. If this bothers you, don’t put the food in the bin.
Be sure of the exact type of worms in your bin (use the scientific name when ordering). Then check the moisture
levels, temp and acidic conditions needed by that type.
Use light to keep them in the bin.
Move living worms to another bin right away.
Too wet, too dry, not enough food, temp, light levels, chlorinated water, wrong pH
Lid on bin, fly trap (vinegar + dishwashing liquid), bury food, vacuum bin with small hand-held vacuum
Came with grass clippings. Not hurting but competing with worms for food.
Bait with melon rind.
OK but do not eat
Mold on food
OK if not allergic. If allergic, then put bin outdoors and bury food well.
Other animals found in bin
Ants—nuisance but no harm to worms. Use organic bait
Centipedes—worm predators. Kill or take outside immediately.
Enchytraeid worms (pot worms or white worms)—no harm
Flies—see above and check book for more details on eliminating them
Grubs—not a major problem but to eliminate, use melon rind
Mites—many varieties. Red mites eat worms. Can’t eliminate entirely. Several ways to reduce this population:
Sunlight, decrease water and food, bait of melon rinds, potato slices, change bedding. Water bin heavily but do
not flood or place moist newspaper or heavy cloth on top of the bedding overnight. Mites will gravitate.
Nematodes—some problems but basically OK
Slugs—Ok but to eliminate: handpick, bait with bowl of beer nearby, use diatomaceous earth around legs of bin
To avoid: bury food well
Sow bugs: OK but to eliminate—sprinkle diatomaceous earth on top of bedding, handpick
Springtails—OK but to eliminate--use little vacuum
Commercial Worm Growing
Unco Industries: www.vermiculture.com
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm (Spring Grove, PA) www.unclejim.com
Both have information and supplies, including the ability to ship worms. However, be aware that living beings can die, as
you can read in the reviews. I had read an article about Uncle Jim by a master gardener in Carroll County. His order of
2000 worms arrived quickly with very healthy worms. Later, he visited the farm and wrote of a great experience.
However, in reading reviews by customers, I saw more than one situation where the worms had died and customer
service was not handled well.
Start small, just for yourself. Experience the problems in dealing with these creatures. Then, think about expanding.
Have a good business plan. More details are found in The Worm Book: The Complete Guide to Worms in Your Garden by
Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA: 1998. This book is the basis for this handout