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You have the compost bins ready, there’s every type of dirt you need to get the layers perfect, you have enough plant waste to last several months, and you have paper layers ready; all you need are the worms. It should come as no surprise that several different types of worms are out there to choose from when creating a vermicomposting bin. Knowing which to choose and which are the most common will ensure the best bins possible.
The three most common earthworms used for composting and vermicomposting are red wigglers, red tiger worms, and African nightcrawlers. Each of these feeds on the bacteria that eat the food waste which will be placed in the compost bin. Using the worms, the compost will be created faster, allowing you to add more kitchen waste to feed the worms and raise the moisture levels inside the bins.
It should be noted that these are the most common worms, but several other worms may be used in the areas around you. We know that many people prefer to have these as they are the fastest but understanding why and how the worms are different is essential. Many times people wanting to create compost in Africa will not be able to use worms such as red wrigglers, while people in the Americas cannot use more tropically adjusted worms such as Alabama Jumpers or African Nightcrawlers.
What are the most common types of worms?
These are the three worms that we will be focusing on in the article, as they are easily the most versatile and capable worms that you may find. Many people try to use other worms quickly to learn that the worms around them may not be interested in the compost. This is because each species of worms loves a different type of food, thus creating worms that prefer other waste products.
As we have learned over time, you must have a suitable worm species for the waste you are adding to the bin. Some bins never see anything other than plant matter from the surrounding garden, while most containers only ever see the destruction from the kitchen. We recommend thinking through your needs and considering the worms’ changes before just adding them, hoping for the best.
The Red Wigglers
The most common worm that you will be told to get for your vermicomposting bins, red wrigglers, is native to several countries worldwide. Preferring colder temperatures, though, which makes them harder to use in areas where the weather can fluctuate. When you see that people have worm farms in their homes or are doing experiments, it will usually be the red wrigglers leading the charge.
These worms are easy to find and easy to propagate, with several generations being born every few months if the soil is correct. Red wrigglers are perfect for feeding and leaving worms as well, seeing as they will naturally move towards the right area of the bin to get the freshest foods. Naturally, these tendencies have made them the most popular among vermicompost enthusiasts as their low maintenance and availability have made them perfect.
Reg Tiger Worms
The first choice of vermicomposters, the regular tiger worm, has stripes across its body while maintaining a rust-brown color. These are most likely to be the worms you will find in your garden if you start digging below 12cm. It is these worms that some vermicomposters would pull their nose towards as they are not always as efficient as red wrigglers; however, they have several properties that make them perfect.
The first one being that they are readily available, as you can find them anywhere in the world after digging a hole. Further, the reg tiger worm is highly hardy to the environment around them; as long as your compost bins are not freezing in the winter and not in the sun during the summer, they will need no care. Usually only requiring some moisture, they are true feed and leave worms, even if it takes them a slightly longer time to digest everything properly.
It may seem odd to people that live in lush, forested areas, but the shade can easily reach temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius. Neither regular earthworms nor red wrigglers would be enough; both worm species would need too much to survive. This is where the African Nightcrawlers come into play; these reddish, yellow worms are some of the hardiest in the world.
They were hailing from Africa. These worms are not as fast at composting as red wrigglers but have been cultivated worldwide thanks to vermicomposting practices. Further, they offer a few benefits outside of composting as they are seen as protein sources, with some medical services that are being researched. If you want a worm that can handle more than just the luxury compost bins, then African Nightcrawlers might be your only real choice.
Where should you be using each type of worm?
Now that you know the three most common worms in vermicomposting bins, you will need to know where and when to use them. This is a sport that many first-time composters get stuck in, as they assume that each worm can do the same thing, just more or less efficient. However, it is not valid, each worm species have environments that they thrive in, and it is your job to make sure they are in that environment.
Many vermicomposting lovers are people who would take great care to properly and completely sort through their compost when needed. Vermicomposting is the most hands-on type of composting that you will be doing; knowing how to use the worms and how to help them will ensure that it always goes well for you. We recommend that you freshen up on your worm knowledge whenever it is possible.
The Best Worms for Fresh Waste
The waste we are talking about is the fruits and vegetables from your kitchen, and the best worm for these types of waste will be red wrigglers. Any of the worms can process these, but the wrigglers will consume all of this waste within a week, creating quick results and allowing you to add more waste continually. It is for this simple reason that everyone recommends that you use red wrigglers as your primary worm.
The worms’ speed is carried into everything else, including multiplying and processing things such as paper and cardboard. Red wrigglers have long been a favorite of US-based vermicomposters simply because of their availability as well, which is why you will find research on why these worms are best for food composting. However, it should be noted that these worms also require a lot of moisture to process everything correctly, or else they will die quite fast.
The Best Worms for Processing Large Amounts of Compost
It may seem simple; you have the worms, eat the waste, and outcomes an endless supply of compost. However, this is not always true; the compost you are getting may need further refinement, especially if you mix kitchen waste with garden waste. To make the compost you have into something even better, we recommend having a second bin that works with regular earthworms, adding moisture to them, and just some new garden waste.
These worms may take longer to process regular waste, but they excel in making compost highly nutrient-rich, allowing your compost to be reprocessed. We have seen many people use this technique to comfortably and easily create compost, which can boost almost any plant’s growth several-fold. Just ensure that your earthworms have something fresh to eat when you add them. Usually, a few chipped plants would be enough to last a while.
The Best Worms for Hotter Climates
African Nightcrawlers are perfect for much hotter climates such as deserts or bush. While they would die if left unattended, these worms can survive in drier, warmer temperatures if given the space to hide away from the midday heat, usually become docile during the hottest parts of the day. Many vermicomposters have learned that as long as your bins are somewhere under a roof, these worms will be happy with enough moisture in them.
We recommend that you have more profound and broader bins when working in these areas, as the worms will want to burrow into the deepest, coldest parts of the containers to stay calm. This means that a small bin that experiences temperature changes too quickly will kill any worm. It has been speculated that the nightcrawlers like to remain dormant during the hottest part of the day, saving their energy for the mornings and nights when things are much more comfortable.
How do compost worms process waste?
Worms have mouths that they use to suck up the soil and food ahead of them, storing what they found in a gizzard. Once the worm has eaten some rougher materials, the processing starts, with the worms using the more complex materials to break down the food inside their body. After this, the food travels to the intestine, where the nutrients from the food are absorbed, the waste is then expelled. (Source: Uncle Jims Worm Farm)
The nutrients that the worms need are not the same nutrients that the plants need; this is why compost is so healthy; the worms have absorbed all the extra nutrients. These nutrients are bacteria that thrive on living and dead plant matter; the worms love this bacteria, but nothing else. While the worms have been looking for the bacteria, the bacteria have been breaking down the waste scraps.
The bacteria have absorbed all the good nutrients from the waste materials; the worms then eat this bacteria, absorbing the bacteria and expelling everything they don’t need. Eventually, the worms do this enough to create new compost, dig tunnels through the soil, and make nice and light pockets of highly nutritious compost. You must ensure that the worms can do this process entirely as it creates the best possible compost.
Why is it important that the worms stay moist?
Moisture on our bodies is one of the things humans hate the most, and we have learned how to overcome this with aircon, dehumidifiers, and towels. However, this moisture is everything to earthworms as it helps them move through the ground, breathe, and even eat. If the humidity is not enough, then the earthworms will both dry out and suffocate as they cannot absorb oxygen and cannot eliminate the carbon dioxide inside them.
This is why you will never see earthworms in soil that is too dry; the earthworms physically cannot breathe when they travel through these areas. Further, many people think that as long as it is moist, the worms will be fine; however, the worms start to boil inside their skin if it gets too hot. While being frozen destroys the red blood cells within the earthworms, unless they are hibernating, which is a process that they need to prepare for as the seasons change.
It may seem frustrating but keeping the bins constantly moist and wet, but not too wet, will help the earthworms survive in your bins. It should be noted that earthworms breathe only in air and cannot breathe in the water, which is why they escape the ground when it gets too wet. Suddenly having their homes flooded means they need to find places where they can breathe air without drying out entirely.
Where can you get earthworms for composting?
Now that you know what worms to get, you may be scratching your head, wondering just where on earth you could be getting them. The easiest way to get vermicomposting earthworms specifically is through the internet, with Amazon offering several choices in earthworms. This will allow you to comfortably and quickly get just the suitable worms that have already been living in bins for your compost bin.
If you do not have access to online marketplaces, you may want to check local nurseries or bait and tackle shops. Both of these will have their colonies of earthworms that you can buy, getting earthworms that might be a lot more acclimated to your home. These worms will not offer as much variety as you may want, limiting you to only choosing regular earthworms or whatever the nursery recommends for your to use.
When you have exhausted both of those options, you can always dig a hole in your garden looking for your earthworms. It is best to look for earthworms in your garden after it has rained when the ground is still flooded. Earthworms move towards the surface when this happens, and it makes them extremely easy to dig up and add to your composting bins.
How long do earthworms live?
Earthworms rarely live longer than a year, being born, reaching adulthood, mating, and dying within this period. They usually do not need to live that long, and they live extraordinarily little behind once they are gone, apart from the compost they have made. Their bodies usually shrivel up and become compost processed by the other worms remaining in the bin.
Earthworms are also hermaphrodites but do need other worms to mate, coiling around each other and exchanging required everything between each other to create worm eggs. Each egg contains about 2 to 5 worms, which, when hatched, are only 1cm in length and white, like baby roots of a plant. It is important to remember this if you want to sort the worms out of your compost before using it.
You must introduce new worms to the bin at least once every two years, as the worms will start dying out if their genetic diversity is not enough. The worms will be mating with each other several times throughout the year, and by the end of the first year, you may end up with a bin full of brothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts. This lack of diversity means that they start getting sick and mating less and less.
Knowing the basics of worms and how they operate will allow you to create the perfect vermicompost bins for your home. Learning more about the worms as your bins age will ensure that everything goes perfect whenever you need to get more compost. We highly recommend that you ensure everything is ideal by checking at least once every day.
You should never forget that the worms are doing their best; even when you forget to water them, they’ll try to eat everything you throw at them!